Berkman Alumni, Friends, and Spinoffs

Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

March 29, 2017

Global Voices
Kyrgyzstan's Capital Through the Cracked Windshields of Its Beloved Trolleybuses

Most Kyrgyz trolleybuses are not Salvador Dali-themed. This one was sprayed by the DOXA art group in Bishkek. Image taken from Kloop.kg. Creative commons.

Since their arrival in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek during the twilight years of Stalinism, trolleybuses have been an important and attractive part of the local cityscape. While over the years they have ceded prominence to the more manoeuvrable but widely despised marshrutka (minibus) they have retained their position as the public transport of the heart, offering residents a slower, cheaper and more pacifying ride between key points in the city of one million people.

Oh, and they reduce carbon emissions, too.

Over the last two or so years, American researcher Ryan Johnson has been providing Twitter with snapshots of life from behind the wheel of Bishkek's trolleybuses. The  hashtag highlights the differing interior design preferences of a diverse spread of trolleybus drivers, while simultaneously offering a peek at Bishkek traffic through the vehicles’ cracked windshields.

The trolleybus below, adorned with a drape featuring typical Kyrgyz nomadic patterns, is captured by Johnson looking out at public enemy No.1, the marshrutka.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the few corners of the ex-communist world where minibuses are not ‘seating only’, and the resulting crush of standing bodies in the ubiquitous Mercedes Sprinter marshrutki is a source of great collective resentment. Standing is allowed on trolleybuses, but there is much more space to play with.

The rich blue floral pattern on the hanging framing this next trolleybus is more redolent of Kyrgyzstan's neighbour Uzbekistan, recalling the fabled Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.

Sunglasses are kept in reserve for brighter weather.

This trolleybus is big on roses and butterflies.

Unfortunately driving while talking on a mobile phone is not yet taboo in Bishkek, a city where fatal road accidents are commonplace.

Exhibit B:

Some trolleybus drivers trust lucky charms and Islamic scripture to help them navigate their way through the city's perilous thoroughfares, but others believe in the Russian saying “деньги к деньгам”, or ‘money brings money’.

Our next trolleybus proudly displays banknotes from Kyrgyzstan, as well as one from Uzbekistan and another from Turkmenistan. This version of the Turkmen manat banknote (bottom row, furthest right), which has now gone out of circulation, bears the image of the gas-rich country's former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.

Roads in Bishkek are generally in poor condition, much to the chagrin of all drivers.

Because of the poor roads, cracked windshields are almost universal. Below is an example of a trolleybus windshield in the early stages of disrepair…

…while this windshield is in a more advanced state of destruction.

At 8 som (12 US cents), the trolleybus is more affordable than the 10 som marshrutka, and ten times as cheap as a taxi across town.

Moreover, they are much better ventilated, a fact generally appreciated when the weather warms up.

Sometimes, the driver makes his rounds with a friend or his wife. This, along with a random vase of fake flowers, adds to the feeling that you are a fly on the wall in someone's living room rather than a customer riding public transport.

by Akhal-Tech Collective at March 29, 2017 11:19 AM

Creative Commons
House bill would further politicize the Register of Copyrights

In January we urged the new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, to make sure that whoever she appoints as the next Register of Copyrights should put the public at the center of the work of the Copyright Office. Currently the Register leads the Copyright Office, an institution that sits within the Library of Congress. The Register is a key position responsible for—you guessed it—copyright registrations, and also influences copyright policy in the United States.

But now, a bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would alter the role of the Register, and possibly the future of the Copyright Office itself. Last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) introduced H.R. 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017. The bill would give the President—not the Librarian of Congress—the power to appoint the Register of Copyrights. The position would be subject to Senate confirmation and would last for a term of 10 years (with the possibility of renewal).

There is a lot of work to be done in upgrading and modernizing the important processes around the Office’s strategic priority “to make copyright records easily searchable and widely available to authors, entrepreneurs, and all who need them”. It’s unclear how changing the confirmation and reporting structure of the Register would serve that priority. But it is clear that the shift could further politicize the role, and thus embolden the political agendas of several of the largest publishing associations and entertainment industry businesses that are currently cheering this legislation.

The mission of the Library of Congress is “to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.” The Register of Copyrights should continue to report to the Librarian of Congress. Moving this position out from underneath the public interest mission of the Library will only continue to nudge the balance of copyright toward serving the interests of the incumbent players, and will ignore new creators and users.

The post House bill would further politicize the Register of Copyrights appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Timothy Vollmer at March 29, 2017 07:24 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
03/29/17: What Uber's first diversity report reveals
A new resolution plans to scale back a set of privacy rules put in place by the Federal Communications Commission under President Obama. We'll discuss how the measure could affect what you see online as a user, and how much data telecommunications companies already collect. Also on the topic of data transparency: Uber has released a diversity report about its workforce. We'll take a look at the report's statistics, which show that men hold 85 percent of the company's tech jobs. And finally, we'll talk about the roll out of Facebook Stories, a service that seems a lot like Snapchat.

by Marketplace at March 29, 2017 05:06 AM

Rising Voices
A New Audio Uploading Tool for Crowdsourced Wiktionary Project in Odia Language

A home recording setup for the Kathabhidhana project for Wiktionary. Image via Subhashish Panigrahi from Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

Wiktionary, Wikipedia's multilingual sister project, promises a great deal. At present, there are not many open-licensed audio recordings that you can hear or download — especially if your mother tongue is not one of the major languages. Wiktionary is already available in multiple languages and in addition to the definitions of the words, many phonetic notations — at least in terms of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) — are available. Now, an Odia-language community project is helping to simplify the process of volunteer contributions to the Odia Wiktionary project.

Kathabhidhana, a community project led by Global Voices contributor and Odia Wikipedian Subhashish Panigrahi, is an open-source solution for recording large chunks of words. It then uploads them under open licenses so that they can be useful for projects like Wiktionary.

Odia, one of the state languages in India, is a Indo-Aryan language that is spoken mostly in eastern India by around 40 million native speakers. With over 5,000 years of literary heritage, it has been recognized as one of the oldest South Asian languages, and has been given the status of a classical language by the Indian government.

But thanks to the use of non-Unicode-based typing systems, the language's online presence is still lagging behind. To address these issues, a bunch of character encoding converters that change typed text to Unicode using various non-Unicode encoding systems, are incorporated in Odia Wikipedia; it now has more than 12,000 entries. The Odia Wiktionary, on the other hand, as a free, online-based and completely crowdsourced dictionary in the Odia language, is trying to bridge the gap.

The project draws its inspiration largely from other open-source software created by Shrinivasan T, who used Python programming language to automate and simplify the process. He posted this tutorial on YouTube:

Panigrahi was inspired to do the Kathabhidhana project because the existing method was a cumbersome process: you have to pronounce and record a word, then export it in Ogg Vorbis format to your Wikimedia Commons account, which is a central repository of media files for all Wikimedia projects. Once uploaded, the entry is added to the Wiktionary project. Apart from manually recording pronunciation, there is also an open-source text-to-speech project called Dhvani that works for most Indian languages.

In contrast, having audio recordings of words in Wiktionary helps non-native speakers — as well as people with visual disabilities — listen to the pronunciation of different words. The word library can also be used for several Natural Language Processing projects, like building text-to-speech and speech-to-speech engines.

You can download a copy of Kathabhidhana and find all the audio recordings made using this software.

by Eddie Avila at March 29, 2017 01:25 AM

March 28, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Iranians See Arrests and Intimidation of Telegram Administrators and Journalists Ahead of the Elections

Iran's revolutionary guards arrests reformist Telegram channel administrators ahead of the May Presidential elections. Image used under CC 4.0 from here.


A version of this was published on the Article 19 website. This version is republished as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Iranians are witnessing a crackdown against citizens using online platforms just two months before the presidential elections, to be held on 19 May 2017.

On March 14, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested 12 administrators of channels on the messaging app Telegram, all of which had expressed support for the reformist political faction and the moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

Telegram gained notability during the 2016 Parliamentary elections, as a platform that aided significant gains for reformist and moderate members of parliament. Notable events, such as former reformist President Mohammad Khatami's four-minute viral video encouraging Iranians to vote for reformist and moderate candidates part of the coalition of the “list of hope” went viral through Telegram channels (the popular politician is now under a media ban.) The Revolutionary Guards, a hardline wing of Iran’s armed forces, accountable to the office of the Supreme Leader, have previously arrested users for posting immoral or obscene content on Telegram. But this appears to be the first time crackdowns have focused explicitly on political affiliation.

The Telegram channels affected by the crackdown include the reformist, or pro-President Hassan Rouhani channels of Eslahtalaban News, Eslahaat News, Majmeye Eslahtalaban and Haamiyan Dolat, among others.

Online sources indicate that these channels have either been deleted from Telegram and/or have not published anything since the arrests. Two individuals have thus far been identified as the arrested administrators: Saeed Naghdy and Ali Ahmadian, both of whom are associated with reformist media and the administration of reformist channels. Ahmadian is believed to have run the Eslahaat News channel.

Crackdowns on freedom of expression leading up to the May 2017 Presidential elections are also noticeable outside the digital sphere. Reformist journalists such as Ehsan Mazandarani and Hengameh Shahidi have also been arrested for their independent and critical reporting.

Ehsan Mazandarani, who was recently released from prison was re-arrested on March 12 at this home, by the intelligence units of the Revolutionary Guards. Tehran’s public prosecutor said he was re-arrested in order to serve out the remainder of his sentence from previous charges. However his wife and lawyer produced documents that proved Mazandarani had already completed the two years when he was released on 11 February 2017.

Mazandarani told his family that he is on a dry hunger strike. Relatives have reported on social media that his wife Malihe Hosseini was fired from Farikhtegan Newspaper on Wednesday following his arrest.

It is worth noting that these events all took place during the period of the Nowruz holidays, when government is not in session, making it even more difficult to ensure that due process of law is upheld.

These arrests and account closures have already limited the degree to which Iranians can access and share information and ideas about the electoral race without fearing repercussions. If the crackdown continues, it will only further restrict public participation in the political moment.

by Mahsa Alimardani at March 28, 2017 09:59 PM

Global Voices
Thai Junta's Media Regulator Suspends Voice TV for ‘Unreasonable Criticism’ and ‘Biased Content’

Voice TV is suspended for seven days in Thailand. Photo from Facebook page of Voice TV

Thailand's media regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), has ordered the seven-day suspension of Voice TV for allegedly violating rules set by the military-backed National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The army grabbed power in 2014 and it continues to control the bureaucracy through the officials it appointed in the NCPO.

Voice TV is owned by the family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Some believe the suspension of the TV network is intended to intimidate the ousted leader.

It was the military which petitioned for the suspension of Voice TV by arguing that the TV network produced false reports from March 15 to March 20 about the alleged role of the state in the summary killing of a Lahu activist, abuse of power by some military personnel, and police involvement in a controversial casino located in the Thai-Cambodian disputed zone.

But Prateep Kongsib, the station’s director of content and news, disagrees with the ruling:

The reason we were suspended was due to the NBTC’s claim that we have repeatedly committed violations that affect national security and have presented one-sided reports, of which we beg to differ. This is because we believe opinion is not a threat to national security as long as it is factual.

Voice TV logo

Voice TV also released a statement insisting that its reports adhere to media ethics and that the station cooperated with authorities in response to the complaints against some of its programs:

Voice TV insisted that we have been strictly reporting with media ethics. Even though Voice TV may provide different views, we insist that the contents do not harm national security.

Voice TV has clarified our stance and has continually cooperated with NBTC's programming subcommittee. We have also constantly discussed with media monitor committee and all involved parties to revise the programmes according to their requests.

This is not the first time that NBTC has suspended a media network for “undermining” national security. Since it grabbed power in 2014, the NCPO has ordered the NBTC to strictly monitor and regulate media networks that threaten social harmony and the “happiness” of Thai people.

The suspension order was criticized by various media groups. The Thai Journalist Association and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association signed a joint statement describing the ruling as a violation of press freedom.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance pointed out that the decision to suspend the whole TV network is extreme:

The NBTC’s suspension of VOICE TV is an extremely disproportionate response — an overkill shutting down the entire station and all its programming — to broadcast content that is well within the station’s prerogative.

Some Twitter users are wondering why the NBTC is focusing on the TV network owned by the country’s former prime minister:

The NCPO says it hopes to restore normalcy in the country through political reconciliation and allowing civilian rule, but it's unclear how they plan to realize these goals if they continue to restrict the work of the media sector.

by Zashnain Zainal at March 28, 2017 01:10 PM

Uganda's Assistant Inspector General Is the Third Government Official Murdered in As Many Years

Andrew Kaweesi is the latest high-profile government official to be killed in the country.

A screenshot of a video of Andrew Felix Kaweesi during a recent press conference.

The Assistant Inspector General of the Uganda Police ForceAndrew Felix Kaweesi, who was also the police spokesperson and head of the Human Resource Development department, was brutally murdered by four gunmen who were riding motorcycles (commonly called boda boda), on March 17, 2017. He was only 48 years old. The shooting took place as he was leaving his home in Kulambiro, a surburb of Kampala, the capital, to go to work. The gunmen also claimed the lives of Kaweesi's driver, Godfrey Mambewa, and his bodyguard, corporal Kenneth Erau.

Kaweesi is the third government official to be killed in this manner within a three-year period. First was senior principal state attorney Joan Kagezi, who was working on several high profile cases. One of these was the July 2010 twin bombings, which took place during a screening of the World Cup finals, killing 74 people and injuring another 70; the militant group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for that attack. Kagezi was supposed to lead a witness in testimony about how the explosives were assembled and brought to Kampala, but she was killed on March 30, 2015 as she stopped by a fruit vendor on her way home. Three of her children were with her at the time; they were not physically harmed.

Next was Mohammed Kiggundu, a former commander of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kiggundu became a government soldier about a decade ago. In November 2016, gunmen ambushed his car and peppered it with more than 40 bullets; Kiggundu and his bodyguard both died at the scene.

The gunmen used motorbikes in all three of the killings. Although suspects were arrested in the aftermath of the first two murders, nothing further has happened in the judicial process. The fact that the cases remain unsolved was not easily forgotten by social media users:

Several Muslim clerics have been shot in Uganda over the last ten years; the police have said there is a link to the ADF. The rebel group's leader was arrested more than two years ago and remains in police custody. Many netizens seemed to agree, though, that anyone who fires close to 80 bullets at a car in broad daylight are not just ordinary assailants:

In footage captured moments after this latest murder, the voices of grieving people are heard in the background, asking why would anyone kill Kaweesi, a family man and calm policeman. Kaweesi had three children and was expecting a fourth.

About 17 suspects have so far been arrested for questioning.

Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, released a statement about the murder on his Facebook page:

As a consequence of these repeated murders in the city and other towns,
I have directed the immediate installation of cameras in all major towns of Uganda and along the highways. 
We have been planning to do this project for some time but we have been postponing it on account of other priorities like roads and electricity […]

During a vigil held for Kaweesi, the president said that the police force has been infiltrated by thugs and asked the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to clean up the force, especially the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

Members of Parliament and other political leaders also spoke out about Kaweesi's death:

Opposition leader, Retired Colonel Dr. Kizza Besigye, said that Ugandans are living in a mafia state where organized crime is thriving:


One social media user expressed her concern:

Though on the opposite side of the political divide (police would often stop demonstrations by the country's opposition), another Twitter user empathized with the loss Kaweesi's family was experiencing:

Urban Television quoted a bishop speaking at his burial:

Twitter user Bernard Sabiti noted:

In Africa, it is quite common for mistresses of the deceased to make their presence known at the funeral.

Sabiti also shared the a photo which he felt illustrated Kaweesi's humility:

On Facebook, the Daily Monitor newspaper posted the following message, highlighting Kweesi's integrity:

One time, I was called by a colleague to talk to him to bail him out from a traffic offence but when I called Afande Kaweesi, he openly told me that he couldn’t bend the law to help the journalist. He ordered the journalist to pay a fine.

Andrew Felix Kaweesi was laid to rest on March 21, 2017, at his ancestral home in Lwengo district, Uganda. As at the time of publication, there have been no further developments in the case.

by Jinja Jinja at March 28, 2017 10:01 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
03/28/17: Should tech companies provide government access to terror suspects' text messages?
After last week's terrorist attack on Parliament, we revisit the topic of government access to encrypted apps. How does accessing end-to-end encrypted messaging services like Whatsapp resemble steaming open envelopes or tapping phones? Ben Johnson discusses how U.K. agencies are navigating this territory with professor and author Thomas Rid. Then, why Facebook Marketplace isn’t taking off as Craigslist endures.

by Marketplace at March 28, 2017 05:28 AM

Global Voices Advocacy
China's Great Firewall Gives Rise to a Robust Industry of Information Smugglers

Screen capture of @uktimes’ Weibo.

It is common knowledge that China's so-called Great Firewall bars Chinese netizens from accessing overseas websites. A chief side effect of the firewall that is less commonly known among foreigners are the many social media outlets that “smuggle” news from overseas to mainland China.

Hong Kong investigative news platform The Initium has interviewed a number of media workers or so-called “information smugglers” who run social media accounts to translate or repackage content from overseas news sites to mainland China's domestic network.

These information smugglers depend on circumvention tools to access overseas web content.

One woman interviewed by The Initium works for a media outlet that runs official public accounts on Weibo and WeChat. Ms. Yu described her daily routine to the Initium: She uses circumvention tools to access Buzzfeed, Reddit, and Tumblr, and to search for news that mainland Chinese readers may find interesting. She copies the stories and re-writes them in Chinese, adds attractive headlines for local audiences, and then publishes the stories to the outlets’ official accounts.

Thanks to China's pervasive censorship system, “information smuggling” has become a robust sector. According to Yu:

新聞管制壓住了傳統媒體,防火牆擋住了外媒,我就有工作了。

The news censorship system suppresses conventional media (from covering news), the Great Firewall has blocked overseas media. That’s how my job fills in.

Yu explains that she typically writes three stories for the media outlets every day, spending a few hours on each story. Within a few minutes, the newly published post can attract hundreds of “likes” and comments. Since most of the stories are funny pieces that have nothing to do with China, they are less likely to be censored.

Information smuggling practices like these are increasingly common in countries with robust technical censorship infrastructure. In Iran, a non-profit project called Toosheh (“bundle”, in Persian) allows thousands of tech-savvy consumers download packaged files of censored news and media by way of a TV satellite connection. In Cuba, information that is either censored or hard to access (due to slow connection speeds) regularly circulates on thumb drives. Yu has even compared her work to Cuba's Paquete Semanal or “Weekly Package”, a collection of media that is sold each week on Cuba's informal market:

我所做的事情和他們一模一樣——騎在牆上把外面的果子摘進牆裏。唯一的區別可能就是我還得把果子按照國人口味打成營養液;中國人現在太忙了。

What I am doing is exactly the same [as the weekly package] — I ride on the Wall and pick the fruits from outside the Wall. The only distinction maybe, I have to blend the fruit into juice according to my fellow’s taste. People nowadays are too busy.

Repackaged news outlets yield steep profits

One of the most popular social media public accounts that “smuggles” overseas content is called “British News Sister” or @uktimes (@英國報姐). Launched in late 2013, the news outlet publishes mainly entertainment and sensational stories from overseas. Even official media outlets like Global Times and People Daily’s social media accounts have republished their posts. By early 2017, @uktimes had 13.35 million followers on Weibo and 580 thousand subscribers on WeChat. Its average post garners more than 10 million views.

The person who runs @uktimes studied in both the UK and Hong Kong, where she pursued a PhD. She started the account in an effort to share information and experience about studying abroad, never anticipating that it would evolve into an influential social media outlet. She recently resigned from her teaching position at a mainland Chinese university to manage @uktimes.

Another popular outlet for overseas news content is “Northern America Chinese Student Daily” (@北美留學生日報). Unlike @uktimes, the WeChat account of Northern America Chinese Student Daily publishes mainstream political news and its readers are mostly mainland Chinese students studying in Canada and the US. Its headline story has a average 60 thousand views each day and it has become a major information source for overseas Chinese students.

The chief editor of Northern America Chinese Student Daily Lin Guoyu worked at an accounting firm in California after graduating from University of Miami in 2012. He quit his job in 2014 to build his career by running the WeChat public account.

Within one year, Northern America Chinese Student Daily had received a HKD10 million (approximately US$ 1.25 million) investment from a Chinese overseas student service company.

Smugglers offer no guarantee of good journalism

Most of the editors working for news outlets which select and repackage overseas news and import them to Chinese readers do not have journalistic training. More often than not, they prioritize things like click rates over hard-hitting public interest journalism.

A former editor from Northern America Chinese Student Daily told the Initium:

基本上這個工作誰都可以做,會英文就行,也確實什麼樣的人都在做。…因為翻譯錯誤被要求重翻的可能性很小;編輯擔任的角色不是檢查事實,而是提高文章的『爆點』和可讀性。如果原文是某校學生受到『性侵』,編輯就會把題目改成『強姦』。

Anyone can do this job. You just need to know English. And that’s exactly how the media is run… Very rarely that a person would be asked to re-translate an article; the role of the editors is not to do fact checking but make it more attractive and reader friendly. If the original text is – a school student was “sexually assaulted”, the editor would change it to “raped”.

“Northern America Chinese Student Daily” has made similar mistakes. On 30 August 2016, the public account translated an article by University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer, originally titled “Free Speech is the Basis of a True Education” to “Amid escalating political correctness, the President of the University of Chicago stands up against restriction on free speech.”

Netizens soon after pointed out that the translation turned the original article into a sensational piece. Some expressed concern that the headline was altered in an effort to appeal to the anti-political correctness sentiments shared among overseas Chinese students.

Some information smugglers even translate patently false news in an effort to attract clicks. As a Chinese-American journalist observed, this came to light in Chinese social media “reports” published during the US presidential election:

在美國大選期間,英文世界內的許多低質量內容、甚至包括假新聞網站上的內容,都被營銷號不加篩選地包裝成新聞大量進口。像『Spirit Cooking』(『邪教門』)、『希拉里暗殺官員』等消息,在美國只被當做花邊新聞傳播,大媒體大多並沒有報導;而中文世界裏許多營銷號都添油加醋把它當做當天新聞頭條,給很多人留下了『希拉里那邊稀奇古怪的負面新聞很多,不可能全是假的吧』的印象。

During the US election, local quality contents or even fake news were massively imported by the social media public accounts. Fake news like “spirit cooking” and “Hillary Clinton assassination of government officials has been denied by fact checkers and most mainstream media did not even report on the smear. Yet in the Chinese world, many public accounts have placed these fake news on the headlines and left people an impression that “all these negative reports and stories about Hillary Clinton cannot be all fake.”

Despite the spread of fake news and distorted information, the information smuggling sector will continue to grow, thanks to the Great Firewall, the thirst for information outside the wall and capital investors who appear to see the flow of information as a profit-making endeavor rather than a public good.

by Oiwan Lam at March 28, 2017 01:41 AM

Global Voices
China's Great Firewall Gives Rise to a Robust Industry of Information Smugglers

More often than not, information smugglers prioritize things like click rates over hard-hitting public interest journalism.

Screen capture of @uktimes’ Weibo.

It is common knowledge that China's so-called Great Firewall bars Chinese netizens from accessing overseas websites. A chief side effect of the firewall that is less commonly known among foreigners are the many social media outlets that “smuggle” news from overseas to mainland China.

Hong Kong investigative news platform The Initium has interviewed a number of media workers or so-called “information smugglers” who run social media accounts to translate or repackage content from overseas news sites to mainland China's domestic network.

These information smugglers depend on circumvention tools to access overseas web content.

One woman interviewed by The Initium works for a media outlet that runs official public accounts on Weibo and WeChat. Ms. Yu described her daily routine to the Initium: She uses circumvention tools to access Buzzfeed, Reddit, and Tumblr, and to search for news that mainland Chinese readers may find interesting. She copies the stories and re-writes them in Chinese, adds attractive headlines for local audiences, and then publishes the stories to the outlets’ official accounts.

Thanks to China's pervasive censorship system, “information smuggling” has become a robust sector. According to Yu:

新聞管制壓住了傳統媒體,防火牆擋住了外媒,我就有工作了。

The news censorship system suppresses conventional media (from covering news), the Great Firewall has blocked overseas media. That’s how my job fills in.

Yu explains that she typically writes three stories for the media outlets every day, spending a few hours on each story. Within a few minutes, the newly published post can attract hundreds of “likes” and comments. Since most of the stories are funny pieces that have nothing to do with China, they are less likely to be censored.

Information smuggling practices like these are increasingly common in countries with robust technical censorship infrastructure. In Iran, a non-profit project called Toosheh (“bundle”, in Persian) allows thousands of tech-savvy consumers download packaged files of censored news and media by way of a TV satellite connection. In Cuba, information that is either censored or hard to access (due to slow connection speeds) regularly circulates on thumb drives. Yu has even compared her work to Cuba's Paquete Semanal or “Weekly Package”, a collection of media that is sold each week on Cuba's informal market:

我所做的事情和他們一模一樣——騎在牆上把外面的果子摘進牆裏。唯一的區別可能就是我還得把果子按照國人口味打成營養液;中國人現在太忙了。

What I am doing is exactly the same [as the weekly package] — I ride on the Wall and pick the fruits from outside the Wall. The only distinction maybe, I have to blend the fruit into juice according to my fellow’s taste. People nowadays are too busy.

Repackaged news outlets yield steep profits

One of the most popular social media public accounts that “smuggles” overseas content is called “British News Sister” or @uktimes (@英國報姐). Launched in late 2013, the news outlet publishes mainly entertainment and sensational stories from overseas. Even official media outlets like Global Times and People Daily’s social media accounts have republished their posts. By early 2017, @uktimes had 13.35 million followers on Weibo and 580 thousand subscribers on WeChat. Its average post garners more than 10 million views.

The person who runs @uktimes studied in both the UK and Hong Kong, where she pursued a PhD. She started the account in an effort to share information and experience about studying abroad, never anticipating that it would evolve into an influential social media outlet. She recently resigned from her teaching position at a mainland Chinese university to manage @uktimes.

Another popular outlet for overseas news content is “Northern America Chinese Student Daily” (@北美留學生日報). Unlike @uktimes, the WeChat account of Northern America Chinese Student Daily publishes mainstream political news and its readers are mostly mainland Chinese students studying in Canada and the US. Its headline story has a average 60 thousand views each day and it has become a major information source for overseas Chinese students.

The chief editor of Northern America Chinese Student Daily Lin Guoyu worked at an accounting firm in California after graduating from University of Miami in 2012. He quit his job in 2014 to build his career by running the WeChat public account.

Within one year, Northern America Chinese Student Daily had received a HKD10 million (approximately US$ 1.25 million) investment from a Chinese overseas student service company.

Smugglers offer no guarantee of good journalism

Most of the editors working for news outlets which select and repackage overseas news and import them to Chinese readers do not have journalistic training. More often than not, they prioritize things like click rates over hard-hitting public interest journalism.

A former editor from Northern America Chinese Student Daily told the Initium:

基本上這個工作誰都可以做,會英文就行,也確實什麼樣的人都在做。…因為翻譯錯誤被要求重翻的可能性很小;編輯擔任的角色不是檢查事實,而是提高文章的『爆點』和可讀性。如果原文是某校學生受到『性侵』,編輯就會把題目改成『強姦』。

Anyone can do this job. You just need to know English. And that’s exactly how the media is run… Very rarely that a person would be asked to re-translate an article; the role of the editors is not to do fact checking but make it more attractive and reader friendly. If the original text is – a school student was “sexually assaulted”, the editor would change it to “raped”.

“Northern America Chinese Student Daily” has made similar mistakes. On 30 August 2016, the public account translated an article by University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer, originally titled “Free Speech is the Basis of a True Education” to “Amid escalating political correctness, the President of the University of Chicago stands up against restriction on free speech.”

Netizens soon after pointed out that the translation turned the original article into a sensational piece. Some expressed concern that the headline was altered in an effort to appeal to the anti-political correctness sentiments shared among overseas Chinese students.

Some information smugglers even translate patently false news in an effort to attract clicks. As a Chinese-American journalist observed, this came to light in Chinese social media “reports” published during the US presidential election:

在美國大選期間,英文世界內的許多低質量內容、甚至包括假新聞網站上的內容,都被營銷號不加篩選地包裝成新聞大量進口。像『Spirit Cooking』(『邪教門』)、『希拉里暗殺官員』等消息,在美國只被當做花邊新聞傳播,大媒體大多並沒有報導;而中文世界裏許多營銷號都添油加醋把它當做當天新聞頭條,給很多人留下了『希拉里那邊稀奇古怪的負面新聞很多,不可能全是假的吧』的印象。

During the US election, local quality contents or even fake news were massively imported by the social media public accounts. Fake news like “spirit cooking” and “Hillary Clinton assassination of government officials has been denied by fact checkers and most mainstream media did not even report on the smear. Yet in the Chinese world, many public accounts have placed these fake news on the headlines and left people an impression that “all these negative reports and stories about Hillary Clinton cannot be all fake.”

Despite the spread of fake news and distorted information, the information smuggling sector will continue to grow, thanks to the Great Firewall, the thirst for information outside the wall and capital investors who appear to see the flow of information as a profit-making endeavor rather than a public good.

by Oiwan Lam at March 28, 2017 01:37 AM

March 27, 2017

Global Voices
How Memory and Digital Media Can Pave the Way to Peace in Colombia
Red de Gestores Virtuales de Memoria. Fotografía usada con permiso.

Red de Gestores Virtuales de Memoria (Virtual Managers of Memory Network). Picture used with permission.

In recent years, building a historical memory that is both pluralistic and inclusive has become one of the main strategies for bringing the long armed conflict in Colombia to a close. Peace building endeavors have tried to promote a new narrative of the conflict that brings the victims of war to the foreground, makes visible their stories, dignifies them, and emphasizes their rights.

One of these efforts is the Alfabetizaciones Digitales initiative, from the Centro Nacional de Memoria Historica (National Center of Historical Memory), which has supported local grassroots organizations across the country in the use of digital media tools for storytelling and online publishing.

Examples of the digital media texts that victims of the armed conflict have been creating and publishing on the Internet with the support of the Alfabetizaciones Digitales initiative include interviews with “alabaoras” (Afro-Colombian women singers) from Pogue, Chocó, who explain the significance of “alabaos” or funeral songs; short essays written by women from Caquetá narrating their stories of displacement; photographs from a community museum created by the survivors of a massacre in Granada and hip hop music videos from youth advocating for participation and children rights in Buenaventura.

As Lucely Rivas, an Afro-Colombian displaced woman and member of the Memorias del Rio Atrato project, told Global Voices during an interview:

I think the website and the content we publish on the Internet make memory. We have made memory with our videos and stories.

The half-century long Colombian civil war is one of the world's oldest, and a commonly-cited estimate puts the death toll at almost a quarter of a million people. Millions more have been displaced by the conflict that bitted the government and right wing paramilitaries against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A peace deal reached and endorsed by congress in December has raised hopes of a new future for the country but many fear difficulties during the implementation.

Listening to the Victims of War

Since the 2000s, and parallel to the negotiations with guerillas and paramilitaries, the Colombian government has actively promoted building “historical memory” while trying to give a voice to the victims of war. This is part of a larger effort to implement justice, encourage reconciliation, and create a national dialogue on the rights to truth.

In this particular context, the work of local grassroots organizations that support victims through cultural and community activities has become more relevant. For several years, these organizations have helped minorities and marginalized populations affected by violence to be resilient, build community, and articulate their voices.

According to Mariana Posada Moreno, for instance, the Salón del Nunca Más (The Hall of Never Again) project led since 2008 by Asociación de Víctimas Unidad de Granada (ASOVIDA), has helped the community in Granada, Antioquia, to find hope and unite.

Moreno explained the purpose of The Hall of Never Again:

The purpose of this place is to raise awareness and show to anyone who arrives there, by means of art works, photographs, personal logs, and stories, that the victims of this country are not just a number for the State.

The creation of the Colombian Law of Justice and Peace in 2005 and the Law of Victims and Land Restitution in 2011 directly addressed the need for placing the victims rights and their narratives at the center of the peace-building process, and emphasized the state's duty of remembering the violations committed during the armed conflict.

Besides recognizing victims’ rights and emphasizing the need for reparations, the Law of Victims and Land Restitution created the National Center of Historical Memory, an independent institution in charge of building a historical account of the conflict.

The National Center of Historical Memory has since become key in promoting the construction of historical memory in Colombia through research and applied activities that help to reconstruct the long and convoluted history of the armed conflict.

The Center has created several publications based on thousands of victim testimonies and analyses of the war’s origins, including “¡Basta ya! Colombia: Memorias de guerra y dignidad (2013)” (Enough Already! Colombia: Memories of War and Dignity), the most comprehensive report on the state of the war in Colombia to the day.

By actively supporting participation by the victimized population in the peace process and on the construction of a plural and inclusive historical memory, the National Center of Historical Memory has contributed to dignifying and making visible the experiences of the victims of war, and supporting the right to truth, justice, and security from repetition in practice. Alfabetizaciones Digitales (Digital Alphabetization) is one of the initiatives that emerged from the Center in 2013, which has helped local community organizations to amplify their voice by using digital tools and networks.

The Alfabetizaciones Digitales initiative

Alfabetizaciones Digitales was created in response to the need of highlighting the work that grassroots organizations were already performing across Colombian territories. Concerned about making their voices heard by a national audience and participating in the construction of historical memory, members of these organizations expressed their interest in experimenting with the use of new media technologies and the Internet for storytelling purposes.

As Salomón Echavarría, the coordinator of the initiative told Global Voices during an interview:

The initiative responds to the interest of community members in reaching a wider audience and circulating their stories broadly. We provide training and technical support for the development of digital languages, and facilitate workshops in digital storytelling that are adaptable to the needs and resources of local organizations and communities.

In total, 16 projects have been created across Colombia with support from Alfabetizaciones Digitales since 2013. The projects are led by members of grassroots organizations doing memory and community work like the Salón del Nunca Más in Granada, the Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos del Carare -ATCC- Vida y Paz in Carare, or Fundación Espacios de Convivencia y Desarrollo Social (FUNDESCODES) in Buenaventura.

Other times the projects are created through a collaboration between several grassroots organizations located in a particular region such as as Memorias del Rio Atrato that includes eight  community councils and one organization, Consejo Comunitario Mayor de la  Asociación Campesina Integral del Atrato (COCOMACIA), from Chocó and Antioquia.

Furthermore, Alfabetizaciones Digitales has also fostered the building of a network of local digital media producers distributed through the different country regions. The youths and adults that participate in the workshops become part of a network of “virtual managers of memory” that shares knowledge and offers mutual support.

These virtual managers are in charge of leading the various projects, coordinating the production of multimedia content, and maintaining the websites. Moreover, they have access to a collaborative virtual platform where they share tutorials, tips, and can discuss different issues related to their local projects and digital media production.

The following is an example of one of the digital stories created by Afro-Colombian youths from FUNDESCODES in Buenaventura. A video called “Soy Capaz” (I am capable) that documents how more than 200 children and youths participated in the re-appropriation of a public park in their community, and shared positive messages (What I am capable of…) of hope and peace.

Building a visible and peaceful country

According to a recent manifesto that the virtual managers of memory published on the National Center of Historical Memory website, they are “a network of voices and also a group that has eyes, ears, and microphones across the country. The voices of memory in favor of building a new visible and peaceful country.”

As virtual managers produce and publish stories online, they articulate identities, raise voices, and make visible their territories and populations. Such communication process allows marginalized communities and victims of war to narrate the world in their own terms, to document the cultural practices they do, and to actively participate in the construction of historical memory in Colombia.

The multimedia content produced and published online by the virtual managers reveals the potential of using digital tools and networks for making memory in Colombia. The Alfabetizaciones Digitales initiative is an opportunity to connect with the voices and perspectives of Colombian citizens who — while trapped in the middle of a war between armies — have resisted violence and become resilient. Their stories show us a glimpse of their everyday lives, their neighborhoods, their dramas, and celebrations. Their narratives help to create a more plural consciousness of the past in Colombia, and contribute to building peace in the present and the future.

by Andrés Lombana-Bermudez at March 27, 2017 09:11 PM

Doc Searls
Have we passed peak phone?

2017-03-27_subwayphones

should start by admitting I shot this picture with my phone, on the subway last night. I should also admit that I was no less absorbed in my personal rectangle than everyone else on the subway (and I do mean everyone) was with theirs.

I don’t know what the other passengers were doing on their rectangles, though it’s not hard to guess. In my case it was spinning through emails, texting, tweeting, checking various other apps (weather, navigation, calendar) and listening to podcasts.

One sure thing is that we are all serfs in the castles of Apple and Google, our two Lords of the Rectangle. Yes, our lieges treat us well in most ways (Apple most notably with its privacy policy); but that doesn’t make the systems they trap us in any less feudal. (A metaphor we owe to Bruce Schneier.)

We shape our tools and then they shape us. That’s was and remains Marshall McLuhan‘s main point. The us is both singular and plural. We get shaped, and so do our infrastructures, societies, governments and the rest of what we do in the civilized world. (Here’s an example of all four of those happening at once: People won’t stop staring at their phones, so a Dutch town put traffic lights on the ground. From Quartz.)

Two years from now, most of the phones used by people in this shot will be traded in, discarded or re-purposed as iPods, Sonos remotes or whatever. But will we remain just as tethered to Apple, Google, telcos and app providers as we are today? That’s the biggest question. Dependent or independent? Subject to sovereigns or self-sovereign on our own? Probably some combination of the both, but the need is for greater independence and agency for each of us.

For sure most phones will do less old-fashioned telephony and more audio, video, VR, AR, and other cool shit. Just as surely they’ll also give us whole new ways to shape and be shaped. Perhaps by then mass media will finish getting replaced by mess media.

But I have to wonder what comes after phone use spreads beyond ubiquity (when most of us have multiple rectangles). Because everything gets obsoleted. That doesn’t mean it goes away. It just means something else comes along that’s better for the main purpose, while the obsoleted media still hang around in a subordinated or specialized state. Radio did that to print, TV did it to radio, and the Net is doing it to damn near every other medium we can name, connected across its Giant Zero at approximately no cost.

So, while all our asses still sit on Earth in physical space, our digital selves float weightlessly in a non-space with no gravity or distance. This is new shit.

McLuhan says the effects of every new medium can be understood through four questions he calls a tetrad, illustrated this way:

250px-mediatetrad-svg

Put a new medium in the middle and then sort effects into the four corners by answering a question for each:

  1. What does the medium enhance?
  2. What does the medium make obsolete?
  3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  4. What does the medium reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes?

These are posed as questions because they should help us understand what’s going on. Not so we can come up with perfect or final answers. There can be many answers to each question, all arguable.

So let’s look at smartphones. I suggest they—

  • Enhance conversation
  • Obsolesce mass media (print, radio, TV, cinema, whatever)
  • Retrieve personal agency (the ability to act with effect in the world)
  • Reverse into isolation (also into lost privacy through exposure to surveillance and exploitation)

don’t think we’re all the way into any of those yet, even as every damn one of us in a subway rewires our brains in real time using rectangles that extend our presence, involvement and effects in the world. Ironies abound.

Item: New York has just begun putting up notices that claim every subway station in the city now has wi-fi and cellular service. In my own experience, this checks out. But New York is still behind London, Paris and Boston in full deployment, because there is mobile phone and data service in the tunnels under those cities and not just in the stations.

Which to me says we’re still climbing toward peak phone.

My main point, however, is that there’s still a slope down the other side. Count on it. Something will put smartphones in that lower right box.

Save

by Doc Searls at March 27, 2017 04:27 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Young Iranian Faces Execution Over ‘Anti-Islamic’ Social Media Posts

Sina Dehghan faces execution over his posts critical of Islam that he published in public online channels at the age of 19. Image shared widely on social media.

While governments around the world deploy advanced surveillance tactics to monitor the communications of potential terrorists, the Iranian government goes after those who “terrorize” the sanctity of the Islamic regime on digital communication platforms.

Sina Dehghan, a 21-year-old former soldier, has experienced this firsthand. He was arrested in 2015 for his social media posts. He was convicted and sentenced to death, and is now awaiting his fate.

At the age of 19, Dehghan was completing his mandatory military service in the Tehran army barracks when the Revolutionary Guards, a hardline wing of Iran’s armed forces that is accountable to the office of the Supreme Leader, arrested him over a series of public messages he had posted on the messaging platform LINE. A source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran that his posts were against Islam and the Quran.

He was arrested alongside two others, Sahar Eliasi and Mohammad Nouri, who authorities said collaborated with Dehghan in the posts. All three were found guilty of participating in social media channels that insulted or criticized Islam. Eliasi's sentence was reduced to three years upon appeal and Nouri is still awaiting his sentence. Dehghan's death sentence was confirmed by Iran's Supreme Court in late January 2017.

The case against Dehghan rests on a confession that he was pressured to give under false pretenses. Upon his arrest, the Revolutionary Guards deceived Dehghan by telling him if he confessed to the charge of “insulting” the Prophet Mohammad and signed a letter of repentance, he would be set free.

The Revolutionary Guards deceived Dehghan by telling him if he confessed to the charge of “insulting” the Prophet Mohammad and signed a letter of repentance, he would be set free.

Iran's Islamic Penal Code, which criminalises dissent and criticism, states in Article 262 that insulting the Prophet is a crime punishable by death. However, Article 263 of the code says that the accused can have their sentence reduced to 74 lashings if they tell the court the insults were the result of anger or a mistake.

Neither Dehghan's forced confession nor his lawyer allowed him to take advantage of Article 263. Dehghan's family could not afford proper representation, so he received a court-appointed attorney, who the Center for Human Rights in Iran says failed to defend him properly during his trial.

To further complicate Dehghan's unjust situation, a source who requested anonymity for security reasons told supporters that security and judicial authorities promised his family that if they refrained from publicizing his case, Dehghan would have a better chance of being set free. As of late March, with little hope of the January sentence being overturned, Iranians both inside and out of the country have started calling for authorities to spare his life.

Dehghan's case is particularly tragic as both he and his family had dedicated much effort to the country's military. His grandfather was a “martyr” (or fallen soldier) of the Iran-Iraq war, while Dehghan had served two years in the Iranian military.

Sina's grandfather was a martyr of the eight-year war. Sina himself served two years. Sina has more rights to this country than most of these authorities.

Dehghan's case is a sobering reminder of the security threats Iranians face online. While keeping private communications safe from the government is often considered a person's main defence, a person's public image and words can also make them vulnerable to the ire of an unjust criminal system.

Even the strongest encryption in the world can't protect an Iranian from being penalized for exercising free speech online.

by Mahsa Alimardani at March 27, 2017 02:48 PM

Global Voices
Young Iranian Faces Execution Over ‘Anti-Islamic’ Social Media Posts

Sina Dehghan faces execution over his posts critical of Islam that he published in public online channels at the age of 19. Image shared widely on social media.

While governments around the world deploy advanced surveillance tactics to monitor the communications of potential terrorists, the Iranian government goes after those who “terrorize” the sanctity of the Islamic regime on digital communication platforms.

Sina Dehghan, a 21-year-old former soldier, has experienced this firsthand. He was arrested in 2015 for his social media posts. He was convicted and sentenced to death, and is now awaiting his fate.

At the age of 19, Dehghan was completing his mandatory military service in the Tehran army barracks when the Revolutionary Guards, a hardline wing of Iran’s armed forces that is accountable to the office of the Supreme Leader, arrested him over a series of public messages he had posted on the messaging platform LINE. A source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran that his posts were against Islam and the Quran.

He was arrested alongside two others, Sahar Eliasi and Mohammad Nouri, who authorities said collaborated with Dehghan in the posts. All three were found guilty of participating in social media channels that insulted or criticized Islam. Eliasi's sentence was reduced to three years upon appeal and Nouri is still awaiting his sentence. Dehghan's death sentence was confirmed by Iran's Supreme Court in late January 2017.

The case against Dehghan rests on a confession that he was pressured to give under false pretenses. Upon his arrest, the Revolutionary Guards deceived Dehghan by telling him if he confessed to the charge of “insulting” the Prophet Mohammad and signed a letter of repentance, he would be set free.

The Revolutionary Guards deceived Dehghan by telling him if he confessed to the charge of “insulting” the Prophet Mohammad and signed a letter of repentance, he would be set free.

Iran's Islamic Penal Code, which criminalises dissent and criticism, states in Article 262 that insulting the Prophet is a crime punishable by death. However, Article 263 of the code says that the accused can have their sentence reduced to 74 lashings if they tell the court the insults were the result of anger or a mistake.

Neither Dehghan's forced confession nor his lawyer allowed him to take advantage of Article 263. Dehghan's family could not afford proper representation, so he received a court-appointed attorney, who the Center for Human Rights in Iran says failed to defend him properly during his trial.

To further complicate Dehghan's unjust situation, a source who requested anonymity for security reasons told supporters that security and judicial authorities promised his family that if they refrained from publicizing his case, Dehghan would have a better chance of being set free. As of late March, with little hope of the January sentence being overturned, Iranians both inside and out of the country have started calling for authorities to spare his life.

Dehghan's case is particularly tragic as both he and his family had dedicated much effort to the country's military. His grandfather was a “martyr” (or fallen soldier) of the Iran-Iraq war, while Dehghan had served two years in the Iranian military.

Sina's grandfather was a martyr of the eight-year war. Sina himself served two years. Sina has more rights to this country than most of these authorities.

Dehghan's case is a sobering reminder of the security threats Iranians face online. While keeping private communications safe from the government is often considered a person's main defence, a person's public image and words can also make them vulnerable to the ire of an unjust criminal system.

Even the strongest encryption in the world can't protect an Iranian from being penalized for exercising free speech online.

by Mahsa Alimardani at March 27, 2017 02:46 PM

Inspired by a Pioneering Nigerian Author, Yorùbá Language Advocate Takes to the Internet

“We have stories to tell, stories the world has never seen before…”

Yoruba meme created by Ọmọ Yoòbá for the Mother Language Meme Challenge

In 1938, the late Nigerian professor and author Daniel Olorunfẹmi Fagunwa penned the novel “Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀” (The Forest of a Thousand Daemons), which is considered to be the first novel written in the Yorùbá language. His literary works frequently feature Yorùbá hunters whose fantastic adventures led them face-to-face with kings, gods, spirits, and the world of magic, all of which helps to celebrate the Yorùbá culture.

Photo courtesy Ọmọ Yoòbá and used with permission.

These works have also inspired generations of people who also choose to honor the Yorùbá culture and language in their own way, such as Adéṣínà Oríyọmí Ọlásúnkánmi Ayẹni Àkàndá or Ọmọ Yoòbá (The Yorùbá Child) as he prefers to go by with his online presence. In a short interview with Rising Voices, Ọmọ Yoòbá said that reading these works changed his life:

My life turned a new leaf, so I vowed to do more research into my race. So after high school, the interest grew, and I began improving my writing, reading and speaking skills. And after my Polytechnic education in Mass Communications, I knew I had to propagate the Yorùbá heritage to the world and the cheapest and easiest way to do that is via the international network of computers.

Initially, he tried his hand at a number of platforms, including launching a blog and a channel on YouTube, but ultimately settled on Twitter as his medium of choice. The microblogging platform through his @yobamoodua account provides an outlet to prolifically promote his language and culture, as well as frequently contributing to the #LearnYoruba hashtag. He points to his name as a sign of what he would tweet about:

I am Ọmọ Yoòbá, so what else would I tweet about if not something on Yorùbá? All I tweet 24/7 is info about the culture, from language to tradition, important dates in history, historical events, Yorùbá science; medicine, technology, astronomy, and all about the great race.

While he says there is progress being made with more and more presence of the language and culture online, he still sees work yet to be done. For one, he indicates that the option to translate to and from Yorùbá on Google Translate still produces some results that may not be grammatically correct. The automatic translation option on Twitter recognizes Yorùbá as Vietnamese.

However, the tools that he has chosen to use provide a unique way to share information about the Yorùbá culture, such as this YouTube video where he illustrates the origin of the Yorùbá people and the story of Oduduwa:

Even though technology can play a role in providing a space for Yorùbá to find its equal place next to other global languages, Ọmọ Yoòbá believes that the responsibility starts at home. However, finding the language on the internet may change a person's perception of the importance of the language:

The big problem is from the first agent of socialization; which is the family. Parents do not speak or encourage their offspring, many disregard the language as one for the uncivilised, so tell me, would such a person be interested in such an uncivilised language if encountered online?

Technology surely can attract interest, but Ọmọ Yoòbá also has plans to organize offline events designed to raise the language’s visibility. In May 2017, a Yorùbá quiz and debate competition will take place in Lagos, where secondary students will face off for prizes with the hope of encouraging youth to become active promoters of their language.

Ọmọ Yoòbá summarizes why he works to make sure his language and culture have a place on the internet:

We have stories to tell, stories the world has never seen before, give us the opportunity to tell it and the world would be a better place for all.

by Eduardo Avila at March 27, 2017 01:44 PM

Beijing's Favorite Carrie Lam Becomes Hong Kong's First Woman Leader With 777 Votes

Her victory was met with protests by pro-democracy activists.

Newly elected Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivers her victory speech. Image from Hong Kong Free Press.

This post was is a compilation of various stories by Elson Tong, Ellie Ng and Catherine Lai that were originally published on Hong Kong Free Press on March 26, 2017. The version below is published on Global Voices as part of a partnership agreement.

Carrie Lam, former chief secretary for administration, became Hong Kong's first female leader on March 26 after 777 voters from a 1,194-member election committee chose her over rivals Woo Kwok-hing and John Tsang. Tsang received 365 votes, while Woo gained 21 votes.

Reports indicated that Lam was the only candidate that Beijing deemed acceptable and that the China Liaison Office – Beijing’s representative in the special administrative region of Hong Kong – along with some senior Chinese officials had been asking electoral committee members to vote for her.

Lam, 59, was the city’s number two official before joining the chief executive race. She suffered low popularity ratings throughout her campaign, with critics calling her a copy of current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and warning that she would adopt Leung’s “combative” approach to governance.

In 2014, she promoted a Beijing-backed political reform package, which while allowing Hong Kong people to vote universally in the chief executive election would have restricted the right to nominate the candidates to a 1,200-member nominating committee, leading to two months of massive street protests calling for genuine election reform.

‘Heal the divide’

Lam has promised to try to build consensus and “restore faith and hope” in Hong Kong, which enjoys a high degree of autonomy from the mainland, and “strengthen the relationship between Hong Kong and China”.

She stressed in her victory speech:

Hong Kong, our home, is suffering from quite a serious divisiveness and has accumulated a lot of frustration. My priority will be to heal the divide and to ease the frustration – and to unite our society to move forward.

The agenda of healing the divide had been advocated by John Tsang, the more popular candidate, during his election campaign. Picking up the agenda, Carrie Lam stressed:

I also want to stress: in forming my governance team, my principle is to attract talent widely and on merit. Anyone with a sincere wish to serve, the ability, and the commitment, regardless of political affiliation, I shall invite to join my team.

I will tell every member of my team to listen to and work with the people in reaching collective decisions and taking action. Only in this way will we achieve real consensus and gain the widest support from society.

She vowed to safeguard the city’s core values:

Values such as inclusiveness, freedoms of the press and of speech, respect for human rights, and systems which have taken generations to establish, such as the independent judiciary, rule of law, and clean government, are matters that we Hong Kong people find precious and are proud of. As your Chief Executive, I shall do my utmost to uphold “one country, two systems” and to guard our core values.

Questioned about the fear of Beijing intervening in Hong Kong's internal affairs, Lam said she would be brave enough to speak up for Hong Kongers, as long as something is for the good of Hong Kong.

She said she was “deeply honoured” to become the first female chief executive and stressed that gender equality was necessary for stable development.

Protests inside and outside the election center

Pro-democracy political group League of Social Democrats marked the election day by hanging a huge yellow banner with the words “I want genuine universal suffrage” on Hong Kong’s famous Lion Rock mountain peak.

Image by League of Social Democrats via Hong Kong Free Press.

Inside the voting center in Wanchai, a few pro-democracy election committee members cast blank ballots or spoiled their ballots as an act of protest. One of the spoiled ballots was marked with the profanity “f**k” in Chinese and projected on a huge screen during the vote count, creating an uproar inside and outside the center and on social media.

Screen capture from cable TV.

Outside the voting center, pro-Beijing and pro-democracy protesters were locked in a standoff.

Pro-Beijing demonstrators played popular Chinese nationalist tunes, held up China's national flag and Hong Kong's city flag, and called for the election of a “good chief executive”, a reference to Carrie Lam.

Carrie Lam's supporters celebrate the election result. Image from Hong Kong Free Press.

Pro-democracy activists, on the other hand, shouted their criticisms of the small-circle election system and Beijing's meddling in the votes. After the election result was announced, some activists moved to the China Liaison Office and hurled toilet paper at the building — a reference to Lam, who in January received international media attention after disclosing that she took a taxi at midnight from her new luxury apartment to her old government house because she did not know where to fetch toilet paper rolls.

Screenshot from Hong Kong Free Press's video.

As the Cantonese word for “seven” is phonetically similar to an obscene word meaning “penis” and could also mean “stupidity” or a “blunder” when used as a verb or an adjective, the 777 votes Carrie Lam received has inspired puns and jokes.

Of course, the number 777 can also mean jackpot in gambling.

Next up for Carrie Lam

The elected chief executive will tour local districts, as well as visit the incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying, the secretary of justice, the legislature and the three Chinese government offices in Hong Kong as part of protocol. The three offices include: the Central Liaison Office, the city’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office, and the local headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army.

Lam joined the government in 1980. Prior to her appointment as chief secretary in 2012, she served in various senior positions such as director of social welfare; permanent secretary for housing, planning and lands; director-general of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London; permanent secretary for home affairs; and secretary for development.

During her tenure, she was heavily criticised for failing to serve the interests of the underprivileged during her office as director of social welfare, and for allegedly committing misconduct in public office in the controversy surrounding the Hong Kong Palace Museum project.

by Hong Kong Free Press at March 27, 2017 10:28 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
03/27/17: Tech startups versus patent trolls
Companies that exist solely to buy patents and sue tech firms, known as patent trolls, will be affected by a Supreme Court decision today that could limit where they file suits. Currently, venue is key to how patent trolls win cases — for example, one third of such cases are argued in the eastern district of Texas where rules are favorable to plaintiffs. Plus, a test run of Amazon's outfit compare feature, which joins several apps trying to take the place of a friend who tells you what to wear while compiling your shopping data.

by Marketplace at March 27, 2017 06:24 AM

March 26, 2017

Global Voices
Reporter's Murder in Mexico Revives Outrage over Violence against Journalists
Miroslava Breach Velducea 1962-2017. Foto tomada del perfil público de Twitter de La Jornada.

Miroslava Breach Velducea 1962-2017. Photo taken from the public Twitter profile of La Jornada and widely shared throughout the social media outlet.

Bad news again from Mexico, this time from the northern border state of Chihuahua.

Earlier this week journalist Miroslava Breach, who worked for various media outlets, including the national newspaper La Jornada and the local website Norte, was reported as murdered outside her home by an unidentified individual.

The violent act, according to reports from national newspapers El Universal and Excélsior, took place during the morning. As far as is known, a male subject approached Miroslava and shot her with a firearm eight times in the head.

In his column for the newspaper Milenio, Ricardo Aleman wrote:

Miroslava Breach fue asesinada por ejercer su profesión, el periodismo de investigación, crítico e independiente. (…) Dicho de otro modo, mataron a Miroslava por hablar, por hacer pública la información que reclama la sociedad y molesta al poder, en cualquiera de sus formas.

Miroslava Breach was assassinated for exercising her profession as an independent and critical investigative journalist. (…) In other words, they killed Miroslava for talking, for taking information public that society demanded and that annoyed those in power, in all its forms.

The murder of Miroslava follows those of two other journalists this month, as Spanish newspaper El País reported:

El asesinato se ha producido cuatro días después del ataque contra Ricardo Monlui, otro periodista que murió a tiros en el Estado de Veracruz el pasado 19 de marzo. Cecilio Pineda, un periodista del sureño Estado de Guerrero, fue ejecutado el pasado 2 de marzo. Suman ya 30 periodistas asesinados durante el mandato de Enrique Peña Nieto, ha informado la organización Artículo 19.

The murder occurred four days after the attack against Ricardo Monlui, another journalist who was shot dead in the state of Veracruz on March 19. Cecilio Pineda, a journalist from the southern state of Guerrero, was executed on March 2. Some 30 journalists have been killed during Enrique Peña Nieto's term, according to the organization Article 19.

On Twitter, Article 19 shared the following message:

Epifanio Diaz also condemned the reporter's murder:

Mexico is Latin America's most dangerous country for journalists and the third most dangerous country in the world in general, with levels of violence comparable to Syria and Iraq, according to the Global Criminality Index 2016.

An incredible 95% of crimes in Mexico go unpunished, according to the most recent figures of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.

President Enrique Peña has spoken seemingly in favour of a free press in the past.

In October 2016, for instance, he said:

Una nación democrática como lo es México, no puede explicarse sin medios de comunicación que ejerzan a plenitud esa libertad (de expresión). Por eso el gobierno de la República defiende la pluralidad de ideas como una conquista democrática y un derecho irrenunciable de los mexicanos.

A democratic nation like Mexico cannot explain itself without methods of communication that fully exercise that freedom (of expression). That is why the government of the Republic defends the plurality of ideas as a democratic conquest and an inalienable right of Mexicans.

But these are only words and impunity for perpetrators of violent crime against media workers and as a whole has long been a fact of life in Mexico. Currently, these frustrations are being aired on social media under the hashtags #ImpunidadMata and #YaBastaDeBalas (#ImpunityKills, #EnoughBulletsAlready).

by Stephanie at March 26, 2017 06:14 PM

Art in Transit: Meet the Commute Sketchers of Singapore

Sketch by Alvin Mark Tan, used with permission

They ride buses, trains, and planes, not just to travel but also to practice drawing.

The Commute Sketchers Facebook group was established more than a year ago to showcase the work of artists who make productive use of their time by drawing what they see inside public transport. The group is sharing not just the drawings of Singaporeans but also artists from other countries.

Singaporean artist and teacher Erwin Lian, one of the founders of Commute Sketchers, explains why he thinks the public transport system is an ideal platform for artists:

I think the public transport system is a very unique and peaceful place. You have this moving box (public transport) with wheels or wings that can contain the greatest diversity, because it is literally taking everyone to a common destination. I find that interesting; the notion of going somewhere together. Also, the fact that there are so many different faces to draw within a small room excites me. I was traditionally trained in fine arts and with dwindling interests in traditional art, the public commute presents a unique, safe and condensed setting to practice what I love.

He adds that the idea of Commute Sketchers was inspired by a similar program in Canada:

I was very inspired by the Canadian subway and they have this ‘Sketching-the-line’ program where they invite commute sketchers to submit their work and feature them all over the transit. I thought that was such an organic move and very gracious of them to grant advertising space to commute artists.

Sketch by Erwin Lian, used with permission

Sketch by Erwin Lian, used with permission

Alvin Mark Tan, another active member of Commute Sketchers, is surprised to discover that many people are unaware of what is happening around them when they rise buses or trains:

That people in general can be so hooked on to their mobile devices, they have no clue that I’m sketching them, or even what is happening around them.

Sketch by Alvin Mark Tan, used with permission

He also produced a short instructional video detailing the basics of commute sketching:

by Mong Palatino at March 26, 2017 03:46 PM

In Kyrgyzstan, Media Facing Pressure from a Fearful President

Screenshot from broadcast of the Oi Ordo talk show on Kyrgyzstan's leading state television channel. Clip shared via the state broadcaster's official YouTube channel.

During a recent episode of the Oi Ordo talk show titled ‘Freedom of Speech or Slander?’, moderator Maxim Poletayev regularly interrupted independent media experts offering their opinion on the situation regarding press freedoms in Kyrgyzstan, while listening dutifully to the government's own representative on the show.

Many social media users commenting on the discussion broadcast on Kyrgyzstan's main state television channel saw the host's behaviour as a telling representation of the government's approach to media freedoms: you can say something for as long as the government doesn't mind what it is you are saying.

Presently three news agencies are being sued by the state prosecutor, simply for carrying quotes attributed to critics of the President Almazbek Atambayev and his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan. The prosecutor's argument is that the quotes themselves are “slander” and damage the “honour and dignity” of President Almazbek Atambayev. As such, the prosecutor says, the media outlets carry responsibility for relaying them.

The three media outlets, which also happen to be the outlets most critical of the government, are facing fines ranging from $15,000 to $150,000, and two of them have had their bank accounts frozen by authorities ahead of the court cases.

Media experts argue that the Central Asian country's law on media shields journalists from responsibility for the accuracy of information in their reports. In practice however, journalists can be sued under far vaguer libel laws, and the profusion of such cases threatens to increase self-censorship in reporting.

That President Atambayev has regularly slandered journalists and human rights activists throughout his six-year term and has not yet been successfully sued for doing so is an indicator of the kind of judicial bias the media outlets will be up against as the cases reach court.

We didn't say it, they did…

As noted, in all bar one of the cases, the outlets were simply relaying accusations against the president and his party made by their interviewees.

Among those accusations were:

  • An accusation that a plane transiting the country, which ended up crashing in a village and killing 39 people, was carrying cargo belonging to the president's family. This accusation was made by the lawyers of an opposition party whose leader has been jailed amid a bitter conflict with Atambayev. The article carried by independent media outlet Zanoza.kg did not cast doubt on the unverifiable claims, or offer the position of the government, but was titled in such a way that clearly indicated it was relaying the position of one of the parties in the conflict: Tekebayev's Lawyers: The Cargo on the Plane that Crashed Belonged to the President's Family.
  • A separate accusation made by a human rights defender that the president's party was “selling [government] positions left, right and centre”, carried by the independent media outlet 24.kg, again, without proof or verification.
  • Another unverifiable accusation made by the lawyers of detained oppositionist Tekebayev, that his detention was connected to his recent visit to Cyprus where he was investigating Atambayev's business interests. In this instance, the quotes were carried by Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL, which is funded by the United States Congress.

Buckle up, its election time!

Like United States President Donald Trump, Atambayev has repeatedly castigated critical media outlets for their reporting, accusing them of spreading misinformation and serving the interests of foreign governments and donors.

Some have pointed in irony to the fact that when Atambayev himself was a repressed opposition figure prior to the second Kyrgyz revolution in 2010, he lauded congress-funded Azattyk as one of the few outlets reporting critically on the authoritarian Bakiyev government.

Now that Atambayev is in control of the government apparatus, a popular news agency that enjoys a reputation for independent reporting inside the country as well as a steady stream of state department funding is far less useful to him.

More curious than his attacks on regularly critical outlets, perhaps, is the recent deportation of the editor of the local branch of the outlet Regnum.ru, a Moscow-headquartered news agency cited by critics as a regular source of propaganda for Atambayev's allies in the Russian government.

Throughout a stormy presidency, Russian backing has been vital for Atambayev in securing legitimacy among a population that is largely Russia-friendly, a fact that makes the decision to deny Grigory Mikhailov re-entry into the country following a minor labour code violation a source of conjecture.

One of the articles Kyrgyz social media users speculated may have contributed to Mikhailov's ban on entering the country cited the opposition's demand that Atambayev undergo psychiatric testing following particularly rude comments he had made about the Ata-Meken party.

Another was a lengthy interview with a wealthy politician that many view as the frontrunner to succeed Atambayev in elections this November, but who is probably not his preferred candidate for the job.

In comparison with the highly authoritarian countries in its ex-Soviet neighbourhood, as well as next-door neighbour China, Kyrgyzstan is only a moderate enemy of the free press.

But as Atambayev contemplates ways of securing his retirement beyond a vote he is constitutionally barred from entering in eight months time, independent media is enduring an extremely bumpy ride.

by Akhal-Tech Collective at March 26, 2017 02:55 PM

In A Greek Refugee Camp: A Volunteer's Notebook

A mural in Ritsona Refugee Camp by Ismail Yazidi, May 3rd 2016. Photo: Ritsona Refugee Camp Facebook page.

By Mai El-Mahdy

Syrian refugees in Greece. By now there are thousands of blog posts, newspaper articles and eyewitness accounts that tell the stories of entire families drowning in the ocean, in desperate hope for a life free of warfare and poverty. I’m sure there are even more on those who eventually survived the ferocious waves, only to move into inhumane, “temporary” camps where they end up spending years. But for better or for worse, I’m not going to talk about the refugees, the lives they left behind in Syria or how they ended up in Greece. I want to talk about the current conditions and the role—or lack thereof—of those of us who try to help them, in bringing an end to this humanitarian crisis.

Recently I spent a couple of weeks at Greece’s Ritsona camp, a hub for five different humanitarian NGOs, alongside the UN operations. Ritsona is an old military base located outside Chalkida, the chief town on the island of Euboea, about an hour’s drive north of the centre of Athens. Its population is roughly two-thirds Syrian, with the remaining third made up of Kurds, Iraqis, and Afghans.

Sunken dignity

One of the harsh realities about life in the camps that is hard to fathom, let alone survive, is the absence of self-respect—dignity that has dropped so low it’s as if it was eaten up by the fierce waves before sinking to the bottom. It’s the dented sense of dignity that makes a person happy to move out of a tent into some makeshift caravan container box that becomes your “temporary” shelter for months and months. It’s the type of dignity that is all but lost when your entire livelihood is at the mercy of NGO workers who, through their authority and the decisions they make on people’s behalf, teach the refugees to accept the little they get, and be happy. Why do this, when these people are already broken? Do we volunteers always know what’s best for them? Would we allow others to make similar decisions on our behalf?

It’s not about freedom of choice; it’s not about allowing people the space to make their own decisions and mistakes. It’s about self-determination. Refugees take every single imaginable risk, relying on factors way beyond anyone’s control, only to arrive—miraculously—at a camp and submit to someone else’s decision-making, regardless of how good or bad those decisions are.

Let’s teach English!” Everyone needs and wants to learn English, right? “Let’s buy toys for children,” overlooking the desires of parents, and the children themselves. Queuing up for food or clothes is part of the harsh reality of accepting that, due to circumstances beyond your control, you have become less valuable of a human being.

Refugees don’t want to queue for ages for food or clothes: they want to be treated as human beings, just like a black man in Apartheid South Africa, a Palestinian in the face of the Israeli occupation, or a woman anywhere in the world today. Part of the pain is acknowledging, while you stand in line, that few outside of your war zone would ever have to endure this or even entertain the thought. It is the frustration of being offered the non-choice of either being grateful that you’re in a queue with food at the end of it, or of being featured in a photo shared on social media that makes people feel sorry for you.

Perhaps we should look at the treatment of refugees as a right they have earned for themselves, not as charity that we choose to give to them. Perhaps we should focus our efforts on allowing them to fight for themselves. Perhaps it is simply about paving the way for their self-emancipation, regardless of where it leads them, and especially regardless of where it leaves us. We need to focus on educating them about their rights based on the country they are relocated, caring for their health, providing education for them and their children, etc.

Perhaps we should look at them the way we want them to look at us: with dignity and self-respect.

Are we really helping?

It’s funny how, as volunteers, we’re expected to arrive on the scene and push, along with everyone else, to get the wheels in motion. As though we’re not part of the story, but instead temporary outsiders brought in to perform a specific mission. But whether we like it or not, we are part of the narrative and influence it, significantly.

As individuals, we struggle with our egos. It’s one thing to recognize that—and in fact, very few volunteers are strong enough to do even that. Suppressing our egos, however, is a totally different story. It’s probably inevitable that volunteers find it easier to feed their egos than feed the needy. And the reward is so tempting that many forget to stop for a minute and ask themselves: are we really helping?

It’s no wonder so many volunteers pay special attention to children, who become quickly attached. But how does that help?

Volunteers can’t help but feel superior. In the camps they stand out like a sore thumb, and that’s not always unintentional. Volunteers often see themselves as providers of a valuable service, as making a great sacrifice of time and expertise. And they expect others to be gracious and remind them what great human beings they are for doing what they do.

But it’s not a service—it’s the refugees’ right. And this shouldn’t be debatable.

Once, at one of the stores where we shopped for the people of Ritsona camp with donated funds, I tried to bargain with the cashier to get more for my donated buck. The cashier, a fellow Egyptian making a living across the Mediterranean, agreed to “hook me up.” But instead of reducing the cost, she offered to write me an invoice for a higher sum. According to her, many volunteers and NGO workers accepted the fake invoices and pocketed the difference, so it was clear to her that I was new to this. And no, she did not budge on the price.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Some volunteers finance their travel out of the donations they receive. In spite of pleas for greater transparency, few NGOs actually publish the details of their finances. And even fewer donors ask for the details. If it’s change we’re after, this is probably a good place to start.

In my opinion, the best way to help refugees is by bypassing the NGOs altogether. It’s not difficult for us to connect directly with refugees. They’re human, just like us, just with different circumstances that suck. Treating them as patients with some disease or disability doesn’t help.

Refugees. Photo: Pixabay, public domain.

A friend of mine has a different take on this. He relates the story of a German doctor, an older gentleman, extremely professional and meticulous about his work. It’s his job to treat patients to the best of his ability given the facilities provided. From morning till night this doctor receives patients, diagnoses them, treats them. He doesn’t speak the language of the country where he works, and is very distant, almost cold. But he treats every single person he comes across, and he sets up and develops the medical facility and trains the workers so that the project can sustain itself after his departure. Many might not know him, care about him, or even remember him, though he is the one who directly helped and advanced the community. No credit. No showiness. No emotion. Just pure problem-solving.

I don’t necessarily disagree. NGOs impose strict rules on volunteers, one of which prohibits staying at the camp past 5pm. I hated this rule, so after a couple of weeks, I moved out of NGO housing and into the camp. I stayed with a refugee friend and her two daughters in their container. I would never argue that I was living their life, but I will say that I was observing it through a sharper lens.

While I agree that being distant and professional may be highly efficient and effective, I think that closeness also helps. Yes, we eventually leave; and sure, we may invest more time and effort in forming emotional bonds with the refugees than in providing tangible deliverables. And I won’t deny that I’ve learned more from the refugees about the Syrian cultural and political context than I’ve shared my own knowledge.

But by establishing close bonds we remind others—and ourselves—that they are human. And we become more human in the process.

Hospitals Don't Always Speak Your Language

The day to-day medical needs of Ritsona camp residents, of which there was an abundance, were left pretty much unattended. In emergencies, however, the Greek National Emergency Medical Services (EKABEthniko Kentro Amesis Voitheias) would transport residents of the camp to and from the nearest hospital.

No one likes to go to the hospital, but when you’re a Syrian in a foreign country, it’s even worse than you imagine. Refugees are immersed in a sea of loneliness and fear of the unknown. You can see it in their eyes. And the harsh conditions of the journey to the camp leaves the majority of children, especially, with severe respiratory problems.

Many of the Greek doctors, however, didn’t even speak English nor did they have translators, and most patients could express themselves only in either Arabic or Kurdish. Often, residents would spend hours awaiting emergency care at the hospital, only to lose hope of ever understanding what they needed to do to get treatment, and leave.

At the camp my Arabic came in handy, as my job was to accompany the patients. Last May one of the NGOs at Ritsona pioneered a unique initiative dubbed “Hospital Runs”; that was the team I worked with. It’s a program organized in collaboration with the Red Cross that operates under the license of the Greek Army. They provide medical transportation, English, Greek and Arabic interpretation, and intercultural and medical assistance. The team also helps with bureaucratic procedures.

I was proud to be a member of that team. Each day we’d hop over to Chalkida or trek all the way to Athens, returning in the evening after having handled whatever problems, cases and complications had been thrown at us.

Sometimes the hospital staff made us feel unwelcome, scolding us about coming in with muddy shoes, indifferent to the fact that the camp is basically built on mud. I remember arriving at the hospital one day to find a young woman, clearly Arab and most probably from the camp, all alone, with nobody attending to her. She had clearly given up on trying to communicate or to save herself from whatever pain had piled on top of everything she had brought over to the continent. She gave me her details and the number of a loved one, so that I could communicate to them in the event she didn’t make it. Thankfully, and against the odds, she survived.

I guess I just can't fathom how borders and bodies of water can ultimately decide who's granted the opportunity to climb to the top, and who will be left to drown, and sink to the bottom.

 Mai El-Mahdy is an Ireland-based Egyptian who works in tech. She was one of the millions who took part in the #Jan25 revolution, and she looks forward to being part of the next one. 

by Guest Contributor at March 26, 2017 01:52 AM

March 25, 2017

Global Voices
What's Old Is New: Are You Listening? Podcast

The podcast Are You Listening? takes a look at some of the stories that have recently come out of the Global Voices newsroom. In this episode, we break down the curious case of coffee culture in Jamaica; a historic visit to the biggest Muslim country in the world; and what it's like to be jailed by ISIS and live to tell the tale. We also introduce you to an iconic Macedonian folk singer who fell into obscurity and lastly, we take you more than a hundred years back to the battle where Ethiopia fought off white colonizers. In this episode, what’s old is new.

Many thanks to Kat Batuigas for helping us produce this episode and to Global Voices contributors Emma Lewis and Endalk for assisting us with narration, and for reporting — along with Filip Stojanovski, Juke Carolina,Joey Ayoub, and Elias Abou Jaoude —  the stories that we featured in this podcast.

In this episode, we featured Creative Commons licensed music from the Free Music Archive, including Please Listen Carefully by Jahzaar; Good Riddance by Ars Sonor; Flute Fleet by Podington Bear; Vintage Frames by Kai Engel; Backward by David Szesztay; and Modulation of the Spirit by Little Glass Men.

The feature image used in this story is “Church Steps” taken in front of St. Mary of Zion Church in Axum, Ethiopia. Photo by Flickr user A.Davey (CC BY 2.0).

by Sahar Habib Ghazi at March 25, 2017 07:34 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Boston Civic Media Consortium: Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action

 

Boston Civic Media Consortium: Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action

Friday 24th March 2017

Organized by the Boston Civic Media Consortium with Sara Wylie and Sharon Harlan of Northeastern University's Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI), the event on Teaching Climate, Inspiring Action bought together academics, students, community groups, journalists, artists, members of government, and many more, to discuss how we can partner effectively across the Greater Boston area to mobilise climate action.

 

 

 

Lightning Talks:

 

David Abel, Environmental Reporter, The Boston Globe

David begins with quotes from emails he has received over the past few weeks in response to stories he has written for the Globe on the environment. Some are from climate denier companies, others from readers. As a journalist contesting such deliberately misleading assertions can be challenging. David argues that as the science of global warming has become more definitive, we now have to ask what constitutes fair balance in the journalism industry.

When faced with mounting evidence that smoking causes cancer, journalists moved away from quoting scientists arguing the opposite and creating false equivalences. Speaking to the EPA, David has heard that the science of climate change is more robust than the science correlating smoking with cancer. As such, journalism needs to move away from making false equivalences with climate change.

As such, David tries to respond to denialism with facts. He recently responded to prominent climate change denier, Robert Lindzen. Where Lindzen argued that the melting ice is just natural variation, David used recent figures that show the depletion of arctic sea ice has peaked in recent years. David also noted that Linzen has received money from fossil fuel companies.

Today David is off to D.C. to screen one of his films. David has begun making films to document the real effects of climate change that are already happening. He shows us the trailer to Sacred Cod, which documents the effects of climate change on the gulf of Maine, which has warmed faster than nearly any other body of water on the planet.

As Environmental Reporter at The Boston Globe, David is constantly writing about climate change. He states that his films also attempt to lay out the facts and invite the audience to make decisions.

 

Roseann Bongiovanni, Associate Executive Director, Chelsea Collaborative

Roseann begins by telling us about Chelsea, MA, which often gets overlooked when we think about the Greater Boston area. Chelsea has over 40,000 residents within 1.4 sq miles due to city zoning limits. Roseann explains the aerial photo she is displaying shows lots of grey infrastructure, surrounded by water on three sides. 100% of Logan Airport’s jet-fuel is stored in Chelsea with road salt for 350 towns stored on the banks of the creek. 24% of Chelsea’s population lives under poverty level and 72% identify as an ethnic minority.

The most densely populated, most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods are surrounded by industry due to the entirety of Chelsea being designated as a port area, which means industry has city planning permissions to property along the waterfront. Chelsea experiences high rates of cancer and cardiovascular conditions. Not only are there issues with industry but predictions of flooding in 2070 show much of the city submerged underwater, rendering much of the population homeless.

Roseann works with Green Roots Chelsea, ensuring that the residents of Chelsea, including those who are the hardest to reach, are heard. The group speaks on a neighbourhood level to strive for environmental justice. Green Roots Chelsea works with businesses to ensure industry is working for climate protections in the interest of the residents, as well as taking action to sue companies like Exxon who are denying climate change. Environmental Chelsea Organisers is a youth led organisation that works on environmental justice.

Roseann finished by inviting us to the clean-up run by ECO on Earth Day, April 22nd. She provided the groups website, greenrootschelsea.org, and said that if people want to take action right now they should donate, because money is not coming from the federal government any more and that impact is real.

 

 

James DeCunzo, Organizer, All Campus Divestment Collaborative

James introduces himself as a member of DivestNU. James tells us that the divestment campaign at Northeastern begun in 2014, when 75% of the student body voted in favour of divestment. A recent Social Impact Council Report released by the DivestNU group in Spring 2016 recommended full divestment, however Northeastern did not divest and created a sustainability fund, which although a success for the group is still a half-measure on the road to divestment.

James explains that the creation of a Faculty Working group saw a power dynamic shift within DivestNU and helped the group accumulate important gains in staff support by overriding different concerns including those surrounding nontenured positions.

The All Campus Divestment Collaboration (ACDC) was an effort to share resources and show solidarity across the Greater Boston area. One of the key tools was a shared calendar along with other tools which enabled the different divestment groups to expand their network.

James recalls some of the challenges DivestNU have faced. The issue of reliable communication with professors as well as within the group is central, as well as redundancy issues across different groups trying to share work and find new strategies.

To conclude James points to some of the actions the ACDC has taken including teach-ins, direct support of campaigns, and reaching out to work with community organisations. He mentions that Professor Jennie Stephen’s teamed with ACDC to increase collaborative skill-sharing and transfer experience from older members to newer students. Following this, James leaves us with the question of how we can affect change by promoting allyship and skill-sharing.

 

Paula Garcia, Energy Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

Paula explains that the Union of Concerned Scientists was formed in 1969 by scientists and students from MIT. The groups focuses on a range of issues including nuclear weapons and power; climate and energy; and science and democracy.

Paula says that one of the solutions to climate change we have is reducing emissions and as the US is one of the countries that pollutes most in the world it has a particularly important role in this. Renewable energy is a viable alternative for the US and the Union of Concerned Scientists helps create models to inform policy decision-making in this area.

For Massachusetts, the Union found that the state could produce electricity in a sustainable way without building any more pipelines. Instead, deploying offshore wind energy could decrease bills and reduce emissions, as well as the state's reliance on natural gas. After a recent intervention the group helped achieve a state commitment to renewable energy.

Paula invites the audience to join the Union of Concerned Scientists, saying the group provides training and development opportunities. She also invites everyone to join the Union for the People’s Climate March in D.C. April 29th, urging people to RSVP at: wwww.ucsusa.org/pcm

 

Jane Marsching, Artist, Professor and Sustainability Fellow at Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Jane talks about embedding sustainability in art and design practices in higher education institutions, from class curriculums, to student clubs, to the financial structuring of educational institutions. Jane talks about the incubation package she has been working on at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Some of the big aims of the project included:

-Creating interdisciplinary opportunities for a school where departments are often defined by mediums

-Identifying deep themes to introduce sustainability as “everything”

-Unpacking the college’s aims to make practitioners “citizens”

The incubation program begun with the UN definition of sustainable practice as “that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” However a year into the incubator program the group decided that the UN definition of sustainability was not working for what they were trying to achieve. Jane tells us that The Sustainable MassArt Initiative defines “MassArt as an ecosystem in which everything we do is part of an interconnected web of economic, environmental, and human resources. The Sustainable MassArt Initiative works to define, develop, support, and communicate visionary work in the field of sustainable art and design by students, faculty, and staff. The primary goal of the Sustainable MassArt Initiative is to foster and support sustainable curriculum throughout the college.”

Jane tells us that she strove to make the classroom or laboratory the teacher with DIY products, tea stations, and other aspects which morphed over the course of the semester to allow anyone who entered the room to reorient themselves. She poses the question of how to create a strategy of knowledge and focus when many are uninterested to the group, and cites one-off classes by professors on an aspect of sustainability in their subject which were free and open to the public as a way to engage a broader range of people beyond the student body.

This year Jane tells us that the program is focusing on not creating a top-down series of events. Instead they have asked faculty to design from the ground up. She reminds us how important and necessary this type of work is when so much is judged on profits and quantitative metrics these days.To end, Jane urges us to work together to create systemic discontinuity with business as usual across all institutions of higher education.

 

Dr. Atiya Martin, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Boston

Atiya introduces us to Boston’s Resilience Strategy, providing a brief overview of the cities approach to resilience and the links between racial equity and social justice.

The Resilient City project was funded by the 100 Resilient Cities scheme by the Rockefeller Foundation. The project defines resilience as the ability of cities and individuals within cities to survive, adapt, and grow after emergencies. Atiya explains that anything from high unemployment to environmental justice issues can be considered emergencies, and that it includes racism as well as acute shocks like terrorism and natural disasters. The concept of resilience has helped the emergency management world to re-assess the impacts of issues like climate change within the different problems localities face every day.

Atiya tells us that the Mayor’s Office of Resilience had over 100 folks from different sectors attend two events to help us frame resilience in the City of Boston. The events asks what the vision for resilience in Boston is, what goals we need to achieve to get there, and what initiatives will help that happen. The two collaborative sessions created a Boston’s Blueprint for Resilience Strategy which includes the group's focus on racial equity. Overview of vision areas includes: Reflective city, stronger people; collaborative, proactive governance; equitable economic development; and connected adaptive city.

Atiya says that we should conceive of the event or experience as the tip of the iceberg, whilst beneath there are patterns of behaviour and thought that derive from the historical and social context we are in which themselves are part of ingrained cultural and institutional values. Atiya reminds us we all embody these values, sometimes in ways that we cannot recognise any more.

To prove this Atiya concludes with a demonstration of unconscious bias, having us read the colour of the word on the screen. Our unconscious brain wanted to read the word instead of looking at the colour of the word. Atiya says that we all have blind spots and we need to address them by expanding our networks, learning social and historical context, creating space in our personal and professional lives, and taking responsibility within our practices and policies.


 

Q&A with Dr. Atiya Martin, Jane Marsching, Paula Garcia, James DeCunzo, Roseann Bongiovanni.

Q: Can we work with fossil fuel companies from the inside?

JDC: Looking at the history of companies where that has happened I would say no. EXXON mobil has had shareholders and legal fights pushing for its transition to renewable energy from the inside. How can you work through those institutions when they are so resistant? As opposed to trying to work with these unjust companies we should depower them, and try to limit the power they hold in our institutions.

 

Q: Boston has the most poorly grounded racial justice lens of any group in the 100 Resilient Cities?

AM: All the Chief Resilience Officers meet, and each equity issue is different across cities. Initiatives tended to fall short of addressing the equity statement identified at the beginning. We are in close contact with Melbourne, who also have a large immigrant population and are seeing rising discrimination, particularly against muslims. We aim to share what we’re learning and what it means for government to address inequity.

 

Q: What are the primary obstacles for building a broader climate justice movement, and what are the important lessons we can build on?

AM: Climate justice has been predominantly white, where people of colour have been in the grassroots but separated from these movements. We can join the intersections around race by asking who disproportionately gets the burden of climate justice issues?

Communities Labour United joined communities and unions to develop a report on climate justice and how we can work together. It is important to ask how to connect the grassroots to broader movements, bringing climate justice into social justice beyond our comfort zones.

PG: Solar equity is a big movement across states like California and New York, where the benefits of solar reach lower income communities. It is important to invite lower-income communities to the table where these decisions are being made.

 

Q: How do we do better at reaching people who are not currently “in the choir”?

RB: We need to bring them into the choir - these people benefit from the exploitation of others and people need to be made aware of their benefits being a burden on other people. Racism is still a prominent issue, where people believe it is out of sight and out of mind, but we need to readdress the distribution of benefits and burdens.

AM: We need to focus on the larger group through “like me” mentality.

JM: It is important to have the opportunity to re-create our formulaic responses to an issue like climate change.


Community announcements:

Brookline Interactive are organising a 3 day hackathon. For more information visit: http://vrecohack.com/
Groups are welcomed to submit events to http://bit.ly/EWB2017-event or contact earthweekboston@gmail.com  to join a coalition of groups in Greater Boston for Earth Day 2017.
ACDC highlight events for divestment at Harvard and Tufts over the coming weeks.
Physicians for Social Responsibility offer their partnership to interested parties.
Quincy Climate Action Network share their South Shore Science Festival event on Earth Day.
And Emerson’s Engagement Lab advise applications to their MA in Civic Media: Art and Practice are still open.
 


Moderated Small Group Discussions:

How do we teach climate change through action? and How do we take action on climate change through teaching?

Small break-out groups discussed the two questions above thinking of creative responses and case-studies that illuminate potential outcomes.

 

Group 1: It is important to finding scaleable projects and embed students within the community

 

Group 2: The group came up with several ideas to teach climate and take action through action. Use local library as resource to showcase climate change media; visit state or federal legislature to teach students how to lobby; map knowledge of what people do and don’t know about climate change, and be able to sum up basic climate change science in an accessible way; have ways for people to get involved in smaller ways; document history of work within movements; link student organisations to staff or national organisations

 

Group 3: This group discussed that it is important to not adding to people’s workloads, and promoted the idea of dovetailing rather than adding, i.e. partnering with urban farming groups where there is common interest. Useful examples for teaching climate include heatmapping local areas and using comic book to share information. The group recommended Public Lab for tools for teachers to download

 

Group 4: The group asked the question “where does teaching happen?” The focus of the group was on tone, as they said it was important with an issue like climate change to open opportunities for discourses of hope and imagination. The group noted that values matter and we should find the spaces of common values are and teach towards those. Network building (Climate College, BCM) and finding points of commonality and common language are especially important, particularly building them locally

 

Group 5: The group looked at moving the learning experiences outside the classroom, from collaborative class projects to teachers from different departments providing expertise within a class for a richer learning experience. Getting students out of school to do work in the world was seen as a good way to drive engagement, including using initiatives like The Beautiful Stuff Project and other recycling centers that have free materials for students to work with

 

Group 6: Meeting people where they’re at and understanding that people have different experiences of the environment and what climate change means to them was the key takeaway from Group 6. Enabling community partners with mutually beneficial research was central to teaching action and learning from action. The group pointed to ISeeChange.org and other uses of data which increases community investment and the quality of academic data. The group's closing through was that outside of the classroom we are all experts and we are all students.

 

 

by Katie Arthur at March 25, 2017 12:30 AM

March 24, 2017

Global Voices
Searching for Justice, This Catholic Church Worker Documents Drug Killings in the Philippines

Majority of the victims of tokhang (anti-drug operation) are urban poor residents. Photo by Ciriaco Santiago, used with permission.

Ciriaco Santiago may look like an ordinary missionary in Manila’s Baclaran Church but he's also a nightcrawler photographer who joins other journalists in covering the lethal anti-drug operations of the Philippine police.

According to police records, more than 2,000 have been killed in the anti-drug operations from June to December 2016. But some groups fear that the number could be higher if extrajudicial killings are included.

If the job of the media is to report the latest casualties in the government’s ‘war on drugs’, Santiago’s role is to profile the victims and document the anti-drug operation or tokhang extra-judicial killing to be used in future human rights abuse investigations.

In an interview with Vatican Insider, Santiago explained why it’s important to expose the violations of the drug war:

Letting the world know about this legalized barbarism is a humanitarian work, before it being news. Raise public awareness about the flagrant violations of law and legality and to stop the killing. Journalism can really serve the public interest and work for the common good.

Santiago’s work has been featured in several exhibitions in churches and schools. The Rise-Up human rights network also submitted his photos as evidence of possible police involvement in extrajudicial killings which has mainly targeted the urban poor of metro Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

The drug war became a national issue in 2016 when the country’s newly elected president vowed to end the menace by killing the leaders of drug cartels and their protectors.

In many instances, innocent civilians have been killed in the tokhang operations. The police are accused of killing unarmed suspects and other petty drug personalities but authorities have blamed this on drug cartels which are allegedly liquidating their rival gangs.

Brother Ciriaco Santiago of the Redemptorist Catholic Church. Source: Facebook

Santiago, who is the crisis management coordinator of his church, began his documentation work last December 2016 in response to the growing number of cases and complaints involving urban poor parishioners.

During one of his visits in urban poor communities, Santiago learned about the case of teenagers who were killed by a group of masked men. Community leaders attested that the teenagers were not involved in illegal drug trade. Many also believe that the killing could be a tokhang operation.

Santiago wrote about the story of the teenagers and documented the funeral march:

They had dreams. All of them wanted to finish their studies, hoping that they would get better jobs once equipped with formal trainings.

Because of poverty, they had to work and save for it. They were firm with the resolve to study, no matter how long it takes.

But that dream vanished that fateful night, as well as the village’s peaceful environment.

The wake was short. The victims’ families and relatives cannot afford a decent burial for their dead. Their option was to bury them all together – alongside with each other.

Teenagers who were killed in a tokhang-like operation were buried alongisde each other to save cost. Community leaders attest to the innocence of the teenagers. Photo by Ciriaco Santiago, used with permission.

Santiago’s work complements the reports of mainstream journalists in giving face to the victims of tokhang and the alarming impact of the drug war in urban poor communities.

Santiago is encouraging young photographers to shed light on the situation of the poor, especially those who are affected by the government’s drug war:

As a photojournalist, always be with the poor, understand their social reality. There is always a clash of competing class interests, with that be on the side of the struggling and poor people.

Below are some photos taken by Santiago, which show what tokhang means to ordinary Filipinos in urban poor villages:

A police officers looks into the dead body of a probable drug suspect. Near the body is a truck with a signage bearing the slogan and name of the country's president. Photo by Ciriaco Santiago, used with permission.

The body of a tokhang victim is carried away in front of a grieving family. Photo by Ciriaco Santiago, used with permission.

The religious sector has been reaching out to tokhang victims in order to probe and stop the drug-related killings in the country. Photo by Ciriaco Santiago, used with permission.

by Mong Palatino at March 24, 2017 11:55 PM

Concrete Lovers, This Is What Social Housing Looks Like in Japan
団地

“Block No. 4, 2-3-2 Honmachi” (in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture). Photo by Nevin Thompson.

In Japan, there are blogs devoted to documenting train interiorsmanhole covers and even cake. So it should come as no surprise that there is a Tumblr and a blog devoted to danchi (団地), the clusters of utilitarian ferro-concrete public housing projects where so many Japanese people have lived since the end of World War II.

This danchi blog provides a rare glimpse into how many people live in Japan, even today.

The term danchi can have negative connotations in Japanese, akin to “the projects” or “social housing” in English. Formerly speaking, these are all known as koei jutaku (公営住宅), or public housing in Japanese.

As discussed on American web forum MetaFilterWalking in the Danchi !! is a Japanese-language blog devoted to sharing images of housing estates around Japan. The blog is frequently updated, and features photos of housing blocks from all over Japan, including Kyoto, central TokyoOsaka and many other parts of Japan. The posts include information about the specific address of the tower blocks, and when they were built:

Screenshot from Walking in the Danchi !! Tumblr blog.

Tamachi Ekimae Apartments (1966)
Shiba, Minato Ward, Tokyo
Photo taken in 2016

Screenshot from Walking in the Danchi !! Tumblr blog.

Osaka Kadoma Public Housing (1967)
Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture
Photo taken in 2017

The photos capture some of the details familiar to anyone who has ever lived in an apartment in Japan, such as omnipresent ferroconcrete and heavy-duty metal apartment doors that look like something more typically found in a submarine:

Screenshot from Walking in the Danchi !! Tumblr blog.

Naha Municipal Tsubogawa-East Apartments (Built 1985-1992)
Tsubogawa, Naha (Okinawa Prefecture)
Photo taken in 2016

The photos also capture more recent efforts to beautify the typically stark, utilitarian landscapes that typify public housing estates in Japan.

Screenshot from Walking in the Danchi !! Tumblr blog.

Osaka Kadoma Public Housing (1967)
Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture
Photo taken in 2017

Screenshot from Walking in the Danchi !! Tumblr blog.

Osaka Kadoma Public Housing (1967)
Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture
Photo taken in 2017

Writing for the Japan Times, Philip Brasor provides a useful primer on public housing in Japan, including government housing policy since the Second World War, who qualifies for public housing in Japan, as well as how less government investment in public housing in recent years, combined with the rise of precarious work and declining wages is leading to evermore income disparity in Japan.

by Nevin Thompson at March 24, 2017 05:48 PM

A Century Later, Namibia Demands Justice From Germany for Its First Holocaust

1900 Views from German Southwest Africa signed by Hendrik Witbooi. Photo: Keijo Knutas / Flickr / CC 2.0

From Nov. 25, 2016 to March 12, 2017, the Holocaust Memorial in Paris, France, hosted an exhibition dedicated to the genocide of two Namibian peoples: the Herero and the Nama — what is now widely considered to be the first genocide of the 20th century.

Following the 1884 Berlin Conference, when European powers divided Africa among themselves, Germany ruled German South West Africa (present-day Namibia), until 1915.

Between 1904 and 1908, German colonialists committed a holocaust against the Herero and the Nama, exterminating as many as 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama. In one particularly gruesome detail, some of the victims’ skulls were even sent to Germany for scientific research into supposed racial inequality.

Eventually, under the leadership of Chief Samuel Maharero, members of these two tribes mounted a successful revolt against the Germans, retaking their lands, and putting an end to widespread rape by German occupiers and other forms of degradation. They fought a guerrilla war leading to a situation Véronique Chemla described on her blog as  “a major conflict”. Véronique Chemla, an international affairs journalist for American Thinker, Ami and FrontPage Mag, explains:

Le 12 janvier 1904, « alors que les troupes allemandes sont occupées à tenter de mater la “rébellion” des Nama Bondelswartz dans le Sud, des Herero d’Okahandja, exaspérés par les injustices commises par Zürn et la perte continue de territoire, s’en prennent aux fermes allemandes, aux commerces et à l’infrastructure coloniale. Ces attaques entraînent une brutale répression de la part des soldats et des colons qui se livrent à des actes de lynchage et de représailles aveugles ».
En Allemagne, à la suite des “descriptions exagérées de ces agressions, une véritable fièvre guerrière se développe”.
“Alors que la violence se propage, le soulèvement local se transforme en conflit majeur, forçant Maharero à se ranger du côté des « rebelles ». Au grand dam des politiciens de Berlin, ses hommes réussissent dans un premier temps à résister aux troupes de Leutwein en utilisant des techniques de guérilla. Leutwein est relevé de son commandement et remplacé par l’impitoyable général Lothar von Trotha qui débarque dans la colonie en juin 1904 avec des milliers d’hommes.

On Jan. 12, 1904, “while the German troops were busy trying to suppress the “rebellion” of the Bondelswartz Nama in the south, the Okahandja Herero, exasperated by injustices committed by [Station Commander Lieutenant Ralph] Zürn and the continued loss of their territory, attacked German farms, businesses and the colonial infrastructure. These attacks led to a brutal repression by the soldiers and colonials, who held lynchings and indiscriminate reprisals.”

In Germany, following the “exaggerated descriptions of these attacks, a real desire for war developed.”

While the violence continued to spread, the local uprising transformed into a major conflict, forcing Maharero to side with the “rebels.” To the great annoyance of Berlin politicians, his men at first succeeded in resisting [Colonial Administrator Theodor] Leutwein’s troops by use of guerilla techniques. Leutwein was relieved of his command and replaced by the ruthless General Lothar von Trotha who arrived at the colony in June 1904 with thousands of men.

General Lothar Von Trotha led 15,000 men in a ruthless campaign of repression. On Oct. 2, 1904, he ordered his officers to carry out the systematic extermination of members of the two tribes, as described by a post on Le Blog de Daniel Giacobi. Giacobi is a french history professor:

Les Hereros ne sont plus des sujets allemands. S'ils n'acceptent pas, ils seront contraints par les armes. (Ils) doivent quitter le pays sinon, je les délogerai avec le « groot Rohr » (grand canon)… Tout Héréro aperçu à l'intérieur des frontières allemandes [namibiennes] avec ou sans arme, sera exécuté. Femmes et enfants seront reconduits hors d'ici – ou seront fusillés. Aucun prisonnier mâle ne sera pris. Ils seront fusillés. Décision prise pour le peuple Héréro. Dans les frontières allemandes, chaque Herero armé ou non, en possession de bétail ou pas, sera abattu. Je ne recevrai plus de femmes ou d’enfants. Je les renverrai aux leurs, ou je leur ferai tirer dessus».  «  Ma politique a toujours été d'exercer celle-ci par le terrorisme brutal, voire par la cruauté. J'anéantis les tribus insurgées dans des flots de sang et d'argent. C'est la seule semence pour faire pousser quelque chose de nouveau qui soit stable.»

The Herero are no longer German subjects. If they do not accept this, they will be forced to with arms. [They] must leave the country, otherwise I will remove them with the “groot Rohr” [large cannon]
… Any Herero seen inside German [Namibian] frontiers, whether armed or not, will be executed. Women and children will be taken out of the country — or shot. No male prisoners will be taken. They will be shot. This decision has been made regarding the Herero people. Within German frontiers, each Herero, whether armed or not, with cattle or not, will be killed. I will not receive any more women or children. I will send them back to their own, or I will have them shot. […]

My policy has always been to control this using brutal terror and even cruelty. I will use floods of money to annihilate the insurgent tribesmen in torrents of blood. This is the only seed which will grow into something new and stable.

In the August 1904, at the Battle of Waterberg, the Herero and Nama were surrounded, “leaving the only escape route across the Kalahari desert, where the water points had been poisoned.”

What happened next was even more tragic:

Pour compléter le tableau il installa des postes de garde en leur donnant l'ordre formel d'abattre tout Herero quel que soit son âge ou son sexe… Ce fut un massacre systématique que certains estiment entre 25 000 et 40 000 morts (d'autres parlent de 60 000 victimes)

As a finishing touch, he installed guards, giving them a formal order to kill any Herero of any age or either gender. The result was a systematic massacre that some estimate at between 25,000 and 40,000 dead (others speak of 60,000 victims).

Vincent Hiribarren, a lecturer at King's College London in African and World History, runs the libeafrica4.blogs.liberation.fr website, which published an interview by Jean-Pierre Bat with Leonor Faber-Jonker, a historian at the University of Utrecht, who described the extermination methods used by the Germans:

C’est en réalité la politique que suivait déjà, sans le dire, von Trotha depuis l’attaque de Watterberg. Au cours de la bataille, les Herero qui sont parvenus à s’échapper de l’encerclement allemand ont fui en direction de l’Omaheke. Von Trotha ordonna leur poursuite, ratissant systématiquement le terrain et neutralisant les points d’eau. Poussés vers le désert, ces Herero finissent par mourir de déshydratation et de faim. Cette traque n’a pas été sans conséquence, non plus, sur les Allemands…

Des copies de l’ordre écrit étaient brandis à la capture d’Herero, qui étaient forcés d’assister à l’exécution de certains de leurs camarades prisonniers avant d’être renvoyés dans le désert, afin de témoigner de ce qu’ils ont vu et de décourager les Herero de revenir.

This was actually the policy that von Trotha had been following, although unstated, since the Waterberg attack. During the battle, any Herero who managed to escape the circle of Germans surrounding them fled toward Omaheke. Von Trotha ordered their pursuit, methodically scouring the terrain and taking out the water points. Pushed toward the desert, these Herero eventually died of dehydration and hunger. This pursuit also had repercussions for the Germans.

Copies of the written order were shown when Herero were captured, and they were forced to watch the execution of some of their prisoner comrades, before being sent into the desert so they could bear witness to what they had seen and discourage other Herero from returning.

The colonials behaved appallingly, stealing land and raping Herero and Nama women. The Holocaust Memorial website highlighted that most colonials who took the Herero land and cattle treated the Africans with a total lack of respect.

Rape was common, exacerbated by the shortage of German women. The fear of the German people (Volk) of racial degeneration led ultimately to the ban on mixed marriages in September 1905. Ideas of racial difference were based on late 19th century German anthropology, which established a distinction between races deemed “civilized” and those considered “primitive.” It was hoped to gain an understanding of the human species through the objective observation of “primitives,” like those people exhibited in human zoos (highly popular in Europe at that time).

In 2011, eleven skulls from the genocide were finally discovered in Namibia. Until then, this atrocity had remained hidden, as highlighted by the Holocaust Memorial site:

Le Blue Book, un rapport officiel du gouvernement britannique faisant état des atrocités commises dans le Sud-Ouest africain allemand, réalisé peu de temps après la reconquête de la colonie pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, est censuré en 1926 dans l’intérêt de l’unité blanche. Par la suite, la vision allemande faisant du génocide une guerre coloniale héroïque domine le paysage mémoriel au sens propre : l’ancienne colonie est envahie de monuments et de noms de rues commémorant l’effort de guerre allemand.

Après 1945, le passé colonial est tout sauf oublié en Allemagne. Dans le Sud-Ouest africain, la suppression du régime d’apartheid étouffa tout débat public sur le génocide. Ce fut aux descendants des victimes qu’il incomba de garder vivante la mémoire du génocide aussi bien dans des commémorations que par la transmission orale.

The Blue Book, an official report by the British government listing the atrocities committed in German South West Africa, and compiled shortly after the reconquest of the colony during the First World War, was censored in 1926 in the interest of the new unity. Following this, the German perspective viewing the genocide as an heroic colonial war literally dominated the memorial landscape as the former colony was inundated with monuments and street names commemorating the German war effort. After 1945, the colonial past was all but forgotten in Germany. In South West Africa, the suppression of the apartheid regime stifled any public debate about genocide. Descendants of the victims had the task of keeping the memory of the genocide alive, both by commemorative events and oral tradition.

Finally, in July 2015, the German government agreed to label “the events that took place” as an official genocide, following recognition of the Armenian genocide. But the government had still failed to issue a formal apology or indicate a desire to give compensation. This led to a meeting from last October at the Berlin French Center, uniting supporters from several countries to affirm the right of the Herero and Nama communities to be directly involved in negotiating a resolution that includes recognition of the genocide, an appropriate and sincere formal apology to the affected communities, and payment of fair compensation to these two communities, who continue to suffer the ill-effects of the genocide.

Since Namibia gained independence in 1990, descendants of victims — together with human rights groups (in particular, Jewish supporters) from Germany, the United States, Botswana, and South Africa — have fought to win recognition of the genocide, nearing a major victory in court. This July, New York Federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain will hear a complaint against Berlin by the victims’ descendants.

by Jane Ellis at March 24, 2017 11:05 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
03/24/17: A new way to withdraw money from the ATM
Wells Fargo is going to start letting customers withdraw money from ATMs using their smartphones, no debit card required. We'll chat with the Tiffany Rad, the CEO and founder of the security firm Anatrope, about whether this method of transaction is actually safe. Afterwards, we'll play this week's Silicon Tally with Vanity Fair's Maya Kosoff, and then look at the Senate's decision to scrap various user privacy rules for Internet Service Providers.

by Marketplace at March 24, 2017 10:19 AM

March 23, 2017

Global Voices
Hong Kong Residents Are Trolling China's New ‘Diplomacy’ Page on Facebook

Facebook is officially blocked in mainland China.

Screenshot of China Ministry of Foreign Affair Hong Kong Office's Facebook Page.

This post was written by Elson Tong and originally published by Hong Kong Free Press on March 22, 2017. The edited version below is published as part of a partnership agreement.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s branch in Hong Kong has opened an official Facebook page, leading internet users in the autonomous region to flood the page with angry comments. The giant social network is censored in mainland China, but not in its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau.

On March 21, the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong held a launch ceremony and pressed a button that uploaded this first post in the Cantonese-language:

好啦!咁其實我地係負責咩工作呢?香港實行“一國兩制”,相信大家都知啦,國家有外交部去處理國與國之間的關係,咁香港唔係一個國家,同香港相關外交事務就由我地負責啦。That's why we exist.

Well, what is our responsibility exactly? Hong Kong implements ‘One Country Two Systems’ – we believe everyone knows this – and the country has a foreign ministry to take care of state-to-state relations. Well, Hong Kong is not a country, so we take care of Hong Kong-related diplomatic matters. That’s why we exist.

Some users mocked the page for using the Cantonese possessive particle geh (嘅) instead of gaa (噶). “Why don’t you hire a Hongkonger as an editor?” asked one commenter.

According to the “one country, two systems” principle underwritten in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the city's Basic Law, when Hong Kong was handed back to the people of China from the UK, the city's capitalist system and its way of life would remain unchanged at least for 50 years until 2047. But Beijing has been showing signs of impatience in recent years, encroaching more and more on Hong Kong's internal affairs, by reinterpreting Basic Law to restrict the election reform and by disqualifying elected pro-independence lawmakers, as well as exercising informal political pressure to intervene in elections, government policy and official appointment.

Despite receiving fewer than 1,000 likes within a day of its launch, the page has received hundreds of comments, mostly in protest. Some commenters called on Beijing to cease its rumoured support for chief executive candidate Carrie Lam, or to prosecute incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying and his alleged Chinese government backers.

On March 26, 1200-member election committee will elect the city's top leader. The three candidates are ex-chief secretary Carrie Lam, ex-financial chief secretary John Tsang and ex-judge Woo Kwok Hing. But there have been talks among pro-Beijing election committee members that Carrie Lam is Beijing's only acceptable candidate. Many believe that Carrie Lam is backed by the China Liaison Office and the current Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, who is caught in a misconduct scandal for having failed to declare his HK$50 million deal with Australian firm UGL.

Others told the ministry to “go back to Weibo,” given that Facebook is blocked in the mainland.

Fb is blocked in China, go home… stick to your own fakes.

Facebook是外國勢力
中國人用facebook就是賣國!一定收了美國黑金!

Facebook is a foreign power. Chinese using Facebook are definitely traitors, they must have been sponsored by the U.S.

強國不容許使用fb
若果你愛國嘅話,就乖乖地聽中國話,用返微博,qq啦

The powerful country prohibits FB
If you love the country, obey China and use Weibo and QQ.

Student leader Joshua Wong wrote a page review:

撤回人大決定,落實民主普選,中共停止打壓!

Rescind the decision of the National People’s Congress, implement democratic universal suffrage, the Chinese Communist Party must stop its oppression!

Some Facebook users were more welcoming. For example one of the page review said:

加強直接對香港市民了解是好事,因為現在中聯辦是個山寨王國,和一些人構成一個龐大利益集團,每事只想自己利益再先,視國家利益再後,尤其是回歸後才忽然愛國的那些,又經常誇大香港反動情況,騙取各種資源和權力,因香港越分化,那些人得到利益就越多,實質香港人大多希望團結和諧,法治和自由得到肯定而已,所謂國家好,香港好;香港好,國家也好,請好好看清香港實況呢。

It is good to communicate with Hong Kong citizens directly. The Liaison Office is a kingdom claiming to represent the state, it has become an interest block and it has prioritized its interest at the expense of the state. Those who suddenly transformed into patriots after the return of Hong Kong to China and those who keep exaggerating the opposition force in Hong Kong in order to obtain resources and power. The more Hong Kong is torn apart, the more interest they would gain. Most Hong Kong people desire social unity and harmony. They just want rule of law and liberty. The fate of China and Hong Kong is interconnected. Please take a closer look at the reality here.

This is not the first time the Chinese government has set up an official page on Facebook. In September 2015, the government set up a Facebook page for President Xi Jinping to coincide with his visit to the United States. The page – named “Xi’s Visit” – has documented his activities in English ever since.

by Hong Kong Free Press at March 23, 2017 10:52 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Is Jamaica Preventing Cybercrime or Cyber Activism? The Tambourine Army Goes to Court

Protestors at the Tambourine Army's March 11, 2017 march against sexual violence, Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Storm Saulter, used with permission.

As Latoya Nugent, one of the founders of Jamaica's new Tambourine Army movement, made her way to court on March 22, 2017, public attention turned towards the reach of The Cybercrimes Act, with many asking whether the effort to prevent cybercrime is curbing cyberactivism.

Nugent's Tambourine Army is “a radical movement that was formed organically out of an urgent recognition to advocate differently for the rights of women and girls”. The main bone of contention is the Army's controversial tactic of encouraging survivors of sexual abuse to name their perpetrators with the hashtag #SayTheirNames, before the perpetrators have gone before a judge. Nugent was charged on three counts of “the use of computer for malicious communication”–under the country's Cybercrimes Act–for identifying several men as sexual predators on social media, some of whom lodged formal complaints with the police.

The Tambourine Army movement is led by survivors like Nugent and was triggered earlier this year by revelations of child sexual abuse by Moravian Church pastor Paul Gardner. The Army's supporters say their radical tactic of naming and shaming is essential because Jamaica's sexual violence and domestic abuse laws–including the Sexual Offences Act of 2009 –place disproportionate burden on the victim, and because rape and abuse are already massively underreported because of a culture of victim-shaming and stigma.

The case against Nugent is complicated

Like many cybercrime laws in other countries, Jamaica's legislation is vaguely worded when it comes to “malicious” communication. Offline, naming alleged perpetrators who have not had their day in court is an issue that would be dealt with under defamation laws. But in 2013, Jamaica reformed its defamation regime to be treated as a matter of civil — not criminal — law. This means that anyone convicted of defamation in Jamaica can be made to pay for any damage done to the person's reputation, but will not serve time.

When Nugent appeared in court, she learned that her bail would be extended because the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has taken an interest in the case and needs more time to review the files. Nugent's next court appearance will be on March 31. The DPP is expected to be present.

Blogger and internet activist Ingrid Riley called on social media users to “get ready to become involved when the [Cybercrimes] Act comes up for review next year.” Riley noted:

The arrest of Tambourine Army co-founder Latoya Nugent speaks volumes. It says, how dare you host such a march? How dare you decide to speak? How dare you seek change when change isn’t needed. You should be raped, violated and abused, for rape culture has no end!

It is not being said in those words, of course. But the arrest of Latoya Nugent, who has been charged with the use of a computer for malicious communication under the Cyber Crime Act, after naming an alleged sex offender, is telling me just that!

I am told to be silent, for my voice has no power or place in this country. Because if I do speak out, or fight to protect my person, the State will be coming for me.

The justice system in Jamaica is “creaking”

On its Facebook page, the Tambourine Army linked to an article by the respected UK barrister Lord Anthony Gifford, who admitted that the case against Nugent “has raised constitutional issues that are fascinating for a human-rights lawyer to disentangle.” Gifford distilled the situation into three simple issues: that victims “are fed up with pious talk that has changed nothing”; that citizens have the right to free speech; and that while people are innocent until proven guilty, the justice system in Jamaica “is creaking” and making the path to justice “intolerable”.

Addressing the language of the cybercrime legislation, Gifford noted that “it was clearly designed to punish trolls and stalkers who use threats and obscene language to menace the vulnerable, and particularly women.” While acknowledging that he did not know the details of Nugent's case, Gifford concluded:

…making threats through social media is a criminal offence, and justifiably so, but simply making accusations is not. In interpreting the meaning of the new act, the courts must ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.

In a public Facebook post, blogger Annie Paul commented:

….why is alleged libel on social media a police matter rather than a civil one as libel normally is […]? Because libel via computer is deemed a criminal offence in Jamaica rather than a civil one It has alarming implications for freedom of speech. For example @latoyanugent of the #TambourineArmy was arrested by the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch. Doesn’t this strike you as overkill? Isn’t this perhaps designed to serve as a warning to civil society and those who comment in online forums? Doesn't this represent a direct threat to freedom of speech?

In an article for the Jamaica Gleaner, Paul wrote that the #SayTheirNames hashtag is not about “women demanding the right to falsely accuse men of raping them”, but rather about “facilitating the empowerment of survivors and placing it squarely at the feet of perpetrators.” Echoing Lord Gifford's point about the many instances of justice denied to victims of sexual abuse, Paul asked, “Why then the moral panic about the mere possibility of libel in cyberspace? And why is there not [an] outcry about the out-of-control rape culture here?”

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) has also spoken out on the legislation angle, calling on Parliament to stand by its position on criminal defamation:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that, like many others, is subject to restrictions. Those restrictions include the law of defamation to protect the reputations of others. These are matters for the civil courts. […]

However, criminal defamation laws that penalise statements that injure reputation are understood by freedom of expression advocates all over the world to be an enemy of freedom of expression, to have a chilling effect on free speech, and to facilitate the repression of criticism by governments. […]

Making arrests for what are essentially matters for the civil courts places Jamaica on a steep, slippery slope where freedom of expression is at risk. We do not believe this was the intention of the legislature.

The big picture

Activists Caribbean-wide are making their voices heard with regard to free speech restrictions that fall under the umbrella of overly broad cybercrime laws. Code Red posted a statement of solidarity on its blog:

What happened to Latoya is not specific to Jamaica. Across the Caribbean region, we see an increasing attempt to enact cyber crime and repressive legislation that fails to protect the most vulnerable and the most marginalized in our communities; and instead attempts to silence and criminalize dissent and human rights organizing. […]

We recognize that the internet is often used as a space for human rights defenders to disseminate information, organize, advocate and mobilize. Accordingly, what we need are digital security frameworks that not only centre, but that protect, human rights. […]

We are all impacted by Latoya’s arrest. As democratic spaces across the Caribbean region continue to shrink, in addition to being accompanied by increasing police and state surveillance and repression, we recognize the urgency and necessity of maintaining spaces for civil disobedience and organizing. We demand that our fundamental human right to resist and mobilize be respected. And we call upon the government of Jamaica, specifically the Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn who has taken an interest in this case, to drop all charges against Latoya Nugent.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at March 23, 2017 08:17 PM

Netizen Report: Why Did YouTube Censor Your Videos? You May Never Know.

Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index 2017 – overall scores for companies.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

In mid-March Indian documentarian Rakesh Sharma, who is known for his films on public unrest and violence in the state of Gujarat, found his YouTube channel blocked. He received a message from the company that read:

This account has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy against spam, deceptive practices, and misleading content or other Terms of Service violations.

The channel had been live since 2014 and mainly features clips from his documentaries, which have garnered considerable attention in India, Europe and the US. Two days later, without explanation, the channel was back on. Sharma is known for his critical views on Indian PM Narendra Modi, which are evident in his films, but there’s no evidence to prove this had anything to do with the block.

Indeed, there’s no information — beyond YouTube’s boilerplate takedown text — explaining what motivated the sudden blocking and equally sudden reappearance of the channel.

Sharma isn’t alone. Amid an apparent shift in YouTube’s approach to monitoring for rules violations (with a particular focus on extremist content) and staying in the good graces of advertisers, a wave of YouTube users have found their work either blocked or relegated to “restricted” mode in recent months.

YouTube video bloggers whose work includes themes of same-sex relationships and LGBT acceptance and rights are among those who have found their videos suddenly unavailable in “restricted” mode, an opt-in version of YouTube intended for children and school computer labs. Users are voicing concern and posting examples of the blocks under the #YouTubeIsOverParty hashtag on Twitter.

The blocks raise critical questions about the partly technical, partly human-driven process that YouTube uses to spot videos that violate its terms or qualify as inappropriate for younger viewers. While some types of content — such as videos clearly intended to be pornographic — are easy to identify and remove, others are not. And in many cases, the process begins with YouTube users themselves, who are free to report content if they think it’s breaking the rules. This mechanism plays a powerful role in how the company sets priorities for content removal — and it sometimes results in abuse by users intent on silencing people they disagree with.

These examples illustrate the importance of corporate transparency surrounding content removal decisions, both on the individual and platform-wide level. The issue is emphasized in the Ranking Digital Rights Index for 2017 (released this week), which measures against a comprehensive set of international human rights standards as they exist in the digital realm.

Iranians see new threats to speech as elections approach

Iranians are seeing a crackdown on press freedom and digital expression leading up to the May 2017 presidential elections. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, a hardline wing of the armed forces that answers to the office of the Supreme Leader, arrested 12 administrators of channels on the messaging app Telegram that support Iran’s reformist political faction, as well as those behind the moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

Telegram developed a significant Iranian user base approaching the 2016 parliamentary elections and many believe it helped facilitate gains for reformist and moderate members of parliament. Iranian authorities have been trying to curb the free flow of information through Telegram both with arrests and with new rules that require media organizations and journalists to obtain an official license in order to distribute news through Telegram.

On top of this, authorities recently arrested two journalists, Ehsan Mazandarani and Hengameh Shahidi, both of whom are known for their independent and critical reporting.

Jamaican women’s rights activist arrested for social media campaign tactics

Jamaican activist Latoya Nugent was arrested last week and charged under Jamaica's Cybercrimes Act for “use of a computer for malicious communication” after she publicly identified alleged perpetrators of sexual violence via social media. Nugent is the co-founder of Tambourine Army, a new movement led by women and survivors of sexual violence who are talking openly about their experiences, both online and in public. In an editorial for the Jamaica Gleaner, legal scholar Tenesha Myrie called this section of the Cybercrimes Act “an attempt to criminalise defamation through the back door,” noting that offline, defamation is treated as a matter of civil — not criminal — law in Jamaica.

Guatemalan news site attacked after posting interviews with fire survivors

A house fire that killed 40 young women at a shelter on the outskirts of Guatemala City on March 8 drew significant media attention in the region and beyond, but coverage of the story by local outlets did not go unpunished. Guatemalan independent news site NomadaGT, which published recorded testimonies from two young women who survived the fire, suffered what appeared to be a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack, leaving the site offline for several hours.

UAE activist arrested for “publishing false information”

On March 20, authorities in the United Arab Emirates detained Ahmed Mansoor, a respected human rights defender who was the 2015 laureate of the Martin Ennals Foundation, which supports human rights defenders at risk. Mansoor stands accused of using social media “to publish false information and rumors as well as promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda.”

On March 15, an Abu Dhabi court convicted Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar of “insulting symbols of the state” on social media, which is a crime under the 2012 UAE Cybercrime Law. The case against al-Najjar focused primarily on a Facebook post that he published in 2014, while still living in Jordan, where he criticized the Emirati position in the 2014 war in Gaza.

Brazilian blogger forced to disclose sources to federal judge

A leftist Brazilian blogger named Eduardo Guimarães had a laptop and two phones confiscated after he released key information about a confidential anti-corruption investigation in Brazil. A supporter of former President Lula and a leading figure among left-wing activists and politicians, Guimarães released information that was allegedly leaked from the investigation of the Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) corruption scandal. The blogger says he also was asked to disclose his sources, triggering a wave of online protests in the country's blogosphere (including from right-wing bloggers) and reports in major media outlets concerning the protection of sources. Reporters Without Borders noted on the BBC that this is a “serious attack” on media freedom in Brazil.

Court rules US citizen can’t sue Ethiopian government for putting spyware on his computer

A US court of appeals ruled that a US citizen, who goes by the pseudonym Kidane, cannot sue the Ethiopian government for hacking into his computer using the targeted spy software FinSpy. The decision hinges on the court’s interpretation of where the hacking occurred: it ruled that though Kidane, who is Ethiopian-born, opened the infected email attachment in the United States, the placement of the virus began outside the United States.

Kidane’s lawyer, Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Nate Cardozo, said the court is simply wrong in this interpretation and called the ruling “extremely dangerous for cybersecurity.” The EFF said they are evaluating their options on appealing the ruling.

Internet freedom activists targeted by Ben Ali regime speak at Tunisian Commission

Tunisian blogger Zouhair Yahyaoui, who founded the satirical TUNeZINE online forum, was jailed and tortured for publishing “false news” in 2001. Now his story has been brought light as part of a series of public hearings on human rights violations under the dictatorship of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who governed Tunisia for 23 years until his January 2011 ousting.

Bloggers, activists and relatives of those who were targeted by the Ben Ali regime testified before Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which dedicated a special session to the issue of online rights violations. It remains unclear whether and how Tunisia’s transitional justice process will impact future Internet policies, but for a country once described as an “Internet enemy”, acknowledging its abusive past is an imperative first step toward reform.

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by Netizen Report Team at March 23, 2017 08:10 PM

Global Voices
Is Kazakhstan's President a Dictator? You Decide.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. PHOTO: Public domain from the web side of the Russian government.

Like many leaders who might more or less match the description, 76-year-old Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev is uncomfortable with suggestions that he is a dictator. In a recent and revealing discussion with hand-picked journalists in the oil-rich country, he returned to a favoured theme: explaining why, in his opinion, Asian societies aren't always suited to the trials and tribulations of democracy.

Nazarbayev held court on March 16 at his residence in the capital Astana, a city of a million that he transformed from a provincial backwater, and one that looks increasingly destined to take his name. According to him, a strong presidential republic such as the one he has ruled over since before the collapse of the Soviet Union offers numerous benefits.

“The most important thing is people’s economic well-being. How can you do politics on an empty stomach? There is no political culture in Kazakhstan for the development of full democracy yet,” he declared during the discussion.

Not for the first time, Nazarbayev referred to his late friend and role model, the former Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew, who served as the country's prime minister for three decades. “Everyone criticized him, calling him a dictator, and look at Singapore now and what economic prosperity it has achieved,” Nazarbayev said.

“Adopting a new Constitution in 1995 that gave me more power as a president. That was a necessary step in order to ensure faster economic development of the country, by adopting faster reforms without consulting the public and the Parliament, which was slowing down economic development.”

“But that doesn’t make me a dictator,” added Nazarbayev. “Look at Europe, a traditionally open and democratic society and how it is dealing with the refugee crisis. Why are they not letting refugees in? Because leaders realise that you have to consider national interests and the interests of your own people.”

At one point during the discussion, which was broadcast on state television, Nazarbayev gestured outside the window behind him to the view of glitzy Astana, where billions of profits from oil revenues have been invested in buildings designed by international architects.

“Look out the window and see how Kazakhstan looked in the early 1990s compared with how it looks now,” he told the journalists.

But there is a problem with Nazarbayev's depiction of Kazakhstan: it is a facade.

For drop-in journalists and delegates at peace talks on Syria that took place there in January, Astana may indeed appear impressive. But it is not representative of Kazakhstan, where the norm remains bumpy roads, school shortages and endemic corruption. Nor do its summits and expos offer much for ordinary people suffering amid an oil-price-linked economic crisis, with high inflation and even higher unemployment.

While Nazarbayev underplays his dictator credentials, opposition activists are forced to flee the country in the face of persecution, unlawful trial and imprisonment. In one recent case, blogger Zhanara Akhmet escaped to Ukraine, declaring that her freedom to openly oppose the present political regime was at risk.

During his discussion with the journalists, Nazarbayev also stressed recent constitutional changes that have seen powers devolved from the presidency to the parliament and the government. But to whom, exactly, have they been devolved?

A speech earlier this month (see video below) in the lower house by an MP from Nazarbayev's dominant Nur Otan party called for the capital, its airport and other important symbols of state to be named after the ageing leader, prompting rebellious social media users in the country to make comparisons not with Singapore, but North Korea.

Elections, meanwhile, are a sham. The 95.22% turnout claimed in a vote Nazarbayev won with a 97.7% margin of victory at a time of profound economic crisis, was widely seen as yet more evidence that Kazakhstan's political system has lost touch with even the faintest trace of reality.

Unfortunately, the strongest sources of resistance to one-man rule in Kazakhstan have all been broken. Opposition media has been suppressed in Kazakhstan, with fabricated court cases and heavy penalties, and some of the country's strongest anti-government media, including the newspaper Respublika, have been shut down. Independent online media is regularly blocked.

Protesting, even by individuals, is mostly illegal in Kazakhstan, since Kazakh laws require obtaining permission from local authorities 10 days in advance, a request which is most of the time denied. In May 2016, applications to hold protests across the nation to vent frustration at controversial land code amendments proposed by the government were rejected, and hundreds of protesters were detained across the country. Rights activists Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan, who played a role in organising the protests, are currently serving five-year prison terms for “inciting social discord”.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, meanwhile, is immune from prosecution for the rest of his life, and his status as Leader of the Nation, a title created in 2010, also allows him to influence government policy after retirement. Among democratically elected rulers, such stipulations might seem somewhat irregular.

by Dina Baidildayeva at March 23, 2017 06:32 PM

Is Jamaica Preventing Cybercrime or Cyber Activism? The Tambourine Army Goes to Court

The Tambourine Army is a new movement for justice in Jamaica led by sexual violence survivors.

Protestors at the Tambourine Army's March 11, 2017 march against sexual violence, Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Storm Saulter, used with permission.

As Latoya Nugent, one of the founders of Jamaica's new Tambourine Army movement, made her way to court on March 22, 2017, public attention turned towards the reach of The Cybercrimes Act, with many asking whether the effort to prevent cybercrime is curbing cyberactivism.

Nugent's Tambourine Army is “a radical movement that was formed organically out of an urgent recognition to advocate differently for the rights of women and girls”. The main bone of contention is the Army's controversial tactic of encouraging survivors of sexual abuse to name their perpetrators with the hashtag #SayTheirNames, before the perpetrators have gone before a judge. Nugent was charged on three counts of “the use of computer for malicious communication”–under the country's Cybercrimes Act–for identifying several men as sexual predators on social media, some of whom lodged formal complaints with the police.

The Tambourine Army movement is led by survivors like Nugent and was triggered earlier this year by revelations of child sexual abuse by Moravian Church pastor Paul Gardner. The Army's supporters say their radical tactic of naming and shaming is essential because Jamaica's sexual violence and domestic abuse laws–including the Sexual Offences Act of 2009 –place disproportionate burden on the victim, and because rape and abuse are already massively underreported because of a culture of victim-shaming and stigma.

The case against Nugent is complicated

Like many cybercrime laws in other countries, Jamaica's legislation is vaguely worded when it comes to “malicious” communication. Offline, naming alleged perpetrators who have not had their day in court is an issue that would be dealt with under defamation laws. But in 2013, Jamaica reformed its defamation regime to be treated as a matter of civil — not criminal — law. This means that anyone convicted of defamation in Jamaica can be made to pay for any damage done to the person's reputation, but will not serve time.

When Nugent appeared in court, she learned that her bail would be extended because the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has taken an interest in the case and needs more time to review the files. Nugent's next court appearance will be on March 31. The DPP is expected to be present.

Blogger and internet activist Ingrid Riley called on social media users to “get ready to become involved when the [Cybercrimes] Act comes up for review next year.” Riley noted:

The arrest of Tambourine Army co-founder Latoya Nugent speaks volumes. It says, how dare you host such a march? How dare you decide to speak? How dare you seek change when change isn’t needed. You should be raped, violated and abused, for rape culture has no end!

It is not being said in those words, of course. But the arrest of Latoya Nugent, who has been charged with the use of a computer for malicious communication under the Cyber Crime Act, after naming an alleged sex offender, is telling me just that!

I am told to be silent, for my voice has no power or place in this country. Because if I do speak out, or fight to protect my person, the State will be coming for me.

The justice system in Jamaica is “creaking”

On its Facebook page, the Tambourine Army linked to an article by the respected UK barrister Lord Anthony Gifford, who admitted that the case against Nugent “has raised constitutional issues that are fascinating for a human-rights lawyer to disentangle.” Gifford distilled the situation into three simple issues: that victims “are fed up with pious talk that has changed nothing”; that citizens have the right to free speech; and that while people are innocent until proven guilty, the justice system in Jamaica “is creaking” and making the path to justice “intolerable”.

Addressing the language of the cybercrime legislation, Gifford noted that “it was clearly designed to punish trolls and stalkers who use threats and obscene language to menace the vulnerable, and particularly women.” While acknowledging that he did not know the details of Nugent's case, Gifford concluded:

…making threats through social media is a criminal offence, and justifiably so, but simply making accusations is not. In interpreting the meaning of the new act, the courts must ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.

In a public Facebook post, blogger Annie Paul commented:

….why is alleged libel on social media a police matter rather than a civil one as libel normally is […]? Because libel via computer is deemed a criminal offence in Jamaica rather than a civil one It has alarming implications for freedom of speech. For example @latoyanugent of the #TambourineArmy was arrested by the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch. Doesn’t this strike you as overkill? Isn’t this perhaps designed to serve as a warning to civil society and those who comment in online forums? Doesn't this represent a direct threat to freedom of speech?

In an article for the Jamaica Gleaner, Paul wrote that the #SayTheirNames hashtag is not about “women demanding the right to falsely accuse men of raping them”, but rather about “facilitating the empowerment of survivors and placing it squarely at the feet of perpetrators.” Echoing Lord Gifford's point about the many instances of justice denied to victims of sexual abuse, Paul asked, “Why then the moral panic about the mere possibility of libel in cyberspace? And why is there not [an] outcry about the out-of-control rape culture here?”

The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) has also spoken out on the legislation angle, calling on Parliament to stand by its position on criminal defamation:

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that, like many others, is subject to restrictions. Those restrictions include the law of defamation to protect the reputations of others. These are matters for the civil courts. […]

However, criminal defamation laws that penalise statements that injure reputation are understood by freedom of expression advocates all over the world to be an enemy of freedom of expression, to have a chilling effect on free speech, and to facilitate the repression of criticism by governments. […]

Making arrests for what are essentially matters for the civil courts places Jamaica on a steep, slippery slope where freedom of expression is at risk. We do not believe this was the intention of the legislature.

The big picture

Activists Caribbean-wide are making their voices heard with regard to free speech restrictions that fall under the umbrella of overly broad cybercrime laws. Code Red posted a statement of solidarity on its blog:

What happened to Latoya is not specific to Jamaica. Across the Caribbean region, we see an increasing attempt to enact cyber crime and repressive legislation that fails to protect the most vulnerable and the most marginalized in our communities; and instead attempts to silence and criminalize dissent and human rights organizing. […]

We recognize that the internet is often used as a space for human rights defenders to disseminate information, organize, advocate and mobilize. Accordingly, what we need are digital security frameworks that not only centre, but that protect, human rights. […]

We are all impacted by Latoya’s arrest. As democratic spaces across the Caribbean region continue to shrink, in addition to being accompanied by increasing police and state surveillance and repression, we recognize the urgency and necessity of maintaining spaces for civil disobedience and organizing. We demand that our fundamental human right to resist and mobilize be respected. And we call upon the government of Jamaica, specifically the Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn who has taken an interest in this case, to drop all charges against Latoya Nugent.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at March 23, 2017 06:28 PM

There Are ‘No Borders to Music,’ But the U.S. Consulate Still Rejected These Indonesian Choir Members’ Visas

The Vox Angelica choir performing at an international competition. Screenshot from YouTube video.

Three Indonesian choirs were set to compete in the Sing ‘n’ Joy choral competition in Princeton, New Jersey, last month, but two of the choirs never made it to the Garden State, because the U.S. consulate in Jakarta rejected the visa applications of dozens of their members.

The two choirs were Vox Angelica from Manado, North Sulawesi, and El-Shaddai from North Sumatra.

The groups and even some jurors at the competition have voiced concerns that this is a consequence of the Trump Administration's crackdown on visitors from Muslim-majority countries. To complicate matters further, Indonesia is the largest Muslim-dominated country in the world, although it is not one of the countries President Trump has targeted in his controversial executive orders on refugees and immigration.

After hearing about the visa denial of the two Indonesian choirs, the jurors of the competition posted a heartfelt video expressing their regrets, while asserting that “there are no borders to music”.

Due to unforeseen circumstances with the recent U.S. policies, the choir, El Shaddai and Vox Angelica were not able to travel to our festival. And we are saddened by this. But… regardless of the “borders” instilled by politics, there are no borders to music, no borders to unity through artistry, no borders from humanity that thrives from singing of the heart. Music brings our humaneness together, and we invite you to be a part of it.

Through their social media pages, the El-Shaddai choir actually explained its failure to attend the music festival in Princeton:

Saudara/sahabat/kolega/rekan paduan saudara terkasih sekalian,
bersama ini kami Paduan Suara El-Shaddai ingin menyampaikan PERMOHONAN MAAF kami, berhubung kami batal berangkat ke Princeton-New Jersey, USA utk berkompetisi disana, diakibatkan ditolaknya permohonan visa kami oleh Kedubes USA di Jakarta. […]

Kami sudah mempersiapkan segala sesuatunya, dan sudah melakukan semuanya dengan semaksimal mungkin, bahkan usaha pengurusan/permohonan sudah kami lakukan sebanyak 2 (dua) kali. […]

kami meyakini hal ini juga diperkuat dengan kebijakan politik pemerintah AS yang ada saat ini, dimana dilakukan pengawasan yang lebih (sangat) ketat untuk pendatang ke negara tersebut. Saat ini kami masih berada di Jakarta untuk bersiap kembali ke Medan, dan kami juga langsung akan bersiap diri untuk kompetisi internasional lainnya dalam waktu dekat ini, semoga kami dapat mengambil hikmah dari apa yg baru terjadi, mohon doanya.[..]

TERIMAKASIH yang sebesarnya atas dukungan dan kepercayaannya kepada kami selama ini

Dear friends, families, colleagues, El-Shaddai choir would like to extend its apologies for our failure to compete in Princeton-New Jersey, USA, due to visa refusal by the US Embassy in Jakarta.
We've prepared all the requirements and applied for visa twice.
We also believe that this happened because of the stricter US policy to visitors. We're now in Jakarta, getting ready to return to Medan, and will be preparing for other international competition. We hope to learn from this incident, please keep us in your prayers.
Thank you for your trust and support throughout this ordeal.

(1/2) MAAF & TERIMAKASIH Salam sejahtera bagi kita semua. Saudara/sahabat/kolega/rekan paduan saudara terkasih sekalian, bersama ini kami Paduan Suara El-Shaddai ingin menyampaikan PERMOHONAN MAAF kami, berhubung kami batal berangkat ke Princeton-New Jersey, USA utk berkompetisi disana, diakibatkan ditolaknya permohonan visa kami oleh Kedubes USA di Jakarta. Maaf, karena hal ini tentu saja bukan hanya mengecewakan kami, tetapi juga saudara/sahabat/rekan paduan suara/keluarga yang telah mendukung dan mendoakan kami selama ini. Kami sudah mempersiapkan segala sesuatunya, dan sudah melakukan semuanya dengan semaksimal mungkin, bahkan usaha pengurusan/permohonan sudah kami lakukan sebanyak 2 (dua) kali), dengan dukungan dari pihak2 yang sudah sangat berkompeten dinegeri ini menurut kami, namun hasilnya tetap sama, ditolak, dengan catatan penolakan "tidak adanya keterikatan yang kuat dengan negara asal". Hal ini ditambah lagi dgn case record bahwa sudah sering terjadi tim/rombongan (tidak hanya paduan suara) dari Indonesia yang berangkat ke negara Paman Sam tsb, tidak menjaga komitmen kembali ke negara kita ini sesuai waktunya, bahkan ada yang belum kembali sampai sekarang, yang mana hal ini menjadi catatan negatif bagi kepercayaan pihak pemerintah AS/Kedubes utk tidak mudah memberikan visa, terlebih bagi yang pertama kali akan berkunjung, dan kami meyakini hal ini juga diperkuat dengan kebijakan politik pemerintah AS yang ada saat ini, dimana dilakukan pengawasan yang lebih (sangat) ketat untuk pendatang ke negara tersebut. Saat ini kami masih berada di Jakarta untuk bersiap kembali ke Medan, dan kami juga langsung akan bersiap diri untuk kompetisi internasional lainnya dalam waktu dekat ini, semoga kami dapat mengambil hikmah dari apa yg baru terjadi, mohon doanya.

A post shared by Paduan Suara El-Shaddai USU (@paduansuaraels) on

Global Voices spoke to Edward Palit, Vox Angelica's executive director and spokesman, who described what it was like for the choir members to learn that their visas had been rejected:

We are a mix choir group consisting of 41 persons (including manager and conductor). We had to fly to Surabaya from Manado to appear for an interview at the US Consulate in Surabaya. Dozens of our members were denied a visa, including our choir conductor. Our young members said that their visas were denied because they've never traveled abroad before, but our senior conductor who constantly traveled with the choir abroad was also denied entry to the US for a bizarre reason, because he and his wife (who is also one of our singers) are new parents.

Palit added that the visa application process was difficult and disappointing:

We've been training diligently since we received the invitation to compete (in Princeton). Moreover, the Surabaya trip was a big deal for our choir because we don't have regular sponsors. We are surely disappointed about not being able to showcase our hard work but we're looking ahead to other events in the province, including our own concert and workshop to celebrate the choir's anniversary.

by Juke Carolina Rumuat at March 23, 2017 05:46 PM

‘Zelyonka:’ the Anti-Putin Antiseptic

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Source: Navalny.com

“Zelyonka,” a green topical antiseptic used in Russia and other countries in Eastern Europe, is back in the headlines: On March 19, Russian opposition leader and presidential candidate Alexei Navalny was attacked with the antiseptic outside his campaign headquarters in the Siberian city of Barnaul, leaving his face coated in “brilliant green.”

Navalny has used the incident to rally his base to join a nationwide anti-corruption march scheduled for Sunday, and his supporters have begun painting their faces green in solidarity—brilliant green, indeed, is becoming the unofficial color of Russia’s opposition movement.

But Monday wasn’t the first time zelyonka, a diminutive term for “green,” has made its way onto the front pages: over the past several years, the antiseptic has taken on an increasing significance in Eastern European politics.

Brilliant Green. Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC 1.0

First discovered in the 19th century by English chemist William Perkin, zelyonka is still commonly used in many parts of the former Soviet Union, and you’ll find a vial of it in nearly every Russian home—it’s the antiseptic parents put on their children’s scrapes and cuts.

But lately, it’s become a weapon for those who want to attack the Russian opposition. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t threaten one’s health. It does burn a bit, but most importantly, it doesn’t rub off easily. When used against the opposition, it's intended to be a symbolic marker that takes days to disappear.

And there have been dozens of instances of zelyonka being used to mark opposition leaders over the last several years. Most recently, Mikhail Kasyanov, a Russian statesman and politician who served as prime minister of Russia from May 2000 to February 2004, was doused in green dye at a march in memory of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February 2017.

An unidentified person splashed zelyonka on Mikhail Kasyanov.

Russian novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya. Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC ASA 3.0

Similarly, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, an internationally acclaimed writer and fierce opponent of the Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin’s regime, fell victim to an antiseptic attack in 2016. Activists from the National Liberation Movement (NOD), a nationalist, ultraconservative group, doused her in zelyonka while she was trying to enter an award ceremony for a school competition being held by the Memorial Society, an organization that seeks to document crimes committed during the Soviet era and to prevent their reoccurrence in modern Russia.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, members of the anti-Putin feminist punk band Pussy Riot, have also been attacked: in 2014, a group of pro-Putin activists sprayed the two with zelyonka.

In Ukraine, Zzlyonka is also a popular political weapon. Former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and current National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov were doused with green dye in the eastern city of Kharkiv 2014, and a variety of other Ukrainian politicians, activists, and journalists have been victims of attacks since.

Zelyonka attacks have become so routine in Russia and Ukraine that opposition leaders no longer see them as much of a threat. In fact, they’re beginning to use the attacks as their own political weapon: green is quickly becoming the color of the opposition. After the latest attack on Navalny, social media users launched an online flashmob using the hashtag #GreenNavalny (#зеленыйНавальный) during which people posted pictures of themselves covered in green face paint. Indeed, Russia’s opposition seems to be using antiseptic attacks on its leaders as a way to mobilize support against the leaders of their country.

by Nikolay Syrov at March 23, 2017 04:24 PM

These Techies Want Your Phone to Speak to You in Swahili

Photo by Eli Duke via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With an estimated 100 million speakers, Swahili is the second-most-widely-used language on the African continent, after Arabic. Yet services such as automatic speech recognition (ASR) aren’t commercially available in this language, denying many users with disabilities and those who aren't literate the information they desperately need in their daily lives. This could change very soon though, as academic research and technology startups are converging to provide localized technologies to Swahili speakers.

Internet search on a simple mobile phone

One of these very promising innovations is about to be rolled out in Kenya. Uliza (meaning “ask” in Swahili) is a voice interface that allows users to access information from the Internet using a basic mobile phone.

All users need to do is call in and ask a question in Swahili. Within 15 to 90 minutes, an “answer agent” (an actual person working behind the scenes) responds with a voice answer. At the moment, a “crowd” of around 50 agents treat the queries by transcribing the voice recordings, searching for answers online in multiple languages, translating the information and sending it back to the caller in Swahili.

During the pilot carried out in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and in Western Kenya, some 600 beta users sent questions about their local representatives, asked for help with Swahili homework, and requested medical information that would be too delicate to bring up in person.

During Uliza's pilot project, these were the words included in the most frequent questions asked by users (translated from Swahili into English).

Uliza will solve another problem for its future users: the lack of access to information hosted on the Internet. There are many overlapping reasons for this situation: unaffordable mobile data bundles, distance to the nearest cybercafe, illiteracy in languages of wider communication, compounded by a dearth of available content in local languages.

Not a tech problem

Uliza's crowdsourcing model is admittedly labor-intensive but it has a major advantage: by having human beings handle the transcription and translation, it temporarily bypasses the lack of large voice datasets that typically constrains ASR efforts in African languages, while simultaneously collecting data from real speakers in a variety of accents and dialects. Uliza founder Grant Bridgman plans to use this database of short recordings and transcriptions to build machine learning capability and fully automate the system in the future. In this talk at Tufts University, Bridgman introduced the concept behind the project:

A good amount of research has already gone into building automatic speech recognition software for Swahili and other widely spoken African languages, but it’s taking a while for the technology to find its way into people’s hands. In an interview with Global Voices, Bridgman explained:

The technology exists and all of this is already available for first world languages, now we need to find a commercial model to make it viable for low-resource languages.

Companies looking to set up helplines for a rural customer base at a reduced cost are potential customers for the initial phase of Uliza’s growth. Eventually, a full service allowing mobile phone users without access to the Internet to find answers to their questions and upload their own voice content will be implemented. The cost to the user would be minimal — close to the price of an SMS.

Uliza’s model could be viable for other languages with a large enough number of speakers. But for the vast majority of the 2,000 languages spoken on the African continent, this isn't the case. But solutions might be coming from a research project led by Preethi Jyothi at the Beckman Institute, where a team of researchers used a probabilistic method to crowdsource transcriptions from non-native speakers. Once fine-tuned, probabilistic transcription could open up the possibility of ASR for less-represented languages, hopefully at a reasonable cost.

by Marie-Laure Le Guen at March 23, 2017 01:40 PM

Creative Commons
Balancing the budget: How a commons-based project is revolutionizing budget reporting in India

Publicly tracking how a government spends its money is more than just posting documents online – making sense of budgets is crucial to providing oversight and interpretation of government spending. Working to demystify this process is at the root of the Open Budgets India project, which is fighting for a more free and open approach to budgets in India.

A beta project with 5,300 datasets from 333 sources, the portal provides access to budgets at every level of government in India, providing APIs and visualizations for previously obscure data. The project also created a useful FAQ to help people understand how government budget data works, how it differs from other kinds of data, and why it matters. Funded by a number of institutional partners, the portal has served more than 3,000 users looking for visualizations and information on open budgets at local and federal levels.

Why open budgets? Why are open budgets important to open government?

Government budgets are a comprehensive statement of government finances for a financial year, translating government’s promises and priorities as expenditures and its receipts to meet such demand. Open Budgets Data is government budget data that is publicly accessible (uploaded online on a timely basis) in a machine-readable and reusable format covering all data points (not just analysis), freely available and legally open to use for everyone without any restriction. Over the years, open budgets data has become vital to build trust in government’s financial activities and sustaining transparency in its policy decisions. It also enables citizens, policy makers, civil societies, journalists, and other key players to engage in budgetary processes and strengthen participation and insight into budgetary policies in the country.

In order to have open and effective governance, governments need to invest and commit on complete budget transparency, i.e. full disclosure of open budgets data on revenues, allocations and expenditures across the public sector. Unfortunately, in India public access to budgets diminishes as we go deeper from the level of the Union Government (Central Government) to the subnational level. As a result, the use and analysis of budget data has been restricted, and the scope for citizen’s engagement with government budgets has been limited. In such a backdrop, Open Budgets India (OBI), a comprehensive and user-friendly open data portal, facilitates free, easy and timely access to relevant data on government budgets in India.

Data visualization: Outstanding External Debt from Open Budgets India

What are the greatest successes and obstacles you’ve faced with this project? How have you seen it used so far?

From the very inception of the project, we have collaborated with a diverse team of researchers, technologists, data scientists, policy hackers and groups of volunteers to co-create this portal. We have embraced open-source technology, design, visualizations and documentation to go several steps ahead and become an open-source initiative, facilitating transparent and accessible co-development. We have automated conversion of budget PDFs into clean CSVs, created time-series data and developed scalable visualizations. This has helped us to scale our data mining techniques across various tiers of governments. Also, we forked CKAN, an open-source data portal platform and customized it as per our needs. Use of open-source softwares has reduced our development time manifolds thus we have kept all our work in open too, so that other organizations can freely reuse it and may help us to make better systems. Also, with the help of our automated data pipeline, we were able to publish machine readable budget data from Union Budget 2017-18 in less than 24 hours, enabling timely and informed budget analysis.

One of the major obstacles towards budget transparency in India is a lack of consistency and standardization in budget data formats across years and government bodies. Few states still avoid publishing their budget documents online and other have fonts and character encoding issues, making it difficult for us to parse those. When it comes to disaggregated detailed data for State Expenditure and Receipts, format varies drastically as no two states follow a similar format for publishing their documents. Some of the budget documents are available only in local languages, thus requiring efforts in translation for interoperability. These issues make it difficult for us to produce crucial machine readable data for state budgets. However, we have developed a technique to generate CSVs for Karnataka and Sikkim, which we plan to scale up for other states in near future.

Unavailability of budget documents online and heterogeneity of the formats further increases as we move down to districts and municipalities. We even need to file RTIs (Right to Information) to several government bodies to acquire these important budget documents. Publishing of such information in a timely and accessible manner can strengthen monitoring of public expenditure as well as engagement of people with budgetary processes. That, in turn, can lead to significant improvements in the manner in which such allocations are spent.

In last two months, more than 3K unique users have visited the portal, with highest traffic on data visualizations followed by state and union budget documents. Users are finding CSVs and time-series datasets useful for doing their own budget analysis. It is also encouraging for us to know that other data portals and communities are using Open Budgets India as a source for budget data. For example, the urban data portal, OpenCity.in has credited OBI as a data source for couple of municipal corporation budgets.

Data sectors on Open Budgets India

How have governments reacted to having their budgets online and open? What kinds of responses how you seen from various departments?

On 27th January 2017, we conducted a public consultation on ‘Opening Up Access to Budget Data in India’ in New Delhi. The consultation included a panel discussion with experts on what should government authorities and civil society organisations pursue, in the coming years, so as to ensure that people get free, easy and timely access to relevant budget data at various levels of government. Sumit Bose, member, Expenditure Management Commission and former Finance Secretary, advised the project, saying, “A lot of hard work must have gone into developing this project, as budget preparation itself is a humongous exercise. Besides, experts, the volunteers need to be recognized, as they must have contributed in a big way in developing this excellent portal. I’m optimistic about this project… However, I feel that there’s no deliberate attempt by state governments, barring exceptions, not to put machine readable documents online. Probably, they never felt the need or it simply didn’t occur. In the next stage, the CBGA needs to tell state governments about their requirement.”

Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General, K Ganga suggested a few guidelines to strengthen the demand for making budget data available in public domain as well. She said, “Transparency can only be achieved once the common man outside of academics and governance understands budget data and use it. Things are done by keeping only the experts in mind. Besides, communication channels with every stakeholder be kept open even through vernacular medium, ensure that people can access data in various kinds of devices, create an environment by encouraging people to provide data, and pester the government to share data and information.”

Your project aims for accessibility and ease of use within government data. How are you working to make that data accessible despite a variety of file types and standards across organizations?

One of the major additions is a comprehensive metadata for budget datasets, which drastically increases searchability of documents. We have also classified datasets by tiers of government, developmental sectors(like Agriculture and Allied Activities, Health, Education, etc.) and data formats. Apart from adding machine readable files(CSVs), we have also created a number of time-series datasets enabling users to comprehend various trends in budgetary allocations across fiscal years. For Municipal Corporations, we have developed an unified format called as Budget Summary Statement to produce aggregated figures comparable across the municipalities. For each dataset, we have clubbed all the available file formats i.e. CSV, XLS and PDF as multiple resources in a single package so that users can preview and download the format of their choice. We also provide an API to programmatically access all 5.1K+ datasets from our portal, this enables developers to automate their search and download processes.

Are you accepting contributors? If so, how could people get involved?

Open Budgets India has resulted from collective efforts by many organisations and individuals, led by Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA). Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), DataMeet, DataKind – Bangalore Chapter and Omdiyar Network (ON) have helped significantly in the conceptualisation of the project. A team of pro-bono data scientists led by DataKind Bangalore has helped us develop few key components of the portal. Macromoney Research Initiatives has helped us in making available budget data of a large number of Municipal Corporations. Our partner organisations across the country focusing on governments budgets, viz. Budget Analysis Rajasthan Centre (BARC), Jaipur; National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS), Pune; and Pathey, Ahmedabad, have contributed their efforts in collecting, collating and translating budget data of a number of Municipal Corporations.

Thus, the spirit of commons is at the core of our initiative, we are happy to seek more support from various diverse communities. Budget researchers, policy makers, civil societies, journalists and data contributors can reach out to us at info@openbudgetsindia.org. While technologists, data scientists, visualizations experts and designers can directly collaborate with us in our design and development cycle via Github. Together we aim to continue our efforts in making India’s budgets open, usable and easy to comprehend.

The post Balancing the budget: How a commons-based project is revolutionizing budget reporting in India appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Jennie Rose Halperin at March 23, 2017 01:20 PM

Doc Searls
Brands need to fire adtech

fireadtech

Brands are bailing from adtech, and news about it is coming fast and hard:

  • The New York Times said AT&T and Johnson & Johnson were pulling their ads from YouTube, concerned that “Google is not doing enough to prevent brands from appearing next to offensive material, like hate speech.”
  • Business Insider said “more than 250” advertisers were bailing as well.
  • Both reports came on the heels of one Guardian story that said Audi, HSBC, Lloyds, McDonald’s, L’Oréal, Sainsbury’s, Argos, the BBC and Sky were doing the same in the UK, and—
  • another Guardian story that said O2, Royal Mail and Vodaphone were joining the boycott as well.

Agencies placing those ads on YouTube were shocked, shocked! that ads for these fine brands were showing up next to “extremist material,” and therefore sponsoring it. They blame Google, and so does most of the press coverage as well, along with the UK government.

And Google admits guilt. Business Insider:

Google’s executives were summoned to appear in front of the UK government last week after ads for taxpayer-funded services were found next to extremist videos, following an investigation by The Times newspaper. Google must return later this week with a timetable for the work it is doing to prevent the issue from occurring again.

On Monday, at a breakfast briefing with journalists before he took to the stage at Advertising Week Europe — Brittin said the annual ad industry event gave Google a “good opportunity to say first and foremost, sorry, this should not happen, and we need to do better.”

Brittin added: “There are brands who have reached out to us and are talking to our teams about whether they are affected or concerned by this. I have spoken personally to a number of advertisers over the last few days as well. Those that I have spoken to, by the way, we have been talking about a handful of impressions and pennies not pounds of spend — that’s in the case of the ones I’ve spoken to at least. However small or big the issue, it’s an important issue that we address.”

Yeah, it makes sense for Google to make sure sponsored content is “brand safe” or whatever. But the problem here isn’t just Google’s, and Google can’t fix it alone.

The problem is that brands think they’re placing ads in media, while the systems they hire chase eyeballs. Put another way, brands think they’re buying online advertising while they’re really buying adtech. Since adtech systems are automated and biased toward finding the cheapest ways to hit eyeballs with ads, some ads show up on unsavory sites, because they’ve followed targeted eyeballs there. Google also isn’t alone at this. They’re just the biggest player in the adtech business.

Fortunately, adtech isn’t Google’s only business. They can easily place ads in media without tracking or targeting any one person’s eyeballs. (And in some cases do that.) This is called advertising, and it’s no different than it has always been in the offline world. It is also far more valuable to everybody—advertiser, agency, media and consumer—than adtech.

Here’s how I explain the choice in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff:

…advertising today is also digital. That fact makes advertising much more data-driven, tracking-based and personal. Nearly all the buzz and science in advertising today flies around the data-driven, tracking-based stuff generally called adtech. This form of digital advertising has turned into a massive industry, driven by an assumption that the best advertising is also the most targeted, the most real-time, the most data-driven, the most personal — and that old-fashioned brand advertising is hopelessly retro.

In terms of actual value to the marketplace, however, the old-fashioned stuff is wheat and the new-fashioned stuff is chaff. In fact, the chaff was only grafted on recently.

See, adtech did not spring from the loins of Madison Avenue. Instead its direct ancestor is what’s called direct response marketing. Before that, it was called direct mail, or junk mail. In metrics, methods and manners, it is little different from its closest relative, spam.

Direct response marketing has always wanted to get personal, has always been data-driven, has never attracted the creative talent for which Madison Avenue has been rightly famous. Look up best ads of all time and you’ll find nothing but wheat. No direct response or adtech postings, mailings or ad placements on phones or websites.

Yes, brand advertising has always been data-driven too, but the data that mattered was how many people were exposed to an ad, not how many clicked on one — or whether you, personally, did anything.

And yes, a lot of brand advertising is annoying. But at least we know it pays for the TV programs we watch and the publications we read. Wheat-producing advertisers are called “sponsors” for a reason.

So how did direct response marketing get to be called advertising ? By looking the same. Online it’s hard to tell the difference between a wheat ad and a chaff one.

Remember the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers?” (Or the remake by the same name?) Same thing here. Madison Avenue fell asleep, direct response marketing ate its brain, and it woke up as an alien replica of itself.

This whole problem wouldn’t exist if the alien replica wasn’t chasing spied-on eyeballs, and if advertisers still sponsored desirable media the old-fashioned way.

Lets be clear about all the differences between advertising and adtech. It’s adtech that spies on people and violates their privacy. It’s adtech that’s full of fraud and a vector for malware. It’s adtech that incentivizes publications to prioritize “content generation” over journalism. It’s adtech that gives fake news a business model, because the fake is easier to produce than the real kind, and it pays just as well.

Real advertising never did any of those things, because it was never personal. It was aimed at populations selected by the media they choose to watch, listen to or read. To reach those people, you buy space or time on those media. You sponsor those media because those media also have brand value. It’s brands supporting brands.

You can’t sponsor media through adtech because adtech isn’t built for that. On the contrary, adtech is built to undermine the brand value of all the media it uses, because it cares about eyeballs more than media.

Brands will be far better served by sponsoring media they (and their non-brain-stolen agencies) know, like and trust. That’s what produced brands in the first place, what still what makes brands familiar to whole populations, and what still sponsors worthy publications and the journalism they contain.

Advertisers are the ones to fix it, and they can do it by firing adtech and its agents and going back to sponsoring reputable broadcasters and publishers. Simple as that.

If brands still want to do “interest-based” or “interactive” advertising (adtech’s euphemisms for what it actually does) they should realize five things:

  1. Adtech sucks at branding. Hundreds of $billions have been spent on adtech so far, and not one brand known to the world has come out of it.
  2. Yes, it works, about .0x% of the time, on average. The other 99.9x% of the time it produces nothing but negative externalities, including lots of tendentious math by agencies and platforms to justify the expense. Among those externalities are subtracted value from brands themselves.
  3. Yes, direct response marketing does work, and it works best when target customers have already opted in, consciously and deliberately. (Note that there is a great deal of ambiguity about how much being a Google or Facebook member amounts to deliberate and conscious agreement to being followed and targeted, privacy controls withstanding. The choices in those controls should be much more binary and clear than they are.) So if L’Oreal wants to get a conversation going with customers of Lancôme, Giorgio Armani or The Body Shop, they should do it by those customers’ grace, not because the robots they’ve hired guess those customers might be interested, based on surveillance-gathered personal data.
  4. Adtech starts with spying on people. This isn’t the elephant in the middle of adtech’s room. It’s the volcano about to erupt from under adtech’s floor. In that volcano are pissed off people who will soon get their own ways to kill off adtech. The rumbling under the floor right now is ad blocking. The lava that will pave over adtech is full tracking protection.
  5. Adtech’s rationalizations are all around putting the “right message in front of the right people at the right time,” and aiming those messages with spyware-harvested Big Data. Both of those are direct marketing purposes, not those of brand advertising. The difference is stark, absolute, and essential for everyone to understand.
  6. The only reason publishers go along with adtech is that they don’t know any other way to make money from advertising online—and no developers have provided them one. (But that will happen soon. Trust me on this. I know things I can’t yet talk about.)
  7. What Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism” is going to be illegal a year from now in the EU anyway, thanks to the General Data Protection Regulation, aka GDPR. Mark your calendars: on 25 May 2018 will come an extinction event for adtech, because here are the fines the GDPR will impose for unpermitted harvesting of personal data: 1) “a fine up to 10,000,000 EUR or up to 2% of the annual worldwide turnover of the preceding financial year in case of an enterprise, whichever is greater (Article 83, Paragraph 4)”‘; and 2) “a fine up to 20,000,000 EUR or up to 4% of the annual worldwide turnover of the preceding financial year in case of an enterprise, whichever is greater (Article 83, Paragraph 5 & 6).”

Ad choices won’t do the job. That’s adtech’s way to “give you control” over “how information about your interests is used for relevant advertising.” The link into that system is this little symbol you see in the corner of many ads:adchoicesthingWhile clicking on it does provide a way for you to opt out of surveillance, you have to do it over and over again for every ad you see with the damn thing, like playing a slo-mo game of whack-a-mole, and it still relies on the adtech industry keeping cookies in your browsers.

If there is a market on the receiving end for “interest based advertising,” let’s have a standard system that puts full control in the hands of individuals, and speaks through open code and protocols to any and all publishers and broadcasters. Anything less will just be another top-down adtech industry paint-job on the same old shit.

An open question is if agencies can be programmatic online without spying on people. I think they can, if they start by admitting that spying is where the problem lies.

It should be clear that spying is why Do Not Track became a thing, and why ad blocking hockey-sticked when the adtech industry and publishers together gave the middle finger to people’s polite request not to be tracked. (Which is all Do Not Track provides.) It should also be clear that ad blocking and tracking protection are not “threats” and “costs” to publishers and agencies. They are clear and legitimate market responses by human beings to having adtech’s digital hands up their skirts.

It also won’t be easy for the big platforms to fix their adtech systems. Consider, for example, the egg that was splattered on Mark Zuckerberg’s face by Facebook’s own adtech when he posted his insistence that “99% of what people see is authentic” and “only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes,” and fraudulent ads ran right next to his post. Medium’s Ev Williams also experienced the same kind of adtech-aimed fakery.

It’s the agencies’ job to show that programmatic advertising can sponsor the best content the old fashioned way. And it’s the advertisers’ job to fire adtech in the meantime.

P.S.: I need a better image than the one I came up with at the top. Instead of making the Ad Choices thingie look like it’s being fired, I made it look like a burning bush. So it’s just a placeholder for now.

by Doc Searls at March 23, 2017 11:00 AM

Marketplace Tech Report
03/23/17: Uploading the human mind to a machine
The physical sports world is now trying to capitalize on the digital sports world. We'll look at the NBA's plan to launch eLeague, a group that'll feature top-notch video gamers who compete against one another. Afterwards, we'll chat with author Luke Dormehl about the history and future of artificial intelligence.

by Marketplace at March 23, 2017 10:08 AM

Global Voices
Here's Why This Election Year in France Is Completely Unprecedented

Map showing the leading candidate after the first round of voting in France's 2012 presidential elections in the following territories: Metropolitan France, Overseas Departments and Territories and votes cast by French nationals living abroad. François Hollande –> pink Marine Le Pen –> grey Nicolas Sarkozy –> blue via BigonL on wkipedia CC-BY-30

France's looming elections, presidential and legislative, promise to be different. The presidential elections will take place on April 23 and May 7, followed closely by the legislative elections on June 11 and 18.

For the first time under France's current republican system of government, established in 1958, the outgoing president François Hollande has chosen not to seek re-election. However, there are three other reasons–both national and international–that give a particular note of uncertainty to this campaign.

1. Traditional parties have lost ground to new parties

In 2012, the traditional political parties in France, the Socialist Party and the Republican Party had secured first place finishes in every department in the first round of voting. Without a doubt, this will not be the case this year: the candidates in these parties are placing third or fourth in the latest polls, far behind Marine Le Pen, the candidate for the National Front and Emmanuel Macron, and the candidate for the En Marche [On The Move] movement.

François Fillon, the Republican candidate is mired with legal problems relating to his wife's fake job scandal. Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, is now stalling at 16% of predicted votes in the polls after his victory in the left's primary elections.

This trend confirms a defiant attitude against politics as usual and a desire for meaningful change. Jean-Philippe Dubrulle is in charge of the opinion and strategy department at the Institut français d'opinion publique [French Institute of Public Opinion]. He explains why this election is different:

Aujourd'hui, on voit deux tendances assez contradictoires : D'un côté une baisse la participation (ou du moins un désintérêt) et d'un autre une plus grande richesse de l'offre politique. Le désintérêt était justifié par le fait que les gens avaient l'impression que personne ne représentaient leurs idées. C'était, le gros candidat de la gauche et le gros candidat de la droite et puis c'est tout.  Aujourd'hui l'offre est beaucoup pus variée avec des lignes très marquées à gauche, comme à droite ce qui fait qu'on aboutit à deux pôles extrêmement forts. Même si les français ont déjà une bonne idée des candidats qui seront en lice, l'offre n'est pas encore fixée. Tout peut se passer. On assiste clairement à un refus des candidats du passé. Est-ce que tout ça aboutira à un sursaut de mobilisation ou une baisse ? Il est trop tôt pour le dire.

Today, we are witnessing two quite contradictory trends: On the one hand, there is drop in participation (or at least a lack of interest) and on another hand there is more on offer on the political spectrum. Lacking interest was previously justified by the fact that people held the impression that no one represented their ideas. It was a case of a far-left candidate, a far-right candidate and that was all. Today there is much greater choice with pronounced divisions in the left and in the right. which has resulted in two extremely different camps. Even if French people have a good idea of the candidates who are battling it out, the battle is not yet won. Anything can happen. There is clearly a rejection of candidates of the past. Will all of this lead to a sharp increase in engagement or a drop? It is too early to call.

2. The attraction of rising populism in Western democracies

Trump's victory in the United States, Brexit in Great Britain, the extreme right in Hungary and a general rise of populist parties in Europe are the clearest signs that many countries are rejecting globalisation and are becoming increasingly insular. Olivier Costa, director of research at the CNRS and for Science Po University in Bordeaux explores the common cause for these trends in Western democracies further:

Les gens ont le sentiment que l’avenir est noir et que les vieilles recettes des partis établis ne fonctionnent pas. De ce fait, beaucoup ont la tentation de s’en remettre à des nouveaux venus sur la scène politique qui proposent de nouvelles solutions. Les ficelles sont souvent un peu grosses mais d’une certaine manière, les gens s’en fichent. Il y a ceux qui croient à ce que proposent ces nouveaux venus en se disant que ça n’a pas été essayé, et ceux qui sont dans une logique protestataire, de ras-le-bol par rapport aux partis établis. Aussi, ce succès est dû au fait que les partis traditionnels n’arrivent pas à proposer une alternative.

People feel that the future is bleak and that the old recipes of established parties are not working. Because of this, many are tempted to explore newcomers to the political scene who offer fresh solutions. Their tactics can often be a little dodgy but in some ways, people do not care. There are those who believe in what the newcomers are proposing, telling themselves that this has not yet been tried and those who are in a protesting mindset, who feel despondent in relation to the established parties. Also, this success is due to the fact that traditional parties are not offering any alternatives of their own.

3. The scandals that surround the candidates

After several weeks of scrutiny, none of the favourites has succeeded in breaking away from the pack. Marine Le Pen leads the polls but she is also encountering legal troubles, notably the investigation focusing on the fictitious employment of several European parliamentary assistants, the funding of her electoral campaign in the 2012 legislative and presidential elections in 2012 with Russian money and also the removal of her immunity with European Parliament due to ‘sharing violent images’. The threats of legal action weighed down on Fillon have been heavily dissected in the media as well as his forgotten promises to stand down if he were placed under investigation.

Fillon should implement his first promise ‘I will stand down as candidate if I am put under investigation’.

Emmanuel Macron remains an unknown entity and does not reap the rewards of the support nor the structure of a traditional political party. Benoît Hamon is struggling to gather forces on the left and has inherited the baggage left behind from the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic.

These factors combined mean that this election is one of the least certain in the last decades and that no matter who comes out on top, the task of governing a country that is increasingly divided will be a tough challenge to tackle.

by Joanna Bilcliffe at March 23, 2017 10:05 AM

Meet Ara Malikian, the Cosmopolitan With a Violin
Ara Malikian during his concert in Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by BG Sound Stage, used with permission.

Ara Malikian during his concert. Photo presented by BG Sound Stage, used with permission.

They call him a violin genius. Ara Malikian, an Armenian man who grew up in Lebanon, has studied music in Germany and England and currently lives in Spain. He recently became a concertmaster in the Royal Symphonic Orchestra of Madrid. Malikian has traveled the world, performing in concert halls as a soloist and as part of symphonic orchestras.

In late February, Malikian performed a concert in Sofia, Bulgaria. The next month, he gave another show in Ankara, Turkey. This second concert had special significance, in light of Malikian's position on the Armenian Genocide, which he commemorated in September 2015 with performances in Zaragoza and Madrid.

Malikian has also played in support of the refugees in Lebanon. In both life and on the stage, he has become a symbol of cultural unity for fans, merging musical traditions from Central Europe, Argentina, Spain, and Arab and Jewish cultures.

Malikian's father, an amateur Armenian violinist, introduced him in the world of music at an early age, teaching him about Lebanese musical traditions. Malikian's most recent album, “The Incredible Story of a Violin,” was inspired by his childhood. At the age of 12, he performed at his first concert. At the age of 15, he got his big break, winning a scholarship to the musical school of Hannover. He later continued his education in London.

Global Voices’ Nevena Borisova recently spoke to Malikian about his life and his music.

Nevena Borisova (NB): You have a really rich biography. It's difficult to choose from where to start…You are a cosmopolitan by soul, by nationality. Still, where do you most feel at home?

Ara Malikian (AM): Frankly, nowhere. Today I feel myself at home in Bulgaria, because you Bulgarians welcomed me with much love. And I feel very confident here. I have been travelling so much during my whole life that I had to learn to feel home everywhere with any people. But the most important thing for me at a place are the people. When I meet people who I feel close to me, I feel like being at home.

NB: What's the difference between your two last albums?

AM: First of all, in my last album there are my own compositions. Never before I have been a composer in my albums, but in this last one I worked a lot on the compositions and therefore I am happy it is a fact. Furthermore, in this album I had many guests. We had many live concerts. This last album is very special — it is very new for me.

NB: You have interacted with many types of music: classical, Argentinian (tango), Oriental, Spanish… What are the main sources of your inspiration? What are the main types of music that most influenced you in your last album?

AM: I don’t control from where the inspiration comes. I was lucky to be able to play with musicians from many places, many styles. Each of them has inspired me. Every one of them has taught me many things. When I make music, it comes from the subconscious, which is in fact the most precious. In the album, each song is completely different from the previous or the next one. They are very different by style. This is the way by which I perceive and make the music. This is my musical concept. I would be bored if I always proceeded in the same way.

NB: You have interacted with many cultures. You are like a living proof that there are many points of contact between cultures. And how do you explain all these conflicts in the world that we witness today?

AM: There are many people who are desperate because of living with all these conflicts. Refugees, wars, terrorism… It is all very negative side of the world. I think that the only way to go through these conflicts is through art, music, culture. The world can change through interacting with other cultures, on the basis of respect towards other opinions and ways of thinking. Through art it is the best way to understand that — although we are different — we all have something in common. That is why I think, sooner or later, culture and art will save humanity… I am sure.

NB: In 1899, the Bulgarian poet Peyo Yavorov dedicated the poem “Armenians” to the fate of the Armenian people. A moment ago, you said that you believe that art can change the world. Do you think that contemporary artists are thinking or engaged enough with the perspective of a better world, with today's problems?

AM: There are many artists who are engaged and make an effort to improve the world, but of course there are other ones who think in a more selfish way and who are more interested in economic and political terms… And of course not so much humanitarian interests. So, there is always this conflict between these two ways of thinking. But it still seems to me that the world is a better place today, although we think it is a worse place. And sooner or later people will realize that the only way to survive is to respect each other, our differences, opinions, fate, and different ways of life.

NB: You have lived in the Middle East, in Beirut. In one of your interviews, you said Oriental music is very tranquil, and can be very mild and peaceful. Why then do we observe an absence of peace in that region?

AM: Oriental music can be that way, but it can also be very, very rhythmical. There are both styles of this music. Frankly, I do not know why there are so many wars… Maybe because of hot blood, I do not know [laughing]… I've lived in Lebanon for many years and I have many friends who are Arabs and Jews. And basically they live very well, but when it comes to economic interests and political interests, things change. I think if only people would live together they would have any problems. But as long as these interests and leaders wield influence, they create hate, rage, and this is how you come to war. But I believe that the normal people don’t want to have war. I remember when I lived in Lebanon, we did not want to have war, even though we lived in a time of war, we didn’t want…

NB: A few years ago, you had a concert in Lebanon in support of the refugees. How Lebanon has changed since the time you remember it?

AM: In Lebanon things have changed. When I left Lebanon, the country was plunged in an absolute war. Now there is a kind of peace, people respect each other and each other’s differences. Of course, now there are other, new problems related to the situation of refugees. We have to see how we can make the lives of refugees better, so they can have a future. Those who have lost their family, home, and work — they cannot go back to their countries… Of course, the best way of solving the problem is having peace in their country, so they can go back and find their lives there… But until they go back, we have to help them.

Ara Malikian during his concert in Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by BG Sound Stage, used with permission.

Ara Malikian during his concert. Photo presented by BG Sound Stage, used with permission.

NB: You've had a concert in support of Armenians and in defense of what the Armenian people call a historical injustice. What are the biggest challenges for Armenians today?

AM: I have Armenian roots, I speak Armenian, and I also play Armenian music, I know my culture… We, Armenians, are trying to persuade the world to recognize the genocide, which today is forgotten. We are trying it to be recognized officially — to correct the historic record. That is what we try to do. And what we shouldn’t do today is create hatred against the Turks. I think that Turks today are not our enemies. Of course, they have to recognize the genocide — all the crimes that were committed. But I think for the good of our relations, we shouldn’t think of them as our enemies, and we have to respect them. We have to try to talk with them through dialogue and try to resolve the problem.

NB: Your talent flourished early when you were child, with the war in Lebanon in the background. How would you describe your childhood?

AM: Although as a child I lived during the war, I really have good memories of it. I had friends, I enjoyed my family, my mother, and my father. The only unfortunate thing was that my childhood was still very short, because I went to Germany [for a music school scholarship]. But this was my destiny: to have a short childhood, but to enjoy it.

by Nevena Borisova at March 23, 2017 07:07 AM

March 22, 2017

Global Voices
Woman in Mexico Copes With Sister's Femicide by Fighting the Patriarchy
Viviana Muciño. Foto usada con permiso.

Viviana Muciño. Photo used with permission.

This article was originally published by Yenn in Voces de Mujeres (Women's Voices) and is republished in Global Voices with the author's permission.

Nadia Muciño was murdered by her husband, Bernardo, and her brother-in-law, el Matute (the Smuggler) on February 12, 2004. At twenty-four, she left behind her sons, Carlos and José, her daughter, Fernanda, her parents, friends, and siblings. This, however, is not her story. This is the story of her youngest sister, Viviana, who lived through her sister's femicide — a form of violence that's now terrorizing women throughout the State of Mexico.

Last February, Viviana abandoned her undergraduate studies and her dream of becoming a chef for financial reasons. Her son, Jaciel, had recently turned two years old, and she had to work to support him.

On the day of Nadia's murder, Viviana suffered severe pain in her abdomen that spread throughout her body. That morning, she went to the market. On the way, she saw her brother-in-law, Bernardo, on a bus headed for the Toreo metro station. Shortly afterwards, she made her way to the city to submit an assignment.

On her way home, she realized that Bernardo's bus was being driven by somebody else. She found it strange and when she arrived home at around 8 p.m., it dawned on her that only her brothers and sisters were there — her mother, Antonia, was absent. Half an hour later, Antonia came home and, bewildered, explained what had happened to Nadia. Viviana wanted to go to see her sister but her mother stopped her.

No me dejó ir a su casa. Yo la volví a ver hasta que me despedí de ella cuando la trajeron para velarla.

She wouldn't let me go to her house. I didn't see her again until I said goodbye at a vigil they held for her.

Before closing the casket, Viviana placed a photograph of herself with Jaciel and some of those colored thread bracelets they liked so much.

Along with Antonia, Nadia was Viviana's main support during her pregnancy and the baby's first few months. Nadia was always a pillar of support for her and the whole family.

Nadia es mi hermana, éramos cómplices, éramos todo. Por ella soy lo que soy. Nadia para mí es todo.

Nadia is my sister, we were partners in crime, we were everything. I am who I am because of her. Nadia is everything to me.

A few days later, Antonia and Viviana decided to adopt Nadia's three children. Since then, Viviana's workload and responsibility have been tremendous — she has to prioritize not only Jaciel, but her younger brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, too.

Between sequins and beacons of light

As in many Mexican homes, Viviana's alarm clock goes off at six. With her hair tied up in a ponytail that hides her beautiful waves, she heats up last night's dinner while Jaciel prepares his chocolate milk. At quarter to seven, they dash to school.

Back home, she does the housework and begins to sew, just as Antonia taught her, twenty years ago. The magic happens in a 3 x 1,80 mts. workspace. Her hands shape corsets for hundreds of dresses, she creates lines, combines colors and textures, giving life to beads, sequins, and gems. Delivering each corset or fabric has her running around the city with her little yellow tin, backpack over her shoulder, and her tote bag. The pay is just enough to survive.

Bordados de Vivi. Foto usada con permiso.

Vivi's embroidery. Photo used with permission.

Vivi, as her friends call her, unhesitatingly describes herself in a single song: Let it Be. In her spare time, she enjoys painting ceramic figures like fairies and angels.

Viviana Muciño rarely smiles, but her joy is evident whenever she shares her experience as a mother and activist. At 32, she is the founding member of the Civil Association for Women of Influence, Mobility, Empowering, and Deconstructing Minds. In 2014, with various other groups, she helped coordinate a series of actions after the State of Mexico triggered its Gender Violence Alert, also visiting the 11 most-dangerous municipalities in the state.

In what she describes as “agony,” coupled with the realization that she's not the only one dealing with the country's patriarchal system, Viviana has organized street demonstrations to present demands to the government. Over the years, she has gotten to know the relatives of victims of femicide and missing women. She advises them, accompanies them, keeps an eye on them, with the belief that unity is the way forward. Viviana says “this could have saved Nadia,” and she firmly believes that that working together can save lives.

Viviana and her family are no strangers to the State of Mexico's troubled justice system. Nadia's case, she says, has been plagued by corrupt public officials who have both excluded and fabricated evidence. This experience, she says, made her familiar with the legal system and its flaws, leading her to feminist groups and organizations that help survivors of violence against women. This exposure convinced her to become a feminist activist herself, also working as a women's human rights advocate for the state.

En estos once años nos ha quedado claro que no pararemos hasta obtener justicia para Nadia. No sólo por ella hacemos esto, no queremos que ni una mujer más pase por esta situación.

In the last eleven years, it has become clear to us that we will not stop until justice is served for Nadia. We don't do this just for her. We don't want this to happen to even one more woman.

Viviana says that she expects justice in her sister's murder, despite the government inaction, so far.

Que la memoria de Nadia nos aliente para seguir y seguir. Sé que en donde quiera que esté, nos está echando porras para que sigamos en este camino y por ella vamos a seguir haciendo cosas por las mujeres.

Nadia's memory motivates us to continue and carry on. I know that, wherever she is, she is spurring us on to continue on this path, and we will continue to help women because of her.

The bond she shares to other women and the moral support she gets from Jaciel, whose name means angel of kindness and reconciliation, are what keep her going, Viviana says.

Ese angelote ha hecho que me haga más reflexiva, más importante, la experiencia de ser su mamá ha sido hermosa. Él todo lo ha hecho fácil, no ha sido complicado, salir de viaje con mi niño, verlo contento, estar con él es lo que más me hace feliz, el amor de mi hijo es lo más grande que tengo al igual que el de mi familia.

This little cherub has made me become more thoughtful, but more importantly, the experience of being his mother has been a privilege. He's made it so easy, it hasn't been difficult, going out with my child, seeing him happy. Being with him is what makes me happiest. Love from my son is the strongest love I have, as well as from my family.

Between sequins and beacons of light, Viviana says she won't stop until justice is served for Nadia. Travelling from one place to another, she thinks that one day women will be better off, living in a safer country.

This article was originally published by Yenn in Voces de Mujeres (Women's Voices) and is republished in Global Voices with the author's permission.

 

by Rachael Lynch at March 22, 2017 08:21 PM

Hong Kong's Hottest Fake News Headlines Target Refugees, Foreign Domestic Workers

Pro-Beijing Political Party and newspapers are working together to create the “fake refugee” problem and advocate for close camp. Image via HKFP, used with permission.

This post is a version of a news feature written by Jon Leung in Hong Kong newspaper Sunday Mingpao, on 1 January 2017. Global Voices translated, edited and published this version as part of a partnership agreement.

“Fake” or falsified news stories have played a significant role local politics in Hong Kong since 2014, when tens of thousands of demonstrators occupied three downtown areas calling for citizens’ rights to nominate the city's top leaders.

With Hong Kongers largely divided into two major camps — pro-establishment (i.e. pro-Beijing) and pro-democracy — it became commonplace for opposing sides to attack one another with fake news, falsified information, and re-mixed images.

While the massive protests of 2014 have ended, fake news has not. One prominent recent example was a news story about a pregnant woman who had gone into labour, but was unable to reach Ruttonjee Hospital due to protesters blocking roadways. Pretty soon, it was pointed out by a netizen who cared to make a call to the Ruttonjee Hospital which confirmed that the hospital does not have maternity ward.

In some cases, fake information quickly morphs into “real news” reported by conventional news outlets.

Confronted with an increasing number of false and unverified reports online, a group of media activists created the Facebook page Kau Yim (meaning “verification”) to verify important information and identify fake news. For two years, the group and their followers have worked together to point out suspicious information and news circulating online, and to speculate on the motivations of fake news promoters.

The page releases an annual “top ten fake news stories” roundup to alert the public and urge netizens to be careful when sharing news and information online. But in a recent comment, the team expressed concern that the trend can no longer be reversed:

謠言或錯誤信息的轉載量龐大,單靠我們這個小規模專頁,根本無法抗衡或扭轉錯誤資訊所造成的破壞。

The rumors and unverified informations always have a much wider circulation than the verification from our page. There is no way to counter or undo the damage done.

There are various issues in play, including misleading news circulated through content farms. According to the page administrator:

他們在facebook上的包裝跟一般新聞網站無異,加上『爆料』、『記者證實』、『突發有圖』等字眼。

[These content farms] package themselves ordinary news sites on Facebook. Usually, they would use words like “breaking news”, “reporter verified”, “breaking news with image” to attract readers attention.

Some online news sites are also irresponsible, the administrators pointed out:

從前傳媒的做法是If in doubt, leave it out,不把不肯定的資訊發布,今天似乎是If in doubt, 加一句『網傳』,然後print it out or share it out。

In the past, media outlets’ principle is “if in doubt, leave it out” and they would not share information that they can’t verify. Today, the principle seems to be “if in doubt, add circulated online and print it out or share it out”.

The Kau Yin group selected and published a set of influential — and indeed fake — news headlines from 2016. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Hong Kong Red Cross sends blood donations to PRC

[請廣傳] 香港紅十字會已經被揭發,將香港人捐出的血液送上中共國

[Please Share] Revelation shows Hong Kong Red Cross has been sending blood donated in Hong Kong to PRC.

This fabricated revelation has gone viral via content farms, mobile messages and social media in Hong Kong. No evidence has been attached to the accusations, and Hong Kong Red Cross issued a statement rebuking the report. Yet the news continues to re-emerge online, likely due to the escalating tension between Hong Kong and China.

2. Immigrant woman uses social security assistance to buy Gucci handbag

元朗新移民綜援婦領錢買Gucci手袋,攞屋租津貼不交租,綜援婦『香港政府批得好少錢比(畀)我買野(嘢)』

New immigrant woman in Yuen Long uses social security assistance to buy Gucci handbag, refuses to pay rent despite housing subsidy, and then complains to government for giving her too little money to shop.

The “news” was circulated by a content farm in December 2016. However, the photos used in the “news” were recycled from a news report in 2008 and the woman featured in the original story was not a new immigrant.

3. Illegal immigrant obtains one-way visa to Hong Kong

(突發)懷仔終獲單程證居港權 施麗珊「如果唔係中國政府,你班香港人會有得食? 唔好再攪住懷仔生活」

(Breaking) Wai Zai eventually obtains one-way visa [a documentallowing residents of mainland China to leave the mainland permanently to settle in Hong Kong], Sze Lai Shan: Hongkongers could not survive without Chinese government, do not disrupt Wai Zai’s life.

The “news” about Wai Zai, a 12-year-old boy who had been living in Hong Kong for nine years as an illegal immigrant, has been recycled again and again since 2015 when his grandmother decided to reach out to a pro-Beijing politician, Chan Yuen Han for help. She wished that Chan could help his grandson to obtain document so that he could receive proper education.

As local media outlets dug into the background of Wai Zai and found a number of inconsistencies with what’s been presented to the public, the grandmother decided to bring boy back to mainland China to his parents. Many see the grandmother as a liar who wanted to win public sympathy in order to get citizenship for her grandson.

After community organizer Sze Lai-shan, who has been advocating for social security for new immigrants in Hong Kong, visited Wai Zai and his grandmother in Shenzhen after they left Hong Kong, her name was attached to a series of fake news stories about Wai Zai. Despite the headlines, there is no evidence that Wai Zai has returned to Hong Kong with a one-way visa.

4. Civic group condemns pan-democrats for helping fake refugee

 團體悼便利店死者譴責泛民政黨助假難民

Civic group mourned for Seven-11 shop keeper’s death, condemned pan-democrats for helping fake refugee

On 7 March 2016, a shopkeeper of a 24-hour store was severely injured by a Canadian Vietnamese man when he confronted the man for shoplifting. The shopkeeper died in the hospital on 14 of March. With no evidence to support their claims, local media outlets quickly labelled the suspect a refugee. Pro-establishment civic groups then staged protests, with banners urging “deport fake refugees, put the torture claimants in closed refugee camp.”

The protest was again widely reported by many mainstream media and pro-establishment media outlets without clarifying the fact that the suspect was not in fact a refugee.

5. Foreign domestic worker slapped baby 42 times

外傭1分鐘狂摑嬰兒42巴短片瘋傳網民籲全城緝兇

Video showed foreign domestic worker slapped baby 42 times in one minute, went viral. Netizens urged a city-wide manhunt for the criminal.

The video went viral in Hong Kong in through mobile instant message groups and was then picked up by mainstream media outlets as news feature. Later, it was revealed that the video was taken from Kazakhstan and the woman in the video is reportedly the baby’s mother.

From the above few examples, one can see that many fake news stories are built upon stereotypes and prejudices, as well as xenophobia and antagonism towards Beijing's economic and political influence. Marginalized social groups, including new immigrants, foreign domestic workers and refugees are often the real victims of fake news.

by Oiwan Lam at March 22, 2017 02:13 PM

Creative Commons
Open Education Global 2017: Principle, Strategy, and Commitment to Growth

oer-logoLast week the open education community convened in Cape Town South Africa for OEGlobal 17. Convening in Cape Town had historical significance as it commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which is a statement of principle, strategy, and commitment put forward in 2007 to help the open education movement grow. OEGlobal 17 provided a forum to celebrate and reflect on open education advancements over the past 10 years and consider new ways to broaden and deepen open education efforts going forward.

One of the best things about OEGlobal is the diversity of its international participants providing an incredible range of perspectives from open education initiatives around the world. I enjoyed hearing about open credentials and radical openness in the Czech Republic, Norway’s digital learning arena and sustainable large-scale model for Open Educational Resources (OER), and the pragmatism and insights from South Africa’s own Siyavula initiative. Europe, Asia, Latin America, the global south, North America, open education is truly a global movement.

Creative Commons was very active at OEGlobal 17. Ryan Merkley, Kelsey Wiens, Cable Green, Paul Stacey, Alek Tarkowski, and Delia Browne collectively demonstrated CC’s commitment to open education through a range of sessions including:

While the early days of open education were largely about OER, things have evolved a lot over the last 10 years. Now we’re talking about open educational practices, open pedagogy, open education policy, MOOC’s, entire OER degrees, and open education research. Despite this clear evolution, open education is still not considered mainstream. In the closing session a panel and the audience engaged in putting forward ideas for advancing the movement further – the new Cape Town Open Education Declaration +10 ideas will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead. My own personal contribution was to suggest that the various open education movements, including OER, Open Access research publishing, open data, and open science are all currently operating as independent silos and may be more impactful if efforts were put into unifying them into a more synergistic whole.

In the near term, March 27-31, 2017 is Open Education Week and in September UNESCO will be hosting the 2nd World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress in Slovenia, Ljubljana.

The vision of the 2007 Cape Town Open Education Declaration is alive and well. From the statement:

“We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.” I’m proud that Creative Commons helps make this possible. Congrats to open educators everywhere.

Willem van Valkenburg licensed CC BY

The post Open Education Global 2017: Principle, Strategy, and Commitment to Growth appeared first on Creative Commons.

by Paul Stacey at March 22, 2017 01:28 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
03/22/17: Shattering stereotypes about programmers
Ads on YouTube have been running next to videos with content that could be defined as hate speech. After receiving complaints from advertisers, the site is now changing its policies. We'll take a look at the new settings YouTube will provide companies with to avoid the issue in the future. Afterwards, we'll chat with Joel Spolsky, the CEO of Stack Overflow, about why some developers feel underpaid and the skills required to succeed in the profession.

by Marketplace at March 22, 2017 10:00 AM

Global Voices
Kathmandu’s Pollution Is So Bad, Even Gods Need Masks

Elder Tibetan woman praying wearing face mask to protect against the dust, Tharlam Monastery, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal. Image from Flickr by Wonderlane. CC BY-NC 2.0

Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is witnessing its worst air pollution in recent history. With dust particles everywhere, respiratory disease climbing, and the government blissfully apathetic to the situation, a group of students decided to protest by putting masks on iconic statues across the city.

Residents joined in, by tweeting hashtags with mash-ups of ‘Kathmandu’ and ‘dust'; and ‘mask’ and ‘Kathmandu’. Even gods at a performance arranged by Baha and Bahi of Nepal, a well-known Buddhist monastery, wore masks.

Images of an iconic statue of Nepal's former prime minister Juddha Shamsher wearing a mask were widely shared.

The level of pollution in Kathmandu has surpassed the minimum acceptable level of the World Health Organization. Reconstruction work following the 2015 earthquake, road widening projects and pipeline work associated with the much anticipated Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP) has added to the pollution already emitted from hundreds of brick kilns around the city and the vehicles that congest the roads of Kathmandu.

The bowl shape of the Kathmandu Valley also restricts wind movement and helps trap pollutants in the atmosphere, making it more vulnerable to air pollution during the winter, according to Clean Air Network Nepal.

A Nepal Health Research Council official explained that Kathmandu's air contains particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), which are known to be carcinogenic. Particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter, which is less than the width of single human hair, are so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems.

This Instagram post shows #Dustmandu.

#Dustmandu ! #Ringroad section at #Gausala, filled with #dust ! #melamchi #kathmandu #Nepal

A post shared by KinG Ashoka (@ashokpillar) on

Upendra Shrestha shared this cartoon:

While the government could have taken steps to avoid this perfect dust storm, it is now slowly responding to the pollution crisis.

The government recently banned 20 year-old public vehicles in the capital and its surrounding valley. The Environment Protection Committee of the Parliament has also instructed the water authority to spray water to reduce dust pollution; and ten brick kilns have adopted a new technology that is set to bring down pollution by around 60%, according to a BBC report.

However, for the time being, Kathmandu residents have no option but to put masks over their faces, just like the iconic statues in the city.

by Sanjib Chaudhary at March 22, 2017 09:52 AM

Rio de Janeiro Is Caught Between a Yellow Fever Scare and Press Censorship

A lethal yellow fever outbreak in Minas Gerais has prompted citizens in neighboring Rio de Janeiro to urgently seek vaccines.

Demonstration in support of Caio Bezerra. Photo by Thiago Dezan/The Intercept Brasil, used with permission

A reporter was fired from a newspaper in Rio de Janeiro, soon after he wrote a story critical of the municipal administration's response to an outbreak of yellow fever. The city's mayor, Marcelo Crivella, is being accused of directly requesting his termination.

On March 16, the newspaper O Dia published Caio Barbosa story on the long queues and insufficient yellow fever vaccines at Rio's public health clinics. There has been a surge of yellow fever in the neighboring state Minas Gerais. So far, 117 have died prompting panic among citizens in Rio de Janeiro and pushing them to urgently seek vaccines for themselves and their children.

Barbosa's dismissal has caused anger among Rio's residents. Following the termination, Police Chief Orlando Zaccone remembered Brazil's military rule, which lasted from 1964 to 1985. Zaccone wrote on his Facebook page:

O que resta da ditadura? Tudo, menos a ditadura.
[…] Temos que nos mobilizar urgentemente para produzir uma vacina contra o arbítrio do poder político em nosso país, democratizando os meios de comunicação.

What's left of the dictatorship? Everything except the dictatorship.
[…] We must mobilise urgently to produce a vaccine against the will of political power in our country, democratising the media.

The first to come forward with the news on Barbosa's dismissal was journalist Cid Benjamin, who says he spoke with the fired journalist on the phone. Benjamin published a series of posts on his Facebook page in which he says, quoting Barbosa, that Crivella had directly asked the owner of the newspaper to dismiss Barbosa because of that story, which has now been taken down from O Dia's website.

According to Benjamin, still quoting Barbosa, the piece had already been altered from its original version, before it was taken down. While the original piece had run in O Dia's print edition, the altered version was republished by other media outlets, such as Agência Brasil. Facebook user Mariana Claudino, however, accessed the original version through Google cache and posted some screenshots on her Facebook page.

Cid Benjamin (left) and Caio Barbosa (right) surrounded by protesters in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Thiago Dezan/The Intercept Brasil, published with permission,

Marcelo Crivella was a former Senator for Rio de Janeiro state and was elected as mayor of the city in 2016 from a party that has strong ties with the Universal Church, Brazil's largest evangelical congregation. Crivella is an ordained minister of the congregation. On Sunday, Crivella released a note denying any wrongdoing:

“É falsa a informação divulgada nas redes sociais atribuindo a mim o pedido de demissão do jornalista Caio Barbosa do Jornal O Dia. Jamais faria isso. Declaro de forma veemente que respeito os profissionais de comunicação e a liberdade de imprensa. Repudio, tenho desprezo e nojo a perseguições políticas, e no meu primeiro discurso depois de eleito, roguei a Deus que nos livrasse da praga maldita da vingança.

It is false the information divulged in the social media networks attributing to me the request of dismissal of the journalist Caio Barbosa of the O Dia newspaper. I would never do it. I vehemently declare that I respect media professionals and freedom of the press. I repudiate, I despise and am disgusted by political persecution, and in my first speech after being elected, I prayed to God to deliver us from the damned curse of vengeance.

Barbosa responded to Crivella's note on his Facebook page:

A nota oficial do prefeito é uma mentira. Não apenas sobre mim. Sobre ele. Mente do início ao fim. Uma pena. Mentir é pecado. Deve ter sido escrita por um assessor. Espero.
Errar e reconhecer o erro é virtude que Deus perdoa. Insistir na mentira é feio.

The official note from the mayor is a lie. Not just about me. About him. He lies from start to finish. A shame. Lying is a sin. It must have been written by an aide. I hope.To make a mistake and acknowledge it, is virtue that God forgives. Insisting on the lie is ugly.

Mayor Marcelo Crivella. Photo by Midia Ninja, free to use.

Support for Barbosa poured in on social media and blogs throughout the weekend and an emergency protest, with about 50 people who supported him, took place in front of the offices of O Dia in central Rio on March 20.

Among the supporters, professor Mauricio Santoro said on Facebook:

O prefeito do Rio de Janeiro mandou demitir um repórter do Dia, Caio Barbosa. O jornal seguiu a ordem. Ambos os gestos são inaceitáveis e perigosos em país que se esforça em ter maior transparência e prestação de contas de políticos, mas cujos líderes insistem em não entender essas demandas sociais.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro had a reporter of O Dia dismissed, Caio Barbosa. The newspaper followed the order. Both gestures are unacceptable and dangerous in a country that strives to have greater transparency and accountability of politicians, but whose leaders insist on not understanding these social demands.

Journalist Cecilia Oliveira, playing with Crivella's campaign slogan [Let's take care of people] added:

Vamos cuidar das pessoas, desde que elas digam o que vc permite. Certo, Marcelo Crivella?
INADMISSÍVEL.

Let's take care of people provided they say what you allow them to say. Right, Marcelo Crivella?
INADMISSIBLE.

Newspaper O Dia has been immersed in controversy since a large chunk of its shares were acquired by the Portuguese group Ongoing. The media conglomerate used its president's wife's Brazilian nationality to circumvent Brazil's limit on foreign capital investment in media companies. Ongoing is currently facing a financial crisis, and O Dia is now on the verge of bankruptcy.

by Raphael Tsavkko Garcia at March 22, 2017 12:51 AM

Angola Is on Its Way to Ban Abortion Entirely and Women Are Fighting Back

“Both the state and the church think they are the owners of our bodies.”

Hundreds of women protested in Luanda on Saturday 18 March against the criminalization of abortion. Photo: Ondjango Feminista/Facebook, published with permission

Hundreds of women protested in Luanda against a new penal code, which calls for a total prohibition of abortion in Angola–even in cases of rape–and proposes up to ten years in prison for women who have abortions.

If this version of the new code is approved, Angola would join the only six countries in the world which currently ban abortion in all cases: Malta, Vatican, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Chile. In contrast, Mozambique revised its laws and made abortion legal on request, in 2014, joining Cape Verde, South Africa and Tunisia as the only countries in Africa with no restrictions on abortion.

The protest was organized on social media after the National Assembly approved a preliminary version of the code to replace an already restrictive abortion law in place since 1886.

Outside parliament, one of the strongest proponents of the new legislation is the Catholic Church. The spokesperson of the Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé (CEAST), José Manuel Imbamba, stated that “life must be defended at any stage”.

The old abortion law, a, legacy from Portuguese colonial rule, already prohibited the optional interruption of pregnancy, but left exceptions in cases of rape, malformation of the foetus, or when the mother’s life was in danger. The current version of the new penal code prohibits abortion entirely, and proposes four to ten years in prison for women who have abortions, in contrast to the old sentences of two to eight years.

The final vote could happen at the next parliamentary plenary session on March 23, even though some parliamentary members, following the protests, have requested a postponement.

Carrying banners with the slogans “No coffin, no prison: I am free!” and “Criminalizing kills”, protestors walked in the early afternoon from Santana cemetery to the Largo das Heroínas, in the central region of Luanda.

The collective Ondjango Feminista helped organize the march and posted various videos on Facebook during the protest.

Several women also made speeches at the end of the march:

The subject generated innumerable reactions on social media over the week, including that of Isabel dos Santos, the Angolan president’s daughter.

On Instagram she posted a message from the lawyer Ana Paula Godinho, one of the march’s organizers:

Queridas mulheres Angolanas, hoje é um dia de tristeza para mim. Peço-vos que vejam o que foi aprovado na Assembleia da República relativamente à matéria do aborto no novo código Penal. Antes de fazer qualquer comentário, faço um apelo a todas as deputadas, da situação e da oposição. Olhem com olhos de ver para o que foi aprovado. Lembrem-se que o Código Penal de 1886 era mais favorável à mulher, sobretudo nos casos de violação e de má formação do feto, (aborto eugénico). Agora vamos retroceder? Pensem bem, antes que as mulheres tenham que sair à rua, tal como aconteceu lá atrás, queimar os sutiens. Desta vez terão que colocar cintos de castidade.

Se uma mulher for violada e ficar grávida é obrigada a ter o filho ou se interromper a gravidez arrisca-se a, no mínimo ser condenada a cinco anos de prisão. Afinal é violada duas vezes: primeiro pelo violador e depois pela Lei. Mulheres, Deputadas, estamos a deitar por terra muitas conquistas. Retrocedemos 200 anos. Senti-me humilhada como mulher. Voltarei ao assunto, depois que me passar a estupefacção. Boa semana a todas. Beijinhos✊🏽💪🏽

Dear Angolan women, today is a day of sadness for me. I ask you to look at what was approved in the Assembly of the Republic on the subject of abortion in the new penal code. Before making any comments, I am making an appeal to all the deputies, in government and in opposition. Look with your eyes at what was approved. Remember that the Penal Code of 1886 was more favourable to women, especially in cases of rape and of malformation of the foetus (eugenic abortion). Now are we going backwards? Think hard, before the women have to take to the streets, as it happened there before, burning their bras. This time they will have to put on chastity belts.

If a woman is raped and becomes pregnant she is obliged to have the child, or if she interrupts the pregnancy she risks, at a minimum, being sentenced to five years in prison. In the end, she is violated twice: first by the rapist and then by the law. Women, deputies, we are throwing away many accomplishments. We are going back 200 years. I feel humiliated as a woman. I will come back to this topic, after the shock has passed. I wish everyone a good week. Best wishes

The preliminary version is supported mostly by the ruling party, Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), whose representatives all voted in favour of approving it. The opposition counted 36 abstentions and no vote against.

Zenaida Machado, a researcher with Human Right Watch for Angola and Mozambique, also discussed the march:

Aline Frazão, a singer and producer in Angola, made an appeal against the plans of the new penal code, highlighting that the state is secular and its laws cannot be made on the basis of a religion:

Lembrete básico: o Estado é laico. As leis não se fazem de acordo com os princípios desta ou daquela religião. Da mesma forma que o Estado de Direito deve garantir a liberdade religiosa, também deve proteger as escolhas daqueles e daquelas que não são religiosos. Principalmente quando se trata dos direitos das mulheres, gera-se uma imensa confusão entre as leis da bíblia e as leis do Estado.

Pior ainda é quando tanto o Estado como a Igreja pensam que são proprietários dos nossos corpos. Espantem-se, pois, quando nos viram as costas. Está claro que se não marcharmos juntas nunca se conseguirá atingir a igualdade e a justiça. Se não levantarmos a voz, ninguém o fará por nós. É hora de gritar.
#pelodireitoaoabortolivreeseguro
#votoconsciente2017

Remember the basics: the state is secular. The laws are not made in accordance with the principles of this or that religion. In the same way that the rule of law must guarantee the freedom of religion, it must also protect the choices of those who are not religious. Especially when it comes to women’s rights, there is great confusion between biblical laws and laws of the state.

Worse still is when both the state and the Church think they are the owners of our bodies. You will be stunned when they turn their backs on us. It is obvious that if we do not march together we will never achieve equality and justice. If we do not raise our voice, no one will do it for us. It is time to shout.

#fortherighttoafreeandsafeabortion
#consciousvote2017

Mauro Steinway, a young Mozambican artist, considered the Catholic Church’s support to be a “war against women”:

Em Angola, a igreja católica fazendo o que sempre fez, usar sua influência nas mentes alienadas do 3o Mundo para promover sua agenda Cristã e maternidade aos pobres.
Uma autêntica guerra contra as mulheres foi legalizada. Homens dizendo o que mulheres devem fazer com seus corpos.

A igreja católica é a que mais promove maternidade compulsória aos pobres. As mulheres ricas vão sair do país ou subornar os serviços de saúde como forma de obter o aborto, enquanto que as pobres vão morrer tentando obter um.

In Angola, the Catholic Church is doing what it always does, using its influence on the minds of the Third World to push its Christian agenda and motherhood on the poor. A real war against women is being legalized. Men saying what women can do with their bodies.

The Catholic Church is the biggest promotor of compulsory motherhood for the poor. Rich women will leave the country or pay bribes for the health service to obtain an abortion, while the poor will die trying to get one.

A FEMAFRO, a Portuguese organization run by women to defend the rights of black African and African-descent women showed solidarity with the cause:

Solidariedade com a luta das companheiras angolanas da Ondjango Feminista, neste momento difícil em que o seu governo aprovou a criminalização do aborto em quase todas as situações. Esta decisão é um atentado aos direitos humanos das mulheres e colocará a vida e a saúde de muitas em risco, sobretudo as mais pobres.

#PeloDireitoAoAbortoLivreESeguro

Solidarity with the struggle of our Angolan partners of Ondjango Feminista, at this difficult moment where their government approves the criminalization of abortion in almost all cases. This decision is an attack on the human rights of women and will put the lives and the health of many at risk, especially the poorest.

#ForTheRightToAFreeAndSafeAbortion

by Liam Anderson at March 22, 2017 12:23 AM

March 21, 2017

Global Voices
With Romance and Nostalgia, This Comic Is Taking on Corruption in Mexico
Libro Vaquero

Image of The Anti-Corruption Book, shared by @AlexPulidoG on his public Twitter profile.

In Mexico, the fight against corruption has inspired the creation of a think tank, throwing tomatoes at corrupt politicians through the #JitomatazoMx campaign, and most recently: a comic book.

Stylized along the lines of the iconic romance series The Cowboy Book, which is set in the “wild west” at the end of the 19th century, the Anti-Corruption Book is quickly getting the reputation of being “The Cowboy Book of Anti-Corruption.” The laboratory of public politics Ethos launched the Anti-Corruption Book in March 2017, and it shows how citizens can avoid becoming victims, or even accomplices, to corruption in everyday situations.

The version created by Ethos is digitized with sound and image effects, which adds a deeper immersive experience than traditional print. Referring to the original cowboy series, Ethos shared the following announcement on their website:

Cabe destacar que el Libro Vaquero tiene sus orígenes en 1978, y alcanza un tiraje de 118,000 ejemplares de manera quincenal. La misma cantidad de ejemplares del Libro Anticorrupción serán encartados en la próxima edición. Otros 20,000 ejemplares de las historietas sobre corrupción serán distribuidos en espacios públicos y universidades con ayuda de integrantes de la sociedad civil.

It seems fit to highlight that Cowboy Book has it’s origins in 1978, and will achieve the printing of 118,00 copies on a fortnightly basis. The same amount of the Anti-corruption Book copies will be included the next edition. Another 20,000 copies of the anti-corruption comic strips will be distributed in public spaces and universities with the support of members of civil society.

The Animal Politico website reported:

Con el objetivo de informar y empoderar a la ciudadanía para evitar la corrupción y denunciar los casos que vean, Ethos Laboratorio presentó el Libro Vaquero Anticorrupción este miércoles 1 de marzo.

En las páginas del Libro Vaquero Anticorrupción, los lectores encontrarán historias que servirán para informar, con lenguaje coloquial, sobre el problema de la corrupción y para explicar cómo funciona el Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción.

With the objective to inform and empower citizens in order to avoid and report any cases of corruption witnessed, Ethos Laboratorio presented el Libro Vaquero Anticorruption this Wednesday 1 March.

Within the pages of el Libro Vaquero Anticorruption, readers will find stories written in colloquial language that will inform them about the problem of corruption and of how the National Anticorruption System works.

The National Anti-corruption System is a framework of public institutions (some existing, others to be created) that looks to prevent, detect and penalize the corrupt actions committed by society and Mexican public servants. It’s creation was announced in May 2015.

On Twitter, users like Antonio T. Carreño welcomed the publication:

The fight against #anticorruption is the responsibility of everyone, recommendable to read #CowboyBook from Ethos

Alejandro Pulido G. shared the following image:

#LibroVaquero adds to the fight #anticorruption @HuffPostMexico

Interview: http://m.huffingtonpost.com.mx/2017/03/01/el-libro-vaquero-se-suma-a-la-lucha-contra-la-corrupcion/?utm_hp_ref=mx-homepage …

Comic-strip: http://issuu.com/ellibrovaquero/docs/sna_formacion_pg01-164p?e=8638937/45041600 …

On his own behalf, José Luis Chicoma, Ethos Director General, shared the following message:

Our Anti-Corruption Cowboy Book. We tell of situations of abuse and complicity through comic-strips.

The complete works can be found free of charge on the Ethos website.

by Martyn Davies at March 21, 2017 10:31 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Jamaican Activist Arrested Under Cybercrime Law Amid Her Campaign Against Sexual Violence

The “cutting and clearing” dance during the Tambourine Army's march against sexual abuse and gender violence in Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Storm Saulter on March 11, 2017, used with permission

Jamaican prosecutors are testing the limits of the country's relatively new Cybercrime Law with a case against Latoya Nugent, an activist who has publicly named alleged perpetrators of sexual violence via social media.

Nugent was arrested last week and charged under Jamaica's Cybercrime Act for “use of a computer for malicious communication.” She has since been released on bail.

Nugent is the co-founder Tambourine Army, a new movement led by women and survivors of sexual violence who are talking openly about their experiences, both online and in public. Triggered by revelations of child sexual abuse by Moravian Church pastor Paul Gardner, the Tambourine Army has garnered support online and off, in a public march in the capital city of Kingston that took place in February. It also has triggered heated debate online in Jamaica.

One of the Army's more controversial tactics is the #SayTheirNames hashtag, where they encourage women to come forward with their stories of sexual abuse by naming the perpetrators before they've had a chance to defend themselves before a judge. Nugent was arrested for identifying several men as sexual predators on social media, some of whom lodged formal complaints with the police.

Campaign supporters reason that Jamaica's laws surrounding sexual violence and domestic abuse (including the Sexual Offences Act of 2009) place disproportionate burden on the victim, a topic of critical concern in Jamaica and elsewhere. Rape and abuse are also massively underreported in the country because of a culture of victim-shaming and stigma.

But the case against Latoya Nugent also raises new questions about the application of Jamaica's Cybercrime Law when it comes to online speech.

Similar to other cybercrime laws around the globe, Jamaica's legislation leaves room for interpretation when it comes to unlawful or “malicious” communication. In an offline setting, Nugent's act of naming and shaming perpetrators of sexual violence would most likely be classified as defamation. In 2013, Jamaica reformed its defamation regime to be treated as a matter of civil — not criminal — law. In short, this means that if a person is convicted of defamation in Jamaica, they can be made to pay damages, but cannot be given a prison sentence.

If she had named perpetrators in a public offline space, authorities may not have had legal grounds for her arrest.

Had the Tambourine Army named perpetrators in a public offline space, authorities may not have had legal grounds for her arrest. But the vague language of the Cybercrime Act appears to have given them just that.

Commenting on the case for the Jamaica Gleaner, human rights lawyer Tenesha Myrie wrote:

The use of the Cybercrimes Act, in particular, Section 9, which makes it an offence to use a computer for malicious communication, appears to be an attempt to criminalise defamation through the back door.

The case is an example of new challenges activists face as speech is increasingly policed by various kinds of cybercrime legislation in the world.

Following Nugent's arrest, Jamaican blogger Annie Paul described her feeling that there were “dark days ahead for freedom of speech” — a perception that had resonance region-wide.

The Tambourine Army march has become part of what is being called a historic, regional protest against gender-based violence. Similar marches have happened in Barbados (through the #LifeInLeggings movement), in Guyana, in the Bahamas and in Trinidad and Tobago, where activist Tillah Willah made a call for solidarity with Nugent:

[…] We all see this for what it really is – a witch hunt for a group of activists who are challenging a society that does not want to confront its problems with child sexual abuse and other manifestations of gender based violence.

In February 2017, after some social media users were circulating gruesome images of female murder victims, Trinidad and Tobago's attorney general said that he intends to bring amendments to The Cybercrime Bill to Cabinet in order to curb such irresponsible online behaviour. The legislation may also apply to “reckless users” who, by sharing unverified information, cause people to panic or be fearful.

Trinidadian Facebook user Shaz Hudson shared the GoFundMe page aimed at raising funds for Nugent's legal expenses, and warned her compatriots to “please be vigilant”:

Please be AWARE of bills being considered in our own parliament about how we use social media and how we speak and what it will mean. When it comes to laws, it pays to be a little bit paranoid and consider the worst case scenarios. Look at the loopholes and how the wording of the law can be manipulated.

Nugent's next court appearance is scheduled for March 22. Until then, the debate will no doubt continue.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at March 21, 2017 06:47 PM

Global Voices
Jamaican Activist Arrested Under Cybercrime Law Amid Her Campaign Against Sexual Violence

The “cutting and clearing” dance during the Tambourine Army's march against sexual abuse and gender violence in Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Storm Saulter on March 11, 2017, used with permission

Jamaican prosecutors are testing the limits of the country's relatively new Cybercrime Law with a case against Latoya Nugent, an activist who has publicly named alleged perpetrators of sexual violence via social media.

Nugent was arrested last week and charged under Jamaica's Cybercrime Act for “use of a computer for malicious communication.” She has since been released on bail.

Nugent is the co-founder Tambourine Army, a new movement led by women and survivors of sexual violence who are talking openly about their experiences, both online and in public. Triggered by revelations of child sexual abuse by Moravian Church pastor Paul Gardner, the Tambourine Army has garnered support online and off, in a public march in the capital city of Kingston that took place in February. It also has triggered heated debate online in Jamaica.

One of the Army's more controversial tactics is the #SayTheirNames hashtag, where they encourage women to come forward with their stories of sexual abuse by naming the perpetrators before they've had a chance to defend themselves before a judge. Nugent was arrested for identifying several men as sexual predators on social media, some of whom lodged formal complaints with the police.

Campaign supporters reason that Jamaica's laws surrounding sexual violence and domestic abuse (including the Sexual Offences Act of 2009) place disproportionate burden on the victim, a topic of critical concern in Jamaica and elsewhere. Rape and abuse are also massively underreported in the country because of a culture of victim-shaming and stigma.

But the case against Latoya Nugent also raises new questions about the application of Jamaica's Cybercrime Law when it comes to online speech.

Similar to other cybercrime laws around the globe, Jamaica's legislation leaves room for interpretation when it comes to unlawful or “malicious” communication. In an offline setting, Nugent's act of naming and shaming perpetrators of sexual violence would most likely be classified as defamation. In 2013, Jamaica reformed its defamation regime to be treated as a matter of civil — not criminal — law. In short, this means that if a person is convicted of defamation in Jamaica, they can be made to pay damages, but cannot be given a prison sentence.

If she had named perpetrators in a public offline space, authorities may not have had legal grounds for her arrest.

Had the Tambourine Army named perpetrators in a public offline space, authorities may not have had legal grounds for her arrest. But the vague language of the Cybercrime Act appears to have given them just that.

Commenting on the case for the Jamaica Gleaner, human rights lawyer Tenesha Myrie wrote:

The use of the Cybercrimes Act, in particular, Section 9, which makes it an offence to use a computer for malicious communication, appears to be an attempt to criminalise defamation through the back door.

The case is an example of new challenges activists face as speech is increasingly policed by various kinds of cybercrime legislation in the world.

Following Nugent's arrest, Jamaican blogger Annie Paul described her feeling that there were “dark days ahead for freedom of speech” — a perception that had resonance region-wide.

The Tambourine Army march has become part of what is being called a historic, regional protest against gender-based violence. Similar marches have happened in Barbados (through the #LifeInLeggings movement), in Guyana, in the Bahamas and in Trinidad and Tobago, where activist Tillah Willah made a call for solidarity with Nugent:

[…] We all see this for what it really is – a witch hunt for a group of activists who are challenging a society that does not want to confront its problems with child sexual abuse and other manifestations of gender based violence.

In February 2017, after some social media users were circulating gruesome images of female murder victims, Trinidad and Tobago's attorney general said that he intends to bring amendments to The Cybercrime Bill to Cabinet in order to curb such irresponsible online behaviour. The legislation may also apply to “reckless users” who, by sharing unverified information, cause people to panic or be fearful.

Trinidadian Facebook user Shaz Hudson shared the GoFundMe page aimed at raising funds for Nugent's legal expenses, and warned her compatriots to “please be vigilant”:

Please be AWARE of bills being considered in our own parliament about how we use social media and how we speak and what it will mean. When it comes to laws, it pays to be a little bit paranoid and consider the worst case scenarios. Look at the loopholes and how the wording of the law can be manipulated.

Nugent's next court appearance is scheduled for March 22. Until then, the debate will no doubt continue.

by Janine Mendes-Franco at March 21, 2017 06:45 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
UAE Authorities Arrest One Rights Activist and Extend the Detention of Another

In 2011, Ahmed Mansoor was jailed for insulting UAE leaders. Photo by Martin Ennals Foundation, via Citizen Lab.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have detained prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, and extended the detention of activist Osama al-Najjar despite him having completed his sentence.

Twelve security officers raided and searched the house of Mansoor in the early hours of 20 March. They detained Mansoor without telling his wife where he was being taken, according to Amnesty International. Mansoor's whereabouts remain unknown and human rights groups are concerned that he may be at risk of ill-treatment while in custody.

According to the state news agency WAM, Mansoor stands accused of using social media “to publish false information and rumors as well as promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda.”

Mansoor is a tireless human rights activist and an active social media user with more than 17k Twitter followers. He is the 2015 laureate of the Martin Ennals Foundation, which supports human rights defenders who are at risk.

In 2011, he and four other activists were jailed in relation to their connections to UAEHewar.net, an online discussion forum run by Mansoor. Mansoor used the forum to publish a petition calling for democratic reforms in the UAE. He was accused of insulting UAE leaders and was sentenced to three years in jail, but was released on presidential pardon after spending three years in jail. Mansoor is “one of the few voices within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who provides a credible independent assessment of human rights developments in the country,” the Martin Ennals Foundation's portrait of the activist reads.

On Twitter, he regularly posts about human rights violations in UAE, which is an absolute monarchy. Just a few days before his arrest, he tweeted his concern about the continuous and arbitrary detention of Osama al-Najjar, who has not been released despite completing his three-year jail sentence.

Freedom to Osama al-Najjar. His prison sentence has ended, but authorities in the Emirates have not released him, in a dangerous and unprecedented step that could represent a future tactic against prisoners of opinion.

Osama Al-Najjar remains in detention, despite completing his jail sentence. Photo Credit: the activist's Twitter account

Al-Najjar was arrested three years ago for posting tweets expressing concern that his father had been tortured in prison, and calling for his release and that of other prisoners of conscience in the Emirates. He has been in prison since March 2014 for expressing himself online, remains in what human rights groups describe as unlawful and arbitrary detention.

Osama's father, Hussain Al-Najjar is one of 94 activists prosecuted en masse in 2013 for calling for political reform in the Emirates on charges related to “harming State Security”. He is currently serving 11 years in prison.

In November 2014, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, whose verdicts cannot be appealed, sentenced Osama to three years in jail on a number of vague and draconian charges including “instigating hatred” against the state and “designing and running a website [with] satirical and defaming ideas and information”. Following his arrest the activist was held incommunicado for fours days, during which he was tortured. For six months after his arrest he was denied access to a lawyer.

Although Osama had completed his sentence as of March 17, 2017, he remains in detention. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court extended his detention at the request of the Public Prosecution under the pretext that the activist's release “poses a threat”. The court, however, did not determine for how long this detention will last.

In its ongoing clampdown on human rights defenders and political activists, the UAE authorities deploy several repressive tactics including arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, deportations, and revocation of citizenships.

by Afef Abrougui at March 21, 2017 02:47 PM

Global Voices
UAE Authorities Arrest One Rights Activist and Extend the Detention of Another

In 2011, Ahmed Mansoor was jailed for insulting UAE leaders. Photo by Martin Ennals Foundation, via Citizen Lab.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have detained prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, and extended the detention of activist Osama al-Najjar despite him having completed his sentence.

Twelve security officers raided and searched the house of Mansoor in the early hours of 20 March. They detained Mansoor without telling his wife where he was being taken, according to Amnesty International. Mansoor's whereabouts remain unknown and human rights groups are concerned that he may be at risk of ill-treatment while in custody.

According to the state news agency WAM, Mansoor stands accused of using social media “to publish false information and rumors as well as promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda.”

Mansoor is a tireless human rights activist and an active social media user with more than 17k Twitter followers. He is the 2015 laureate of the Martin Ennals Foundation, which supports human rights defenders who are at risk.

In 2011, he and four other activists were jailed in relation to their connections to UAEHewar.net, an online discussion forum run by Mansoor. Mansoor used the forum to publish a petition calling for democratic reforms in the UAE. He was accused of insulting UAE leaders and was sentenced to three years in jail, but was released on presidential pardon after spending three years in jail. Mansoor is “one of the few voices within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who provides a credible independent assessment of human rights developments in the country,” the Martin Ennals Foundation's portrait of the activist reads.

On Twitter, he regularly posts about human rights violations in UAE, which is an absolute monarchy. Just a few days before his arrest, he tweeted his concern about the continuous and arbitrary detention of Osama al-Najjar, who has not been released despite completing his three-year jail sentence.

Freedom to Osama al-Najjar. His prison sentence has ended, but authorities in the Emirates have not released him, in a dangerous and unprecedented step that could represent a future tactic against prisoners of opinion.

Osama Al-Najjar remains in detention, despite completing his jail sentence. Photo Credit: the activist's Twitter account

Al-Najjar was arrested three years ago for posting tweets expressing concern that his father had been tortured in prison, and calling for his release and that of other prisoners of conscience in the Emirates. He has been in prison since March 2014 for expressing himself online, remains in what human rights groups describe as unlawful and arbitrary detention.

Osama's father, Hussain Al-Najjar is one of 94 activists prosecuted en masse in 2013 for calling for political reform in the Emirates on charges related to “harming State Security”. He is currently serving 11 years in prison.

In November 2014, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, whose verdicts cannot be appealed, sentenced Osama to three years in jail on a number of vague and draconian charges including “instigating hatred” against the state and “designing and running a website [with] satirical and defaming ideas and information”. Following his arrest the activist was held incommunicado for fours days, during which he was tortured. For six months after his arrest he was denied access to a lawyer.

Although Osama had completed his sentence as of March 17, 2017, he remains in detention. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court extended his detention at the request of the Public Prosecution under the pretext that the activist's release “poses a threat”. The court, however, did not determine for how long this detention will last.

In its ongoing clampdown on human rights defenders and political activists, the UAE authorities deploy several repressive tactics including arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, deportations, and revocation of citizenships.

by Afef Abrougui at March 21, 2017 02:43 PM

Brazil’s Deadly Prison System and the Internet Comedians Cheering It On

 

Brazil's prison population has grown 161 per cent between 2000 and 2014. Photo: Screenshot of Human Rights Watch's documentary “Brazil: Where Inmates Run the Show”

Brazil is currently experiencing an unprecedented crisis in its prison system. In just two weeks earlier this year, riots in prisons across eight states left more than 130 dead. The situation has not only brought attention to the prison system's violence, but also highlighted a vocal segment of Brazilian society cheering on the bloodshed.

According to the newspaper El País, the recent killings in Brazilian prisons are the result of the collapse of a “peace pact” that's existed for almost two decades between the country's two biggest criminal factions: the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC, First Command of the Capital), headquartered in São Paulo, and the Comando Vermelho (CV, Red Command), based in Rio de Janeiro. To make matters worse, both groups have at their disposal vast constellations of smaller regional gangs.

On Jan. 1, sixty-four detainees were killed in the Anísio Jobim Prison in Manaus. The victims were mostly members of PCC, whose hegemony came under attack by the local group Família do Norte (FDN, Family from the North). Throughout the month, similar attacks followed across Brazil.

In addition to controlling the weapons and drugs traffic in large urban centers in Brazil, the CV and the PCC, which formed inside prisons in 1970 and 1990, respectively, have established themselves as the unofficial administrators of the country's prisons. For 20 years, a pact between the two groups preserved a fragile peace, also bringing down homicides in several cities.

Late last year, the truce apparently broke down, and Brazilian prisons have been a war zone ever since.

Human rights violations, including torture and extrajudicial killings, are not uncommon among the Brazilian security forces. Massacres carried out by police officers, in and out of uniform, have been worryingly frequent on the outskirts of large cities since the 1990s. In 2015, a report by the international organization Human Rights Watch described the Brazilian prison system as a “disaster on human rights.”

Brutal as the prison system is, it has many supporters in Brazil. Extreme rhetoric that used to be limited to the political fringe has surged into in the mainstream and on social media. Some on the right now openly support the “elimination” of individuals deemed to be socially “undesirable.” And they want it made part of the state's official policy on domestic security.

During one recent spike in prison violence, the Facebook page Direita ao Vivo (Live Right) published a spreadsheet ranking prisons according to the deadliness of their riots, calling it the “Correctional Games Champions League.” First place went to the now shuttered Carandiru Penitentiary in São Paulo, the site of the largest prison massacre in Brazilian history, where military police executed 111 prisoners in 1992. Direita ao Vivo satirizes and celebrates the war between the country's two criminal factions, likening it to a game, while subscribers leave comments cheering for more deaths.

Direita ao Vivo's “Correctional Games Champions League.” Image: Facebook

And there are plenty more jokesters online approvingly mocking the extermination of incarcerated people. YouTube star Marcela Tavares, whose audience exceeds 400,000 subscribers, proposed replacing the Brazilian version of the TV show “Big Brother” with something called “Big Brother Bandit,” saying prisons should broadcast their massacres on television for home entertainment. At the end of his video, she told her audience cryptically, “Who says I'm joking?”

Internet comedians aren't alone in supporting violence against Brazil's prison population. National Youth Secretary Bruno Júlio said in an interview, “There should be more deaths. There should be a massacre every week.” He was ultimately pressured to resign, but approval from supporters poured in on Facebook.

Congressman Major Olímpio raised eyebrows, too, when he posted a death count, referring to the Gericinó correctional facility in Bangu.

Olímpio belongs to the National Congress’ so-called “bullet caucus” — a coalition of tough-on-crime conservative deputies who advocate arming the population and boosting the state's policing powers.

When it comes to Brazil's prisons, the national rhetoric has been growing more bloodthirsty for years. With the penitentiary system now in open chaos, some public officials and Internet users are actually encouraging the violence, welcoming it as a necessary “purge.” Criminal penalties are tougher now, too. There are more crimes on the books, and incarceration periods are longer than ever.

Together with the drug war, this crackdown is fueling a kind of “penal populism” that has swelled the prison system beyond capacity.

According to Penitentiary Integrated Information System (Infopen), a research institute within Brazil's Justice Ministry, the prison population grew 161 percent between 2000 and 2014, making it the fourth largest internationally. Also worrying is the fact that roughly 40 percent of these inmates never went to trial.

Despite the explosion of policing and imprisoning, Brazil's crime rates remain sky high. In fact, the country maintains the eleventh highest homicide rate in the worldwith an average of 32.4 homicides per 100,000 people. And the chaos of Brazilian prisons may have contributed with the growth of the very criminal organizations that are, today, at the center of this crisis.

by johnrazen at March 21, 2017 12:49 PM

Marketplace Tech Report
03/21/17: Warfare through tech
FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers sat in front of the House Select Intelligence Committee this week for a hearing on Russia's interference in last year's presidential election. Patrick Tucker, tech editor for Defense One, joins us to talk about the role of technology in the hacking scandal. Afterwards, we'll look at how the Nintendo Switch console is performing on the market and what its release says about the larger video game business.

by Marketplace at March 21, 2017 10:00 AM

Global Voices
Chinese Lawmakers Seek to Protect Dead Communist Heroes With New Law

The new ‘hero law’ could have a chilling effect on academic inquiry in China.

Lei Feng has been depicted as a national hero since 1963.

China's national parliamentary body recently passed legislation for the country's first expansive civil code, which will help judges decide legal disputes on property, contracts, inheritance, and marriage.

The new code, which is expected to be adopted in 2020, builds on the few existing civil laws in the communist country. Of the current 126 additions tabled by the legislature, the most controversial is to make the defaming of national communist “heroes and martyrs” a civil offence.

Critics are worried the new ‘hero law’ could have a chilling effect on academic and historical inquiry in China. Many academics believe narratives about national heroes have been manipulated or fabricated for the propose of ideological control by the ruling Communist Party. The new rule states:

侵害英雄、烈士的姓名、肖像、名譽、榮譽,損害社會公共利益的,應當承擔民事責任。

Encroaching upon the name, portrait, reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs harms the public interest, and should bear civil liability.

Law professor Fang Liufang raised a series of questions on the hero law:

什么是“英烈”?“英烈”如何证明?哪个政府能颁发有效证明?古代有没有?如果古代也有,“英烈”的名誉保护追溯到哪个年代,春秋战国还是唐、宋、元、明、清、民国?如果古代没有“英烈”,那又为什么?更重要的是,谁能代表“英烈”向法院起诉?

What is a hero? How can you prove that a person is a hero? Which government can provide a certification for that? Did we have that in ancient times? If yes, are we to trace back and protect heroes starting from a particular historical moment? From the Chunqui Period or Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing, Republic of China? If not, why not? More importantly, who can represent “heroes” in courts?

China has been trying to write a civil code since 1954. Under Communist rule it made little progress until 1985, when an inheritance law was passed. In 1999, a contract law was passed and a property law passed in 2007. But major gaps remain. China has a civil-law system, which means laws are crucial references for judges. Unlike common-law countries, such as Britain and America, Chinese judges do not have precedent, or previous rulings by courts, to turn to when deciding verdicts.

China hopes the new civil code will provide a stable legal framework for its 1.3 billion rapidly evolving society and its increasingly complex disputes. But for some, the new code is being seen as another tool for government control:

这法 那法改来改去,一切都是为了制民!为了自身权力的稳固而己……只要对权力有利的,任何法都可以改,因为我们百姓没有选举权!

All these changes in law are aimed at controlling citizens! Just for the stability of the ruling power……any law could be changed as long as it’s good for the power because we don’t have the right to vote!

谁有制定英雄的专利?又是政府?

Who has the right to define a hero? The government again?

什么人才算是真正的英雄?什么样的行为属于抹黑?这些问题不解决这类法律条文注定会成为某些人大兴“文字狱”的借口和工具。

Who can be called a hero? What actions can be defined as defaming? Without solving these questions these kinds of provisions could become excuses and tools for literary inquisition.

Glorious narratives of revolutionary heroes are crucial to the party's legitimacy.

The most well-known example is Lei Feng. His image, as a role model serviceman, has survived decades of political change in China. Lei and his ‘selfless spirit’ and ‘fanatic loyalty’ to the party’s leader Mao has been promoted by the party.

Many ask how Lei, who was nearly illiterate, could have possibly written the voluminous diaries that are attributed to him. Others question the authenticity of pictures shot by professional photographers of Lei doing good deeds, even though he was a common soldier.

Outside China, many scholars have concluded that the story of Lei Feng is certainly a fabrication.

Against this background, Peking University legal professor He Weifang slammed the new rule as “unacceptable” in an interview with Wall Street Journal last week as there was no legal standard for deciding who qualifies as a hero. Many from the legal sector shared his view.

Even before the amendment was tabled for review, there have been a number of court cases involving “defaming heroes”.

Last year, in August, an editor of historical books, Hong Zhenkuai, was ordered by a Beijing court to apologize publicly for defaming anti-Japanese heroes after he published two articles to question the party’s narrative of the “Five Heroes of Langya Mountain”.

The tale of how the five men fended off Japanese troops atop a mountain peak in Hebei Province, choosing to smash their weapons and leap rather than surrender, has been memorialized in textbooks, museums, paintings and plays. But the editor’s articles suggest the truth may be not as heroic as propagandized.

When questions are boiled down to “historical nihilism”

Hong's insistence to dig into historical fact has been labelled as “historical nihilism” and the ruling China Community Party has considered it a major ideological battlefield. An article from CCP's publication, Red Flag, published a survey on “historical nihilism” in a dozen universities in January 2017 and spelled out its political impact on China’ socialist path:

一些针对革命领袖、民族英雄、爱国志士的恶搞“段子”、恶搞视频,就是历史虚无主义错误言论和历史观、价值观利用各种论坛、博客、微博、微信以及新型视频网站散播的。

Stories, videos mocking revolution leaders, national heroes and patriotic figures are historical nihilism. They spread misinformation and false historical view through forums, blogs, Weibo, Wechat and video platforms.

历史虚无主义思潮在互联网上的传播和蔓延,致使一部分学生接受它的观点,甚至对正确历史观和正确价值观产生了怀疑;高校学术研究中普遍存在重学术轻是非的研究导向,导致师生缺乏辨别、判断历史虚无主义观点的标尺,更缺乏判断理论是非的引导。

The wide distribution of historical nihilism has misled students into questioning the rightful historical view and value. In university academic research, academic questions trump “right and wrong”. Teachers and students have lost their judgement in historical nihilism, and failed to distinguish which are the right theories.

The publication concludes that those who question the Communist Party's historical narratives, are “western tools for sustaining global hegemony.”

对历史虚无主义认同的人,同样比较认同新自由主义。研究苏联解体的历史不难发现,新自由主义与历史虚无主义往往同时在经济、政治、意识形态等多个领域相互影响,相互作用。从根本上看,这两种思潮具有相同的价值取向和政治立场,都是西方国家推行全球霸权战略的工具,它们分别从历史维度和现实维度否定中国共产党的领导,否定社会主义道路…

Those who tend to identify with historical nihilism, also tend to identify with neoliberalism. As found in the studies of the disintegration of USSR, the two sets of ideologies have close co-relation in economic, political and ideological domain. Fundamentally speaking, the two school of thoughts shared similar values and political views and they are western tools for sustaining global hegemony. They deny CCP's leadership and socialist path by reinterpreting history and reality…

by Jack Hu at March 21, 2017 01:46 AM

Don’t Make Russia’s Anti-Kremlin Opposition Angry. You Wouldn’t Like It When It’s Angry.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Source: Navalny.com

What started out as a playful response to an attack on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny quickly turned into an online protest on Monday.

Navalny, a Kremlin critic whose Anti-Corruption Foundation has led investigations of some of Russia's most powerful politicians—including, most recently, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev—was sprayed with green antiseptic while on a campaign stop in the Siberian city of Barnaul on Monday morning. Shortly thereafter, Russian oppositioners began posting photos of themselves in green face paint on social media in solidarity.

After being doused outside his campaign headquarters on Monday, Navalny painted his whole face green and called on his supporters to join him in a nationwide protest against corruption on Sunday. “All I wanted to say is that if the Kremlin really thinks that I won't record new videos with a green face, they're wrong,” Navalny said in a video posted on YouTube. “I will keep recording them, because with such a face I'll get even more views. This isn't going to stop me in any way.  I'd like to ask you all to participate in the anti-corruption rallies that will take place all across the country on March 26.”

Within hours, Navalny's supporters began an online “flashmob,” posting photos of themselves covered in green face paint on social media. Vika Navalnaya, the wife of Navalny's brother Oleg, who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for embezzlement in December 2014, posted a picture of her and her son in green face paint on Instagram.

The wife and son of Oleg Navalny!

Some supported Navalny using the #зеленыйНавальный (#GreenNavalny) hashtag.

We decided to support the flashmob here! #GreenNavalny #Navalny20[1]8

Alexei, the Kazan [campaign] headquarters is with you! We support you! #GreenNavalny

Nikolai Danilov. Source: Alexey Yushenkov, Facebook.

Others, meanwhile, made more public demonstrations of support: the blogger Nikolai Danilov took his protest to the Kremlin, where he was detained by police, who told him he was violating Red Square protest rules by wearing green face paint. Danilov told the website Meduza:

Мне сказали, что со мной провели уважительную беседу, я сказал, что тоже уважаю их мнение, но я 40 минут потратил на то, чтобы покраситься в зеленый цвет. Я вел себя абсолютно нормально, не выкрикивал лозунгов — просто хотел сделать несколько фотографий. Мы нашли в итоге компромисс — я возвращаюсь на ту же точку, где меня забрали, и продолжаю делать несколько фотографий. Что я и сделал

They told me that they had had a respectful conversation with me, and I said that I also valued their opinion but that I had spent 40 minutes painting my face green. I comported myself absolutely normally, not shouting any slogans—I just wanted to take a few photos. In the end, we found a compromise—I returned to where I was picked up, and continued to take pictures.

Attacks on Navalny

Navalny, who announced in December that he would challenge Vladimir Putin in the March 2018 presidential elections, has faced hurdles at every turn of his campaign. He was found guilty of embezzlement in December and was given a five-year suspended sentence, meaning that he is legally barred from running for office. In January, federal regulators pressured the PayPal-like service Yandex.Money into blocking political donations from individuals, thereby eliminating one of the Navalny campaign's most significant sources of funding.

Navalny has also been the victim of physical attacks in the past: among other incidents, in February 2016, a protester threw a pie in Navalny's face, and one month later two unidentified men threw pies and condoms filled with a white liquid him. In May of last year, Navalny and his supporters were beaten up at an airport in Anapa, a city in southern Russia. And recently, Navalny's opponents in Ufa, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Kemerovo, and Novosibirsk have thrown eggs at him.

Navalny is not the only politician to have been doused in green: last month, an unidentified man used a syringe to shoot green dye in the eyes of opposition politician Mikhail Kasyanov. Novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Igor Kaplyan, the head of Russia's Committee for the Prevention of Torture, have also been attacked with various green substances, though it's unclear if there is any meaning to the color green.

by Isaac Webb at March 21, 2017 01:40 AM

This Is How a Russian School Principal Talked to Her Students About Patriotism

Principal Kira Gribanovskaya drops some truth bombs on her foolish pupils. Photo: Alexey Navalny

At a school outside Bryansk, about 350 miles southwest of Moscow, the principal sat down last week with a class of students to talk about anti-corruption activist and opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

Why the sudden heart-to-heart? Police had just grabbed Maxim Losyev, one of the school’s students, straight out of the classroom for urging classmates to attend an unsanctioned demonstration on March 26 calling for an investigation into corruption allegations against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Losyev also created a student group in support of Alexey Navalny, whose Anti-Corruption Foundation published an investigation earlier this month accusing Medvedev of masterminding a vast and illicit private empire.

In an effort to prevent further activism, the school’s principal — reportedly a woman named Kira Petrovna Gribanovskaya, referring to herself in the third person — discouraged the class from supporting Navalny, and even questioned the room’s intelligence and patriotism, when students challenged her assertion that Russia is in the middle of a “civil war.”

One of the students recorded the meeting with Gribanovskaya, and leaked the footage on social media. This weekend, the news site Meduza transcribed the nine-minute encounter. You can read the Russian transcript here, and listen to the Russian audio below.

* * *

Principal: Raisa Aleksandrova [the homeroom teacher], may I say something? This is for those who have taken an interest in Navalny’s activities: Okay, he proposes that we smear our top leaders. He says, “No to corruption” and so on. But what specific actions does he propose? Assemble for a protest? Tell [Medvedev] what a jerk he is?

Student 1: He just wants answers. He filmed a video about Medvedev, and he wants answers from the authorities.

Principal: And so what?

Student 1: And the authorities are silent.

Principal: No, hold on. If you film a video about Kira Petrovna, and write about how she’s this way and that way, how she’s not doing her job, and how there are cockroaches running around all over the school, and you come out to protest, demanding answers — do you think I’ll come out to have a conversation with you?

Student 2: No.

Principal: And he [Medvedev] won’t, either! It’s a joke! A political platform is about concrete actions: strengthening the economy, developing various plans. What Navalny is doing is a pure provocation. Do you get it? You still don’t understand this. I’ll tell you this straight: right now, our economic situation is very unstable. It’s an economic pit. And why’s all this happening? You’ve taken social studies and all that. You know that we’re basically living under an economic blockade in this country. But I want to hear what you think. What’s going on right now?

Student 2: A crisis.

Principal: And what’s causing this crisis?

[Unintelligible voices]

Student 2: Sanctions, the European Union, this whole blockade.

Principal: One more time — what’s the cause? The European Union, right? And our leader is managing a very stable and very strong policy. He has an enormously high rating on the world stage. Due to what? Due to foreign policy. [Russia’s] domestic policy, of course, is rather weak. Why? Well, because there’s no money. And we’re feeling that now, most of all…

Student 2: And what exactly is our foreign policy? America is against us. Europe is against us.

Principal: And why’s that? Tell me: what’s the reason?

Student 2: Because of Crimea. We basically took it.

Principal: And do you think that’s bad?

Homeroom teacher: But did we really take it? There was a referendum there…

Principal: Okay, tell me what happened, from your point of view. I actually want to know. Tell me. Maybe there’s some side to this that I don’t know.

Student 2: I mean, why did they impose sanctions against us?

Principal: You just answered your own question a moment ago.

Homeroom teacher: As a show of force. Because they wanted to show their strength.

Student 2: Because of Crimea.

Principal: You know why… And why did the whole war in Ukraine start in the first place?

Student 2: Well, because of the revolution…

Principal: Because of the what?

Student 2: The transition of power.

Principal: Kid, you haven’t read anything about this and you don’t know a thing. You’ve got some very superficial knowledge here. What started this whole conflict? Maybe it was because America stuck its nose in?

Student 2: It didn’t intervene openly.

[Unintelligible voices]

Principal: And Crimea up and went where? And how did America react to this?

Student 2: Did you see American troops in Ukraine?

Principal: And did you see Russian troops in Ukraine?

Student 2: Yes. There are videos going around — you have no idea.

Principal: The videos are staged, for starters.

Homeroom teacher: And you shouldn’t believe them…

[Unintelligible voices]

Student 2: I’ve heard a lot of information that friends of certain people are there…

Principal: Guys, I can see that you’re looking at this problem one-sidedly. And that you lack range in your political view. It’s a very narrow problem: you see Navalny, you watch his video, and — boom — you believe it all. You don’t have your own opinion about this issue — only what’s being imposed on you. And so sometimes you embrace sources that are unverified or maybe even outright provocative.

Homeroom teacher: Like puppets…

Student 2: And what if our opinion coincides with his?

Principal: But do you even have an opinion? You go ahead and read. I’m pushing you not just to look at these sources… If they say that, yeah, it’s bad here, then look at other sources.

Homeroom teacher: Challenge every fact!

Student 2: Okay, but we’re not looking at a single source.

Principal: Well, apparently you’re only looking in a single direction.

Student 1: Yeah and our TV networks only show what’s good for the government…

Principal: You’re not listening to Voice of America?

Student 1: They [Russian TV networks] aren’t going to show us anything else.

Principal: I got it. Somehow, we messed up your civic education. In terms of civics, you’ve got big shortcomings. Do you all mean to tell me that there are no patriots in your class?

Student: And what does it mean to be a patriot? That you support the authorities?

Principal: I was speaking to Nikita…

Homeroom teacher: I apologize. [Students], please, organize a neighborhood clean-up group on your streets.

Principal: Guys, raise your hands: how many of you do any volunteer work?

[Silence]

Principal: And what’s volunteering for? There’s your civic position! You don’t need to be looking down from on high at Putin and Medvedev. Look at our neighborhood!

Student 2: And the volunteering that’s organized and supported by United Russia [the country’s ruling political party]?

Principal: Yes.

Student 2: Well, we’re against United Russia.

[Laughter]

Student 2: You see.

Homeroom teacher: Why do you say “we”?

Student 2: Raise your hand, anybody who’s against United Russia.

Student 1: I’m against them.

[Other voices: Is that everyone? Anyone else?]

Student 2: We’re against United Russia.

Principal: And you’re for what exactly?

Student 1: We’re for justice.

Principal: And what exactly is justice?

Student: It’s what we don’t have right now.

Student 1: Justice is when the authorities care about their people, and not just about themselves. When they care about ordinary citizens, and not about their millions [of dollars]. Many people want to live in a free state, in a free country…

Principal: So you think that life in this country got worse with the arrival of Putin and Medvedev?

Student 1: No, but they’ve stayed too long. They’ve just been there [in power] for too long.

Student 2: Yeah.

Principal: Did you live in some other era that I somehow missed? Under whom did you live well? And under Putin and Medvedev things got worse for you?

Student 2: We’ve studied history.

Principal: Naturally.

Student 2: Well…

Principal: What does “well” mean? I’m asking you, specifically you: Under what ruler did you live well? What do you mean “well”?

Student 2: We’ve only ever had one ruler, actually.

Principal: You said that things have become worse. But you never lived through the hard years of the 1990s. When, forgive me for saying this, everyone carried around a blade and a firearm, and the country was in chaos. And this was when I was studying in college! This was when it was scary to go out into the street after eight at night. You didn’t see this.

Student 2: And you want that all over again?

Homeroom teacher: You’re the ones who want that!

Student 2: They just arrested a person for absolutely nothing. They carried him off to the police station.

Principal: This is civil war.

Student 2: This is lawlessness.

Principal: That’s true — it’s lawlessness. Because what is the aim of any protest or any schism?

Homeroom teacher: Political crisis, and then civil war.

Principal: And then civil war. Fratricide.

Homeroom teacher: You want it to be like in Ukraine? Or like it was for us in [19]17?

Student 2: We don’t want these officials.

Homeroom teacher: Tell me: can you actually do this right now? How?

Student 2: Well, just gather together.

Homeroom teacher: And then when?

Student 2: There will be a crowd.

Homeroom teacher: A crowd. And then what?

Student 2: People will at least see. They’ll see that there are citizens.

Homeroom teacher: Citizens. In other words, a bunch of [young] people led by adults with nothing to lose, so to speak.

Principal: Guys, we tried, at least, to warn you about all this, and let you know. What’s happening now is called polemics, and nobody needs it. Regardless, what you need now… I’m advising you, I’m not insisting, but I’m advising that you listen to what we said, and you draw your own conclusions. More than anything, I’m thinking about your future.

Homeroom teacher: Remember that a lot is at stake.

Principal: I put up a fight with these law enforcement officers. I tried to defend Maxim. I said that these were just some juvenile antics that nobody needed. Believe me, he’s not having a good time right now. Not at all. I don’t want any of you to land in a similar situation. Everything that you’ve said here from behind your desks has been empty words. I’m telling you again: get up, grow up, and make something of yourselves. That’s the right thing to do.

Homeroom teacher: Guys, I’ll ask you again: think, think…

The news site Meduza transcribed the encounter found above. You can read the Russian transcript here.

by Kevin Rothrock at March 21, 2017 12:26 AM

March 20, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
‘Those who tortured him [should] tell us the truth': Tunisian Commission Hears Net Freedom Testimonies From Dictatorship

Graffiti in memory of cyber-dissident Zouhair Yahyaoui, who was jailed and tortured for running a satirical blog critical of the Ben Ali dictatorship. Photo by Yamen via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tunisian blogger Zouhair Yahyaoui, who founded the satirical TUNeZINE online forum, was jailed and tortured for publishing “false news”.

His story, and those of many others, are now being brought to the fore as part of a series of public hearings on human rights violations that took place during the rule of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who governed Tunisia with an iron fist for 23 years before his ousting in January 2011.

Bloggers, activists and relatives of those who were subjected to abuses by the Ben Ali regime for expressing themselves online or accessing banned content, testified about the dictatorship’s violations against freedom of expression and the right to privacy on the internet before Tunisia's Truth and Dignity Commission.

As part of Tunisia's democratic reforms and transitional justice processes, the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) was established in December 2013, with the purpose of investigating crimes and abuses dating back to July 1955—just after the country gained autonomy from Franceto help build democracy, dismantle the authoritarian system, and end impunity for past crimes and violations.

The authority, which is investigating more than 50,000 complaints, decided to hold public hearings for a number of cases that are of public interest, such as testimonies by women and women’s rights activists, families of protesters killed during the 2010-2011 uprising, those injured during the same uprising, and victims of forced military recruitment. More than 11,000 of the complaints received by the commission relate to violations of freedom of speech, both on and offline.

The commission dedicated one public session solely to internet freedom violations. Broadcast live on national television and streamed online, the session took place two days before the country’s national internet freedom day, which honors the memory of blogger Zouhair Yahyaoui.

The president of the Truth and Dignity Commission, Sihem Ben Sedrine, herself a victim of Ben Ali’s cyber-police, began the session by describing Ben Ali’s information control system which earned Tunisia the title of an “enemy of the internet”:

The repressive system had enormous technical, financial and human means, but also an important network that included the presidency, the ministry of interior, the external communication agency [the Ben Ali regime’s main propaganda agency, now dissolved], the former ruling party with all its branches specialized in monitoring activists’ online content…

In the early 2000s, Ben Ali's repressive system went after Zouhair Yahyaoui, who blogged behind the pen name Ettounsi (The Tunisian), before Tunisian authorities arrested and jailed him. Yahyaoui, a pioneer of cyber-dissidence, founded the TUNeZINE satirical forum in 2001, where he asked his readers to vote on whether Tunisia was a “republic, a kingdom, a zoo or a prison.”

On 4 June 2002, police officers in plainclothes arrested him in a cybercafe, and for four days after his arrest his whereabouts remained unknown. He was later tried and sentenced to two years and four months for “publishing false news.” His sentence was reduced to two years on appeal.

In celebration of the National Internet Freedom Day on 13 March, the Tunisian Post issued two stamps: the first commemorating Zouhair Yahyaoui, while the second is in recognition of the efforts towards a free and open internet in Tunisia.

In a video testimony, journalist Taieb Moalla told listeners: “I can tell you about Zouhair the victim, but as I knew him he would like to be remembered as a courageous dissident, [for] his satirical writings that weakened the image of Ben Ali.”

For Moalla, who was a friend of Yahyaoui's, the blogger “played a very important role in the Tunisian revolution even though it took place 5 years after his tragic death.” “To those who tortured him, we say that we will not forgive,” he said.

Zouhair’s mother Khadija Yahyaoui also testified about the life of her activist son, and about what he and her entire family were subjected to in government retaliation for her son's activism. “My son was writing only about the truth of what Tunisians were facing, the day he decided to go public and started his blog, he got arrested,” she said. “For a long period, the authorities declined to give us any information about my son….we thought he died in jail! ….all of us were under surveillance.”

Zouhair was released on parole in November 2003. His health was weakened by torture, poor prison conditions, and the several hunger strikes he went on to protest his imprisonment. On 13 March 2005 he died of a heart attack at 37 years of age. “ I’d like to see those who tortured him tell us the truth, then ask us for forgiveness,” Yahyaoui’s mother said at the end of her testimony.

In another testimony, former Global Voices Advocacy Director and founder of the local award-winning collective blog Nawaat Sami Ben Gharbia who filed a complaint against the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) for its internet censorship practices during the dictatorship era, addressed the evolution of internet censorship during the Ben Ali regime. Ben Gharbia remarked:

At the beginning, cyber-censorship in Tunisia was about blocking domain names of blogs like TUNeZINE, Kalima, Nawaat, and so on… then it evolved to keyword censorship, to finally hacking of email accounts and websites, starting from 2008, and through use of Deep Packets Inspection technologies after 2009.

Ben Gharbia, who spent 13 years in forced exile in the Netherlands, also mentioned how the Ben Ali system paid hackers to hack websites of political opponents, human rights defenders and delete their archives. As cyber-dissidents started publishing investigative reports on corruption in the family circles of Ben Ali, on Youtube, DailyMotion, Facebook and Twitter, those platforms were soon to subjected to censorship. Youtube and DailyMotion were entirely blocked until January 2011 in Tunisia, while for Facebook the regime mainly chose to target specific pages and accounts, though the site was blocked for 16 days in 2008.

In his last speech as Tunisia’s president in the evening of 13 January, Ben Ali attempted to appease angry protesters by promising democratic reforms including an end to internet censorship. That night, users in the country were able to access sites like YouTube and DailyMotion without the need to use circumvention tools.

But for Ben Gharbia and other net freedom advocates in Tunisia “it wasn’t Ben Ali who gave back our online freedom of expression,” but rather the reforms that came after, including those initiated by the Tunisian Internet Agency under the leadership of its former CEO Moez Chakchouk. Established in 1996 with the purpose of managing and operating the national Internet Exchange Point (IXP), the Tunisian Internet Agency was required by the Ben Ali regime to host and operate internet censorship and surveillance equipment and software.

Since 2011, the agency has adopted reforms in favor of an open and free internet by taking steps toward more transparency and fighting censorship, most notably challenging and winning a court decision to filter pornography in 2012.

Post-revolution Tunisia further enshrined the principles of freedom of information and expression on the internet, through its new constitution and its adoption of UN Human Rights Council Resolutions promoting and protecting human rights online in 2014 and 2016. But in this new era, attempts to limit online freedoms are still there.

Justified by the several terrorist attacks the country faced, the government in 2013 established new spying agencies, such as the Technical telecommunications agency (ATT), tasked with investigating “ICT crimes” without proper oversight and transparency mechanisms that would ensure protection of user rights.

Today, the internet remains uncensored in Tunisia, and while filtering and blocking of websites and content may not be a concern to users, activists remain wary of surveillance practices. Tunisia is now in need of “a better enforcement of the right to privacy,” and this “obliges us to remain vigilant of the return of old practices of arbitrary cyber surveillance especially as those who work in this agency are, in part, former employees of Ammar404,” Ben Gharbia said, referring to the nickname Tunisian netizens gave to the country’s internet censorship and surveillance apparatus, in reference to the infamous “404 not found” error message that appears when users attempt to access blocked content.

It remains unclear whether and how Tunisia’s transitional justice process will impact future internet freedom policies, but there is no doubt that the public hearing session of 11 March was historic. For a country once described as an “internet enemy”, acknowledging its abusive past is the first step toward genuine reform, even if challenges remain. 

by Dhouha Ben Youssef at March 20, 2017 06:14 PM

Global Voices
‘Those Who Tortured Him [Should] Tell Us the Truth': Tunisian Commission Hears Net Freedom Testimonies From Dictatorship

Graffiti in memory of cyber-dissident Zouhair Yahyaoui, who was jailed and tortured for running a satirical blog critical of the Ben Ali dictatorship. Photo by Yamen via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tunisian blogger Zouhair Yahyaoui, who founded the satirical TUNeZINE online forum, was jailed and tortured for publishing “false news”.

His story, and those of many others, are now being brought to the fore as part of a series of public hearings on human rights violations that took place during the rule of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who governed Tunisia with an iron fist for 23 years before his ousting in January 2011.

Bloggers, activists and relatives of those who were subjected to abuses by the Ben Ali regime for expressing themselves online or accessing banned content, testified about the dictatorship’s violations against freedom of expression and the right to privacy on the internet before Tunisia's Truth and Dignity Commission.

As part of Tunisia's democratic reforms and transitional justice processes, the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) was established in December 2013, with the purpose of investigating crimes and abuses dating back to July 1955—just after the country gained autonomy from Franceto help build democracy, dismantle the authoritarian system, and end impunity for past crimes and violations.

The authority, which is investigating more than 50,000 complaints, decided to hold public hearings for a number of cases that are of public interest, such as testimonies by women and women’s rights activists, families of protesters killed during the 2010-2011 uprising, those injured during the same uprising, and victims of forced military recruitment. More than 11,000 of the complaints received by the commission relate to violations of freedom of speech, both on and offline.

The commission dedicated one public session solely to internet freedom violations. Broadcast live on national television and streamed online, the session took place two days before the country’s national internet freedom day, which honors the memory of blogger Zouhair Yahyaoui.

The president of the Truth and Dignity Commission, Sihem Ben Sedrine, herself a victim of Ben Ali’s cyber-police, began the session by describing Ben Ali’s information control system which earned Tunisia the title of an “enemy of the internet”:

The repressive system had enormous technical, financial and human means, but also an important network that included the presidency, the ministry of interior, the external communication agency [the Ben Ali regime’s main propaganda agency, now dissolved], the former ruling party with all its branches specialized in monitoring activists’ online content…

In the early 2000s, Ben Ali's repressive system went after Zouhair Yahyaoui, who blogged behind the pen name Ettounsi (The Tunisian), before Tunisian authorities arrested and jailed him. Yahyaoui, a pioneer of cyber-dissidence, founded the TUNeZINE satirical forum in 2001, where he asked his readers to vote on whether Tunisia was a “republic, a kingdom, a zoo or a prison.”

On 4 June 2002, police officers in plainclothes arrested him in a cybercafe, and for four days after his arrest his whereabouts remained unknown. He was later tried and sentenced to two years and four months for “publishing false news.” His sentence was reduced to two years on appeal.

In celebration of the National Internet Freedom Day on 13 March, the Tunisian Post issued two stamps: the first commemorating Zouhair Yahyaoui, while the second is in recognition of the efforts towards a free and open internet in Tunisia.

In a video testimony, journalist Taïeb Moalla told listeners: “I can tell you about Zouhair the victim, but as I knew him he would like to be remembered as a courageous dissident, [for] his satirical writings that weakened the image of Ben Ali.”

For Moalla, who was a friend of Yahyaoui's, the blogger “played a very important role in the Tunisian revolution even though it took place 5 years after his tragic death.” “To those who tortured him, we say that we will not forgive,” he said.

Zouhair’s mother Khadija Yahyaoui also testified about the life of her activist son, and about what he and her entire family were subjected to in government retaliation for her son's activism. “My son was writing only about the truth of what Tunisians were facing, the day he decided to go public and started his blog, he got arrested,” she said. “For a long period, the authorities declined to give us any information about my son….we thought he died in jail! ….all of us were under surveillance.”

Zouhair was released on parole in November 2003. His health was weakened by torture, poor prison conditions, and the several hunger strikes he went on to protest his imprisonment. On 13 March 2005 he died of a heart attack at 37 years of age. “ I’d like to see those who tortured him tell us the truth, then ask us for forgiveness,” Yahyaoui’s mother said at the end of her testimony.

In another testimony, former Global Voices Advocacy Director and founder of the local award-winning collective blog Nawaat Sami Ben Gharbia who filed a complaint against the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) for its internet censorship practices during the dictatorship era, addressed the evolution of internet censorship during the Ben Ali regime. Ben Gharbia remarked:

At the beginning, cyber-censorship in Tunisia was about blocking domain names of blogs like TUNeZINE, Kalima, Nawaat, and so on… then it evolved to keyword censorship, to finally hacking of email accounts and websites, starting from 2008, and through use of Deep Packets Inspection technologies after 2009.

Ben Gharbia, who spent 13 years in forced exile in the Netherlands, also mentioned how the Ben Ali system paid hackers to hack websites of political opponents, human rights defenders and delete their archives. As cyber-dissidents started publishing investigative reports on corruption in the family circles of Ben Ali, on Youtube, DailyMotion, Facebook and Twitter, those platforms were soon to subjected to censorship. Youtube and DailyMotion were entirely blocked until January 2011 in Tunisia, while for Facebook the regime mainly chose to target specific pages and accounts, though the site was blocked for 16 days in 2008.

In his last speech as Tunisia’s president in the evening of 13 January, Ben Ali attempted to appease angry protesters by promising democratic reforms including an end to internet censorship. That night, users in the country were able to access sites like YouTube and DailyMotion without the need to use circumvention tools.

But for Ben Gharbia and other net freedom advocates in Tunisia “it wasn’t Ben Ali who gave back our online freedom of expression,” but rather the reforms that came after, including those initiated by the Tunisian Internet Agency under the leadership of its former CEO Moez Chakchouk. Established in 1996 with the purpose of managing and operating the national Internet Exchange Point (IXP), the Tunisian Internet Agency was required by the Ben Ali regime to host and operate internet censorship and surveillance equipment and software.

Since 2011, the agency has adopted reforms in favor of an open and free internet by taking steps toward more transparency and fighting censorship, most notably challenging and winning a court decision to filter pornography in 2012.

Post-revolution Tunisia further enshrined the principles of freedom of information and expression on the internet, through its new constitution and its adoption of UN Human Rights Council Resolutions promoting and protecting human rights online in 2014 and 2016. But in this new era, attempts to limit online freedoms are still there.

Justified by the several terrorist attacks the country faced, the government in 2013 established new spying agencies, such as the Technical telecommunications agency (ATT), tasked with investigating “ICT crimes” without proper oversight and transparency mechanisms that would ensure protection of user rights.

Today, the internet remains uncensored in Tunisia, and while filtering and blocking of websites and content may not be a concern to users, activists remain wary of surveillance practices. Tunisia is now in need of “a better enforcement of the right to privacy,” and this “obliges us to remain vigilant of the return of old practices of arbitrary cyber surveillance especially as those who work in this agency are, in part, former employees of Ammar404,” Ben Gharbia said, referring to the nickname Tunisian netizens gave to the country’s internet censorship and surveillance apparatus, in reference to the infamous “404 not found” error message that appears when users attempt to access blocked content.

It remains unclear whether and how Tunisia’s transitional justice process will impact future internet freedom policies, but there is no doubt that the public hearing session of 11 March was historic. For a country once described as an “internet enemy”, acknowledging its abusive past is the first step toward genuine reform, even if challenges remain. 

by Dhouha Ben Youssef at March 20, 2017 06:08 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Alleged Attacks on Online Media Follow the Tragic Death by Fire of Young Women in Guatemala
Mujeres prenden velas el 8 de marzo de 2017 en la Ciudad de Guatemala. Foto de Carlos Sebastián para Nómada. Usada bajo licencia Creative Commons.

Women leave candles on May 8th in Guatemala City. Photo: Carlos Sebastián for the online media Nómada. Used under Creative Commons -non specified- licence.

The same week in which Latin America hit the streets and the net to defend women's rights, the regional public was in uproar over the death of 40 young women inside a shelter on the edges of Guatemala City.

The tragedy took place after the young women protested against alleged sexual abuses ongoing inside the shelter. According to reports, the protests ended in brutal crackdowns, with the young women kept locked up inside the shelter. According to local media, the girls burned a mattress in order to try and escape, but the authorities kept them locked in. The final death toll in the subsequent fire, according to local and international media, rose to 40.

The story was well covered across online media outlets and on social media. Among those media covering the story was Guatemalan outlet NomadaGT, where the recorded testimonies of some of the young women were published.

Shortly after publishing the audios, some users and activists decried an apparent DDoS attack (a ‘denial-of-service-attack’, in which multiple users or computers try to access a site until it crashes due to traffic) on NomadaGT:

In this moment, @nomadagt is going through a DDoS attacked (a denial of service attack) #FreedomOfSpeech.

The website Guatemala Shafaqna said:

El portal de noticias Nómada entrevistó a dos de las menores sobrevivientes de la tragedia del Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, sin embargo, luego de publicarlos han experimentado problema en su sitio. Las declaraciones fueron publicadas en la nota Audios: una policía le dijo a las niñas que se aguantaran el fuego [itálicas nuestras] escrita por la periodista Claudia Méndez Arriaza.

The news site [NómadaGT] interviewed two of the surviving girls of the tragedy of Hogar Seguro [the shelter where the protest and the fire took place] But after publishing them they had problems with their website. The testimonies were published in the note ‘Audios: a police officer told the girls to suck the fire up’ written by journalist Claudia Méndez Arriaza.

Other media republished the news and warned of the problems that NómadaGT had. Hours later, when normal service resumed, the notes were updated:

El portal de noticias Nómada entrevistó a dos de las menores sobrevivientes de la tragedia del Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, sin embargo, luego de publicarlos han experimentado problema en su sitio. Actualmente ya están reestablecidos.

The news site [NómadaGT] interviewed two of the surviving girls from the Hogar Seguro tragedy, but after publishing them, they had access problems. They're now back online.

Hours later, NómadaGT was reestablished, but the denial-of-service-attack remained important in the context of accusations that the Guatemalan State was responsible for the death of the young women.

If you spent all day trying to read the note, here it is, in full, on our Facebook page. We apologize for the delay. The crime against these girls will not go unpunished. #HogarSeguro

by Laura Vidal at March 20, 2017 05:50 PM

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