Iranian Protesters, Web Censors, and the Falun Gong

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Iranian bloggers who went online to protest the disputed election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad owe a debt of gratitude to the spiritual dissident group, the Falun Gong, according to Eli Lake in The New Republic.

Falun Gong practitioners working with the Global Internet Freedom Consortium were instrumental in developing an anti-censorship tool called Freegate, which was designed to hide internet activity from the watchful eye of the Chinese government. All mentions of the Falun Gong are heavily censored in China, because, Lake reports, “the Chinese government views the Falun Gong almost the way the United States views Al Qaeda.”

Iranian internet users were able to use the software for a short time to protest the disputed election results, until the tool’s popularity in Iran overwhelmed the group’s servers and they were forced to shut it down.

Freegate is not the only tool that dissidents use to skirt censorship on the web. Lake also mentions the software Tor, profiled in the September-October issue of Utne Reader, an anti-censorship program that is funded in part by the U.S. government. The Falun Gong has urged the United States to fund Freegate, too, but support has not been forthcoming.

As good as programs like Freegate and Tor are at stymieing government censorship, China, Iran, Russia, and other countries are working feverishly on technology to fight back. Lake writes, “the race to beat the Internet censors is a central battle in the global struggle for democracy–a cat-and-mouse game where the fate of regimes could rest in no small measure on the work of the Falun Gong and others who write programs to circumvent Web censorship.”

Source: The New Republic

Image by HappyInGeneral, licensed under Creative Commons.

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