Freedom of expression at the IGF dies a little more with censorship of anti-censorship postcards
Date: 5/11/2012 11:55 pm
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Today was another dark day for freedom of expression at the IGF, with the heavy-handed intervention of a UN officer to remove postcards with an anti-censorship message. Indonesian civil society organisation ICT Watch
was asked to cease distributing the postcards them on the basis that they might upset certain governments, and that any materials distributed at the IGF must be approved by the UN or the IGF committee.
These statements have since been retracted, with the claim from the UN Secretariat that the only problems were firstly a promotional "travel warning" stamp on the reverse of one of the cards ("Indonesia - dangerously beautiful"), which the UN incorrectly associated with the message on the front of the card, and secondly that the postcards were not distributed from an approved location. However, they had only been distributed from a central public table which also contains other materials, and from the then-empty Indonesian booth in the IGF Village.
These ex-post-facto rationalisations can be compared with those that accompanied the 2009 takedown of the ONI poster on China
, when it was claimed that the problem was not the content of the poster, but the fact that there was a general rule against the use of posters at the IGF without approval - a rationalisation that was subsequently shown to have been false
Civil society organisations and others are currently putting together a joint statement about this act of censorship
in which we call for:
the IGF Secretariat to clarify the position relating to the distribution of written materials at the IGF, and not to inhibit their distribution except in accordance with a clear set of written rules that has been promulgated to all delegates in advance. Such rules should not blindly adhere to the UN protocols that may subsist in intergovernmental fora, given that the IGF is not a UN body but operates on a unique multi-stakeholder basis that encourages free and open discussion.