Syrian citizen journalists and activists Capture Google-Sponsored Reporters Without Borders Netizen Prize

Paris, (PresseBox) - Syrian citizen journalists and activists Monday were awarded the 2012 Reporters Without Borders Netizen Prize sponsored by Google.

The media center of the Local Coordination Committees brings together groups of citizen journalists to collect and disseminate, in real time, information and images of Syria's uprising. Ola Betersh, a 27-year-old Syrian activist who lives now in Canada, accepted the award on behalf of the activists inside of the country.

"The Netizen Prize proves that our voices were heard and that we succeeded in delivering the stories of millions of Syrians who are struggling on the ground to achieve what they have always dreamed - to live in freedom and dignity," Betersh said. "Thank you for acknowledging our presence as an active and effective media organization."

Syrian journalists and bloggers are threatened and arrested by the government. International news organizations are, for the most part, kept out of the country. In their absence, the committees are almost the only way to keep the world abreast of the violence wracking the country. They emerged spontaneously following the start of the Syrian revolution last March, bringing together human rights activists and local journalists, and now are found in most cities and towns across the country.

Informants on the ground send information and the committees confirm it from multiple sources. A third group translates the news into English and distributes it on the group's website. Videos and pictures are posted on Facebook and on a photo blog.

'There are millions of stories that made us cry, laugh, get mixed emotions since the uprising began," Ola explained "We were talking to a mother of three detainees and she made us promise each other that no matter what, we will never stop covering the events of our beloved Syria."

The award was distributed on World Day Against Cyber Censorship at a ceremony in Paris. 2012 nominees came from around the globe, from Russia to Syria to Brazil, China and beyond. Their geographic diversity is a reflection of the growing impact of the Net. Once connected, each one of us is now able to share our thoughts and observations with the world.

But freedom of information remains fragile and digital segregation increases. Reporters Without Borders has counted 200 cases of netizens arrests in 2011, up 30% over the previous year. Five were killed. This is the highest level of violence against netizens ever recorded. More than 120 netizens are currently in jail for keeping us informed.

"Netizens are more and more persecuted also because they have become instrumental in the news gathering process" said Dominique Gerbaud, President of Reporters Without Borders. Governments are clamping down with increasingly sophisticated methods of censorship, surveillance and repression. More than ever, Reporters Without Borders is proud to have established with Google's support an award that recognizes and rewards the courage of netizens."

Google products are blocked in about 25 of 125 countries in which the company operates. Forty countries engage in active censorship, up from four a decade ago. "The Internet allows courageous individuals in Syria and elsewhere to tell their story to the world," said Google France President Jean-Marc Tassetto. "The Netizen Prize and our work with Reporters Without Borders testifies to our belief that access to information will lead to greater freedom and greater social and economic development."

Reporters Without Borders inaugurated the annual World Day against Cyber Censorship in 2008, with the aim of protecting a single Internet, free, and accessible to all. Google joined in 2010 to sponsor the Netizen of the Year award, which recognises a user, a blogger or a dissident who stood up for his work in defence of freedom of expression on the Net. An international jury of media experts, bloggers and representatives of Reporters Without Borders branches has voted to choose the winner who receives prize money of EUR 2,500.

In 2010, the Netizen Prize was awarded to Iranian cyberfeminists. Last year, it went to Nawaat, a group blog run by independent Tunisian bloggers. The nominees for the Netizen Award 2012 were:

- Leonardo Sakamoto, Brazil: Journalist and professor, Sakamoto covered East Timor's war of independence and Angola's civil war. On his blog, he investigates the plight of Indian minorities in the Amazon.
- Wukan, China: The village of Wukan (13,000 inhabitants) in Southern China was the scene of a violent revolt last December. Village inhabitants used the Internet and social network Weibo to mobilise public opinion.
- Maikel Nabil Sanad, Egypt: This blogger denounced abuses by the army during the popular protests of spring 2011 and was imprisoned in post-revolutionary Egypt.
- Grigory Melkonyants, Russia: Melkonyant's publishes an interactive map illustrating irregularities in Russian election campaigns. It allows users to locate and report fraud by posting photos, videos or audio recordings
- Paulus Le Van Son, Vietnam: Le Van Son is a 26-year old blogger covers religious and human rights issues. After he reported on anti-Chinese protests and police violence, he was arrested on August 3, 2011, in Hanoi.

Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders promotes and defends the freedom to be informed and to inform others throughout the world. Based in Paris, it has 10 international offices (Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, Madrid, Montreal, New York, Stockholm, Tunis, Vienna and Washington DC) and more than 150 correspondents in all five continents. Reporters Without Borders is registered in France as a non-profit organisation and has consultant status at the United Nations. In 2005, the NGO won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

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