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Changing the world, one Bobs at a time

No two Bobs are the same. Every year Bobs winners speak out in new and powerful ways. After the ceremony, the real award is recognition. This is something Cuban online activist Yaoni Sánchez knows a lot about.

In 2008 when she won the Bobs for best blog, she could only leave a video message to let everyone know what an important contribution the Bobs award would make in encouraging free speech in Cuba.  After waiting nine years and winning many awards in absentia, the laws in Cuba changed and Yaoni Sánchez could travel the world and collect all of the trophies that had been put on ice while she was stuck behind a wall of oppression.

“We don’t have a wall in Cuba made of cement,” she said while at the Berlin Wall during a visit in May to collect her Bobs award. “Our wall is a system of control, censorship, and surveillance – it is harder to tear it down.”

While technology enables change, Sánchez personifies it. Her blog may often be blocked, but actions speak louder than words and awards like the Bobs take her message outside of the box. Sánchez speaks for Cuba however what she is doing goes much farther. Her work in exposing the truth about the hardships of everyday life encourages activists all over the world.

When accepting her Bobs award in May, Sanchez dedicated it to people everywhere who are using new technology to speak out and improve their lives. DW Editor-in-Chief Ute Schaeffer added, “we are proud to be able to support bloggers and Internet activists like you in the fight for human rights and freedom of expression – your efforts are an invaluable step toward a freer Cuban society. With this award we want to unmistakably point out how important your work is.”

Bringing the voices together
Since 2004 the Bobs has brought together people from around the world who are working behind the screens and exposing truths that would otherwise stay in the dark. It isn’t surprising that in the past many winners have not been allowed to travel and participate in the award ceremonies. Ironically by preventing people from leaving, authoritarian governments do more to emphasize why the Bobs are so important than the mere presence of an activist ever could. Holding people like Sánchez back only makes them more interesting.

The 2013 winner for best blog, Chinese activist Li Chengpeng, said Chinese authorities were “out of their minds” when they forbid him to communicate with thousands of fans at a recent book signing. Sánchez has also met resistance even outside of Cuba. At a recent appearance in Italy, Castro loyalists threw fake US Dollar bills on the stage with Sánchez’s face printed on them. She sat there almost smiling, the senseless protest of her as being a “puppet for the west” was almost doing her work for her.

But there is still much work to be done and the Bobs are there to help show the world that there are fewer and fewer places for lies to hide and more opportunities and technologies for people to tell the truth about what is happening in their communities. Websites like the 2013 Bobs winner for best innovation Free Weibo, which posts content censored in China are the tip of iceberg for new technology getting around censorship. The 2011 Bobs winner for “best use of technology for social good” was a Russian website that tracked corrupt purchases by state officials. The list of Bobs winners is sure to get more interesting as technology improves but we should always remember it is people that count the most.

The endeavors of Yoani Sánchez, and many other bloggers working all over the world, remind us that freedom of speech is not to be taken for granted, even if the privileges enjoyed by many people may cause us to forget. What they are doing is exactly what the Bobs and DW stand for and will continue to support until every voice can be heard.

The winners of this year’s Bobs will be presented with their awards at the Global Media Forum in Bonn on June 18. You can find out more about the conference here.


2013-06-07 | 8:41