A project offering internet users in Syria a way to securely connect to the internet and another to establish a forum to monitor internet censorship in Myanmar were selected as the winners of Freedom House’s IGF Incubator Challenge, an international competition to fund Internet freedom initiatives. U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Richard L. Morningstar presented the winners – Anas Helali from Syria and Htaike Htaike Aung from Myanmar – at a ceremony held in the Old City of Baku on November 10.
Helali and Aung were two of seven finalists selected by Freedom House to attend the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – the premier global meeting on internet governance held this year from Nov. 6 to 9 in Baku—where they pitched their project ideas before a panel of judges. The two will receive funding and technical support for their projects from Freedom House in the coming year.
“We selected two projects that stood out for their much-needed intervention and critical timing,” said Danilo Bakovic, director of the Internet Freedom program at Freedom House. “But that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision to make. They were all deserving projects.”
Helali, who lives in Dubai, represented a team of exiled Syrian software developers who pitched a project titled “Virtus Linux,” which will offer digital activists and Internet users in Syria and other repressive countries a secure Linux-based operating system that connects to the Internet through dedicated Virtual Private Network (VPN) services.
Aung’s project, “Myanmar Internet Freedom Forum,” presented on behalf of the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO), will convene a multistakeholder forum to address Internet freedom issues in Myanmar and form a national watchdog network to monitor online censorship.
In the first round of competition, users voted for their favorite projects via social media. Freedom House then narrowed down the selection to seven finalists, including activists, academics and civil society leaders from Uganda, Myanmar, Syria, Azerbaijan, South Sudan, Poland, and Egypt. The winners were selected by a panel of three judges: Danilo Bakovic, program director for the Internet Freedom program at Freedom House, Khaled Koubaa, policy manager for North Africa at Google, and Nighat Dad, executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan
Over the past three years, Freedom House has sponsored civil society activists to engage at the global IGF and at regional internet governance initiatives to call for more international attention to the human rights perspective on the issues of internet governance and the importance of the multistakeholder model of dialogue at the IGF.
Azerbaijan is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2012 and Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2012.
This article was published on the Freedom House website