Archive for the ‘freedom of speech’ Category

Ten Years of Global Voices, and Ten Years of Operation “Viral Freedom”

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We are approaching the tenth anniversary of one of my favorite projects: Global Voices Online, which I am a proud contributor to.  To commemorate this, I have been assigned the task of reflecting on one of the platform’s first blog posts, entitled Operation “Viral Freedom”. Here is my reflection, ten years after this text was published.

After I joined Global Voices, in 2009, I met dozens of writers, journalists and activists from all over the world, including countries that we had grown to associate with images of violence and extremism through mainstream media, and whose voices rarely had an echo. I started following their work, engaging in discussions with them, and making new friends. We all shared a desire for change, a passion for communication and self-expression, and a common ground of values and principles.

Back then, no one could predict what 2011 had in store for all of us; the explosion of hope, citizenship and self-expression that were ahead, and the brutal repression that regimes would unfold against their populations.

However, reading many of the contributions prior to 2011 from a distance makes it clear that something was on the making, that the region was boiling, and that the divide between citizens’ desire for change and their rulers was increasingly insurmountable.

Blog posts like “Viral Operation Freedom”, from 2004, highlight the increasing relevance of the interactions between citizens in the Middle East and North Africa, which turned out to be key in the organization and communication of the 2011 uprisings, and in pushing for civil-society building.

On the other hand, the post hints at the inherent contradictions, dangers and threats posed by private-owned technology and communication platforms, regardless of how well-intentioned they may seem.

Time and experience have made it clear that the attempts to control citizens increasingly involve controlling their digital communications. It has also proven the importance of developing and using free, independent and autonomous online tools and spaces.

Read Operation “Viral Freedom”, and join us in celebrating Global Voices’ tenth anniversary.

Syria Untold: the Syrian civic movement within its context

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These days everybody is talking a possible US strike on Syria. Politicians, media and public opinion are divided between the “yes-or-no to intervention” parties.

Yet, by doing so, we are framing Syria in the wrong way. We tend to treat Syria as a matter of foreign intervention, as a geopolitical game between super-powers. This way we forget that, more than two years ago, peaceful demonstrations started in Syria as a civil society movement led by Syrians, asking for reforms, freedom and dignity. Today, the civic movement that took to Syrians to the streets in 2011 remains viable, yet highly neglected by the geopolitical conversations and the focus on militarization that tend to ignore the grassroots movement on the ground.



Syria Untold is a project which Syrian journalists, activists and designers from inside and outside the country have been incubating for more than one year.


Our aim has been to frame information on Syria within its historical, political and social context, and to focus on Syrian civil society and the way it has been coping with the increasing violence and militarization of the conflict by producing actions of creative resistance, civil disobedience and self-management.

Given the present situation, it is more key than ever to take a close look at this civil society component which has been neglected by politicians and the media, therefore by the international public opinion shaped by the latter.

Syria Untold aims to provides an overlook of the current development in the Syrian civic movement and a comprehensive overview of its evolution, offering a comprehensive archive of material and an overview of the creators and groups working in the field. We aim to make non-violent, civil society building more visible and to frame it within a very complex picture.

Syria Untold brings you independent voices, stories from the ground, personal accounts of daily resistance. We focus on everything about Syrian civil society whose crucial importance has been lost in the polarization created by the “yes” or “no” debates, and we highlight the importance of grassroots projects and civil disobedience against all forms of extremism and violence.

Our  site combines content aggregation from social media and information collected and shared by grassroots activists with original content produced by our team on the ground in Syria, both in English and in Arabic.

We do  hope that you will find our project useful; yet, as it is a work-in-progress we would be happy to get your feedback and suggestions about how it could be improved along the way. We want to welcome journalists, human rights organizations and any groups and individuals interested in Syria to use our contents and materials. Everything we publish is licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows for its use and re-distribution as long as the authors and sources are properly quoted.

Please help us share Syria Untold`s stories with the world; help us bring Syrian civil society back at the centre of the international debate on Syria.

With our best wishes


The Syria Untold team

Our website:

Twitter: @SyriaUntold



Syria and citizen solidarity: International Conference on Non-Violence, Tunis

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Egyptian demonstrators hold a banner reading "From Tahrir to Sol, democracy for all"

My contribution to the International Conference on Non-Violence.

Tunisia, 1-3 November 2012:

Reactions to the Arab Spring and the way strategic powers have tried to profit from changes in the region do not leave much room for trust in governmental support. When we mobilize as citizens, whether it is in Egypt, Syria, Spain or the US, we are questioning the roots of power systems and structures, so it is not very realistic to expect we can go to those same systems and structures for support and solidarity.

Citizen solidarity

We should expect to count on citizen support and solidarity. We have shared this solidarity in a very exciting way, since mobilizations that started in Tunisia spread to other MENA countries and then, with different connotations, to Europe, the US, and the rest of the world. All these movements shared the same hunger for change, for new forms of representation, for a re-definition of the concept “citizenship”.

The differences between demonstrating in a democratic country such as Spain and in openly repressive countries such as Syria or Iran are obvious, and we can all see the repercusions in real-life time. We do share, however, a need for change, a will for change led by young people who do not feel represented by old systems and structures. This can be seen through the new narrative citizens are creating using new media within a context of growing distrust of traditional media.


Even though the common ground is clear and citizen solidarity has helped ignite change throughout the region and the rest of the world, over the last months we have witnessed attempts  (media, political) to divide us, to highlight what separates us instead of our bonds and shared values. Some of these attempts to divide us have succeeded.

Syrian activists have seen with great sadness and disappointment how our legitimate reivindications of freedom and justice have been undermined by geostrategic analysis that disregard the repression we have been facing for decades. We have been shocked to discover a so-called “anti-imperialist” discourse that distinguishes between people who have the right to rise against oppression and those who don´t.

Syria has gone from being an information black hole to becoming number one Youtube-video producer in the region. By recording and sharing with the world the events that they are witnessing, Syrians are risking their lives to send an SOS message that no one seems to be listening to, including the ones who have stood against oppression in other cases of human rights abuses. They say the Syrian revolution has gotten contaminated by international interests. Is this our fault? Do Syrians have to deal not only with being bombed, tortured, arrested, displaced,  humiliated? Do we also have to be held responsible for attempts by others to profit from our suffering?

Since March 2011 Syrians have been teaching the world a lesson of non-violence. Even though this movement was faced with crackdown by the government and there is now an armed rebellion that emerged months after the beginning of the revolution, non-violence movements and initiatives continue to exist in Syria, facing unprecedented brutality. There are countless examples, the “Stop the killing” movement is just one of them:

Syrian activist Rima Dali holding a "Stop the killing" banner in Damascus

The non-violence movement will continue to lose ground as mainstream media and political agendas focus on geostrategic and military aspects and undermine many Syrian voices on the ground. Syrian voices, MENA citizens´voices, citizen voices all over the world are now easier to reach than they ever were, and yet many continue to look for intermediaries and geostrategic analysis that disregard the Syrian context and dynamics.


1. Let´s listen to citizen voices. To different, diverse citizen voices. Especially to young citizens who are leading movements and changes that the older generations did not see possible. Here are just a few examples of sites and platforms I follow, but there are countless others:

Image from the group of art designers "Syrian people know their way"

2. Let´s silence governments who silence citizens. Governments who kill, torture and silence journalists are not reliable. Let´s not go to them for quotes and insights on how to solve the problems that they created.

3. Language is sensitive. Language contributes to configuring and (de)legitimizing our movements

  • Dictator                                   vs.                          president
  • Thugs / Mafia                        vs.                          police / authorities
  • Assad´s army                        vs.                          security forces
  • Neo-liberal                             vs.                          anti-imperialist
  • Human rights abuses          vs.                          sectarianism and hatred
  • Revolution                              vs.                          civil war

4. Let´s build our own networks

The Internet allows for bonds and interaction that were very difficult until very recently. Let´s use all the tools at our disposal to work together and join efforts. Coordination and citizen bonds have been crucial for revolutions to spread the way they did during 2011.

5. Let´s focus on the universal values our movements stand up for: freedom of expression, social justice, women´s rights, struggle against corruption, non-violence. Let´s not fall into geostrategic traps, let´s run away from the view of the world “in two blocks” (“imperalist” vs. “anti-imperialist”) which does not adjust to our complex and diverse realities. Human rights do not belong to any particular people, group or country, and those who abuse human rights do not either.

Tweet Week Syria: June 1-7

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Have you heard about Rotation Curation? It is the process of rotating the spokesperson on a social media account. It was originated in December 2011, when a project called Curators of Sweden was launched, handing the official Twitter account @Sweden to a new Swedish person every week. Each person managing the account contributed to manifesting Swedish diversity through their own voice and personality.

I loved this idea when I first heard about it and wished it would spread to different countries and contexts. Now this initiative has reached Syrians and is my turn to manage the collective account @TweetweekSyria. Starting on June 1st, Syrian curators will take turns in managing it, I will be responsible for that during the first week, June 1-7.

After more than a year since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, my personal Twitter account has become mainly devoted to news coming from Syria, where there hasn´t been a single day without a story of tragic death and a story of inspiring courage.

I lived in Damascus in the 80s. I have only returned for vacations since then, but I haven´t forgotten how I went to school dressed in the military uniform children used to wear until very recently. I haven´t forgotten the chants we repeated to honor the leader whom we were taught to view as immortal. I haven´t forgotten the silence and the whispering of adults when children where around. And I will not forget the first time I wrote about Syria, after years writing about everything else and carefully avoiding my father´s country. My country, too. I still have a hard time understanding where Syrians found the courage to break a wall of fear and silence that it took decades to build. My admiration for these people does not fit in a million tweets.

This week the @tweetweeksyria account will be tweeting in Arabic, English and Spanish, probably retweeting in some other (Romanic) languages. Please helps us spread the word about Syrian news so that we can keep attracting more people to the Syrian struggle, which is about freedom, justice and dignity, universal values that we should all defend together. I hope we will soon get to tweet these three words: “Syria is free”.

Meanwhile, here´s the first tweet I will be publishing from the tweetweeksyria account in a few hours:

We will never forget you, Bassel. #Syria #FreeSyria

(From the TweetWeekSyria blog)

Why Tweet Week Syria? #RotationCuration is a very democratic experience at its heart. There might be many reasons why such a program is important to Syrians and Syria in general, but the most important is that since Syrians are at the verge of drastic political and social change, we believe that offering a platform to which many people pay attention (Syrian and global citizens) and many Syrians can use to cast their voices and speak their ideas will hopefully be of tremendous value, through social media channels that are becoming mainstream.

If you’re Syrian and have anything that you’d like to say, or know of anyone who’s ideas you want to be heard, click on Nominate a Curator and submit a nominee.


Prix Ars Electronica – Digital Communities. The winners are…

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The winners of the Prix Ars Electronica 2012 have been announced  :  ) You can see the full list of Golden Nicas, Awards of Distinction and Honorary Mentions here. On the Digital Communities category, which focuses on the social and artistic impact of the Internet technology, the winners are:

Golden Nica to…

  • Syrian people know their way, a digital community of young Syrian digital artists, designers and activists that aim to both gather and provide inspiration for the Syrian struggle for freedom.

Awards of Distinction:

  • Dark Glasses.Portrait, a Chinese campaign focusing on the arrest of blind civil rights activist Cheng Guancheng that aims to raise awareness about  freedom of expression in the country.

When the organizers of the Ars Electronica festival contacted me to ask if I would like to be a jury member for the Prix Ars Electronica, I couldn´t imagine it would turn out to be such an enriching experience. I had already participated on a panel called “Public Square Squared: how social fabric is weaving a new era” at the AEC festival a few months earlier, but it was my first time as a jury member. I joined organizers Ingrid Fisher, Romana Leopoldsecer and fellow jury members Thomas Schildhauer, Wolfgang Blau, Yan Liu and Peter Kuthan, in the beautiful city of Linz for discussions on the projects that had applied in the Digital Communities category. We spent four days going through more than one hundred projects, most of them inspiring, some of them outstanding. Deciding the winners was hard, since all of the projects were in one way or another valuable contributions to their communities.

Photos of people who joined the "Dark glasses" campaign in solidarity with blind lawyer Cheng Guancheng, arrested by the Chinese government

During the four days of readings and discussions we took into consideration the impact of the award in the sustainability and scalability of the projects. We also regarded mobile accessibility of the tools and platforms within the growing trend of mobile users worldwide. We looked for innovation, both artistic and technological, and we analyzed each of the projects in relation to their social, political and economic context, since creativity and innovation face more challenges in highly repressive or underdeveloped contexts. Special consideration was given to open source projects and to bottom-up projects emerging from grassroots initiatives and responding to existing local needs.

Image of the touch screen based camera control interface Elphelvision, by Apertus Open Source Cinema

It was not easy, but by noon April 22 we had decided the winners. All of the awards recognized the value of freedom in the projects, one of them through an open source hardware/software initiative that is also a platform for film-makers, creative industry professionals, artists and enthusiasts supporting each other and advocating freedom: Apertus Open Source Cinema. The other awards were given to projects that represent the power of community and the citizen struggle for freedom of expression: The “Dark Glasses Portrait” from China and “The Syrian people know their way” from Syria.

The winners of the Golden Nica do not want the jury members to share their names or identities. “The Syrian people know their way” community has contributors who live in Syria and also Syrians living abroad. One of their digital artists was recently arrested in Damascus for his activism and there are no news on his whereabouts. In words of one his friends:

“He never got the chance to know that we won. He never got a chance to know that his designs are looked at from all over the world while he sits down there in the dark”

This award recognizes the work, courage and creativity of Syrian activists in their struggle for freedom, and is also a symbolic recognition of citizen creativity  in repressive contexts such as the Middle East and North Africa.

Congratulations to the winners and to the 12 projects that received honorary mentions:


This post is dedicated to the Syrian people. To all those killed, arrested, tortured and harrassed for demanding freedom, justice and dignity. And very especially to Razan Ghazzawi and the staff of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. Join the Free the Freedom of Expression campaign on facebook to demand their release and that of all political prisoners.

Joining re:publica 2012

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The Re:publica 2012 event is already sold out :)

I´m very excited to be joining this mixture of activists and researchers in Berlin, at one of the largest conferences on technology and society. Over 3.000 participants will meet at this “quality conference with a festival feel”. The list of contents and speakers is impressive.

My talk will focus on Citizen Empowerment against Brutality in Syria. We will see how different forms of citizen expression and creativity are questioning the official narrative in one of the most repressive contexts in the world. I will also participate in a panel called “From Dissent to Disillusionment?: Syria, Egypt, Tunisia – A Critical Assessment of the Media Landscape After the Arab Spring”. The title of this panel is quite controversial and we will start by questioning it, since it seems that it is mainly mainstream media and political representatives that are disillusioned by uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, while activists continue struggling to see the change they´ve been fighting for since the end of 2010. And much longer, since the revolutions did not happen over night, and they probably will not lead to stable democratic societies over night either.

I´ll share more soon. I´ll leave you with a quote shared by re:publica and accredited to Chinese philosopher Kurt Tucholsky:

Those who are open to all sides cannot remain steadfast.

Ars Electronica Prix jury meeting

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Tomorrow I will arrive in the beautiful city of Linz for the Ars Electronica Prix, one of the most important awards for creativity and pioneering spirit in the field of digital media. Prizes are awarded in the following categories:

I am very excited to be a jury member for the Digital Communities category, which focuses on the social and artistic impact of the Internet technology. I have already taken a first look at the projects in this category and I am fascinated by the level of diversity and creativity displayed by people from all over the world during this time of intense social and political changes.

We will be sharing details on Prix Ars Electronica 2012 winners, winning projects and jury considerations soon.