An anti-censorship group holding an event Sunday at the United Nations-sponsored Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, was disrupted by UN officials who demanded removal of a poster that mentioned internet firewalls in China.
According to a Pakistani delegate, Shahzad Ahmed of Bytesforall.net, a reception hosted by Open Net Initiative (ONI) was rattled by IGF security, who objected to a poster advertising "Access Controlled", a book being introduced at the event. "The poster was thrown on the floor and we were told to remove it because of the reference to China and Tibet. We refused, and security guards came and removed it. The incident was witnessed by many," Ahmed reported.
The poster promoting ONI's forthcoming book, "Access Controlled" was removed by the IGF's organisers because a sentence in the poster apparently violated UN policy. The sentence in question reads, "The first generation of internet controls consisted largely of building firewalls at key internet gateways; China's famous "Great Firewall of China" is one of the first national internet filtering systems."
"If we cannot discuss topics about internet censorship and surveillance policy at a forum about internet governance then what is the point of something like the IGF," said Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies and one of ONI's principal investigators.
Deibert, one of the organisers of the reception, said he will file a complaint against the censorship of the event and send it to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
"We condemn this undemocratic act of censoring our event just because someone is trying to impress or be in the good graces of the Chinese government. It is ironic that while people are allowed to gather here to discuss freedom of expression online, censorship and surveillance practices on the internet, we are being restricted in expressing our views," said Al Alegre of the Foundation for Media Alternatives, a member of the ONI Network.