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Unpublished Paper
Cuba and China: A Comparative Study of Digital Oppression
ExpressO (2014)
  • Katharine M. Villalobos, Emory University

The Digital Age has introduced a new form of expression that totalitarian states are struggling to silence. With social sharing websites like Twitter and Youtube, political dissidents living under oppressive governments can expose governmental abuse to web-users worldwide in a matter of seconds. However, while digital media has proved more difficult to control than traditional, non-electronic media, dictatorships like Cuba and China are resolved to prevent its inhabitants from freely using and expressing themselves on the Internet—even if that means violating their obligations as signatories of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Both Cuba and China are one-party communist states that violate the ICCPR, but their methods of Internet control set them worlds apart. As a small, isolated island with a poor economy, Cuba maintains control over the Internet by limiting access. Indeed, the Cuban people live in a time capsule where Internet is painfully slow and technology is decades old. China, on the other hand, is an economic superpower that must encourage Internet use to maintain its position in the global finance sphere. With the capital that Cuba lacks, China implements a multi-layered system of censorship and surveillance. For web-savvy dissidents in both countries, posting anti-government content and bypassing restrictions has become a cat-and-mouse game. When caught, dissidents face government harassment, detainment, and sometimes long-term imprisonment. By comparing the ICCPR violations of these two countries—one with little to no Internet access, the other with the largest Internet population in the world—this article argues that access to the Internet is not a sure formula for a free society. Ultimately, Cuba and China will only house free societies if they stop disregarding their obligations under the ICCPR.

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
  • Cuba,
  • Cuba,
  • Comparative Law,
  • Law & Technology,
  • Human Rights Violations,
  • Digital Age,
  • Internet Restrictions,
  • Freedom of Expression
Publication Date
April 9, 2014
Citation Information
Katharine M. Villalobos. "Cuba and China: A Comparative Study of Digital Oppression" ExpressO (2014)
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