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What can outsiders do to help stop dictators?

In the Guardian last week, Carne Ross asks an important question: What can people living outside of countries where movements are struggling to bring down repressive regimes do to help? He asks readers to contribute ideas for “practical suggestions for nonviolent action to help those struggling against repression and dictatorship” in the comment section, which he said he’ll select from for a future column. Ross then suggests a few examples to jump start the conversation:

Online, Access Now has created a “proxy cloud” to enable internet users in countries that limit internet access, like China, to reach sites that would otherwise be blocked – you can contribute your spare bandwith to the effort. Likewise, Tor uses volunteers’ computers to help users under authoritarian rule cover their tracks on the web. And when the Egyptian authorities shut down the internet, Avaaz.org smuggled in high-tech phones and portable satellite internet modems to maintain connections to the outside world – paid for by online donations.

At the more hardcore end of the spectrum, there are reports that the hacker collective Anonymous has been organising distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on Syrian government websites. While ,at the high end (expense-wise), the Sudan Sentinel project, started by George Clooney, rents a surveillance satellite to monitor potential flashpoints for violence between north and south Sudan in an attempt to deter the resumption of war (at the time of writing, sadly, it’s not working too well).

Reaching back further for historical precedent, thousands offered refuge to Czech students after the Soviet invasion in 1968; humanitarian assistance also, carefully delivered, can sustain opposition as well as relieve suffering. Boycotts remain a powerful nonviolent tool. The Genocide Intervention Network lobbies companies to divest from countries whose governments kill their own people. The act of shunning those who support repression may seem slight but has a subtle power: I remember a white farmer in a newly-liberated Zimbabwe telling me that once the international boycott began of white minority-ruled Rhodesia, she knew that, sooner or later, it would have to end. Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi has advised tourists not to visit the country in order to isolate the ruling military junta and deny it foreign exchange.

He seems to have hit on most of the obvious tactics. If you have any creative ideas, let us know and add them to the comments on Ross’ piece.