On Oct. 8, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Liu is a longtime democracy advocate and one of the authors of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democratization and political reform in China. The Chinese government’s reaction to the news was to promptly delete it from search engines and microblogging sites.
CCIA has long opposed Internet censorship efforts by foreign governments as sabotaging what should be the greatest tool for freedom in the world. The Internet enables the widespread dissemination within a society of information and ideas that are the building blocks of democracy.
China’s Great Firewall seeks to keep out inconvenient information and prevent such building blocks from taking shape. If democracy is to be brought about through the efforts of men like Mr. Liu who “dream of things that never were and ask why not?” the free flow of information lets them know what already is in other countries and helps them envision what could someday be in China.
Internet censorship is not only about keeping foreign content out. The Internet is also a great enabler of information sharing and discussion within China. Such open and robust debates are not something alien to Chinese culture. There is a long history of it going all the way back to the Hundred Schools of Thought in ancient times.
More recent efforts to embrace that history include Charter 08, an online petition that was issued in December 2008, calling for greater human rights and democratic freedom in China. Modeled after Charter 77, the anti-Soviet document published in Czechoslovakia in 1977, Charter 08 calls for such positions as guaranteeing human rights, democratic elections, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. Mr. Liu was a principal author of this blueprint for a free and democratic China.
Charter 08 was widely disseminated online and signed by 10,000 Chinese citizens online. When a group of reformist Communist Party elders (including a former secretary to Mao Zedong) published a letter last week calling for an easing of restrictions on freedom of speech, they did so on the microblogging service of China’s largest news portal. The Internet is already functioning as a modern-day printing press –even in China.
As the free world salutes China’s most prominent freedom activist, it is appropriate for those of us in the Internet industry to reflect once again on the potential power of a free Internet to aid him in his struggle, and how we can counter efforts to undermine that power.