Thursday, August 25, 2005

Knock Knock. Who's there? KGB.

The internet may be a worldwide community of sorts, but the local laws still differ, and it is worth remembering that in some places, political satire is not looked upon kindly. A website based in the former which hosts satiricial, animated flash cartoons targeting political leaders in the Soviet republic of Belarus found this out when the KGB (yes, this organization is still around in Belarus) conducted raids on three of its contributors on August 16. The international journalism watchdog group Reporters Without Borders condemned the arrests and noted that the government has a heavy hand when it comes to political commentary:

"This harassment is yet another example of the authoritarianism prevailing in Belarus," Reporters Without Borders said. "Any sarcasm and criticism of the authorities is severely punished. Three journalists have been given prison terms for 'insulting the president' in recent years and it would be intolerable if these young Internet users were now to suffer the same fate."

It is notable that such satirical commentary is considered worthy of targeting by the authorities (although in this case the webmasters are also members of the oppositional Third Way political movement, and hence eligible as targets anyway). The situation in Belarus is quite different from that of the US - it's not likely that Homeland Security will be kicking down doors at the Onion anytime soon. However, such instances serve as a reminder of the power which such commentary is perceived to possess. In effect, by privileging these 2-minute flash cartoons with an armed response from the KGB, the Belarus government has essentially acknowledged that the content of the website is worth reading.
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Satire pervades the web, seeping into mailboxes and mainstream news like a spilled cup of coffee. It stains and it won't go away.

The Bitter Cup is a collaborative blog for members of HumorFeed, a collaborative of satire and humor sites that has been making trouble since 2003.