NUSA DUA, Indonesia — Bloggers from across Southeast Asia -- where many face restrictions on freedom of expression -- met on the sidelines of a regional summit Wednesday to offer each other support.
Social media, including blogs and sites like Facebook and Twitter, have become increasingly popular in the region in recent years especially in countries where news and information are tightly controlled by the government.
But the writers are also regularly victims of government crackdowns.
One blogger was among eight political activists arrested by Vietnamese authorities in August on subversion charges after they were involved in anti-China protests and other activities.
A Thai-born US citizen was also charged in Thailand in May with insulting the monarchy after he posted material deemed offensive on his blog and included a link to a banned book.
Around 200 people from across the region attended the first ASEAN Blogger Conference held on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.
Indonesia's communication and information technology minister Tifatul Sembiring, who backed the gathering, said it was "expected to bring ASEAN closer to the community".
But the bloggers were not covering the ASEAN summit, and the organisers said they were instead focused on building bridges among the disparate group.
Iman Brotoseno, an Indonesian filmmaker who has been blogging since 2003, said: "Blogging reflects democracy and freedom of expression because blogging can be very challenging in some other ASEAN countries like Vietnam or Myanmar."
The head of a loose network of bloggers calling themselves the Indonesian chapter of the ASEAN Blogger Community, he added: "We hope they will be inspired by getting together here with other bloggers.
"We would like this conference to serve as a platform to provide some kind of solidarity to them."
Those attending the conference agreed, with Keo Kounila, a 23-year-old Cambodian who works for a digital media NGO, lamenting the lack of neutral media outlets in Cambodia.
"Some people who don't have space in the media turn to blogs to voice their opinion," she said. "I see blogs as something that encourages our young people to be more expressive, which is very important."
Anh Minh, 27, a tour agency marketing manager from Vietnam, started blogging seven years ago and said in his country most people wrote about lifestyle or technology, with very few blogging about socio-political issues.
"You need to find better ways to make the innuendo," he said. "There's unspoken fears."
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