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US Senators Fight Censorship Worldwide

Following the attacks on Google attributed to the Chinese government earlier this month, five United States senators are publicly urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her State Department to support organizations that help people living under regimes such as China’s and Iran’s – which “often deny their populations access to Web news outlets and sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter,” according to The New York Times – circumvent restrictions on Internet use.

In a letter written by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and signed by Arlen Specter (D-PA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), and Bob Casey Jr.(D-PA), Mrs. Clinton is asked to quickly spend $45 million that has been earmarked over the last two years to support Internet freedom but has not been spent.

In December, the State Department asked for financing proposals from organizations with technologies that “maximize free expression and the free flow of information and increase access to the Internet.”

But the senators’ letter argues that the guidelines for which organizations may submit a proposal are too restrictive. One criterion for funding is established presence in a country with a demonstrably repressive regime, an issue for many of the most popular web programs, which operate from U.S.-based servers.

Some critics are also asking whether the State Department has avoided spending the earmarked monies to support Internet freedom organizations with ties to Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is suppressed in China, for fear of antagonizing the Chinese government.

“Officials at the State Department have sacrificed the interests of the demonstrators on the streets of Tehran, the interests of Google, and the principle of Internet freedom in closed societies on the altar of not making China go ballistic,” Mike Horowitz, an adviser to the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, a group affiliated with Falun Gong that makes popular restriction-thwarting tools like Freegate, told the Times.

Mrs. Clinton has not yet publicly responded to the senators’ letter or to these critiques.

Hillary Clinton in the Free Speech vs. Religion Showdown

In an apparent attempt to maintain peace, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has been advocating anti-defamation laws to combat religious slander. But a report from the U.S. State Department says the goal should be more dialogue about religion, not less.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke during the release of the annual report on international religious freedom, and came out strongly against the proposed anti-defamation laws.

“The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faith will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions,” she said. “These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.”

Although Secretary Clinton did not name the OIC specifically, the group of 57 countries has been pushing the U.N. Human Rights council to adopt these resolutions.

Such a broad and difficult to define act like “defamation of religion” could be easily misinterpreted or used to crack down on free speech and ethnic minority groups who are already being persecuted. There is a distinct disparity between defamation and harassment, Clinton and many others agree that there is still much to be done to cut back on the latter. While many can agree that religious persecution and discrimination is a major issue in the Middle East and around the world, this act could easily be used to hurt the cause instead of help.

As the report asserts, free speech and religious freedom can be equally upheld without one compromising the other.

Credit: Flickr, US Army

How China Exports its Human Rights Policies

It was reported last week that China now has more billionaires than any other country after the United States. China’s budding capital and ability to bounce back from recession is giving it added influence, especially with the new countries they are beginning to do business with.

China has flexed its censorship muscle with American companies like Yahoo and Google, which agreed to filter web pages that appear in a search per China’s demands. A search for Tiananmen Square in China, for example, will return information on the largest urban plaza in the world, with no hint to the bloody riots that occurred there 20 years ago.

And during last week’s Frankfurt Book Fair–the largest industry gathering of the year where China was the guest of honor–Chinese officials staged a walkout to protest the attendance of dissident authors Dai Qing and Bei Ling. The book fair’s organizers quickly caved to the Chinese and revoked the exiled authors’ invitations.

Powerful companies and countries have a history of bowing to China’s demands, but as China looks to countries with similarly dismal history of human rights such as Sri Lanka, the monetary protection China provides has only encouraged their bad actions. China provided almost $1 billion in aid to Sri Lanka last year, while U.S. aid amounted to just $7.4 million. This backing by China has not only provided weapons to help end the ceasefire, it has also allowed Sri Lanka to ignore outside pressure from other countries to clean up their human rights acts. China has their back and that is all they need.

As China becomes a leader in the global market and is better able to assert its monetary influence in other countries, it is a heavy reminder that their poor human rights policies–which directly affects journalists attempting to report the news–don’t just stop at their borders. They are being monetarily encouraged in every country China does business with.

Even here in the U.S. we have been guilty of overlooking certain actions and putting hard talks on the back burner. On her last visit to China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she intends to press the country’s leaders of human rights policies, but that that will have to come second. Clinton was quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying, “Our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”

Photo Credit: Flickr, World Economic Forum