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

Facebook Group Stirs Freedom of Expression Fight in Croatia

December 02, 2008 07:26 AM
by Josh Katz
Croatian police detained the developer of a Facebook group that criticizes the prime minister, an episode reminiscent of Facebook-led protests in Egypt earlier this year.

Croatia Detains Facebook Group Creator

Facebook has landed a Croatian man in police custody. Police took Niksa Klecak, 22, into custody for questioning last week for starting a Facebook group that lambasted Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, the Associated Press reports.

Political analyst Jelena Lovric said the detention was 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.

Seven months ago Klecak created a Facebook group entitled, “I bet I can find 5,000 people who dislike Sanader.”

Senior national police official Krunoslav Borovec contended that the police were justified in their actions because the group presented Sanader wearing a Nazi uniform, and the laws of the country prohibit the display of Nazi symbols. The prime minister agreed with the police official, saying, “There is no satire with Nazi insignia,” and the images were, “not an attack on me, but Croatian democracy.”

But Lovric said that the case reveals how the government “cannot influence Internet, and that deeply frightens it.” Many Croatians on the Internet have protested the government’s behavior, and one new Facebook group, boasting about 80,000 members, advocates protests against Sanader. Klecak’s group has more than 12,000 members. A group formed over the weekend called ”Search my flat, you Gestapo gang, Croatia is not a police state” has approximately 2,600 members.

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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