A Paris-based media watchdog released a handbook on Thursday to help cyber-dissidents and bloggers avoid political censorship in countries as far apart as China, Iran, Vietnam and Cuba.

The guide, published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) with the backing of the French government, identifies bloggers as the “new heralds of free expression” and offers advice on how to set up a blog and run it anonymously.

“Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure,” wrote Julien Pain, head of RSF’s Internet Freedom Desk.

“Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.”

Blogs are personal Web sites that are easy to set up and are often written in the form of an online diary. The name is a shortened form of personal “Web log.”

The “Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents” can be downloaded from the RSF website (www.rsf.org), and the media organization says it is available in English, French, Chinese, Arabic and Farsi.

The guide is based on technical advice from experienced bloggers and experts, and provides personal accounts by bloggers such as Arash Sigarchi, who received a 14-year-jail sentence in Iran last February but is free pending an appeal.

“Internet journalism could advance freedom of expression and wider view points,” wrote Sigarchi, who faced charges ranging from spying to insulting the country’s leaders.

“Although I have been convicted by Iranian courts, I have not lost hope and I am sure that in coming years the rulers of my country will have to respect the flow of information and freedom of expression.”

By Timothy Heritage

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