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2011 RSF Netizen Prize: Tunisian bloggers honored as groups promote online free expression

(RSF/IFEX) - 11 March 2011 - On the eve of the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders this Friday will award its 2011 Netizen Prize to the founders of a Tunisian blogging group named Nawaat.

The Netizen Prize goes to a Netizen - a blogger, online journalist or cyber-dissident - who has helped to promote freedom of expression on the Internet. The winner receives 2,500 euros in prize money. Google sponsors the annual award.

Nawaat won against finalists from Bahrain, Belarus, Thailand, China and Vietnam. An independent jury of press specialists determined the winner.

Dominique Gerbaud, Reporters Without Borders President, Jean-François Julliard, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general, and Google President for Southern and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa and Carlo d'Asaro Biondo will speak at the award ceremony in Paris. Doctors Without Borders founder and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will give the prize to Nawaat's co-founder Riadh Guerfali (Astrubal) at a ceremony in Paris at the Salon des Miroirs.

"Events in the Middle East, highlighted by the Tunisian Net Citizen winners, make this year's commemoration particularly noteworthy and newsworthy," said Mr. Gerbaud. "Some 1.6 billion people are online today, and any one of them can publish their ideas that can be discovered and consumed by anyone else. As we see in the Middle East, more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual."

Jean-François Julliard warned, however, that this freedom remains fragile and under attack. Around 119 Netizens are currently detained for expressing their views freely online, mainly in China, Iran and Vietnam. World Day Against Cyber-Censorship pays tribute to those imprisoned for expressing their views online and their fight for Internet freedom. Reporters Without Borders is publishing an Enemies of the Internet list which outlines this growing repression against bloggers and social networkers.

"Repressive governments around the world are creating and enforcing codes and practices that restrict free expression both online and offline," said Mr. Julliard. "The number and variety of challenges are increasing, and repressive regimes and their opponents are becoming more and more sophisticated."

Google's President for Southern and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa d'Asaro Biondo saluted the Tunisian winners.

"We are sponsoring this event and this prize because it defends our company's core values to make the world's information universally accessible and useful," Mr. d'Asaro Biondo said. "Our company is built on the free exchange of information."

Doctors Without Borders founder and former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will be a special guest. "Dictatorships define themselves through censorship, press bans and arrests of journalists," said Mr Kouchner.

Created in 2004, Nawaat.org is an independent collective blog operated by Tunisian bloggers as a platform for all "committed citizens." It played a crucial role in covering the social and political unrest in Tunisia that began on December 17. Astrubal and Sami Ben Gharbia are two well-known bloggers who post regularly on the site.

The site recently created a special page for the WikiLeaks revelations about Tunisia, and another about the recent events in Sidi Bouzid, which were not covered in the traditional media. It also warns Internet users about the dangers of being identified online and offers advice about circumventing censorship.

"We are deeply honoured by this prize. It will help to strengthen the citizen journalism that we have been practicing for years at Nawaat, despite all the risks involved," said Riadh Guerfali. "This award is not only a tribute to Nawaat but to all our fellow journalists who often risk their lives to keep working in countries where freedom of expression is suppressed."

Reporters without Borders, with Google's support, launched the Netizen prize in 2010. Iranian women's rights activists of the Change for Equality ( http://www.we-change.org ) website were the first recipient.

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For more information about the nominees, click here

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