Amnesty: Internet freedom key to Arab revolts

May 13, 2011 - 1:15 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — The United States should promote Internet and social networking access to support the popular uprisings against dictatorships across the Middle East and North Africa, a human rights group said Thursday.

Amnesty International released its 2011 annual report on the state of the world's human rights Thursday saying a "critical battle is under way for control of access to information, means of communication and networking technology."

It calls on the United States and other governments to promote expanded and unrestricted access to the Internet while condemning any efforts to curb online access — particularly in threatened regimes.

"The United States has the chance to get on the right side of history and support the building of societies where governments are accountable, human rights are respected and protected, and people live with dignity," executive director Larry Cox said in a statement accompanying the release of the report.

The 403-page report breaks down the recent human rights record in 157 countries, ranging from violence against women in Papua New Guinea to reports of widespread police torture in Moldova.

This year's report draws particular attention to restrictions on free speech in 89 countries, as well as torture and ill-treatment in 98 countries and unfair trials in 54.

While noting that technology is a tool that can be used for both liberation and oppression, the organization identified several cases where people used the Internet to helped secure human rights goals.

In addition to the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the report cites how message-board posters overwhelmed attempts by Chinese authorities to bury a story of a young man escaping justice after having killed a woman while driving drunk because he was related to a police official.

It also credited Wikileaks with creating "an easily accessible dumping ground for whistleblowers around the world" and notes the pretrial detention of 22-year-old U.S. Army analyst Pfc. Bradley Manning on allegations that he illegally downloaded hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents.

But Amnesty International called attention to China's sentencing of dissident scholar and rights activist Liu Xiaobo to 11 years imprisonment in late 2009 on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power." That act contributed to his being named the Nobel Peace prize laureate last year — a ceremony marked in Oslo, Norway by honoring him with an empty chair.

Chinese Web search engines still block the phrase "empty chair" in a bid to shut down even discussion of Liu's case, Amnesty said.

Russia also came under criticism for attacks on human rights defenders and independent journalists. The report cited a failure to make substantive reforms to a justice system it said was rife with widespread corruption and affected by political influence. Racially motivated violence and continued insecurity in the North Caucasus region were also cited as causes for concern.

The London-based organization has long criticized the United States for failing to provide human rights leadership. This year's report condemned President Barack Obama's "embrace of most of former President Bush's policies," which it said had, "greatly compromised U.S. leadership on the world stage."

Amnesty USA deputy executive director Curt Goering called on the United States to be more consistent in its approach to Middle East upheaval.

"It doesn't add to the credibility of the United States to be willing to take military action to support ... greater democracy (in Libya) and support the government and its resistance to change in another country," such as Bahrain, he told the AP at Amnesty' International USA's New York headquarters.

The report also noted the continuing operation of the Guantanamo detention facility on eastern Cuba and decried an "absence of accountability" for what it deemed international crimes in the use of torture and enforced disappearance under the Bush Administration.

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