"As in the cold war [when] you had an Iron Curtain, there is concern that authoritarian governments, led by China, are developing a Virtual Curtain," says Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "There will be a free Internet on one side and a controlled Internet on the other. This will impede the free flow of information worldwide."
In the past year, writers in general have been arrested and imprisoned for such alleged charges as "inciting subversion of state power" (China), "insulting religion" (Iran), "threatening state security" (Burma), "defaming the President of the Republic" (Egypt), "storing cultural products with contents against the Socialist Republic" (Vietnam), and "spreading false news" (Syria).
"The Internet is reshaping society from the ground up," notes Larry Siems, the director of the Freedom to Write program at PEN American Center. "For instance there are two new novels from girls who are housebound in Saudi Arabia, but these were published on the Internet." The question remains whether the writers can maintain their freedom in cyberspace, which they do not have in their physical space.
International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee regularly tracks approximately 900 cases of writers around the world who are under threat, arrested, attacked, or killed, with roughly 150 new cases each year. "There has definitely been a rise in the numbers of Internet writers, editors, and bloggers attacked," notes Sara Whyatt, director of International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee. "The Internet has caused an explosion of free speech. Governments of all sorts are finding this a challenge."