Bas Czerwinski/AP
Croatia's Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader

Croatian PM Backs Freedom of Expression After Facebook Detentions

December 03, 2008 03:26 PM
by Josh Katz
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has called for an investigation into the police detentions of two men who lambasted him on Facebook.

Sanader Condemns Facebook Detentions

On Wednesday Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, facing heavy censure, said, “I have requested that the interior ministry and head of police provide me a report on recent events and detentions … and undertake adequate sanctions if there were any failures in police conduct,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Croatian police officials apologized
a few hours after Sanader’s announcement for detaining a man on Tuesday who putting up posters that called for an anti-Sanader rally, according to Reuters. National police chief Vladimir Faber said that, “Posting posters does not constitute a disturbance of public order,” and disciplinary action will be taken against the police officers involved.

The posters represented the Facebook group, “Tighten your own belt, you knavish gang,” which has 80,000 members and attacks Sanader’s economic plan. The group calls for protests against the government on Friday, the Associated Press reports.

But in another Facebook-related incident, police briefly took Niksa Klecak, 22, of the Social Democrat party into custody for questioning over the weekend for starting a Facebook group that lambasted Sanader, AP reported in an article provided by the International Herald Tribune.

Seven months ago Klecak created a Facebook group entitled, “I bet I can find 5,000 people who dislike Sanader.” The group now has more than 12,000 members.

At the time of Klecak’s detention, Sanader had originally said that the police were justified because the Facebook group presented the prime minister wearing a Nazi uniform, and the laws of the country prohibit the display of Nazi symbols. He now appears to be backtracking from that statement.

Political analyst Jelena Lovric had called the detention a “notorious abuse of police for political purposes.” On Monday, Zoran Milanovic, the head of the opposition Social Democrats party, echoed that statement and called the detention a threat to freedom of expression.

Lovric said that the case reveals how the government “cannot influence Internet, and that deeply frightens it.”

A pro-Sanader Facebook group is not nearly as successful. “I bet I can find 7,000 people who LIKE Sanader” had only 19 members when the AP article was published.

Background: Facebook users encourage Eygptian, Canadian and FARC protests

In early June, an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times said that Egypt was “considering blocking Facebook” following the antigovernment protests in April and May that were coordinated using the popular social networking Web site.

The protests were over soaring food and oil prices and a growing gap between rich and poor in the country, according to World Politics Review. Although Egypt’s economy has been growing, “there’s been little trickle down to the 45 percent of Egyptians who continue to survive on $2 a day,” the article wrote.

In April, workers at a state-owned textile factory in Mahalla, Egypt, planned to strike for better pay. Just before the strike, a young woman named Esra Abd El-Fattah used Facebook to garner support for the workers by calling for a nationwide strike. The strike occurred as planned throughout the country on April 6.

A second Internet campaign pushed for a May 4 strike in Egypt, boasting about 150,000 Facebook members. But this time, President Hosni Mubarak undercut his opponents by promising reforms and he warned protesters of repercussions.

In late May, Canadians protested in favor of net neutrality in a rally organized through Facebook. Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, commented on the Facebook rally and detailed how integral the Internet is to politics in the present age. “Not only is the Internet increasingly the focus of policy advocacy, but it also serves as the platform to enable such advocacy.”

In February, a different Facebook group attracted 250,000 members, causing protests in 185 international cities in opposition to the Colombian rebel group FARC. A Feb. 4 article from The Christian Science Monitor explains how a group of young people initiated an international protest against Colombia’s FARC rebels through a Facebook group. The resulting event, “One Million Voices Against FARC,” was “less a response to the FARC’s ideology than it is global public outrage over kidnapping as a weapon,” say some observers, the newspaper reports.

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