On March 28, as political tensions in Madagascar showed no signs of letting up, a young man named Razily decided to take a stroll down Antananarivo's most famous avenue. It would have been a day like any other, except that on this particular day the avenue was flanked by military forces, some firing at will, as protesters ran for shelter. Razily, carrying a flag and marching alone, was eventually pushed into a truck and hauled away, later to be charged for stealing a flag.
A month later and no trace of Razily. In the meantime, he has emerged as a hero to Malagasy bloggers, who now - despite an Internet penetration rate of less than 1% - number in the thousands. The Malagasy blogosphere has taken up Razily's cause, with the recognition that their fight is the same - amidst a political climate devoid of free speech, every act counts, whether a blog post or a political statement like Razily's.
U.S.-based Malagasy blogger Lova Rakotomalala explains the blogosphere's fight for Razily:
Why would this matter to us bloggers ? Well, that was Razily's post right there. He does not have a computer , struggling to make ends meet between jobs as store keeper and ambulant merchant. Leaders of the protest told him and everyone to move back as police were firing warning shots. Police told him in no uncertain terms to stop marching. Yet, he walked to the beat of his own drum and express his disapproval of the current violence in his city.
And really, is there much difference between Razily's choice of statement and that of a blogger? While Razily risked his life to express himself freely on the public street, that same war is being waged online - from Cuba to Madagascar, Russia to Saudi Arabia, bloggers are fighting government censorship as well as the increasing pressure to self-censor. The Internet, once a bastion of free expression, has become nearly as limited as the street.
As for Razily? So far, no one knows. But you can bet they'll keep fighting.