Blogging and freedom

This morning’s Observer column

What do these countries have in common: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam?

All are listed by the human-rights organisation Reporters sans Frontieres as having governments that seek to curtail freedom of expression on the internet. Some are the usual suspects, but it’s interesting to see cuddly Socialist Cuba keeping up with the massed goons of Burma, China and North Korea.

The two ‘stans’ are also coming along nicely, as their oil wealth increases, and of course Iran remains a staunch opponent of internet freedoms – or any freedoms at all.

Despite these efforts, Farsi has made it into the top 10 languages on the net, a reflection of an extraordinary phenomenon: the way Iranians, especially women, use the net to combat government control of conventional media. It seems to date from 2001, when hardliners shut down more than 100 newspapers and magazines and detained writers…