LibTech: Practitioners’ Panel

Disclaimer: I have done my best to transcribe the comments of these speakers at the conference on Liberation Technology in Authoritarian Regimes, and I apologize for any errors.

Here are a few of the most interesting tidbits from the practitioners’ panel:

  • Hugo Landa of CubaNet: In Cuba, the new national saint is “Saint USB,” where people once had a figure of the Virgin Mary hanging on their neck, they now have a USB drive. Cell phones (legalized in 2008) are also a status symbol.
  • Ishimaru Jiro of Rimjin-gang Magazine: It is possible to use a Chinese cell phone to talk about 2-3 kilometers over the Chinese borders using Chinese radio towers to transmit. Jiro uses this to collect reports from North Korean citizen journalists for his magazine.
  • Ishimaru Jiro of Rimjin-gang Magazine: There are now approximately 300,000 cell phones in North Korea, though most have very limited capability.
  • Ishimaru Jiro of Rimjin-gang Magazine: Most common form of subversive media in North Korea is smuggled VCDs of Chinese movies and South Korean soap operas. Though this is not directly political, it does create an awareness that South Korea and even communist China has a better standard of living than North Korea, countering official propaganda.
  • Hugo Landa of CubaNet: Now up to 50% of the visitors to CubaNet come from within Cuba, an indicator of the increase in Internet access.
  • Hugo Landa of CubaNet: There are now about 100 bloggers in Cuba.
  • Ishimaru Jiro of Rimjin-gang Magazine: The best gift you could give to a North Korean is a satellite cell phone, so they can talk with the outside world from anywhere in the country.
  • Esra’a El Shafei of Mideast Youth: Their newest project,, helps activists crowdsource information on their causes.
  • Hugo Landa of CubaNet: Orlando Zapata’s cyber-hunger strike in 2010 drew greater attention because it was covered through Twitter and email. Though he died, another activist continued the strike and the Cuban government agreed to free political prisoners 3 months after Orlando’s death.

Meet Our Advisers: Esra’a Al Shafei

We’ve just started to build our Board of Advisers and over the next few days we’ll be introducing the first members to you.

We begin with Esra’a Al Shafei,one of the most prolific digital activists working today. Esra’a, who is based in Bahrain, is the founder of Mideast Youth, an all-volunteer organization that produces slick web sites and content for human rights campaigns across the Middle East. Though only in her early twenties, she has been a TED and Echoing Green fellow and, in 2008, received the Berkman Center for Internet and Society‘s first award for “outstanding contributions to the internet and its impact on society”.

Though the Meta-Activism Project focuses on the digital activism idea space, it is important that we always connect our work back to activists on the ground. Esra’a fills this roles excellently. She has experience with a broad range of campaigns from a variety of countries from Egypt and Iran to Israel, defending the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and migrants.

We also like the grassroots nature of Esra’a’s organization which, like most digital activists, relies on inspiring volunteers and innovating solutions more than it does on the largess of donors. Though she is passionately committed to her challenging and sometimes dangerous work (hence no photo), she also has a wonderfully dry sense of humor (hence the cartoon), which makes her an extremely enjoyable partner to work with. We look forward to learning from her experience.

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