Authoritarian Regimes Censor News From
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Saturday, June 27, 2009
BEIJING -- Out of fear that history might repeat itself, the authoritarian governments of China, Cuba and
Between 1988 and 1990, amid a lesser global economic slump, pro-democracy protests that appeared to inspire and energize one another broke out in Eastern Europe, Burma, China and elsewhere. Not all evolved into full-fledged revolutions, but communist regimes fell in a broad swath of countries, and the global balance of power shifted.
A similar infectiousness has shown up in subtle acts of defiance by democracy advocates around the world this week.
"The Iranian people face the same problems as us: news censorship and no freedom to have their own voices," 28-year-old blogger Zhou Shuguang said in a telephone interview from the inland
Havana-based blogger Yoani Sánchez, 33, who e-mails friends outside Cuba to get her entries posted online, said the Iranian protests -- in particular, the reportedly widespread use of Twitter, Facebook and cellphones -- have served as "a lesson for Cuban bloggers."
"Seeing those young Iranians use all the technology to denounce the injustice, I notice everything that we lack to support those who maintain blogs from the island," Sánchez wrote. "The acid test of our incipient virtual community has not yet arrived, but maybe it will surprise us tomorrow."
"Today it's you," she told the Iranian protesters in one posting. "Tomorrow it could well be us."
"What we, the private media, are trying to do was to put in as much stories and pixs of what's going on in Teheran in our papers. So far we were successful," the editor of a Rangoon-based weekly publication said in an e-mail. "The upcoming paper of mine . . . will carry, albeit if it's not censored, news stories of the events in Teheran and a feature on 'Elections and Democracy,' trying to draw some parallels between the one in Iran and the upcoming one here," a reference to elections, scheduled for 2010, that many critics dismiss as a sham.
"We cannot go directly to our goal," said a graphic designer who co-founded a group that teaches social management and governance in
Moe Thway, founder of Generation Wave, said
In Venezuela, a South American country that is increasingly polarized, protests against President Hugo Chávez's administration are common. Juan Mejía, 22, said he found the protests in
"The fact that people have gone out onto the street, that they demand their rights be respected, means to us that they felt there was no liberty and that they want a different country," said Mejía, a student leader who opposes Chávez. "We believe that if the people of the world raise their voices loudly enough -- in
Venezuela, as opposed to countries such as Cuba and China, holds frequent elections, and dissent remains a part of the political discourse. But in a decade in power, Chávez has taken control of the Congress, the courts and the state oil company, and his opponents charge that he is a dictator in the making.
In China, the Communist Party's propaganda machine has worked furiously to portray the protests in Iran -- already being dubbed the Green Revolution, after the Rose and Orange revolutions earlier this decade in Georgia and Ukraine -- as orchestrated by the United States and other Western powers, not a grass-roots movement. Unlike Western leaders, who have avoided acknowledging Ahmadinejad's claims of victory, President Hu Jintao joined Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev in meeting with and congratulating the Iranian president.
On online discussion boards this week, tens of thousands of comments about
China's main message has been that this vulnerable period, with the world hit by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, is no time for a "color revolution."
"Attempts to push the so-called color revolution toward chaos will prove very dangerous," the state-run
The Chinese government has been especially aggressive this year in cracking down on talk of democracy because 2009 is full of politically sensitive anniversaries. In the most recent move, officials announced Tuesday the formal arrest of Liu Xiaobo, an influential dissident who had helped draft and sign a pro-democracy petition known as Charter 08.
Albert Ho, chairman of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group in Hong Kong, said he sees many parallels between the situation in Iran and the atmosphere in China, citing many "hot spots" on the mainland that could explode into violent protests at any time.
"This time, the dark dictatorship has won, but I don't feel hopeless," Ho said of
In contrast, Li Datong, a Beijing-based pro-democracy writer who was fired from his job in China's state media after publishing a piece on censorship on the Internet, said democratic change will come more gradually and peacefully in China.
"Young people might be excited about what happened in Iran now, but not me -- a 57-year-old one who has witnessed dramatic change in
Some democracy advocates in China said that even if the Iranian protesters fail in their calls for legitimate elections this time, their fight will inspire others, as similar uprisings -- in Burma in 1988 and at Tiananmen Square the next year, for example -- have done in the past.
The iconic image of the Iranian protests may be the chilling video, filmed on a cellphone camera, of Neda Agha Soltan, the 26-year-old woman who died on the streets of
"Democracy won't come by the charity of the governing class," someone from the city of
Correspondent Juan Forero in
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs