Bloggers in Jail

The picture at the side of this blog post is the Liberty tree of Boston Common fame.

Since 2003, according to this report, at least 64 people have been jailed across the world for blogging. Possibly many more have faced trumped-up charges. It is worth asking just a moment to think about people whose only crime was self-expression, elsewhere in our 'globalizing' world.

Of course, more people have got into trouble for 'menacing' behaviour or harassment via a blog. There are in fact quite strong sanctions available to the crown prosecution service in this country, which they are reluctant to use. The libel laws, about the chilling effect of which I wish to blog at some point, are the chosen English way of restricting things. My advice to anyone not in fear of their life or employment is not to sue, but to ignore or laugh off the critics.

It is almost always a mistake for ordinary people to be involved with the civil courts beyond the generally excellent Magistrates and small claims courts. Alternative dispute resolution, unless one has a good deal of money and a very firm belief that a case can and should be resolved in the High Court, is the better way to go. Shouting on the telephone and calm discussion afterwards beats--and they will kill me for saying it--paying lawyers for ordinary people. Sometimes, like Senator Obama in the primaries, one just has to dust one's shoulders and go on.

There are moves afoot in parts of the European empire of rights, where I am quite a happy citizen this morning, to restrict blogging. The defeat of the last Italian government presumably (I do not pretend to more than a basic knowledge of Italian, for all my loves past and current from that country) meant that this illiberal legislation was defeated. If any reader could inform me if the legislation, which passed in draft but which I am presuming was not signed into law, actually did die or not, I would be grateful.

The Levi-Prodi bill sought to require bloggers to pay, be taxed, and to go through the tortuous business of civil registration just to have a blog. When I think of the relaxation, the freedom and the release I get for free, or at least the price of the broadband connection, from blogging, and the people I have encountered doing it, the application of that bill here would be just sad.

I have also noted another attempt to regulate the internet from Estonia, which could have Europe-wide implications. I am grateful as ever to the Devil's Kitchen website for pointing it out. The devil, who is a libertarian, would probably like me to point out that he got it via Bruno Waterfield and an Eu referendum website.

What seems to have happened is that Marianne Mikko, a centre-left Member of the European Parliament, has called for anonymity in blogworld to be more or less abolished. Personally, I don't like anonymous comments and I tend not to publish them, or swearing, or personal attacks. But there are many vibrant sites that do, and other people may have a different opinion from me. Archbishop Cranmer (and by that I mean the blogger, and not the sixteenth century heretic) makes the point better than I whilst operating under a cool pseudonym.

The Devil also points out that Article 10 of the proposal for a council directive on racism and xenophobia, very broadly drawn, could cover any comment on information systems, and any system used to download material from anywhere. I think that an illiberal government could have a field day with that.

There'd be something wrong with a world in which people didn't disagree with me, as a general rule. I'd oppose legislating anonymity on the blogosphere, given the sanctions available for criminality and the way the IP system seems to work to establish probable culpability for bad behaviour, and I would urge anyone with an interest to find out who their MEP is and get them to lobby against it too.

The problem you may run up against is that no one actually elects individual MEPs-- they are appointed by party apparatchiks from a list in a number proportionate to the regional vote--so they may not listen to you.

So here's to the freedom of blogland! And a Tom Paine poem on liberty too....

Liberty Tree
By Thomas Paine

A Song written early in the American Revolution.

Tune "The gods of Greece".


In a chariot of light, from the region of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came,
Ten thousand celestials directed her way,
And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

The celestial exotic stuck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
To seek out this peaceable shore.
Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,
For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
Their bread in contentment they ate,
Unvexed with the troubles of silver or gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.

With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea;
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.

But hear, O ye swains (a tale most profane),
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain
To cut down this guardian of ours.
From the East to the West blow the trumpet to arms,
Through the land let the sound of it flee;
Let the far and the near all unite with a cheer,
In defense of our Liberty Tree.

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