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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.

May 22, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Mumbai Technologists Are Using TV Spectrum to Bring More Internet Access to India

The technical schema and the impact of the testbed setup at Palghar. Screenshot from a video uploaded by Gram Marg.

India has made headlines in recent years as overall Internet use among residents has gone up at an increasing rate. Yet most of these gains are in mobile Internet access and public access points.

While people use the Internet on their mobile phones, at cybercafes and public wifi hotspots, less than 2% percent of households have a fixed Internet connection. And even the mobile penetration remains low, at 23% for the whole country. Rural India lacks smartphones and the Internet connections are often patchy and slow, due to a lack of Internet infrastructure.

This leaves the vast majority of Indians with limited ways to engage deeply with Internet technology. While accessing information and posting simple files like images online is easy to do from a smartphone, writing code, studying or building a website really requires a fixed connection.

The government sees the need for massive investment to roll-out broadband to rural areas in over 600 districts via expensive fibre-optic and other technologies, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

But other more efficient solutions are beginning to emerge. One of them is a hardware product that uses television spectrum to provide affordable access to rural communities. The Mumbai-based low-cost prototype recently won the USD $125,000 (Indian Rs 8.2 million) in the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge by Mozilla, the non-profit organisation behind the open-source browser Firefox.

The Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband was spearheaded by Professor Abhay Karandikar of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) and his team of Masters and PhD students of the institution. Karandikar heads the IIT Bombay Research Park and plays an active role in policy consultation for Internet and broadband in India.

The ‘Gram Marg Solution’ could be a deal-breaker in this situation. The benefit of this “Middle and Last-mile” solution is that it is low-cost, consumes relatively small amounts of energy, and can be installed in quickly, using existing TV broadcasting infrastructure to reach distant rural homes. The project aims to bring 640,000 villages in rural India onto the network. It has been rolled out in 25 villages on a pilot basis in the past two years.

In telecommunications and the internet industry, the term “last mile” refers to the technology which carries signals from the broad telecommunication backbone along the relatively short distance (aka the “last mile”) to and from its final destination, usually a home or business. The current available last mile solutions to carry internet to rural Indian homes are mainly traditional phone lines and ADSL, coaxial cables and wireless technologies, which mostly use mobile spectrum.

Indian mobile service providers are rolling out 4G technologies for faster internet, but they are still costly for the rural population, where smartphone penetration is also low.

Gram Marg solves the problem of connecting the unconnected and under-served populations as a “middle mile” and “last mile” solution. It uses the idea of using TV “white space” to enable data to travel between village wifi clusters and a high-speed optical fiber connected distribution base. White space refers to the unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum such as television networks. These frequencies are kept empty between channels for reducing interference and buffering purposes. Although mainly used for TV, these are similar to the frequencies used for the 4G technology, and it can be used to deliver widespread broadband internet.

The GSM Association, a trade body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, has published a report on potentials of using UHF band White spectrum to carry broadband Internet.

Screenshot from the report on Potential benefits from sub- 700 MHz spectrum in India by PLUM for GSMA

Entrepreneur, journalist, publisher and founder and owner of MediaNama, Nikhil Pawa was on the jury board of the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge. On Facebook, he explained what he liked about the project:

1. Open sources technology for delivery of broadband over white spaces spectrum
2. Is cheaper than existing chipsets for broadband over white space
3. Doesn't need line-of-sight connectivity for broadband, which is a major issue (and cost center) especially in hilly areas.
I really hope India doesn't have licensing for white space broadband spectrum.
The other applications I really liked were the community broadband initiatives, where villages and towns take ownership of their Internet infrastructure.

One of the obstacles that this solution may face is the regulatory challenge of making white space spectrum available. Another is that India is phasing out traditional analog TV and switching to digital broadcasting and DTH technologies.

Facebook user Anand Rai commented that:

This would be a great “Make in India” initiative to boost Digital India across underserved/ unserved rural India.

Professor Karandikar says they are working on a sustainable business model that can enable local village entrepreneurs to deploy and manage access networks. It remains to be seen how far the project will go towards lessening India's digital divide, but it has inspired considerable hope among participants and telecommunications experts in the country.

by Rezwan at May 22, 2017 08:20 PM

Malaysian Editors Face Cybercrime Charges for Posting a Video that Criticized Attorney General

Screenshot of the YouTube video posted on the KiniTV channel about the press conference of a Malaysian politician criticizing the country's attorney-general.

Head staff at two independent news websites in Malaysia are facing cybercrime charges for posting a video of a politician criticizing the country’s attorney general.

The government accused KiniTV and Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan and CEO Premesh Chandran of violating the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998 (CMA), which criminalizes “the improper use of network facilities by knowingly transmitting contents which are offensive, menacing, obscene, false and indecent with the intent to annoy, abuse or threaten another person”.

The charge is related to a KiniTV video posted on July 27, 2016 of a politician criticizing the office of the attorney-general for its failure to identify the role of the country’s prime minister in a corruption scandal involving 1MDB, a state-owned investment bank. The politician, a former member of the ruling party, called for the resignation of the attorney general. The video was taken during a press briefing.

KiniTV is an Internet TV broadcasting news about Malaysian politics. It is part of Malaysiakini, an independent online news website with a large subscription base that has faced regulatory challenges and technical attacks in the past, often related to its political coverage.

If found guilty, both Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran could face a prison term of one year, and could be subject to fines of 50,000 Malaysian Ringgit (roughly USD $11,500). An additional fine of 1,000 Malaysian Ringgit (USD $230) per day can also be imposed for each day the offence continues following conviction.

This is not the first time that a Malaysian media website has been singled out by authorities for reporting about the 1MDB corruption scandal. In 2015, it suspended the license of some news websites for reporting about the 1MDB case.

The corruption issue has sparked a political crisis in Malaysia since it implicated the prime minister, who is accused of pocketing USD $700 million through the 1MDB.

Reacting to the cybercrime charges filed against Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) urged the government to stop harassing the media:

CIJ calls for these charges to be dropped and for the government to cease all harassment and intimidation of the media and journalist. Media practitioners including journalists and directors of media companies should not be penalized for reporting content of interest to the public.

The group also called for an amendment to the law, which is often used to threaten reporters:

The law also places the burden of proof on the accused to show they have taken reasonable precautions to prevent the so-called offence.

Human rights group Article 19 warned that the case could have chilling effects and stifle other dissenting voices in Malaysia:

The increasing use of this law to target independent media and any online criticism of the government is seriously concerning, and also a clear violation of international human rights law on freedom of expression.

The use of this provision in conjunction with Section 244(1) to target an independent online news portal is a worrying development, and will likely have a chilling effect on media and other independent voices in Malaysia.

In a column on Malaysiakini, writer P Gunasegaram bemoaned the fact that authorities are aggressively attacking independent news websites critical of the government:

It is strange that nobody gets prosecuted for producing fake news or for slanting news but there is prosecution of those who merely produced the unvarnished, plain and bare news.

When government officials, mainstream media editors and ruling party politicians talk about fake news on the Internet, the intention appears to smear all operating there with one broad brush for their own propaganda purposes, ignoring the real contributions that news portals and blogs have made to uncovering truths which would never have appeared in the government-controlled mainstream media.

The court hearing of Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran is scheduled for June 15. Both have pledged to file a constitutional challenge in response, since they believe the law is a violation of the country’s commitment to uphold media freedom.

by Mong Palatino at May 22, 2017 02:19 PM

‘No to Silence': Javier Valdez's Murder Highlights Persistent Perils for Mexican Journalists
Fotografía de Héctor Vivas (@hectorvivas) para Derecho Informar. Usada con permiso.

Photo by Héctor Vivas (@hectorvivas) for Derecho Informar (). Used with permission.

The award-winning Sinaloa journalist and writer, Javier Valdez Cárdenas, was shot to death on Monday, May 15, on a street in Culiacán, a city in northwest Mexico, in broad daylight. Valdez was the editor and reporter of the local media outlet Ríodoce and was considered one of the top experts on drug trafficking in Mexico.

He was the sixth journalist murdered so far this year. On the same day, a little later, the reporter Jonathan Rodríguez of the weekly El Costeño died in an attack, in which his mother was also injured.

Valdez specialized in reporting on issues related to the government’s “war” against drug cartels, as well as political corruption usually involving Mexican governors. His relentless focus was on the relatives, the displaced, the orphans, the widows. He cared about names, not numbers. This is how he explained why he did what he did in a speech at the book fair in Los Angeles, California in 2015:

Seguimos con un déficit de genitales en el país, hay un déficit de genitales, al país le falta ciudadanía, le falta recuperar la calle, la dignidad y creo eso es hasta tarea de los periodistas, tenemos que dejar atrás el periodismo cuenta-muertos, el ‘ejecutómetro’, y contar historias de vida en medio de la muerte, historias de estoicidad, de lucha.

Muchos podemos morir, y muchos han muerto, y no están dentro del negocio (del narco), y no han estado dentro del negocio, y no son víctimas colaterales, ni son números, son personas.

We continue to lack genitals in this country. There is a lack of genitals, there is a lack of citizenship. We need to recover the streets, dignity, and I think that’s up to journalists. We need to leave behind the kind of journalism that counts deaths, the ‘execution-meter’, and [instead] tell stories of life in the midst of death, stories of stoicism, of struggle.

Many of us can die, and many have died, who were not in the business (of drug trafficking)… [they] were not collateral victims, nor numbers, they were people.

“Los matan por haber cometido el gran error de vivir en México. Y ser periodistas”. Palabras de Javier Valdez #UnDiaSinPeriodismo 🏴. Ilustración de Pictoline. Usada con permiso.

“They are killed for having made the grave mistake of living in Mexico, and being journalists”. Words of Javier Valdez #ADayWithoutJournalism 🏴. Pictoline illustration. Used with permission.

Image: Have you seen them? Journalists are increasingly disappearing.
Being tortured.
Being assassinated in Mexico.

We can think that it’s only the messengers of the cartels that give the execution order.  But no. It’s not just the cartels that kill journalists.

Politicians also do their extermination homework. Police. Colluding agents.

State prosecutors. Government officials. Soldiers.

They kill them for the sin of denouncing their mismanagement.
“They are killed for having made the grave mistake of living in Mexico, and being journalists.”

Valdéz always knew that exercising his profession in Mexico put his life at risk, as do many of his colleagues. In fact, as early as 2009, a grenade exploded outside the doors of Ríodoce. On that occasion, there was only physical damage to the building and the reasons behind the attack was never clarified. However, his desire to inform and give a voice to those who were silenced by violence always helped him overcome his apprehensions.

In his column, Malayerba, for Ríodoce, he once wrote the following lines under the title “They are going to kill you”:

Pero él tenía en el pericardio un chaleco antibalas. La luna en su mirada parecía un farol que aluzaba incluso de día. La pluma y la libreta eran rutas de escape, terapia, crucifixión y exorcismo. Escribía y escribía en la hoja en blanco y en la pantalla y salía espuma de sus dedos, de su boca, salpicándolo todo. Llanto y rabia y dolor y tristeza y coraje y consternación y furia en esos textos en los que hablaba del gobernador pisando mierda, del alcalde de billetes rebosando, del diputado que sonreía y parecía una caja registradora recibiendo y recibiendo fajos y haciendo tin en cada ingreso millonario.

But he had a bulletproof vest on. The moon in his gaze resembled a lantern that lit up even during the day. The pen and notebook were routes of escape, therapy, crucifixion and exorcism. He wrote and wrote on the blank sheet and on the screen, and foam came out from his fingers, his mouth, touching everything. Weeping and rage and pain and sadness and anger and dismay and fury in those texts in which he spoke of the governor stepping on shit, of the mayor of bills overflowing, of the representative who smiled and looked like a cash register receiving wads of cash and making a “chi-ching” sound with every millionaire's deposit.

In 2011, Javier Valdéz received the International Press Freedom Award granted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). His speech (beginning at 5:13), re-emphasized the dangers faced by journalists in Mexico:

‘No to silence’

Reporters, activists, and readers shared their grief over the loss of such a committed voice, many of them recalling Valdez’s own words:

“Good journalism, brave, dignified, responsible, honest, doesn't have society; it's alone”: Javier Valdez. They killed him.

[In the image, Valdez's quote in full]: “Good journalism, brave, dignified, responsible, honest, doesn’t have a society; it is alone, and that also speaks of our fragility, because it means that if they go against us or those journalists and they hurt them, nothing will happen.” – Javier Valdez

The dedication of his last book.


Image: To Maicol O’Connor (+) and Tracy Wilkinson, immeasurable journalists, whom I both miss and love.

To the Mexican journalists brave and worthy, exiled, hidden, disappeared, assassinated, beaten, frightened and giving birth to stories, despite censorship and dark canons.

To Tania, Saríah, Fran, Javier Erasmo and Gris. For being with me, supporting me and sowing in me, in spite of clouds. Or maybe that’s why.

A recently created website, El Mañanero Diario, gave an account of the demonstrations that took place to condemn the homicide of Valdez:

Periodistas de todo el país se manifestaron en protesta por el asesinato del periodista sinaloense Javier Valdez. Sinaloa, Ciudad de México, Guerrero, Baja California y Jalisco fueron algunos de los estados en los que los profesionales de la información salieron a las calles para condenar el asesinato de Valdez y exigir mayor seguridad y un alto a la violencia contra el gremio.

En el Ángel de la Independencia [en la capital mexicana], se reunió un grupo de fotoperiodistas quienes, sobre la glorieta, con gis blanco, escribieron: “En México nos están matando” y “No al silencio”, con palabras formadas por los retratos de reporteros asesinados, como Gregorio Jiménez y Miroslava Breach.

Journalists across the country demonstrated in protest at the murder of Sinaloa journalist Javier Valdez. Sinaloa, Mexico City, Guerrero, Baja California, and Jalisco were some of the states in which news professionals took to the streets to condemn the murder of Valdez and to demand greater security and a stop to violence against the profession.

A group of photojournalists met At the Angel of Independence [in the Mexican capital], along the roundabout, who with white chalk wrote: “In Mexico they are killing us” and “No to silence,” with words formed by portraits of murdered reporters such as Gregorio Jiménez and Miroslava Breach.

Fotografía de Héctor Vivas (@hectorvivas) para Derecho Informar (@DerechoInformar). Usada con permiso.

“In Mexico, they are killing us. No to silence.” Photo by Héctor Vivas (@hectorvivas) for Derecho Informar (). Used with permission.

Pantallazo del post público de Ximena Antillón.

Screenshot of the public post of Ximena Antillón.

Image: “The worst thing would be forbidding us to dream, to have illusions; to want to be better, to long for justice and peace, and maintain dignity. The worst thing would be to stop stoning stars. We can’t allow it. It doesn’t matter if we don’t knock any down.” – Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Your condolences for the murder of Javier Valdéz are not enough Mr. Peña Nieto. Stop this slaughter now or leave!


@GobMx condemns the murder of journalist Javier Valdez. My condolences to his family and friends.

A district attorney that doesn't work

The Mexican State has an office dedicated exclusively — in theory — to seeking justice in crimes committed against those who practice journalism or comment on the right to information or freedom of press and expression.

The official name of the office is the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against the Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) and operates under the Attorney General of Mexico (PGR).

FEADLE, however, is one more branch of the abstruse bureaucratic framework of the country, which absorbs countless public resources while delivering nothing in return.

Suffice it to say that in relation to the cases of homicides committed against journalists so far this year, not a single person has been arrested.

The Mexican independent website, Animal Político reported:

En algo más de seis años -de julio de 2010 al 31 de diciembre de 2016- se registraron 798 denuncias por agresiones contra periodistas.

Pues bien, de esas 798 denuncias, de las cuales 47 fueron por asesinato, la FEADLE informó en respuesta a una solicitud de transparencia que solo tiene registro de tres sentencias condenatorias: una, en el año 2012; y otras dos en 2016. O en otras cifras: el 99.7% de las agresiones no ha recibido una sentencia.

In just over six years – from July 2010 to December 31, 2016 – there were 798 reports of attacks on journalists.

Well, out of these 798 complaints, of which 47 were for murder, FEADLE reported in response to a request for transparency that it only has three convictions registered: one in 2012; and another two in 2016. Or in other words 99.7% of attacks have not led to a criminal conviction.

The recorded reasons for the closure of the investigations by the attorney general include “incompetence” and “non-prosecution.” These technical and legal terms invariably mean the referral of the file to another authority, and ultimately, the termination of the investigation before a formal accusation has been made in the presence of a judge.

The result is impunity for offenders and the denial of justice for victims.

The website Sin Embargo noted:

En 2010, mediante acuerdo, se creó la FEADLE en las entrañas de la PGR y con el antecedente de otro órgano, la Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos cometidos contra Periodistas (FEADP). Los delitos en contra de los periodistas se incrementaron sin que se supera de un solo proceso [juicio] que concluyera en sentencia penal.

Ése es el organismo al que el Jefe del Ejecutivo [el Presidente de México] le ha pedido que apoye en Sinaloa para esclarecer el asesinato de Valdez Cárdenas, un periodista que se distinguió por un conocimiento profundo de la región norte donde han operado grupos de narcotraficantes desde los años treinta del siglo pasado.

In 2010, by agreement, FEADLE was created within the purview of the PGR and against the background of another government body, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Committed against Journalists (FEADP).  Crimes against journalists increased without […] a single process [trial] that concluded in a penal sentence.

This is the government body that the Chief Executive [the President of Mexico] has asked to support in Sinaloa in order to clarify the murder of Valdez Cárdenas, a journalist who reputed for his profound knowledge of the northern region where groups of drug traffickers have operated since the 1930s.

In spite of all these antecedents, in the days after the murder of Valdez, the Mexican State announced a set of measures to protect journalists; the main one being an enlargement of FEADLE's personnel.

The passivity or inefficiency with which the Mexican state responds to violence against journalist has offered a perverse incentive to all those interested in silencing voices to continue resorting to violence, driving threatened voices towards self-censorship or simply stopping work.

This trend is what caused Javier Valdéz to say “no to silence” and that is why today, we join the call #NiUnoMás.

by Elizabeth at May 22, 2017 01:42 PM

Panic Over Russian Online Suicide Game Sparks ‘Whale Hunt’ in China

Whale-themed street art in Bishkek that was white-washed after panic over the so-called ‘Blue Whale’ game erupted. Image from, creative commons.

China is cracking down on an online suicide game called “Blue Whale” that originated in Russia.

Authorities have begun blocking keywords related to the game on local search engines, and numerous game groups on social media have been dissolved. On May 12, a Chinese teen was arrested for spreading extremist thoughts online while participating in the game.

The game is organized through social media and players have to complete a series of tasks including waking up at 4:20 am for 50 consecutive days. Some of the tasks involve self-harm and players can ultimately be encouraged to commit suicide.

Russian media outlets have widely reported that the “Blue Whale” suicide game has been responsible for more than 130 suicides in Russia has been widely spread via tabloids in different countries, including China, though news outlets including Radio Free Asia, Meduza and fact-checking website Snopes have pointed out that the claim has not been proven and may be overblown.

The content and culture around the game are troubling, but China's response may be misguided and in fact creating more interest around “Blue Whale”.

On May 8, a number of Chinese media outlets issued a warning against the “invasion” of the Russian suicide game “Blue Whale”, urging Internet users to report to the police if they spotted the game groups. Local news outlet STV summed up the reports on the social media platform Weibo:


[Suicide game has arrived?] Yesterday (May 8), a number of media outlets issued a warning regarding the Russian suicide game “Blue Whale”. If you know someone using keywords like “Blue Whale” or “Wake me up at 4:20am” on social media with a “Blue Whale” image, please be cautious because he may have participated in the suicide game called “Blue Whale”. We, in particular, warn the parents, to please pay attention to your children’s QQ groups. This is not a joke!

The warning was based on the Chinese cyber police’s call for a boycott on the game. In China, where Internet censorship is systematic and pervasive, the noise around the game has turned into a political campaign. Global Voices also covered this phenomenon in two of China's Central Asia's neighbours, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Given China's sophisticated online censorship environment, the claim that the “Blue Whale” game had entered China on any serious scale should be viewed with some skepticism. As in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, evidence suggests that the real swell of interest in the game began after the media and online campaign against the groups.

Who's going whale hunting?

On May 9, the day after the media warning, the Chinese Communist Youth League announced on Weibo the launch of a “Project Whale Hunt” campaign:

为何要将自己囚禁在幽深的海底?你明明可以翱翔在广阔的天空!捕鲸计划,已经启动…… ​​​​

Why are you locking yourself up under the deep sea? You could fly in the free sky! “Project Whale Hunt” has begun…

Another party-affiliated organization, Mama Juries, posted a similar message on Weibo on the same day:

【遇到“蓝鲸”,请举报!】《蓝鲸死亡游戏》(Blue Whale)是发源于俄罗斯的一种自杀式死亡游戏,游戏鼓励玩家在50天内完成各种残忍伤害自己的任务。很多青少年受其蛊惑结束了自己的生命!我国内地也出现了类似于 “4:20叫醒我” 的代号QQ群。QQ安全团队正在进一步进行排查和打击。“蓝鲸死亡游戏”这类行为已经涉嫌组织、教唆他人自杀自残,属于违法犯罪行为。妈妈评审团提醒广大家长警惕孩子手机里类似“蓝鲸”、 “4:20叫醒我” 等字眼的社交群,如果发现这类社交群,请立即举报!

[Please report on “Blue Whale”] is a suicide game originating from Russia. The game encourages gamers to carry out self-harm tasks consecutively over 50 days. Many young people have been induced to end their lives. QQ groups like “wake me up at 4:20am” have appeared in our country. The QQ security team has started cleaning up these groups. Behaviours associated with the “Blue Whale suicide game” are criminal behaviours as it involves organizing and inducing others to self-harm and suicide. Mama Juries reminds parents to check on your children’s mobile phone [to see if they are members of] social groups that have keywords like “Blue Whale” or “Wake me up at 4:20am”. If you spot the groups, please report them!

In this campaign, organizations such as the Communist Youth League and Mama Juries have been mobilized by the Beijing Internet Information Office. The same office has also demanded that major websites and social media platforms fall in line with the mass campaign and public reports.

On May 12, the Beijing Internet Information Office, Public Security Bureau, Administrative Law Enforcement in Cultural Market Team held a meeting with eight Internet companies to report on the crackdown on “Blue Whale”.

Chinese internet police's poster against the blue whale game.

According to a local media report, Internet giant Tencent has closed a few dozen QQ groups and blocked the related keywords from its search engines. Baidu has closed all the forum discussions with keywords like “Blue Whale” or “Blue Whale game”.

A message, “Please stay away from activities that could induce self-harm”, now pops up in the Baidu search engine when users search “Blue Whale”. All associated search results have been cleaned up to make sure that searches do not link to websites that advocate for self-harm or suicide.

Sina Weibo has blocked search terms and deleted messages associated with the game.

Cyber police offices from all across the country have assisted the crackdown either by reposting warning messages or investigating netizen reports. In most cases, the police have asked the group's administrator to dissolve the group.

Teen arrested in Guangxi

But in Guangxi province, Zhanjiang city police detained a 17-year-old on charges of “spreading extremism” by posting images and comments encouraging acts of self-harm “tasks” to a chat group on QQ on May 12.

The teenager told the police that he joined the QQ “Blue Whale” game group on May 9, after local media outlets launched the campaign.

According to Guangxi police, his QQ group originally set out to sell computer software and clothes. In order to attract more members he started posting information about “Blue Whale” after he read the authorities’ warning on local media outlets.

He also posted an image showing an arm with a blue whale cut into it and fabricated information that eleven members of the group have ‘finished the task’, managing to attract more than 200 new members to his group in the process.

The teen's experience suggests that media coverage and the aggressive effort to curb participation in the game may be attracting more public attention to “Blue Whale”, and thus having the opposite effect.

Those who cannot repress their curiosity will now inevitably find ways of accessing the game beyond the Great Firewall that defines the Chinese internet. In response, the Youth League has developed another spur to its campaign by spreading the Happy Blue Whale guideline online.

by Oiwan Lam at May 22, 2017 03:28 AM

May 19, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Azerbaijan Blocks Independent Media (And Actually Admits it)

Earlier this month Azerbaijan's Ministry of Transportation, Communication and High Technologies broke the habit of a lifetime by securing a court order to block key independent media outlets, including three online websites and two satellite TV channels.

That isn't to say that the Ministry had not blocked websites before — just that it had never admitted to doing so. As in other heavy handed ex-Soviet states such as Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, previous reports of blocks were met with a shrug of the shoulders from authorities.

The May 12 court decisions affected, the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty; Berlin-based dissident media outlet Meydan.TV; and satellite TV channels Turan TV and Azerbaijani Saadi (Azerbaijan Hour).

The state prosecutor claims that these websites “pose a threat” to Azerbaijan's national security and accuses them of sharing content that promotes violence, hatred, extremism, violates privacy and constitutes slander.

But recent articles published by Azadliq Radio do not match this description. The site's current page features stories on suicide rates in Azerbaijan, public protests, and the business dealings of Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva's private foundation, which surfaced new revelations regarding the financial activities of the president's relatives and his inner circle.

What's more, the court order does not just block the resources. It can be used as a premise to prosecute the outlets’ employees on the same spurious security grounds on which they were blocked.

Another website targeted recently by authorities was opposition media outlet In April, its editor Ulvi Hasanli told Meydan.TV that beginning in March this year, the website's editors and readers had noticed access issues.

The access issues began shortly after the parliament in Azerbaijan introduced amendments to the law on “Information, Informatisation and Protection of Information” and the law on telecommunications.

A detailed report published by Amnesty International highlighted additional digital attacks against journalists, activists and rights defenders in Azerbaijan:

We documented a series of spearphishing attempts using a custom malware agent that has targeted critics of the Azerbaijani government over at least thirteen months. The recent samples of the malware are consistent with independent reports of an increase in the compromise of social media accounts of activists. The victims and targets identified, as well as the political theme of bait documents, indicate that the campaign is largely targeting human rights activists, journalists, and dissidents. This campaign also aligns with findings by in their report, “News Media Websites Attacked from Governmental Infrastructure in Azerbaijan”, which links some of the same network address blocks with “break-in attempts” and “denial of service attacks” against several independent media websites

In recent days, users in Azerbaijan have been reporting difficulties receiving incoming international calls via Skype and WhatsApp.

It is impossible to talk either with whatsapp, or skype. Are these also blocked?

There have been issues receiving international calls via Whatsapp and Skype in recent days. Looks like Aliyevs are short on cash, their mobile operators ran out of money.

Its been 5 days now that its been impossible to make calls with Whatsapp. Looks like they must have done this for security reasons but its still possible to make calls using Facebook messenger easily. They might have forgotten about that one.

Yes, its been like this for the past five days. Not possible to talk when receiving an international call. This was one thing we had left and they have taken it too. May God punish them. All they think about is how to shut people up and oppress them.

Hebib Muntezir, one of the founders of the now-officially-blocked Meydan TV offered a speedy solution to getting round the blocks:

The temporary [so far] access issues with Skype and WhatsApp can be circumvented by using VPNs.

It is worth noting that Azerbaijan is currently hosting the Islamic Solidarity Games, an international event that attracts kicked off on May 12 — the same day the court ordered the websites blocked — and will continue until May 22. The games are an Olympic-style competition open to all Muslim nations, in which some 3000 athletes from 50 countries participated this year.

Azerbaijan's National Olympic Committee proudly tweeted:

Repression of critical journalism and internet censorship: these are some of modern Azerbaijan's strongest traditions.

by Arzu Geybullayeva at May 19, 2017 11:46 AM

Cybercrime Charges Against Jamaica's Tambourine Army Founder Dropped

A cross section of the crowd at the Tambourine Army Survivor Empowerment March Against Sexual Violence. Photo by Storm Saulter, used with permission.

Under Jamaica's new cybercrime laws, activist La Toya Nugent was arrested in March 2017 for publicly naming alleged perpetrators of sexual violence via social media. On May 17, 2017, the country's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dropped all charges against her, making Nugent a free woman, and vindicating her controversial Tambourine Army, a new movement led by women and survivors of sexual violence who are sharing their harrowing experiences, both online and in public.

The news broke on social media almost immediately. On Facebook, writer Annie Paul announced:

Breaking news!! DPP has dropped all 3 charges against Latoya Nugent under cyber crimes act!! #Tambourine!!

Twitter was also on the ball:

Twitter user Rachel Mordecai commented:

Nugent had always maintained her innocence against the charges, which were summarized as the “use of a computer for malicious communication”. From the outset, many legal experts felt that the charges could not stick because the legislation left sufficient room for interpretation when it comes to unlawful or “malicious” communication.

In an offline context, the Tambourine Army's approach of naming and shaming perpetrators of sexual violence through its hashtag #SayTheirNames would most likely be classified as defamation. But in 2013, Jamaica reformed its defamation regime to be treated as a matter of civil, not criminal, law. So basically, if someone is convicted of defamation in Jamaica, they can be made to pay damages, but not be given a prison sentence.

As shared on Twitter, the country's DPP explained her discontinuation of the case:

by Janine Mendes-Franco at May 19, 2017 11:32 AM

‘Cyber Warrior’ Group Threatens to Extort Indian Women on Facebook

Students protesting outside Bangalore Town Hall on Sunday, December 30 demanding justice for the 23-year-old student who died on 29 December after being gang raped. Photo by Jim Ankan Deka via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 3.0)

Isha Ishika, a university student in the southern Indian state of Kerala, was threatened a few days ago by a members of a Facebook group called Kerala Cyber Warriors.

The Malayalam-speaking group of predominantly male members says that it aims to protect Indians online, especially Malayalee women, by hacking into pages where explicit images and content related to sexuality are shared.

They describe their activities on their group page, saying that they seek to ‘expose’ people and preserve the ‘honor’ of Malayalee women. They claim to have hacked Pakistan websites and to protect Indian soldiers. They also claim to have to brought down revenge porn groups on Facebook. It is not clear precisely what technical methods they use to gain access to these pages.

One such post on their group page addresses Malayalee women:

സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തിനു വേണ്ടി മുറവിളി കൂട്ടി നടക്കുന്നതിനു ഇടയ്ക്ക് നിങ്ങള്‍ മറന്നു പോകുന്ന ചില കാര്യങ്ങള്‍ ഉണ്ട്.അതൊന്നു ഓര്‍മിപ്പിക്കുക ആണ്.ഉപദേശം ഇഷ്ടം അല്ലെന്നു അറിയാം.എന്നാലും ഒന്ന് വായിക്കുക.

നിങ്ങള്‍ സ്നേഹിക്കുന്നതിനോ,എന്ത് സംസാരിക്കുന്നതിനോ ആരും എതിരല്ല.പക്ഷെ ആ സംസാരം അതിര് കടക്കുമ്പോള്‍ നിങ്ങള്‍തന്നെ മറന്നു പോകുന്ന ചില കാര്യങ്ങളുണ്ട്.

മറുപുറത്ത് ഉള്ളവന്റെ വാക്കും കേട്ട് സ്വന്തം നഗ്ന ശരീരത്തിന്റെ ഫോട്ടോ,വീഡിയോ അയക്കുമ്പോള്‍ നിങ്ങള്‍ ചതിക്കുന്നത് നിങ്ങളെ മാത്രമല്ല,ജന്മം നല്‍കിയ അച്ഛനേം,അമ്മയേം,സ്വന്തം കൂടെ പിറപ്പുകളെയും കൂടി ആണ്.അവരെ കൂടി ആണ് നിങ്ങള്‍ നാണക്കേടിന്റെ കൊക്കയിലേക്ക് തള്ളിയിട്ട് ആത്മഹത്യയിലേക്ക് നയിക്കുന്നത്.

Dear sisters,

You might be speaking out for your freedom, but you are forgetting certain things. We know you don't like advice. We are not against you speaking or loving, but amidst all this, you are forgetting certain things

When you sent your pictures or video of you to your partner or lover, you are cheating yourself and also your father and mother, your siblings. You are destroying your family honor and pushing your family to suicide

A university economics student, Ishika was targeted by the group after she sent a message to several friends in an effort to collect data for a gender survey.

Ishika, who spoke with Global Voices about the incident, suspects that members of the group were somehow informed of her survey and that they considered it inappropriate, classifying it as a “sex chat.” This is visible in the transliteration of their response, otherwise in Malyalam, shown in the screenshot below. Ishika earlier had posted a picture of sanitary napkins, which the group also found problematic.

Screen shot of Ishika's request and subsequent fallout. Her initial message reads: “We are gathering information on Gender Studies for an article, please provide with inputs if you have any.”

A member of the group told Ishika to stop publishing feminist posts and threatened to “slut shame” her and expose her nude pictures online if she did not comply with the demands of the Kerala Cyber Warriors.

Members of the group told her that women like her were  “a blot to the Malayalam community” and that her activities were destroying the reputations of other young women. They also demanded that she send them her login credentials so that they could delete the posts themselves. She refused.

A member of the Facebook group then started to chat with Ishika, threatening to expose her if she did not comply with their requests within one day.

Ishika soon after published a Facebook post addressing the issue directly. She explained that she did not need their “protection” and she had no intention to remove any of her posts.

ഒരു പാട് വട്ടം ചോദിച്ചപ്പോഴാണ് നമ്മുടെ രക്ഷകൻ കാര്യം വെളിപ്പെടുത്തുന്നത്. ഞാൻ ഒരു വർഷം മുൻപൊക്കെ പോസ്റ്റ് ചെയ്ത പൈങ്കിളി പ്രേമ പോസ്റ്റുകൾ മുതൽ ഞാൻ എപ്പോഴൊക്കെയോ രതിയേ കുറിച്ചും ആർത്തവത്തേ കുറിച്ചും എഴുതിയത്,ഞാൻ മുൻപ് പോസ്റ്റ് ചെയ്ത പല വർണങ്ങളിലുള്ള മെൻസസ് പാഡുകളുടെ ഫോട്ടോ.. ഇതൊക്കെ പെൺകുട്ടികളെ അപകടത്തിൽ കൊണ്ട് ചാടിക്കുമത്രെ..

ബഹുമാനപ്പെട്ട കേരള സൈബർ വാരിയേഴ്സിന്റെ സേവനങ്ങൾക്ക് പെരുത്ത് നന്ദി. പക്ഷെ ഇനിയിവിടെ കിടന്ന് അലമ്പി നാറ്റിക്കാതെ ഇറങ്ങിക്കോണം ഈ അങ്കത്തട്ടിന്ന്., ഈ കൊട്ടാരവളപ്പിന്ന്… ഈ ടെറിട്ടറീന്ന്..

I asked them multiple times (what the issue was). The ‘saviors’ revealed that I have been posting about female sexuality, menstruation, along with pictures of sanitary pads, etc which according to them are are dishonoring women.

‘Respected’ Kerala Cyber Warriors, Thank you for your services. But I don't need them and leave me alone and my posts.

After Ishika published the above post, she encountered a fresh wave of trolling attacks, phishing attempts and sexual harassment online, with multiple accounts associated with the Kerala Cyber Warriors attacking her for speaking out against them.

Ishika tried to reason with them for two days and finally wrote a complaint to Facebook, using their abuse reporting process. The US-based company explicitly forbids bullying and harassment, but does not punish harassers unless victims submit reports of harassment through their official process.

Facebook's “Community Standards” policy on the matter reads as follows:

We don’t tolerate bullying or harassment. We allow you to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but remove content that appears to purposefully target private individuals with the intention of degrading or shaming them. This content includes, but is not limited to:

  • Pages that identify and shame private individuals,
  • Images altered to degrade private individuals,
  • Photos or videos of physical bullying posted to shame the victim,
  • Sharing personal information to blackmail or harass people, and
  • Repeatedly targeting other people with unwanted friend requests or messages.

Ishika has yet to hear back from Facebook on her complaint. Allies have also reported the Kerala Cyber Warriors group to Facebook, concerning their allegations of hacking other peoples’ accounts, which is also a violation of Facebook's terms.

There has also been fallout from the incident on Facebook itself. Sona Nakshathra, who is a woman journalist mocked the group on Facebook:

പെമ്പിള്ളാര് മര്യാദക്ക് നടന്നില്ലെങ്കിൽ അവരുടെ അക്കൗണ്ട് ഹാക്ക് ചെയ്ത് അവരുടെ നഗ്ന ഫോട്ടോ ഇട്ട് മര്യാദ പഠിപ്പിക്കും ന്ന് പറയുന്ന ഒരുകൂട്ടം ഊള ടീമാ… :/

Women be careful, the group is there to set standards on how women should behave, or they threaten to put up your nude pictures

Gayathri Narayanan, who is a woman psychotherapist wrote sarcastically:

മഹാപരാധം തന്നെ , പെണ്ണുങ്ങള് വെറുതെ സമത്വത്തെ കുറിച്ചൊക്കെ എഴുതാൻ പാടുണ്ടോ!!!!! എന്ത് സമത്വം??? അതും ലിംഗസമത്വം. ‘പ്രസവിക്കുക, കുട്ടികളെ വളർത്തുക തുടങ്ങിയ പരിപാവനമായ കാര്യങ്ങൾ മാത്രം പെണ്ണുങ്ങള് നോക്കിയാ മതി. ഇത് വെറുതെ ഓരോ തലത്തെറിച്ചതുങ്ങൾ, പെണ്ണുങ്ങൾക്ക് സമത്വം ഉണ്ടെന്നും സ്വന്തം ശരീരത്തിൽ പരിപൂർണ അധികാരം ഉണ്ടെന്നും , ഉമ്മ വയ്ക്കാനും വാങ്ങാനും അതിനെ കുറിച്ച് സംസാരിക്കാനും ഒക്കെ അവകാശം ഇണ്ടെന്നും ഒക്കെ എഴുതുന്നു പറയുന്നു… ഇവരെയൊക്കെ നന്നാക്കാൻ അമാന്തിക്കരുത്. (ഉപദേശിച്ചോ ഉപദേശിച്ചോ ,, ഇവരെയൊക്കെ ഉപദേശിച്ചോ… എങ്ങാനും ഇവരൊക്കെ തിരിച്ചു പറയണ മറുപടി കേട്ട് ബാക്കിയുള്ളവർക്ക് വല്ലതും തിരിഞ്ഞാലോ !!!

Big Deal. It is unpardonable women should write about gender equality. Why we need gender equality? Women should only be writing about parenting and pregnancy. These other radical women, who demand rights on their body, you should really teach them a lesson. Please keep on doing so, so that, when these women write back to you, some others will get more guidance through those replies at least.

Despite Facebook's proclaimed and actual efforts to curb gender-based harassment on their platform, threats of character assassination and extortion continue apace around the world, and in many countries where such threats can carry severe real-life consequences.

by Inji Pennu at May 19, 2017 11:22 AM

May 18, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Chelsea Manning and the Power of Transparency

Screenshot of Chelsea Manning's first portrait post on Twitter, after her release on May 17, 2017.

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

US Army officer Chelsea Manning was released from military prison on May 17 after spending nearly seven years behind bars for sharing with Wikileaks thousands of classified military and government files that exposed human rights violations and corruption committed by the US government and numerous others.

The US government pursued 22 charges against Manning, including “aiding the enemy”. Although prosecutors were never able to prove that Manning’s actions had caused the United States material harm, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison in a case rife with political controversy and seen by civil and human rights advocates as an attempt to set a severe precedent for sentencing in cases involving the leaking of classified digital documents.

Her sentence was commuted by Barack Obama in the final days of his presidency. The commutation does not absolve her of conviction, but it means that she is now free to “breathe the warm spring air,” as she put it a few days before she walked free.

Manning’s civilian lawyer David Coombs published a sobering statement on the day of her release in which he described her sentence as a “grievous wrong” committed by the military court system. He wrote:

…the particular constellation of players involved in this case, the desire to make an example out of Manning, and the “win at all costs” mentality of the prosecution created a powder keg where the ability to achieve a just result was impossible.

So I don’t see Manning’s commutation as a victory.  I see it as an unfortunate failure of military justice to do its job.

The documents that Manning helped make public had an immeasurable impact on public knowledge about and response to the activities of the US and other governments. It included some of the most damning evidence of human rights violations committed by the United States in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Beyond the US, the documents demonstrated deep corruption and systemic human rights abuses by the Tunisian government under the regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali regime. Their release was a critical precursor to the Tunisian revolution, which brought about the Ben Ali's ouster in January of 2011 and helped inspire a series of uprisings across the region now often referred to as the “Arab Spring.”

In a reflective blog post that he published in 2013, Tunisian activist Sami Ben Gharbia, who played a pivotal role in circulating the documents among Tunisian civil society, described the impact of her actions:

If the U.S. will take 35 years from Chelsea Manning’s life, may it console her that she has given us, Arabs, the secret gift that helped expose and topple 50 years of dictatorships.


After she was sentenced to 35 years in prison Chelsea Manning said in her statement that “Sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.” I don’t know if she knows that she helped us, in this part of the world, to move toward that noble goal. Closing a cell door on a prisoner with a free mind has opened a thousand and one doors for a free society.

Manning will face a new set of challenges now that she is released, as she has become a high-profile person for whom harassment and threats of violence are expected to increase. Supporters of Manning have raised over US$140,000 in a Welcome Home fund, and put together a digital album featuring the artists Michael Stipe, Tom Morello and Talib Kweli to support her.

Ukraine censors Russian news sites, web platforms

The Ukrainian President signed an order instructing ISPs to block several major Russian social media sites, including social networks VKontakte and Odnoklasniki, email service Mail.Ru and search engine Yandex. The same order placed sanctions on a number of Russian companies and individuals, including the airline Aeroflot, cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs, and officials from the United Russia party.

This marks another wave of sanctions by the Ukrainian government since the annexation of Crimea: in all, 450 Russian companies and 1200 individuals have been targeted by sanctions since 2014. As of May 16, none of the sanctioned websites have been blocked.

WannaSob? China hit hardest in massive ransomware attack

By May 15, China had become the country most affected by the ransomware program “WannaCry”, which infected over 230,000 computers in 99 countries beginning on May 12, half of which were located in China. The ransomware attacks computers running Microsoft Windows and locks users out of their systems, demanding users pay US $300 to decrypt their files. Chinese users — and many others in countries with loose restrictions on intellectual property — are particularly vulnerable to the attack as many use unlicensed or outdated versions of Windows and thus do not receive security updates that prevent the attack.

Thailand threatens Facebook with legal action

The Thai government threatened to take Facebook to court over 131 “anti-monarchy” posts officials have asked the US social media giant to remove from its platform. Among the posts are a video showing the new Thai king walking through a shopping mall wearing a crop top, which was widely shared across the social network. Thailand imposes harsh lese-majeste laws, sanctioning any speech that is deemed insulting to the Thai royal family, and has stepped up its prosecution of violations of these laws: 105 individuals have been arrested for alleged lese majeste violations since a military coup in 2014. Facebook already has removed 178 posts in 2017.

Bangladeshi bloggers honor slain LGBT activists

Boys of Bangladesh, a network of Bangladeshi gay men, launched the Bangla-language blog Dhee (which means talent or intelligence in Bangla), to commemorate slain LGBT activists in the country and to raise awareness about discrimination against the LGBT community in the country. Just over a year ago, activist Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy and web journalist Xulhaz Mannan, who launched Bangladesh’s first LGBT news site, were hacked to death in the capital city of Dhaka.

Ansar Al-Islam Bangladesh claimed responsibility for the murders, but police have failed to issue any charges against suspects. While homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited in Bangladesh, the country’s penal code criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature”, which includes consensual homosexual acts, fellatio and anal penetration.

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by Netizen Report Team at May 18, 2017 06:09 PM

May 17, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Iran Elections 2017: Hassan Rouhani Ran on Openness. But What Did He Actually Achieve?

Hassan Rouhani has been both the candidate and president of “hope and moderation” for Iranians. Article 19's report assesses how this has had an effect on freedoms online before the upcoming election.

This post was written by Mahsa Alimardani as part of a larger Article 19 report on the state of Internet freedoms prior to the 19 May Iranian presidential elections.

When Hassan Rouhani first ran for president of Iran in 2013, he ran as a reformist candidate who promised big changes towards liberalizing Iran's economy and giving citizens greater access to information.

Front and center in his message was a pledge to improve Internet access – and to make it easier, freer and more affordable for more Iranians. This was a bold platform to pursue in contrast to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who spearheaded the regime of censorship and control that has shaped Iran's Internet policy for more than a decade.

Rouhani is now seeking re-election (on May 19), and Internet policy remains a key component of politicians’ appeal for Iran’s population of 80 million, a demographic dominated by tech-savvy youth under 35. With this in mind, we look back at his promises and policy goals, and how they've played out in practice.

Rouhani fulfilling one of his campaign promises by unveiling the final draft of the Charter of Citizen Rights in December 2016. Image from Article 19 report.

Rouhani's central Internet policy platform centered on better access, with a focus on increasing Internet speeds to improve the country's economic situation. He even issued a “Charter of Citizen Rights” that enshrined rights to free speech and online privacy for citizens, though it is unclear what legal basis (if any) the document holds.

But in comparison to previous administrations, Rouhani's has had relatively little control over Internet censorship. Following civil unrest in 2009, Internet policy decisions became increasingly centralised under the office of the Supreme Leader with the creation of a Supreme Council of Cyberspace, which is now the ultimate decision making body on the Internet. While the Council include Iran's Judiciary and Revolutionary Guards, it does not include the president.

Charter of Citizen Rights

Fulfilling one of his 2013 campaign promises, the Rouhani administration published a Charter of Citizen Rights in December 2016. There are a few articles in the document that guarantee Iranian rights online:

Article 26: The Government shall, according to the law, guarantee freedom of speech and expression, especially in the mass media, cyber space, including in newspapers, magazines, books, cinemas, radio and television, social networks and the likes.

Article 33: Citizens have the right to freely and without discrimination enjoy access to and communicate and obtain information and knowledge from cyberspace.

Article 35 Citizens have the right to enjoy cyber security, security of communication technologies and informatics, and protection of their personal data and privacy.

Thus far, the Charter’s guarantees have not been reflected in the arrests, censorship, and other forms of online repression which have occurred throughout the Rouhani administration.

Regulating Telegram and Filtering Instagram (Intelligently)

Despite filtering of smaller more secure apps such as Signal and Wispi, Rouhani’s administration has successfully prevented newer social media platforms from being blocked, including WhatsApp, Line, Tango, and Telegram.

But while these platforms have remained online, they have still been subject to strict limitations, as have their users. For Telegram, which with an estimated 40 million users has become the most popular messaging app in the country, the government now requires all public channels with over 5,000 followers to register with the Cyber Police. The policy stems from government rhetoric over the dangers of the free flow of information and an effort combat “fake news”.

Image of someone trying to extract passwords with a Telegram logo: Telegram vulnerabilities have been known to be manipulated by the Iran Cyber Army.

In January 2017, administrators found that when they registered with the relevant authority,, they were forced to add an automated government bot as an account co-administrator. The bot is suspected to enable wide-ranging surveillance abilities by allowing access to databases of specific users whose online activity can be further monitored.

In tandem with these measures, certain features of the app also have been eliminated for Iranian users. The the hardline judiciary (which does not lie within Rouhani's control) blocked Telegram's calling feature a day after it was released in Iran on 14 April 2017. The prosecutor general told Iranians during a 22 April IRIB broadcast:

With the help of all our security agencies, we have determined that Telegram voice calls are harmful to national security, especially so close to an election.

After ICT Minister Mahmoud Vaezi stated that Telegram would be censoring its sticker feature for immoral content for Iranians, in cooperation with Iranian authorities, Telegram vehemently denied cooperation with the Iranian government to impose censorship, beyond censoring Porn Bots, which they explained occurs in every country Telegram operates in. But some experts on the issue maintain suspicion that Telegram has agreed to terms set by the Iranian government, in order to avoid being censored altogether.

Image of Instagram on the Iranian flag by Nicolas Raymond from Flickr. The Iranian government had tried to censor individual Instagram pages through a failed “intelligent filtering” program.

Like Telegram, Instagram has become a platform where the Iranian government has exercised some power over speech, without shutting it down altogether. While Rouhani's administration has prevented Instagram from being blocked in Iran, they have simultaneously attempted a strategy of “intelligent filtering” on the platform.

In May 2015, Internet researchers cast doubt on the administration’s claims that the government was developing “sophisticated” technology to employ intelligent filtering on platforms like Instagram, proving that the government was simply taking advantage of Facebook’s omission of https (or SSL/TLS encryption) deployment to censor individual pages. While that technical evidence largely discredited the Ministry's claims, the ICT Ministry has announced a new effort to penalize specific users for posting immoral content, instead of censoring or penalizing the administrators of specific platforms. It is unclear how the government will implement this new policy.

Censoring Global Voices

Censorship of Global Voices was disabled once the website moved to https. The government however made sure to censor the Farsi website, but not the English website once https was enabled.

Among thousands of websites censored under the Rouhani administration, one that naturally stood out to Global Voices was our own domain. When Global Voices transitioned from http to https in 2015, the site suddenly became accessible in Iran, after having been blocked for several years. This indicated that the block was dependent on technical specifications contingent upon http. Iran’s filtering committee now seems to have selectively reinstated the filtering on the new https website, but it has limited this to the Persian language version of Global Voices (

Intimidation Online

While censorship is a direct strategy to curtail the free flow of information, arrests, intimidations and the fear of looming surveillance work to stifle freedom of expression more than any technical filter can. This past year was punctuated with the arrests and physical take overs of the social media pages of models and members of the fashion industry, and progressed recently into various reformist and pro-Rouhani Telegram channels being seized and their administrators arrested.

Another prominent government strategy is to hack or target users online, in particular to dissuade or frighten Iranians from using certain online activities or expressions. The technical research of the Iran Threats project has detailed sophisticated strategies and technologies employed to attack users, including malware that targets journalists, and various methods of hijacking Telegram accounts. From January to February 2017, a number of journalists, members of Iranian civil society and activists in the diaspora were on the receiving end of Iranian government phishing attacks, with a mass notice from the Google email service Gmail informing several of these individuals that their emails were the target of “nation-state” attackers. These efforts have been previously linked to the Iran Cyber Army work to intimidate activists and journalists voicing opinions critical of the Iranian state.

Innovation and Control

There has been a very thin line between innovation and control in this administration’s shaping of Internet policy, as improvements of internet development come with a heavy price in handing over data to the government. This is seen in many of the promises of the incoming President to further develop Iran’s ICT industry, increase Internet speeds, and boost entrepreneurship, especially in the startup realm.

This approach has brought a mix of economic and cultural benefits and likely implications of increased government surveillance.

Boosting local ICT development has helped with one of the mandates of the National Internet Project, which is to localize all Internet services and place servers inside the country, thereby promoting local industry away while tightening controls away from foreign competition.

But while this does promote local development, it also puts local users’ data under the firm jurisdiction of Iranian law and the notoriously conservative judiciary, potentially increasing opportunities for government surveillance. Notable cases of the government’s use of user data for repression include the arrests of Isa Saharkhiz, whose mobile messages were exploited for cell phone monitoring, as well as the arrest of Iranian-American Nostrallah Khosravi-Roodsari who is believed to have been arrested based on Iran’s mass surveillance of SMS data.

While direct policies and regulations are a known method aimed to tighten controls in Iran, the second strategy of suspected government efforts to hack and intimidate the online activities of users are often more definitively grave – and they are also more difficult to report on.

There also has been a quiet unfiltering of Twitter. Reports since November 2016 have led many to believe this slow, quiet, and limited unfiltering of Twitter has led to an increase in Twitter users from inside Iran. This is because there are different filtering policies per ISP, previously done at a nationwide (IXP) level. In November 2016, many users were reporting access to Twitter through the Shatel network.

One marked achievement for this administration is the Internet bandwidth. Speeds have increased in Iran tenfold, from 624 gigabits per second to 4,000 gigabits per second in at the beginning of 2017, and increasing the country’s fiber optic network an additional 10,000 km since 2013. One of the greatest access to information struggles has been connection speeds, a form of censorship that government has even used to keep users from online activities, the best example being the 2013 Presidential elections.

While the Rouhani administration claims it has made great strides towards Internet freedoms, its main achievement has been in preventing broad-based censorship on certain platforms. The implementation of blocks on thousands of websites continued throughout his administration, alongside numerous arrests and efforts to centralize user data into the hands of the government. And the work of Iran’s conservative Judiciary and Revolutionary Guards has continued to strengthen state intimidation, arrests, surveillance and censorship. As the country approaches its 12th Presidential election, real concerns exist for both Iranians’ ability to freely share and distribute information during this important political moment, as well as the Rouhani government’s ability to find strength in its own values and against the country’s more hardline powers.

by Mahsa Alimardani at May 17, 2017 03:12 PM

The Russian State Media: Champion of Internet Freedom?

Photo: Pixabay

In the past five years, the Russian government has blocked an estimated 5.6 million webpages — most of them by accident, after blacklisting entire IP addresses to target individual lawbreakers. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censor, has gone after both small online resources, like thousands of websites affiliated with illegal drugs and child pornography, and massive Web portals used by millions of people, like the torrent website RuTracker in 2015, and the professional social network LinkedIn last year.

Throughout all this time, Russian network television has never reached out to viewers with information about how to circumvent these censorship efforts. Roskomnadzor, meanwhile, has asked Internet anonymizers to honor Russia's government blacklist, and even blocked at least one proxy service for failing to comply.

But what a difference a day can make.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced a sweeping ban on several titans of the Russian Internet, ordering officials to block access to the social networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, the search engine Yandex, and the email service

With millions of Ukrainians now at risk of losing their beloved online services, Russia's mainstream media did what it often does in unexpected geopolitical situations: it suddenly changed sides, emerging as a vocal proponent of Internet anonymizer technology, after years of ignoring online censorship at home.

The state-owned news channel Rossiya-24 even stunned Internet freedom activists in Russia by airing instructions on how to access blocked websites using proxy servers. Ironically, because this network has been banned in Ukraine since 2014, Rossiya-24 broadcast its censorship-circumvention tips primarily to viewers in Russia, where Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, Yandex, and all remain open for business.

Things could get even more awkward if Roskomnadzor continues blocking instant messengers that refuse to register with the Russian state as “information-dissemination organizers.” Officials have already blocked Zello, Line, and Blackberry Messenger for refusing to register, and the newspaper Vedomosti reported this week that Roskomnadzor has threatened to crack down next on Telegram, an increasingly popular chat app created by Pavel Durov, who also founded Vkontakte.

by Kevin Rothrock at May 17, 2017 06:46 AM

May 16, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Why is China Home to Half of the Computers Infected With WannaCry Ransomware?

China's public security network inflected by Wanna Cry ransomware. Weibo photo via Letscorp

China is one of the countries that has been hit hardest by the ransomware program known as “WannaCry” launched on 12 May, which infected over 230,000 computers in 99 countries in just one day.

China's National Computer Network Emergency Response Center has confirmed that by 14 May, half of the infected IPs were located in China. The attacks have affected about 30,000 institutions, including universities, immigration checkpoints and oil stations.

The ransomware, which is believed to exploit the “Eternal Blue” loophole developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA), attacks computers running Microsoft Windows operating systems and locks users out of their own computers by encrypting their files. It demands that they pay USD $300 in Bitcoin in exchange for de-encryption. Once connected to the Internet through port 445 (a port for document sharing protocols), all computers running a Windows operating system would be subjected to attack if they had not downloaded the security update patches issued in March 2017.

The ransomware was briefly contained with the discovery of a “kill switch” by a British researcher, but on May 14 a new version was released.

Chinese computer users may be more vulnerable to the attack as many commonly use unlicensed (i.e. pirated) or outdated versions of Windows OS and thus do not receive security updates.

To make matters worse, many computer users were unaware of the coming of the attack as very few local media outlets reported about the security threats.

Though a majority of Internet service providers in China have blocked port 445, which is mainly used for Windows operating system file-sharing, to avoid potential massive attack targeting Microsoft Windows, many public service institutions, including universities, public security offices and oil stations have not blocked the port.

University campuses have been among the worst affected. Universities all over the country, including Qinghua, Beida, Shanghai Jiaotong and Shandong university have been infected. A large number of student theses and research projects have been (and remain) encrypted by the ransomware. Domestic media outlets reported that:


By 20:00 on 13 of May, hundreds of thousands computers from 29,372 institutions have been attacked by the ransomware. 4341 education related institutions have infected cases…

State media outlet Xinhua report quoted the National Computer Network Emergency Response Center saying that:


By 10:30 on 14 of May, the National Computer Network Emergency Response Center had detected 2,423,000 IPs under the attack as a result of Eternal Blue Exploit; the number of IPs inflected by the ransomware is more than 35,000 [worldwide] and within China, about 18,000 IPs have been infected.

In addition to the education sector, a number of immigration checkpoints were paralyzed because the public security network was infected.

On social media, public security officials in Xiangshui City, Jiangsu Province reported that its immigration system was under attack and they had to close the immigration checkpoint service. Netizens reported that Shanghai city and Beijing’s Chaoyang immigration offices were also paralyzed because of the ransomware attack.

At midnight on 13 May, a large number of PetroChina’s auto oil-fill machines were paralyzed and the system not restored until 12pm on 14 of May.

In the face of the new version of the ransomware “WannaCry2.0”, which cannot be stopped by the so-called “kill switch”, Chinese authorities have issued a warning via major web portals, media outlets and university networks in an effort to contain the spread of the ransomware.

Thus far, there has been little evaluation of why China has been one of the most vulnerable countries in this ransomware attack. Official media outlets suggested that the spread of the ransomware was caused by university students using the school network to play online games. But this does not explain why public security and oil service networks have also been infected.

by Oiwan Lam at May 16, 2017 05:26 PM

Ukraine Sanctions VKontakte, Other Russian Social Media Websites

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed an order instructing the country's Internet providers to block several major Russian social media websites, according to a decree published on the Presidential Administration's website.

The far-ranging National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) decree, “On the Use of Special Economic and Other Restrictive Measures (Sanctions),” is dated to April 28, 2017 and targets a host of Russian companies and individuals, including the country's largest airline, Aeroflot.

The social media websites VKontakte, Odnoklasniki, all resources controlled by the holding company Mail.Ru, and the popular search engine Yandex and its subsidiary services, are among the sites that will be blocked.  VKontakte is a Facebook-like social media website that had 27 million Ukrainian users in 2014; Odnoklasniki, a website that connects former classmates and is popular among older generations, had 11 million users in Ukraine in 2014.

Russian officials, including those from the ruling United Russia party, as well as representatives of the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics in eastern Ukraine, are among the individuals sanctioned.

Total audience of social network sites in Ukraine (2014): VKontakte 27 million, Odnoklassniki 11 million, Facebook 3.2 million, Twitter 430,000. Courtesy of Yandex.

The newly-sanctioned entities join a list of more than 450 Russian companies and 1,200 individuals that have been targeted by the Ukrainian government since the Russian government annexed Crimea and began supporting separatists in Ukraine's eastern regions in 2014.

None of the websites controlled by the companies added to the sanctions list had been blocked by Tuesday afternoon.

A spokesperson for the Presidential Administration confirmed that Poroshenko had signed the decree and said he expected the NSDC to comment soon.

Several Russian media outlets have also been added to the sanctions regime, including the television stations TV Center, NTV Plus, TNT, Zvezda, and RBK. The cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs, which U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating for its connection to the Russian government, has also been sanctioned.

Evgeny Revenko, an MP in Russia's State Duma condemned the decision, saying “Blocking [sites on] the Internet is stupid and irrational. People will get around it one way or another.”



by Isaac Webb at May 16, 2017 05:18 PM

May 12, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Bangladesh's LGBT Community Launches a Blog Commemorating Slain Activists

The local LGBT community participating in a rainbow parade to celebrate the Bangla New Year. Image by Nahid Sultan via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

Just over a year ago, Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine, and LGBT activist Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were hacked to death in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka.

On April 25, 2016, they joined the long list of secular thinkers and religious minorities who have been murdered in Bangladesh since 2013 (see Global Voices special coverage).

Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh (Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) claimed responsibility for their murders in a tweet. The police have so far arrested two people in connection with the murders, but more than a year after the killings, investigators still have not issued charges against them.

Advocates in South Asia and around the world contended that Mannan was a clear target for Islamist extremists because of the continued criminalization of homosexual relations and intolerance toward the LGBT community in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh penal code article 377 criminalises sexual activities “against the order of nature”, including consensual homosexual acts such as fellatio and anal penetration, with the most severe possible punishment being life in prison. The provision was introduced by British colonial authorities in the 19th century and was used as the model for sodomy laws in many other British colonies.

On the first anniversary of the killings, Boys of Bangladesh, the largest network of self-identified Bangladeshi gay men from home and abroad, launched a Bangla-language blog called Dhee to commemorate the victims and raise awareness of the plight of the LGBT community in the conservative Muslim-majority nation.

The literal meaning of “Dhee” in Bangla is talent or intelligence. The blog is part of a larger advocacy project for lesbians which includes a comic strip released in September 2015 that tells “The Story of Dhee,” a fictional young lesbian discovering her sexuality. Over the past year, the Dhee project has also hosted awareness events on gender and sexuality in seven towns in Bangladesh.

The blog features pieces by members of the LGBT community remembering Mannan and Tonoy and explaining the fear they now live with since their deaths. The authors are kept anonymous, and even the email address of the commenters are withheld for safety reasons. A statement on the blog reads:

জুলহাজ মান্নান ও তনয়ের নির্মম হত্যাকান্ডের ঘটনাটি ধী এর মত যাদের জীবনে প্রত্যক্ষ কিংবা পরোক্ষভাবে প্রভাব ফেলেছে তাদের বলা কিছু লেখা/কথা/ছবি/ভিডিও সংরক্ষণ করে রাখার প্রাথমিক উদ্দেশ্য নিয়ে এই কমিউনিটি ব্লগের যাত্রা শুরু হচ্ছে। আমাদের এই আহবানে সাড়া দিয়ে বিভিন্ন মানুষ, যারা নানা সময়ে জুলহাজ আর তনয়ের সান্নিধ্যে ছিলেন, তাদের লেখনী আলোকচিত্র দিয়ে জানিয়েছেন তাদের মনের অব্যক্ত সেসব কথা। বাংলাদেশের সমকামীদের আন্দোলনের বর্তমান পরিস্থিতির ঘোলাটে এক টুকরো ছবি মিলবে ধী ব্লগে।

The brutal killings of Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy have directly or indirectly affected a lot of activists and ordinary people. This blog archives their experience and comments in text/audio/images and video formats. Many people close to Mannan and Tonoy responded to our call to submit texts and images and expressed their feelings and memories about them. You can catch a glimpse of the current confused state of the LGBT movement in Bangladesh on Dhee blog.

‘Reality came sinking into my heart like a heavy stone’

Xulhaz Mannan worked as a foreign service national for USAID in Bangladesh and was the co-founder and publisher of Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine Roopbaan (see Global Voices report). The magazine was launched in January 2014.

Before the publication, the LGBT movement in Bangladesh was mostly underground and led by a handful of people who connected with each other on social media. Shakhawat Hossain of Boys of Bangladesh wrote on news and commentary site

Mannan believed in visibility. All his life he worked to provide a safe space for people to come out and be who they were. He opened up his house, spent all his earnings and dedicated his spare time towards mobilising the community and giving us a sense of belonging. He had a unique way of encouraging us to speak up and be assertive of our rights – of our right to love. How ironical it is for the merchant of love to succumb to such hatred and violence.

Tonoy used his theatre experience to produce and act in various short dramas to spread awareness about LGBT issues.

Xulhaz and Tonoy. Images from their Facebook profiles.

On Dhee blog, one anonymous blogger recalled his experience learning of their deaths:

২৫শে মার্চ আমি শেষবারের মতো জুলহাজ ভাইয়ের বাসায় পা দিয়েছিলাম। এক জন্মদিনের উৎসবে। [..]

ঠিক এক মাস পর তার মৃত্যু হল।

মাঝেমধ্যে আমি হিসাব করতে বসি। কতো দিন হল? ১০ দিন? ১৫ সপ্তাহ? ৬ মাস? আর কতো মাস পর এক বছর হবে?

প্রথম প্রথম ঘোরের মধ্যে ছিলাম। ঠিকমতো বুঝতে পারছিলাম না জীবনে কতো বড় পরিবর্তন চলে এসেছে। যখন ঘোর কাটিয়ে একটু-আধটু বোঝার চেষ্টা করতে শুরু করলাম তখন বড় বড় দীর্ঘনিঃশ্বাস বুকে জমতে শুরু করলো। আমাদের পুরো জগত বদলে গিয়েছে। আচমকা এক ঝড়ে সব লণ্ডভণ্ড করে গিয়েছে।

On 25 March 2016, I last entered Xulhaz's house to attend a birthday party. […]

He was killed one month later.

I contemplate it sometimes. How many days [since the murders]? Ten days? Fifteen weeks? Siz months? After how many more months until the anniversary?

During the first months, I was in a trance. I couldn't fathom how this would impact my life. When I finally realised what had happened, the reality came sinking into my heart like a heavy stone. My whole universe had changed. A storm had destroyed everything.

Another blogger wrote about working with Mannan on the LGBT magazine Roopban:

অন্যান্য ম্যাগাজিনের মত রূপবানের প্রথম সংখ্যার পর দ্বিতীয় প্রকাশ কিছুটা মসৃণ হবার কথা ছিল। কিন্তু কপালে শনি, চারপাশ থেকে অক্টোপাসের অশুভ শুঁড় আমাদের আষ্টেপৃষ্ঠে বেঁধে ফেলল। প্রধানমন্ত্রী নাকি মন্ত্রীসভার স্ট্যান্ডিং কমিটিতে রূপবান দেখে নাখোশ হয়েছেন। এদিকে ভোরের কাগজে বড় করে রিপোর্ট বের হয়েছে গোয়েন্দা বাহিনী রূপবানের পেছনের লোক খুঁজছে। … রূপবানের প্রথম সংখ্যা বের হয়েছিল যে ছাপাখানা থেকে, ভোরের কাগজের রিপোর্ট বেরোবার পরের দিনই জানিয়ে দিলো তারা আর আমাদের ম্যাগাজিন ছাপাতে পারবে না।আমি তখন নিতান্তই ভেঙে পড়েছিলাম। রূপবান ছাপানোর শোকে না, ডিবি পুলিশের ভয়ে! বাসায় কলিং-বেল বাজলেই মনে হয় পুলিশ।

Like any other magazine, the publishing of the second edition of the Roopbaan magazine was supposed to be lot less complicated than the first. But bad luck had engulfed us like an octopus. The prime minister had learnt about Roopban in a ministerial meeting and she was unhappy about it. The daily Bhorer Kagoz published a report that the detective branch of the police was looking for the people behind the magazine. The printing press, which printed the first edition of Roopbaan magazine, told us the next day that they were unable to print the magazine in the future. I was literally heartbroken. Not that Roopbaan wouldn't be printed, but out of fear of the police. Hearing my doorbell, I would cringe in fear.

He also wrote how Mannan stood beside him during those trying times:

পুলিশ আসলে কোনো ঝামেলা করবা না। কোনোকিছু অস্বীকার করবা না। চুপচাপ থানায় যাবা। ওখানে গিয়ে সবার আগে আমার নাম বলবা। বলবা জুলহাজ মান্নান সব নাটের গুরু।

Don't make any trouble if police come looking for you. Don't deny anything. Go to the police station with them. Tell them my name. Tell them that Xulhaz is the kingpin of this magazine.

One person wrote about a recent experience that showed authorities’ negative attitude toward LGBT people:

গত সপ্তাহে আমি বৈষম্য বিলোপ আইন বিষয়ক একটা আলোচনায় অংশ নিতে গিয়েছিলাম। টেবিলের আরেক মাথা থেকে আমাকে পরিষ্কার বলে দেয়া হল সরকার এমন কিছু করতে পারবে না যা ৩৭৭ ধারার বিপক্ষে যাবে। এই অশান্ত পরিস্থিতি মোকাবেলা করতে না পেরে তারা এলজিবিটি শব্দটা শুনতেও এখন নারাজ। সবকিছু এখন কেমন যেন অনেক অন্তঃসার শূন্য মনে হয়। আরেকটু বেশী সম্মান কি রাষ্ট্রের কাছে তোমাদের প্রাপ্য ছিল না?

Last week I went to a round-table discussion on the gender-equity law. The government representative from the other side of table warned me that we cannot do anything that goes against section 377. To deal with the threats against LGBT people they don't even want to hear the word LGBT. Everything seems to be so empty now and the future looks bleak. Don't you deserve at least a bit of respect from the state?

‘What kind of homeland is this, where there is no place for me?’

Bangladeshi society can be intolerant of LGBT people. A person on Dhee blog wrote how Tonoy faced trouble at home because of his sexual orientation:

তনয়ের বাসার পরিবেশটা একটু অন্যরকম। বাসার সবাই জানত তাদের ছেলে একটু আলাদা। পাড়ার আর দশটা ছেলের মতন নয়। ছোটবেলা থেকেই সে নিজেকে লুকাতে চাইতো না। ছেলে হয়ে মেয়েলী স্বভাব, মেয়ের কাপড়ে পারিবারিক উৎসবে নাচ, এসব কারণে বহুবার তার বাবার দ্বারা শারীরিক নির্যাতনের শিকার হতে হয়েছিল ওকে অনেকবার।

The situation at Tonoy's home was different. They knew that their boy was a bit different, not like other boys in the neighbourhood. He did not want to suppress this difference. He used to have a liking for feminine things, engaged in cross-dressing and he suffered domestic abuse because of that.

Mannan and Tonoy's murders struck fear into the heart of Bangladesh's LGBT community. Many activists have now closed their Facebook accounts and changed phone numbers in an effort to hide their identities for their own safety. A female activist explained on Dhee blog:

এই ঘটনা ঘটার পর আমার কাছের যে কয়টি মানুষ আছে তারা সবাই আমাকে বলেছে দেশ ছেড়ে চলে যেতে। আমি ছোটবেলা থেকে অনেক বড় বড় স্বপ্ন দেখেছি কিন্তু নিজের দেশ ছেড়ে চলে যাবার স্বপ্ন কক্ষনো দেখিনি, কক্ষনো না। আমি ছোটবেলা থেকেই ভালো ছাত্রী ছিলাম। ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় থেকে পাশ করেছি, ছাত্রাবস্থা থেকেই সামাজিক নানা কাজে যুক্ত ছিলাম। এখন ভালো চাকরী করছি। আমি সবসময় দেশের জন্য কিছু করতে চেয়েছি। সুবিধা-বঞ্চিতদের সাথে কাজ করবো, দেশের ইকোনমিতে কন্ট্রিবিউট করবো। অনেক আশা ছিল আমার। কিন্তু আমি কেমন করে এ দেশে থাকবো যেখানে আমার বেঁচে থাকার নূন্যতম গ্যারান্টিটুকু নাই? আমি কেমন করে থাকবো এদেশে যেখানে আমি জানি আমি মরে যাবার পর হোমপেইজ, চায়ের-কাপ সবখানে সোল্লাসে ঝড় উঠবে বেশ হয়েছে মরে গিয়ে দেশটাকে সাফ হয়েছে! এ কেমন মাতৃভূমি? যার বুকে আমার জন্য এতোটুকু জায়গা নাই?

After that tragic incident, people close to me told me to leave the country. I dreamt about a lot of things since my childhood, but none involved leaving my homeland, never. I was a good student since childhood. I graduated from Dhaka University, the country's leading public university. I have been involved in many social services and now am at a decent job. I always wanted to do something for the country, contribute to the economy, working for the poor. But how can I live in this country where there is no guarantee of my life? How can I live in this country, where if I were to be killed people would rejoice over a cup of tea that there is one less LGBT person? What kind of homeland is this, where there is no place for me?

By August 2016, investigators had identified five suspects who they say took part in the killings. The police have arrested two of them, who have since testified under Section 164 of the penal code.

But after more than a year since Mannan and Tonoy's deaths, police have failed to submit charges despite having made these arrests, and having stated that they “are quite sure who did it.” The court has granted them 12 extensions since the arrests. Most recently, the report and the charge sheet of the investigation were supposed to have been submitted on May 8, 2017, but the date has once again been postponed. The new submission has been rescheduled for June 6, 2017.

by Rezwan at May 12, 2017 10:43 PM

Thailand Threatens to Take Facebook to Court Over Anti-Monarchy Posts

Soldiers standing guard outside of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre after the army launched a coup in May 2014. Photo by Hon Keong Soo, Copyright @Demotix (5/24/2014)

Facebook has removed 178 posts deemed insulting to the Thai monarchy thus far in 2017, as part of their effort to comply with Thailand's strict laws concerning “royal insult”.

But the military-backed government says there are an additional 131 posts that still need to come down. They have given the company until May 16 to remove 131 ‘anti-monarchy’ posts. If they do not cooperate, Thai officials say they will take the California-based company to court.

Thailand implements one of the harshest anti-Lese Majeste (Royal Insult) laws in the world. The government says the law is essential to preserving unity in the country, but human rights groups and legal scholars believe the law needs to be amended because it is overly broad and often abused by authorities.

The government's Army Cyber Center has been aggressively searching the Internet for posts that insult the monarchy.

According to the International Federation for Human Rights, 105 individuals have been arrested because of alleged Lese Majeste violations since the army took over in 2014. Before the 2014 coup, in which the army grabbed power and established the ruling junta, only six individuals were behind bars for insulting the monarchy.

Many of the arrested individuals were activists who have been criticizing the army, which led human rights advocates to accuse the government of using the Lese Majeste law to silence dissent.

Thailand is a country in transition. It has a new king, a constitution drafted less than two years ago, and an army that has promised to restore civilian rule once electoral and political reforms have been implemented. In this time of transition, the government has been aggressive in restricting the work of media and arresting those who are campaigning for democratic reforms. Even those who simply ‘share’ and ‘like’ Facebook posts that are deemed disrespectful to the monarchy are criminally charged in the courts.

Last month, the government urged netizens to unfollow the social media pages of three overseas critics. One of these three critics is exiled academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul. On 4 May 2017, he received a message from Facebook about the removal of one of the videos he uploaded on his page:

We’re contacting you because the Ministry of Digital Economy & Society has sent us a Court Order issued by the Judge Tassanee Leelaporn and Judge Somyod Korpaisarn of the Criminal Court of Thailand stating that the following post you made on Facebook violates Section 14(3) of the Computer Crimes Act B.E. 2550 (2010).

Somsak said the video is about the lifestyle of the country’s new king. Somsak’s post about the notification he received from Facebook confirmed news reports that the social networking company is complying with the orders issued by Thai courts.

In 2016, Facebook reported that it removed 50 posts requested by the Thai government. This year, Facebook has already blocked 178 posts, but the Thai government insists this is not enough.

Aside from the 131 remaining ‘anti-monarchy’ Facebook posts, the Army Cyber Centre has identified 820 online items that allegedly insult the royal family. Of the 820 items, 365 were posted on Facebook, 450 on YouTube, and five on Twitter.

Will Facebook and other social media companies grant the request of the Thai government to remove these ‘illegal’ posts?

More importantly, as Lese Majeste-related arrests continue to rise, the online crackdown may have adverse effects on the movement calling for the protection of civil liberties and restoration of democracy in the country.

by Mong Palatino at May 12, 2017 04:34 PM

May 11, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Draft Laws in Egypt Could Lock Down Social Media

Mahmoud Abu Zaid, aka Shawkan, has been imprisoned for more than 900 days whilst covering the clearance of Cairo's Raba'a el Adaweya camp in support to ousted president Mohamed Morsi. Photo shared on Twitter by @Ciluna27.

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

The Egyptian parliament is reviewing a bill that would require social media users in Egypt to register with a government authority in order to use social media websites including Facebook and Twitter.

Within six months of the law's adoption, users would have to register on the authority's website with their real names and state ID numbers to be able to use social media networks. Failure to do so could bring punishment of up to six months in jail and a fine. The bill, which has been endorsed by 60 members of parliament, is awaiting discussion by the parliament's legislative and constitutional committees before it is referred for plenary debate.

On 8 May, another MP submitted a draft law that would introduce harsher penalties for those convicted of insulting the president and high ranking officials. Egyptian law already criminalizes insults to the president and state institutions, however the proposed draft law would impose jail time and harsher fines, according to legal experts at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. The law’s approval could mean those convicted of insulting the president would face up to three years in jail.

If approved, these laws would undergird a political climate in which rights to free speech and assembly have already been under persistent threat for many years.

One prominent example is the case of popular photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid (known as Shawkan) who was arrested in August 2013, while photographing Egyptian security officers using undue force against protesters who were opposing the military coup that removed elected president Mohammed Morsi from power.

Shawkan has been in pre-trial detention for nearly four years, awaiting trial alongside more than 700 protesters who were arrested in the same incident. The trial was most recently postponed to 20 May, due to prison authorities’ failure to bring the accused from jail to the courtroom, rights groups reported. Shawkan could face the death penalty for what rights groups widely agree are trumped-up charges, including weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder and attempted murder.

In another case, a criminal court in the city of Giza acquitted journalists Hany Salah-el-Deen and Mosad Al-Barbary, who were arrested for their coverage of a pro-Morsi sit-in at Raba'a Al-Adawiya square in Cairo. The court also reduced the sentences of Abdullah al-Fakharany, Samhi Mustafa, and Mohamed al-Adly–all arrested in the same incident, from 25 years to five years.

Tunisian activist interrogated over leaked documents

On 3 May, Tunisian authorities spent six hours interrogating Sami Ben Gharbia, co-founder of the independent media platform Nawaat and of Global Voices’ Advocacy project. Ben Gharbia was questioned primarily about a leaked action plan from the Presidency of the Republic, which indicated strong support by the president for a controversial draft law that would grant amnesty to business people and officials accused of corruption during the regime of former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, provided that they return any unlawfully obtained funds.

Nawaat published the document, which sheds light on the presidency's strategies to lobby support for the bill, on 21 April. Ben Gharbia has refused to reveal his sources in accordance with Article 11 of the country’s press code, which grants journalists source protection. However, on May 9 he appeared before a primary court in Tunis, as a witness in the case.

Will China make social mediaites show ID at the door?

Chinese social media users may need to obtain a permit before writing or distributing news on social media, according to new regulations issued by the State Council Information Office. The regulations also contain a real name registration provision, which several analysts speculate are intended to eliminate anonymous commenting from social media news threads. It is unclear how authorities plan to implement the regulation–it seems nearly impossible to do so at scale. On social media, Chinese netizens suggested that the rules will be enforced only selectively, to restrain independent and citizen journalism.

See you on WeChat? Not in Russia.

On May 4, Russia’s federal censor blocked WeChat, China’s largest mobile messaging app. According to Roskomnadzor, WeChat failed to register with the federal government as an “information-dissemination organizer.” This designation is part of a 2014 law under which the Russian government manages a list of online services that “organize the dissemination of information” and can hold them responsible for removing content and disclosing user data at the request of authorities. Today, this list includes websites like Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki (Russia's two most popular social networks), the image board, the email client and dozens of other services.

Turkish court orders Wikipedia offline

A Turkish court ordered Wikipedia blocked in Turkey after site administrators refused to remove two English language pages that claimed Turkey channeled support to jihadists in Syria. According to the Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications, the site was blocked for “becoming an information source acting with groups conducting a smear campaign against Turkey in the political arena”. This is the first time that the country has fully blocked the site, joining China as one of a few countries in the world to block Wikipedia entirely.

The UK can’t stop snooping

The UK government is in the midst of a ‘targeted consultation’ regarding increased surveillance powers that would force ISPs to monitor communications real time and install backdoors to break encryption, according to documents leaked this week. The government has consulted with telecom companies and intelligence agencies on the draft, but not with other tech companies or civil society. Despite this, the consultation remains open through 19 May, and responses from members of the public may be sent to the Home Office.


Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email


Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at May 11, 2017 07:39 PM

May 10, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Who's Paying for the Meme War Against Alexey Navalny?

A paid-for meme critical of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

On May 5, the administrators of multiple major public groups on the Russian social media website VKontakte began receiving offers of payment to post memes criticizing opposition leader and political blogger Alexey Navalny.

The meme scheme became public when a VKontakte community called “Abstract Memes for Elites of All Sorts” published a post that included screenshots of the pay-to-play offer. The person—or peopleresponsible for promoting the content identified themselves only as representatives of an “advertising agency,” and had ready-made memes available for distribution. They asked the VKontakte group administrators to write text to accompany the memes, and promised to pay between 700 and 900 rubles ($12-15) per post per day.

Though it remains unclear who is behind the memes, the scheme comes on the heels of an April 18 report by television station Dozhd about a major mudslingling campaign that the Kremlin was reportedly planning against Navalny. Just days later, an anonymous user published a video on YouTube comparing Navalny to Hitler, which many interpreted as being part of a larger attack against the opposition presidential candidate.

In a series of messages exchanged with the administrators of “Abstract Memes,” the alleged advertising agency representatives confessed that they disliked “Nashism,” or the kind of political tactics that the now-defunct pro-Kremlin youth movement “Nashi” used to employ, and that they were only doing it for the money. They also said that two other groups, “Borscht” and “iFeed” had already agreed to distribute the memes, though no anti-Navalny material has appeared on their feeds in recent days.

“Is Navalny a Kremlin Agent?” Source:

The administrators of several groups ultimately did post several of the anti-Navalny memes that had been sent to “Abstract Memes.” The group “The Illusionist,” which has more than 2.2 million followers on VKontakte, posted a meme on the evening of May 5 that looked like a magazine cover and read: “Is Navalny a Kremlin Agent?”

Another group, “Cool Science, Tricks, and Magic,” which has only 4,800 members, posted the same image the following morning.

One meme proposed by the advertising agency depicts Navalny as a magician impressing a group of hamsters by turning “speculation” and “falsehood” into grapes. The VKontakte community “You Won't Believe It,” which has more than 6.7 million subscribers, initially posted the meme but had deleted it by May 7.

The website Meduza reported that other VKontakte groups, including “Evil Chaplin” and “Decaying Europe,” had also published anti-Navalny memes, though they have likewise been deleted.

The brief anti-Navalny meme offensive seems to have hurt VKontakte groups more than it helped them: Roughly 1,600 users unsubscribed from “Decaying Europe,” and around 1,400 left “The Illusionist,” according to Meduza.

Statistics [showing the number of unsubscribers] from one of these online communities. It seems that the people didn't like [the memes].

by Isaac Webb at May 10, 2017 01:15 PM

May 08, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Tunisian Media Activist Interrogated Over Sources of Leaked Documents

Sami Ben Gharbia (right) with Syrian activist Razan Ghazzawi at a Global Voices meeting in 2008. Photo by Yazan Badran via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Tunisian media and human rights activist Sami Ben Gharbia was interrogated for six hours on May 3 by Tunisian authorities who asked him about his role in the release of the presidency's action plan on a controversial economic reconciliation draft law.

Upon his arrival at the Central Investigation Brigade of the National Guard in L’Aouina, Ben Gharbia was primarily questioned about the source of the Presidency of the Republic’s leaked action plan lobbying in the law's favor. He was also questioned extensively about the inner workings of Nawaat, the Tunisian independent media and transparency NGO that he co-founded in 2004. In their description of the incident, Nawaat staff wrote:

Faced with Ben Gharbia’s determination to protect our sources as per article 11 of Decree-Law 115, the interrogation lasted 6 hours and gave way to harassment, focusing on Nawaat’s internal functioning, the identity of its journalists (identity cards, telephone numbers, etc.) and the list of Nawaat’s collaborators, with the intention of interrogating them one by one.

Ben Gharbia is a significant figure in independent media and digital human rights activism in Tunisia and the Arab region. In addition to co-founding Nawaat,  He also was the founding director of Global Voices’ Advocacy project, now known as Advox.

Human rights organizations in the region and around the world have condemned the government's actions towards Ben Gharbia:

The so-called “economic reconciliation” law has triggered criticism, as it would grant amnesty to business people and officials accused of corruption during the regime of former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, provided that they return any unlawfully obtained funds. Sponsored by the government and President Beji Caid Essebsi, the bill's adoption has been delayed for two years due to opposition from civil society and protesters. However the bill is now scheduled for plenary debate on 9 May, and has thus sparked protests across the country.

Critics including the anti corruption NGO I-Watch, the transparency group AlBawsala and the Truth and Dignity Commission, established after the revolution to investigate crimes committed during the dictatorship era, argue that the bill's adoption would undermine the country's transitional justice process and enable further corruption by strengthening a culture of impunity. Activists opposing the bill want to see those involved in corruption brought to justice and sentenced by courts, before any sort of amnesty takes place.

Since it was first proposed by President Essebsi back in 2015, Nawaat has provided extensive coverage on the bill, including multimedia coverage of protests opposing the law, and the lobbying efforts by former Ben Ali era officials in support of the bill. In addition, Nawaat has called the bill “counter-revolutionary”.

The leaked seven-point action plan published by Nawaat sheds light on the presidency's strategies to lobby support for the bill. These strategies include meetings with political parties, economists, legal experts and civil society actors, and a media strategy aimed at emphasizing the “results of reconciliation on the economic and financial performance” through increased media appearances of the bill's supporters and a social media campaign to “pass positive messages to adopt and highlight the benefits of reconciliation.”

These issues are not novel for Ben Gharbia, who has worked to improve transparency and accountability in Tunisia for more than 15 years. He played a pivotal role in the release of US State Department documents and cables that corroborated allegations of deep corruption and systemic human rights abuses by the Tunisian government under the Ben Ali regime, known as Tunileaks. Their release was a critical precursor to the Tunisian revolution, which brought about the Ben Ali's ouster in January of 2011.

In a reflective blog post that he published in 2013, Ben Gharbia described the impact of Tunileaks:

Tunisians didn’t need Tunileaks to tell them their country was corrupt. Tunisians had been gossiping and joking about the corruption for years. What was different was the psychological effect of an establishment confronted so publicly with its ugly own image. It was that the government knew that all people knew, inside and outside the country, how corrupt and authoritarian it was. And the one telling the story wasn’t a dissident or a political conspirator. It was the U.S. State department, a supposed ally.

After spending more than a decade outside of Tunisia, fearing persecution by the Ben Ali regime, he returned to Tunisia following the revolution where he continued to work on the Nawaat platform which serves as a space for independent media. The platform was awarded several international and local prizes including the 2011 Reporters Without Borders Netizen Prize for promoting freedom of expression online, the EFF Pioneer Award for its “crucial role in covering the social and political unrest in Tunisia” during the winter of 2010-11, and the 2015 prize of the best interactive website in Tunisia, awarded by the country's journalists union.

Ben Gharbia's lengthy interrogation comes amidst concerns about government attempts to interfere with the media in recent months. Last April, the presidency intervened to prevent the broadcasting of an interview with the former head of the president's office, while a month earlier the ministry of higher education refused to answer questions and the interview requests of  Mohamed Yousfi, editor of the Hakaek Online news website.

by Afef Abrougui at May 08, 2017 03:23 PM

WeChat? Not in Russia You Don't.

Photo: Sinchen Lin / Flickr / CC 2.0

On May 4, Russia’s federal censor blocked WeChat, China’s largest mobile messaging app. According to Roskomnadzor, WeChat failed to register with the federal government as an “information-dissemination organizer,” which is technically required of a wide range of websites and online services.

Since 2014, the Russian government has managed a list of online services that “organize the dissemination of information.” Today, this list includes websites like Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki (Russia's two most popular social networks), the image board, the email client, and dozens more services.

The list was introduced following the passage of a federal law that requires websites to store all Russian users’ metadata (“information about the arrival, transmission, delivery, and processing of voice data, written text, images, sounds, or other kinds of action”) and make it accessible to the Russian authorities. Websites can avoid the hassle of setting aside this information by granting Russian officials unfettered, constant access to their entire data stream.

According to the Internet rights watchdog Roskomsvoboda, Russian censors have already blocked more than two dozen IP addresses linked to the domains and services of Tencent, the maker of WeChat.

The move against China’s biggest messaging app is just the latest in an ongoing crackdown on messengers, including recent decisions to block BlackBerry Messenger, Naver’s Line, and Vchat — also for failing to register with Moscow. In April, following weeks of organized strikes by truckers against a federal road tax, Roskomnadzor blocked Zello, a push-to-talk app popular among protest organizers.

Artem Kozlyuk, head of Roskomsvoboda, spoke to RuNet Echo about the implications of WeChat being blocked in Russia:

В РФ WeChat и Line не самые популярные мессенджеры, но тем не менее, их использовали наши граждане для связи со своими родственниками, друзьями и коллегами в Средней Азии и Юго-Восточной Азии, где эти мессенджеры являются очень популярными. А теперь ещё и все узнали, что эти мессенджеры де-факто оказались защищенными от слежки со стороны российских спецслужб, и, думаю, интерес к ним в России увеличится.

In Russia, WeChat and Line are not the most popular instant messengers, but nevertheless they're used by our citizens to communicate with relatives, friends, and colleagues in Central Asia and South-East Asia, where these messengers are popular. Now that we know these messengers are de facto impervious to surveillance by Russia’s intelligence community, I think interest in them will increase in Russia.

On social media, the response to the WeChat block ranged from humorous levity to solidarity.

Roskomnadzor has blocked WeChat. How’s Putin going to talk with Xi Jinping now? Texting or what?

On Vkontakte, one user commented on Roskomsvoboda’s page:

что выжило при цензуре КНР, то будет добито в РФ? Такая логика? Ахахаха

[WeChat] survived under the PRC’s censorship, but will be finished off in Russia? That makes sense? haha

Another Vkontakte user wrote

Переживём блокировки, главное чтобы не сотрудничали с нашими властями и не выполняли их требований. А уж как обойти блокировку найдём.

We’ll survive the blocks. The important thing is that they didn’t cooperate with our authorities and carry out their requirements. And we will figure out how to get around the block.

Although access to blocked websites is still possible through “anonymizers” like Tor and VPN services, in April Roskomnadzor described plans to block access to websites that offer circumvention technology.

While messenger apps can successfully avoid blocking by registering with Roskomnadzor ( for example, Threema recently became the first foreign-app to register with the Russian government), Kozlyuk believes the WeChat block bodes ill for users of popular Western messaging apps like Whatsapp and Telegram:

Конечно, это сигнал Telegram, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp и Viber быть готовыми – или подчинится требованиям Роскомнадзора и ФСБ и начать следить за пользователями или стать заблокированными. Развязку, думаю, мы увидим если не в ближайшие дни, то в ближайшие месяцы.

Of course, this signals that Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Viber should be ready: they can either submit to the demands of Roskomnadzor and the Federal Security Service and monitor their users, or they can be blocked. I think we'll see the outcome of these, if not in the coming days, then in the coming months.

by Guest Contributor at May 08, 2017 02:14 PM

May 05, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Draft Law Would Require Egyptian Social Media Users to Register With Government

Image via Pixabay and altered by Global Voices. Released to public domain under CC0.

Sixty Egyptian members of parliament recently approved a draft law on “the regulations of using and exploiting social media networks.” If adopted by the parliament, the law would require social media users in Egypt to register with a government authority in order to use social media websites including Facebook and Twitter.

The law would establish a department tasked with granting citizens permission to use social media. Within six months of the law's adoption, users would have to register on the department's website with their real names and state ID numbers to be able to use social media networks. Failure to do so could bring punishment of up to six months in jail and a fine.

The six-article draft law, which was circulated by local media including Youm7 and Egypt Independent, defines social media as “any application that works via the internet and is used to communicate with others via voice, video messages and text.”

It is unclear how the law would be enforced once adopted, as the draft does not indicate how Egyptian authorities could impose registration on users or to detect those who do not register, give that the Egyptian government does not currently have the ability to regulate social media companies at this level. But the bill's sponsor MP Riyad Abdul Sattar told Al-Monitor that registered users will get a username and a password from the telecommunication ministry “to get through the firewall blocking Facebook.”

This could mean that Egypt plans to create a national-level firewall around Facebook, through which they could then require Egyptians to submit identity information in order to access the network. But no such plans are known to exist, as of yet.

Local experts are skeptical about the technical feasibility of the proposal. Ramy Raoof, senior research technologist at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Global Voices:

I highly doubt the technical capabilities and understanding of any authority in Egypt towards tech-related matters. In my opinion, the same way they think of controlling physical public and private spaces by force is how they imagine it could be done online. If I will take them seriously, this means they are going to deploy a strong monitoring system to filter out citizens who apply for an approval or don't, and this means a crazy system to monitor people's activities and also referring them to trial. It is not realistic at all technically — but in Egypt everything is possible

To become law, the bill will first need to be discussed by the parliament's legislative and constitutional committees before it is referred for plenary debate. Whether its adoption and enforcement are successful or not, the bill is “consistent with the pro-military mindset in the parliament that is set maximize control and make sure no different narrations are present on the scene,” Raoof said.

Last year, MP Tamer El-Shahawy proposed an anti-cyber-crime bill which would prescribe a life prison sentence for those convicted of “threatening public order” and “incitement to protest”.

by Afef Abrougui at May 05, 2017 05:09 PM

Wanna Share News on Social Media? With China's New Rules, You'll Need a Permit For That.

Images remixed by Oiwan Lam.

China’s State Council Information Office released updated regulations on 2 May that will restrict individuals from writing and reading news stories from individual blogs and social media, including Sina Weibo and WeChat. Under the news rules, users will be required to obtain a permit before writing or distributing news on social media.

The updated version of the “Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Service” will take effect on June 1, 2017.

Along with restrictions on news reporting, the rules will also require individuals to submit real identity information when subscribing to a news information service.

The original provisions were introduced in September 2005 to restrict online news outlets from writing and publishing original news stories from “illegitimate” sources, in an effort to force all online portals to distribute news only from news agencies licensed by Internet News Information Service Work Units.

Despite the many layers of censorship that China is so well known for, the digital media environment has given rise to a robust industry of individuals doing serious news reporting online. The country's various social media platforms have enabled more and more independent writers to use blogs, Weibo and WeChat public platforms to write news features or news commentary. Some independent journalists or commercial media outlets have even managed to support their work with readers’ cash tips and commercial ads.

Individual bloggers who publish politically sensitive stories are subject to heavy censorship by the authorities and the community abuse reporting system on the public platforms of social media. Yet many have learned how to write reports that share important information with the public without violating political and community rules. Live-streaming mobile apps have made it even more difficult for the censors to stop live reports on time.

The newly announced provisions may curb this trend by extending previous restrictions from web portals and news outlets to all social communication platforms.

Prominent tech blogger William Long explained the impact of the new provisions on individual social media users by highlighting the amended articles in the regulations in a recent post:

第五条 通过互联网站、应用程序、论坛、博客、微博客、公众账号、即时通信工具、网络直播等形式向社会公众提供互联网新闻信息服务,应当取得互联网新闻信息服务许可,禁止未经许可或超越许可范围开展互联网新闻信息服务活动。

Article 5: Internet news information services that make use of websites, apps, forums, blogs, microblogs, mobile public platforms (e.g Wechat), instant message and livecast should obtain permits from Internet News Information Services work unit. Any Internet news Information services that are not granted by the permits are forbidden.

Long compared the old and new regulations, pointing to the broadening of these rules to all of social media:


In the old version of the provisions, the restrictions are confined to websites that provide news information services with an Internet News Service permit system. The new regulations have extended the restrictions to new media, me-media and social media. Which means, users of Weibo and Wechat have to acquire a permit for distributing news information, or else they could be subject to a RMB10,000 to 30,000 fine (approximately US1,400 to 4,300 dollars). New media is no longer a free world.

According to the provision, news information is defined as reports, comments on social and public affairs including politics, economics, military, diplomacy and breaking news. The term “Internet news service” is defined as reporting, editing, distributing and redistributing of news and the operating of distributing platforms.

In an interview with Voice of America, Wen Yunchao, a Chinese political dissident based in the US, pointed out that it would be almost impossible for ordinary individuals and websites to obtain news information permits:


I think it is an impossible mission for ordinary people and websites to obtain a news information permit. Under such regulations, all contents, reports and comments about current affairs and policies would be restricted.

The set of new regulations also require readers to provide real identity information when subscribing to Internet News Information Service:

第十三条 :互联网新闻信息服务提供者为用户提供互联网新闻信息传播平台服务,应当按照《中华人民共和国网络安全法》的规定,要求用户提供真实身份信息。用户不提供真实身份信息的,互联网新闻信息服务提供者不得为其提供相关服务。

Article 13: Internet news information providers when providing internet news information platform service to individuals must follow the regulations under the “Cybersecurity Laws of the PRC”, requiring their users to provide real identity registration. Internet news information providers should not provide service to users who have not provided real identity information.

Long believes the new requirement is intended to reduce anonymous comments in news-related conversations on social media.


The new regulations are targeting ordinary netizens, which means news readers. The biggest impact is that real name restriction is needed for reading news. If users do not provide real identity information, the news platforms cannot provide service to them. My guess is that the measure is to prevent users from making anonymous comments in the news thread. With real name registration, it is easier to catch those making “illegal” comments.

Chang Ping, exiled Chinese journalist based in Germany agreed that the real name registration is to stop anonymous comments on social media news threads:


It is difficult to implement [the real name registration of news readers], the most likely result is to make sure the readers cannot comment anonymously.

The regulations also require Internet News Information Service Providers to hire professional editors and journalists with licensed press cards for processing news stories (Article 11) and to ensure that private capital investors do not intervene into the operation of the news room.

Since 2013, Chinese authorities have mainly used China's Rumor Law to stop individual netizens from distributing unverified news information on social media. Under the law, any piece of news or information that has not been released by official government channels can be considered a rumor.

The new regulations provide additional legal ground to curb individual netizens’ rights to free speech by forbidding them from writing original witness reports, distributing news information from illegitimate sources and commenting on news anonymously.

While the regulations will be enforced on 1 June, many doubt that authorities and the social media platforms will be able to implement all the requirements:


If the provisions were to be fully implemented, Sina Weibo would have to be shut down or sold to the state. Tecent would be the same. All the WeChat public platforms could not be operated. Friend circles are not public, so they could survive…


It is like asking us to uninstall all the communication tools or else whenever you speak, you could violate the law. [Such regulations] is curbing innovation. So sad.


Does this mean that whenever I record a video in the street or turn on livecast apps, I could violate the law? Or if I cross post this news to QQ, Wechat or my own blog, I could violate the law? Because I don't have permission to do so. I don't have permission, and this law states that redistributing [news information without a permit] would be banned. Who on earth has never distributed news or news photos via one's WeChat, QQ and blog?

As the implementation of the regulation would almost be impossible, one netizen believes that it is inevitable that law enforcement or social media platforms will end up enforcing the regulations selectively:


The regulations will outlaw all kinds of online activities and will only result in selective enforcement.

It is too soon to know exactly how the regulations be implemented after June 1. But what we can anticipate is that the space for independent journalistic activities on social media will be further restrained.

by Oiwan Lam at May 05, 2017 02:54 PM

Is India's Aadhaar System an Instrument For Surveillance?

Taking fingerprints for Aadhaar, photo via Wikimedia Commons, by Kannanshanmugham. CC BY 3.0

The first part of this report talked about the background and the security concerns with Aadhaar, the unique ID database of India, the largest of its kind in the world.

As questions emerge around flawed security measures being used to protect India's digital ID database, government authorities are defending the system — and even taking action against those who are revealing its flaws.

Developed by the Union government of India in 2009, the plan called for the creation a Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that would issue Unique Identity numbers (UIDs) to all residents of India. Under this scheme, now known as Aadhaar (which means “foundation” or “base” in Hindi), the UID number ties together several pieces of a person's demographic and biometric information, including their photograph, ten fingerprints and an image of their iris. This information is all stored in a centralized database. According to the UIDAI, a UID is meant to be “robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and can be verified and authenticated in an easy, cost-effective way.”

The scheme has so far enrolled 1.13 billion Indians and residents of India, making it the largest biometric database in the world.

In a 2016 report entitled Digital Dividends, the World Bank included “digital identity” among the four so-called digital enablers for development. With strong identification systems, the report's authors argue, it is possible to “deliver vital services to people, govern effectively, eliminate duplicative or inefficient programs, make efficient use of limited resources, and produce statistics accurately.”

But thus far, India's Aadhaar system has not achieved these aims and has in some cases increased obstacles for citizens seeking to take advantage of basic public services, such as food subsidies. The system also has not actually reached all Indians: A Right to Information (RTI) application filed by Ujjainee Sharma and Trishna Senapaty revealed that as of June 2015, 0.03 per cent of all Aadhaar numbers issued were to people without any pre-existing identification documents. The applicants suspect that the total number of residents of India who do not possess ID numbers is much higher.

Authorities take action against critics, researchers

Apart from challenges of outreach, data mismanagement and machine errors, recent events have proven that Aadhaar numbers can be easily disclosed, posted online and used for malicious purposes. On May 1, researchers at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore reported that an estimated 135 million Aadhaar numbers had been leaked online from four separate government databases.

While the government has warned that publishing UID data on portals can lead to three years imprisonment, a rule that likely deters some from posting UID numbers online, those reporting security flaws have also faced consequences.

When Skoch Group chairperson Sameer Kocchar showed in a February 2017 video blog post how the UID can be hacked, the UIDAI responded by accusing him of violating Section 37 of the Aadhaar Act.

Section 37 says,”Whoever, intentionally discloses, transmits, copies or otherwise disseminates any identity information collected in the course of enrollment or authentication to any person not authorized under this Act or regulations made thereunder or in contravention of any agreement or arrangement entered into pursuant to the provisions of this Act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or, in the case of a company, with a fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.”

In another incident, a case was filed against a journalist who showed on television how it was possible to obtain two separate UID numbers. To further complicate the issue, one may never know if their data has been breached, as the UIDAI refuses to disclose this type of information through Right to Information requests.

On Twitter, multiple users have tagged the @ceo_uidai and @uidai on relevant tweets, raising alarms against potential misuse of biometrics and leaks of UID data. But the Twitter handles of some of those who voiced the criticism have been blocked by government accounts. In responding to a subsequent RTI application asking the UIDAI whether they have banned anyone from their Twitter accounts, officials claimed otherwise.

A tool for surveillance?

Another concern of privacy and security experts is that UID can be used as a tool for mass surveillance by government or other actors.

Various government spokespersons maintain that UIDAI collects minimal information. While that is true, services based on UID collect more than minimal information. @kingslyj provides an example of two state government entities that do precisely that:

The tool may also be further developed to collect more information in the future. Revelations by legislative researcher Meghnad from a debate in the Lower House of the Parliament earlier in 2017 indicated that DNA data might one day be included:

Centre for Internet and Society Executive Director Sunil Abraham has openly described Aadhaar as a surveillance tool:

Multiple national experts on law, privacy and technology have raised concern about the program's fraud and surveillance implications. New Delhi lawyer Apar Gupta, who has argued multiple privacy-related cases before the Supreme Court, explained in an interview with BuzzFeed News:

If your data is compromised in any way, there is absolutely nowhere that you as a citizen can turn to. There are no judicial remedies built into the Aadhaar program in case of identity theft.

Some of the worst fears of Aadhaar's critics were confirmed when a private company tweeted out a picture of what they could do with UID. The tweet has been deleted, but the original image has continued to circulate online:

In one of seven open letters to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that was scrutinizing what was then known as the National Identification Authority of India Bill, the Centre for Internet and Society laid down the inherent problems and pitfalls of using biometrics as an instrument of authentication, offering technical recommendations intended to help avoid exploitation of the system.

Billionaire Nandan Nilekani, who is UID's main architect and the co-founder of IT company Infosys, has acknowledged that privacy regulation is an “afterthought” of innovation and that India needs strong privacy laws after claiming for years that the scheme had built-in privacy and security features. Upper House MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar did not fail to miss Nilekani's change of heart.

In the background of this ongoing debate, the Attorney General of India has argued in court that ‘privacy is not a fundamental right’ and has even referred to it as a concern of the elite or the corrupt.

It is worrying to see the government not respond adequately to concerns raised by the citizens, and even to punish those who have shed light on Aadhaar's flaws. This combined with a broad-based denial of privacy as a fundamental right gives the impression that they do not have plans to stop or even address the problems with the system.

by Rohith Jyothish at May 05, 2017 02:09 PM

Wikipedia is Turkey's First Major Censorship Target, Post-Referendum. What Will Be Next?

Screenshot from Wikipedia's English-language page on Turkey.

Just two weeks after a referendum in which voters narrowly approved far-reaching constitutional amendments that will increase the power of the presidency, a Turkish court ruled that the volunteer-driven international online encyclopedia Wikipedia should be blocked in Turkey.

Amid growing tension between the pro and anti-government camps, the decision provided citizens with yet another snapshot of their future under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP party as they adjust to growing political upheaval and the extension of emergency rule in the country by a further three months.

Hurriyet Daily News reported that the website ban was ordered by an Ankara court on April 29 “after the site’s administration refused to remove two English language pages which claimed that Turkey channeled support to jihadists in Syria”.

The Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Ministry appeared to confirm this viewpoint when it said the site was blocked for “becoming an information source with acting with groups conducting a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena.”

Keeping China company

As a result, Turkey joined China as one of the few countries in the world to order a complete block on Wikipedia, rather than simply censoring individual pages. The sledgehammer attack on the resource echoes the zeal with which the government seemingly blocked Twitter after Erdogan promised to “wipe out” the social media service in 2014.

According to a Wikipedia page on the topic of the website's censorship by countries across the world, previous censorship attempts by Turkey had only been partial, and apparently focused on Turkish-language articles about human genitalia.

The block comes at a time of deepening political schism in Turkey, after Erdogan lashed out against OSCE/ODIHR observers and their reports of vote fraud in the country's tightly contested referendum.

President Erdogan, Turkey's leading politician for the last 14 years, publicly told them as well as other international actors and critics of the government to “know your place”.

Enemy of the Internet

The AKP government's strong aversion to the Internet can be traced back at least as far as the Gezi park protests in 2013 in which social networks helped mobilize opposition to the government in one of the first major tests of Erdogan's enduring leadership.

Just months later, they had reason to hate it some more after recordings allegedly capturing Erdogan and his son discussing illicit financial schemes went viral across YouTube and Twitter, triggering the Turkish leader's now infamous broadside against the micro-blogging service Twitter.

Turkey has blocked both YouTube and Twitter in the past, the latter on multiple occasions. According to EngelliWeb (a platform no longer available online that tracked websites blocked since 2006) there are over 100,000 blocked websites in Turkey today.

Internet speeds have slowed considerably, meanwhile, and are especially sluggish during anti-government rallies, counter-extremism operations or elections, pointing to likely interference by state actors.

In November 2016, the government shut down the internet in the Kurdish-populated south-east of the country for 10 days.

Turkish netizens were quick to turn to Twitter to channel their frustrations with the court decision blocking Wikipedia.

World's most heavily used information source Wikipedia blocked in Turkey. Whats the aim, to stay uninformed?

I have been banned. I have been in hiding all the time. Good morning, I am leaving (play on the words of a popular pop song)

The darkness that blocked Wikipedia…

Wikipedia blocked, marriage TV shows shut down. Even Hames Harden would not have been able to do all these blogs.

The marriage programs mentioned in this tweet refer to a court order also on April 29 that blocked reality dating programs which are popular in Turkey, citing these TV shows as unfit for Turkish traditions and customs.

On the same day, another 3,900 people were dismissed from their jobs, including more than 400 academics for alleged ties to Erdogan's arch-nemesis Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of engineering a bloody coup attempt in the country last year.

Since the coup took place 120,000 people have been sacked from both public and private sector jobs, and as many as 40,000 arrested, mostly on the basis of suspected affiliations to Gulen, an Islamic preacher and educator that once wielded formidable behind-the-scenes influence in Turkey.

The fact that Erdogan's “Yes’ campaign secured 51.41% of the vote indicates that a large part of the country is supportive of what amounts to a giant social engineering project to permanently change the face of the Turkish republic.

For the 48.59% who voted “No”, cue disillusion, alienation and a world in which circumvention tools are needed to access the internet's largest, crowd-sourced educational resource.

by Arzu Geybullayeva at May 05, 2017 02:02 PM

May 04, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Vietnam Says Facebook Will Cooperate With Censorship Requests on Offensive and ‘Fake’ Content

Internet cafe in Vietnam. Photo by Ivan Lian via Flickr (CC BY_NC-ND 2.0)

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

Vietnamese government officials said on April 26 that Facebook has committed to help local law enforcement prevent and remove from Facebook content that violates the country’s laws against “offensive” and anti-government messages.

According to a government statement, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert and Vietnamese Information and Communication Minister Truong Minh Tuan met in Hanoi and formed an agreement to establish a special channel to coordinate monitoring and removal of content from the platform. The statement also indicated that Facebook had agreed to help remove fake accounts and “fake content”, a designation that could be used to label unflattering news or opinions about government policies or officials.

Facebook’s most recent transparency report says that the company did not restrict any content at the behest of the Vietnamese government between July 2015 and June 2016. If the agreement holds, this will likely change soon.

The agreement could mark a shift in Vietnam’s rocky relationship with Facebook. The US-based social media platform was wholly blocked in Vietnam between 2009 and 2010, and has been briefly blocked in various moments of heightened political tension ever since. While an improved relationship with the company may help prevent wholesale blocking of the platform, the prospect of government entities having close cooperation with Facebook on issues ranging from messages critical of the government to the ill-defined category of “fake content” is concerning in a country where free speech and media rights are systematically suppressed.

One recent example of Vietnam’s intolerance for critical media coverage is the arrest of Nguyen Van Hoa, a journalist, security trainer and contributor to Radio Free Asia who has been in state custody since January for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.” Hoa covered stories about environmental disaster in Vietnam, including capturing video of a peaceful protest attended by over 10,000 people last October. Digital and human rights advocacy groups have called on the Vietnamese government to release Hoa immediately.

According to Reporters Without Borders 2017 World Press Freedom Index, released in late April, Vietnam ranks just ahead of China on a global scale and falls below countries including Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Popular Chinese blogger arrested over online comments

Chinese blogger Wu Bin was arrested by Shenzhen national security police for comments he made online. Wu Bin has been a target for police harassment over the past few years, for allegedly “picking quarrels” online, participating in a public gathering about the death of a Chinese citizen while in police detention, and “spreading rumors” about protests in Wukan village. It is unclear what triggered his arrest, though it is increasingly common for netizens critical of the government to be summoned or detained by the police under recent “stability control” measures.

Tensions over beef possession in India lead to death threats for online activist

Human rights defender Bondita Acharya received death threats on social media after condemning the arrests of three Bangladeshi refugees in the state of Assam, India for the possession of beef on April 4. Acharya was critical of the arrests, pointing out that while Assam’s Cattle Preservation Act outlaws the slaughter of cows, the law does not criminalize possessing or consuming beef. Acharya filed a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department in Assam, but continues to receive posts threatening violence against her.

Does Russia want to monitor everything on the Internet?

Russian authorities are considering increased regulations on the Internet in coming years, including requiring ISPs to “decode” all Internet traffic and store it for at least six months after it is generated. Officials say this would include forced decryption of Internet traffic (though it is unlikely that they can actually do this), blocking access to circumvention tools that allow Russian users to visit to blacklisted websites, and even potentially regulating Internet exchange points with other countries and the .ru and .рф domain names. Many of these proposals are technologically complex if not untenable, prohibitively expensive and strongly opposed by businesses. But they nevertheless are an indication of possible restrictions to come.

French authorities push to globalize ‘right to be forgotten’

Eighteen NGOs filed legal submissions before France’s Council of State opposing a ruling by France’s data protection authority (the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, or CNIL) that would require “right to be forgotten” rulings to have worldwide effect. This would affect Internet content that a court orders removed from the network, on grounds that it is either harmful (to its subject) or out of date and not relevant to the public interest. While the policy currently applies only to content online as it is seen in the European Union (and generally recommends that it be geo-blocked), the ruling would necessitate full removal of said content from the global Internet.

According to the letter, “The order of the CNIL sets a dangerous precedent, by opening the door for national authorities in other countries to impose global restrictions on freedom of expression through remedies grounded solely in their own domestic law. The possible race to the bottom is of the utmost concern to the interveners.”

Should African regulators shut down the Internet for governments that shut down the Internet?

Telecom industry advocates in Africa are considering a proposal that would deny Internet resources — such as domain names and bandwidth — to African governments that shut down the Internet. As described by a member of the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC), which is considering the proposal, the group would be “shutting down the Internet for governments that shut down the Internet”. The proposal raises questions about the role of Internet governance organizations in relation to state actors amid a rising trend of politically motivated Internet blackouts. In 2016 alone, there were 18 shutdowns in 11 countries, while the country of Cameroon shut down the Internet for over four months in English-speaking regions.

Trump administration pushes to weaken already weak net neutrality rules in US

Days after new US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said he would start proceedings to repeal the country’s net neutrality rules, a federal appeals court struck back by rejecting a request to review its decision to uphold the rules. The trade group behind the request, USTelecom, could take its appeal to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the FCC will vote on starting the proceedings to get rid of the rules on May 18.

Netizen activism

The group Security Without Borders launched FlexiKiller, a tool to identify whether someone has placed the stalkerware FlexiSPY on your computer and remove it from your system. Motherboard reported on FlexiSPY last month, describing the cheap, powerful and widely available software that enables invasive surveillance of consumer devices.



Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email



Ellery Roberts Biddle, Leila Nachawati, Mong Palatino and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at May 04, 2017 06:38 PM

May 02, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
‘We Told You So': Australian Federal Police Accessed Journalist's Phone Records Illegally
Come back with a warrant - Citizens Not Suspects

Image courtesy of Electronic Frontiers Australia (CC BY 4.0)

The Australian Federal Police revealed on April 28 that one of their officers broke the law by accessing a journalist's phone records without a warrant.

The Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin explained that it involved an investigation of “the unauthorised release of sensitive police information to a journalist.” He blamed human error and denied any malice. The journalist affected has not been informed of the release.

Internet service providers and telcos are required to keep customers’ metadata — information about who they've contacted, and when — relating to both phone and Internet, for two years’ time. Currently, law enforcement must obtain a warrant from a judge if they wish to access journalists’ communications metadata. This safeguard only applies to journalists — other customers do not have this protection.

Australia's data retention policy, as described on the Attorney General's website, defines said data as “information about a communication rather than the content or substance of a communication.” For calls, this include “phone numbers of the people talking to each other and how long they talked for—not what they said.” For emails, “data is information such as the relevant email addresses and when it was sent—not the subject line of the email or its content.”

International tech news website CNetT joined a chorus of online voices pointing out that the public had been warned:

Chalk this one up for the security record books under the chapter titled, “We told you so.”

[…] The spectre of a major data breach has been looming since the laws were first mooted, with critics warning that creating a trove of metadata on every single Australian with a phone or an internet connection was a recipe for a major data breach, or a major hack.

Today's confirmed breach comes just two weeks after the laws officially came into effect. Originally introduced to parliament under the banner of national security concerns and curbing paedophilia and drug crime, critics of the policy were quick to frame the debate around questions of mass surveillance, access to the stored data and its use in civil cases, such as the prosecution of piracy.

Australia's technology news iTWire called for action:

…there should now be a fresh inquiry into the entire data retention scheme in the wake of the actions by the [Australian Federal Police]

Paul Murphy, the CEO of the MEAA union, which protects journalists and other media workers in Australia, was appalled by the revelation:

The use of journalist’s metadata to identify confidential sources is an attempt to go after whistleblowers and others who reveal government stuff ups. This latest example shows that an over-zealous and cavalier approach to individual’s metadata is undermining the right to privacy and the right of journalists to work with their confidential sources.

There was also a strong negative reaction on social media, especially from critics of the data retention system. There were concerns that the police, often referred to the the AFP (not to be confused with the French news wire) are above the law as the officer concerned is not facing any action. William Tinkle tweeted:

Others shared their concerns that the original justification for retaining and accessing data, namely national security and drug law enforcement, was being used to control media freedom:

One tweep spoke up for the Federal Police, reflecting the low esteem that the media has in many quarters:

There was cynicism on all sides:

Meanwhile Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) have launched a petition calling for ‘a universal warrant requirement for all access to retained telecommunications data':

Last week’s revelation … demonstrates the complete lack of effective protection provided by the current legislation.

There is some good news on the metadata front with the Federal government ruling out expanding access to metadata to civil cases. EFA welcomed the decision:

This is an important victory.

Had the government allowed even a limited expansion of access, it would almost certainly have been just the first of a number of such expansions.

The police have admitted that the data revealed by the breach cannot be “unseen”. Whether evidence arising from the illegality will be admissible in a court case remains unclear.

by Kevin Rennie at May 02, 2017 11:18 PM

The World’s Largest Biometric Database is Leaking Indian Citizens’ Data — But Keeps On Growing

Collecting image of iris for Aadhaar, Photo via Wikimedia Commons, by Kannanshanmugam. CC BY 3.0

Over the last few months, the Indian twittersphere has been awash with citizens concerned about government websites leaking millions of individual digital ID numbers.

On May 1, the Centre for Internet and Society, a multi-disciplinary think tank in Bangalore, released a report indicating that faulty information security practices have exposed as many as 135 million ID numbers, leaked from four government databases. The data leaks originated in the process of implementing online dashboards that were likely meant for general transparency and easy administration by the government agencies.

Developed by the Union government of India in 2009, the plan called for the creation a Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that would issue Unique Identity numbers (UIDs) to all residents of India. Under this scheme, now known as Aadhaar, the UID number ties together several pieces of a person's demographic and biometric information, including their photograph, ten fingerprints and an image of their iris. This information is all stored in a centralized database.

The scheme has so far enrolled 1.13 billion Indians and residents of India, making it the largest biometric database in the world.

This has become a point of pride for government agencies involved in the program. Information Technology Minister Ravishankar Prasad (@rsprasad) tweeted:

Expanding Programs

Aadhaar was built to be used as an identity authentication mechanism that could have multiple services being built on top of it. The scheme was run under an executive order from its inception in 2009 until the Aadhaar Act was passed in 2016. The strategies employed by its supporters generated substantial controversy, and it since has been challenged in the Supreme Court on budgetary grounds. But thus far, it remains in place.

The UIDAI has maintained that the scheme is voluntary. Yet the central government has pushed state governments to include UID for a wide range of essential government services meant to be available to the public.

Independent news portal Scroll regularly covers issues related to UID’s linkages with various welfare programs through its Identity Project. In recent years, Scroll has identified multiple examples of public services being denied to individuals who did not have a UID.

In Delhi in 2015, food rations were denied to those without UID numbers. In April 2016 in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, UID-enabled food subsidies repeatedly recorded authentication failures.

Six months after Aadhaar was introduced in Rajasthan, state officials report that 10-15% of beneficiaries who normally received food grains from the government (under the National Food Security Act) have been denied some or all of their rations because the system could not authenticate their UIDs. A local farm laborer told Scroll that his rations had been drastically reduced since the arrival of Aadhaar. “In some cases, when we put our fingers, the machine reads out 5 kg, 10 kg, or 15 kg as our entitlement. But we are entitled to 35 kg as per the government norms.”

Advocates are quick to note that there is no adequate avenue to remedy in these situations, leaving citizens with little recourse or ability to seek that these errors be corrected.

In spite of multiple court orders making UID voluntary and limited to selected schemes, the government continues to expand its scope.

Delicate infrastructure and its misuse

According to economist Jean Drèze, the new authentication system requires a lot of fragile technologies to work at the same time, such as a point of sale machine, internet connectivity, biometrics, remote servers and mobile networks. He also maintains that the primary cause of corruption in disbursement of food subsidies is related to the quantity of rations distributed or quantity fraud, which UID doesn't address.

Another economist who has worked extensively on these issues, Reetika Khera points out that the exclusion of large number of people from welfare schemes has not been because of lack of an identity, but rather due to “measly budgets and exclusion errors.

Contention with the court

The Supreme Court issued two orders in September 2013 and March 2014 which stated that “no person shall be deprived of any service for want of Aadhaar number in case he/she is otherwise eligible/entitled.” On August 11, 2015, the court issued yet another order which limited the use of UID to food, kerosene and cooking gas subsidies. On October 15, it further expanded it to four more schemes: the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (a scheme for financial inclusion), and policies related to pension and provident funds, after the government argued that it would be difficult to roll back UID now that it is the most used national identity system and is linked to service delivery in several major welfare schemes.

‘Leaky’ by design

Following the repeated arguments by the state that UID makes it possible to weed out ‘ghost beneficiaries’ and ‘de-duplicate’ multiple IDs, revelations of fake ‘UID cards’ began to circulate. These UID cards were reportedly issued under the names of pets, historical figures, one alleged spy and even gods.

More recently, the Indian twittersphere has been vocal in pointing to government websites leaking sensitive information from the UID database. In February, security researcher Srinivas Kodali exposed a parallel database containing UID numbers and other details of 5-600,000 children.

In another case, UID numbers of scholarship-holders sat on a state government website for over a year.

On March 22, 2017, tech worker @St_Hill exposed the severity of the problem by showing spreadsheets of personal data that appear with just a single Google search.

This was immediately taken down. But new ones continue to appear with other simple Google searches.

Under the hashtag #AadhaarLeaks, Twitter users have reported numerous such cases on various government websites. The leaks gained popular attention on social media when former Indian men’s cricket team captain MS Dhoni’s UID appeared in a tweet sent by a UID enrollment operator.

The government response

The UIDAI responded to the uproar with a campaign entitled #AadhaarStars, in which parents of young children were encouraged to post 30-second videos of what UID meant to them.

This was rejected by angry twitterati through the hashtag #AadhaarFail which now offers a compendium of tweets about UID-based authentication failures.

In the last couple of months, after the privacy and security-related concerns became louder, the UIDAI has shut down enrollment operators, websites and payment applications for misuse of biometrics data. The central government has even warned state departments against leaking UID data on their portals.

As the uncertainty looms, privacy researcher Amber Sinha and aforementioned security researcher Srinivas Kodali estimated the size of #AadhaarLeaks.

It remains to be seen how the government will react to this.

The second part of this article will look at the privacy, surveillance and human rights concerns regarding Aadhaar.

by Rohith Jyothish at May 02, 2017 08:23 PM

Fighting Fire With Fire: African Regional Body Proposes High Costs for Internet Shutdowns

A sign for an Internet cafe in Tanzania. Tanzania is one of the top 10 countries with most Internet users in Africa. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Aslak Raanes.

Grace Mutung'u is an associate of the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet). She is currently an OTF Senior Fellow in Information Controls at the Berkman Klein Center for Information and Society.

“Shut down the Internet and we'll take it away from you.” This is a new response, from telecom industry advocates, to African governments threatening to shut down the Internet in the face of political uncertainty.

In mid-April, members of the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC) put forth a proposal to deny resources to African governments that shut down the Internet. As one email list member described it, if successful, it would result in “shutting down the Internet for governments that shut down the Internet.” Liquid Telcom and Tespok, a telecommunications sector association, were the main drivers of the proposal.

Those who have been watching this trend rise in recent years cannot fail to see the poetic justice in the move. Nevertheless, if it were actually implemented, it is not clear that it would achieve the desired effect.

AFRINIC is the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for Africa responsible for allocating IP addresses and numbers in the continent. In the proposal, published on 10 April 2017, the authors define an Internet shutdown as having occurred when:

…it can be proved that there was an attempt, failed or successful, to restrict access to the internet to a segment of the population irrespective of the provider or access medium that they utilize.

It goes on to recommend that governments that implement shutdowns be denied access to IP addresses and numbers for a period of 12 months. Those found to have implemented three or more shutdowns within ten years would have their resources revoked for five years.

Andrew Alston, one of the proposal's co-authors, explained the rationale behind the proposal:

…it goes to a question that has been lurking in the background for a long time and I believe the time is now to have that discussion. What role do the community, the I* organizations and other internet structures have when faced with abuse of power by state actors? ((i* organisations are African Internet governance organisations eg AFRINIC, AFPIF, ISOC

But these restrictions would apply to not just government entities, but also to parastatals and entities that have direct relationships with the government in question. This could affect a lot of people, many of whom may have been opposed to the shutdown in the first place.

If governments were to go offline, the effect would unquestionably be felt by the public.

The proposal has lit debate on what the role of Internet registries such as AFRINIC ought to be. The AFRINIC Board had earlier expressed concern about the rising trend of shutdowns, stating that they were a threat to the open nature of the Internet. Since 2011, there have been intentional network disruptions, commonly referred to as shutdowns, in 18 states in Africa. In 2016 alone, 18 shutdowns were recorded in 11 countries and from January 2017 until mid-April, there was an ongoing shutdown in Anglophone regions of Cameroon. All of these shutdowns have happened during political moments such as elections and protest.

Other than the obvious disruption in social ties, shutdowns have significant economic effects. But at a policy level, they also invoke the question of the vision and intent of African governments when it comes to the Internet.

Governments speak of leveraging information and communications technology (ICT) to achieve development goals such as SDGs or Agenda 2063 in the African Union. But shutdowns are contrary to these development aspirations — and the very same governments that have committed to these goals are also implementing shutdowns. For example, the three-month shutdown in Cameroon forced those who were relying on the Internet for their businesses to abandon those businesses or move to other towns.

List commenter Seun Odejedi expressed concern about the implications of the proposal for people apart from government leaders and employees:

…there is a proverb that says “if we are to burn a snake in its length we will burn the house as well”. We should be very careful what we ask at RIR policy level because in the long run, it would not hurt the government more than AFRINIC members (current and future).

The proposal is currently under consideration by the AFRINIC community, which is comprised of technical and policy experts in the region. Some say they are uncomfortable with an RIR taking up the role of policing use of the Internet. Others are concerned about the effect of the proposal, as denying governments resources could limit their abilities to deliver public services through the Internet — this could have significant impact in countries like Rwanda, where the government is moving services such as business registration online in an effort to improve efficiency. On top of these concerns, massive amounts of public information are primarily available on government websites, such as laws and location of services. If governments were to go offline, the effect would unquestionably be felt by the public.

Then there is the question of ICT markets in Africa. Countries like Ethiopia, which had three shutdowns last year, have a single, state-owned ISP. This means that denial of resources to the Ethiopian government and related entities would result in lack of resources for the whole country. While more African countries have liberalised their ICT markets, there are only few countries in the continent that have attained perfect competition. Many have one, two or three dominant players and these are the ones through which governments affect shutdowns. The proposal would therefore have to be reworked so that its negative effects on the public would be minimal.

Remedies and penalties aside, local experts continue to debate the question of whether shutdowns are a matter of poor policies or a sign of weak rule of law. Some of the listers take the view that the decision to shut down the Internet in any African country comes down to one person – the person in power. Each of the network disruptions experienced last year can be pointed to a particular ruler. For instance, Uganda’s social media blackout can be credited to President Museveni and Zimbabwe’s to President Mugabe. There is a school of thought that shutdowns in Africa will end when principles such as plurality and equitable development are respected.

The AFRINIC proposal is novel — it pushes the boundaries of the role of the organisation and it encapsulates the frustration that many face when they find themselves without the Internet and when the decision to shut down the Internet is taken arbitrarily and without warning. Whether the proposal is carried forward or not, it has ignited an important conversation that will likely be taken to the Africa Internet Summit in Nairobi later in the year. Because at the end of the day, Africans must craft a solution to the dangerous trend of shutting down the Internet during political moments.

by Guest Contributor at May 02, 2017 04:32 PM

April 28, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
High-Profile Chinese Blogger Arrested for Online Comments, After Years of Police Harassment

Wu Bin uploaded this photo to Twitter on April 26.

Well-known Chinese blogger and Twitter commenter Wu Bin (@xuicai1911 @秀才江湖) was arrested by Shenzhen national security police on 27 April for making online comments, according to a report from Canyu, a news site focusing on Chinese civic rights.

Wu’s friend Wang Aizhong sounded the alarm on Twitter shortly thereafter:

@xiucai1911 just called and said that Shenzhen national security police and public security police were outside his apartment and they were about to arrest him. The reason was related to his online speech. Please pay attention to Xiucai Wu Bin.

Later, Wu Bin’s wife Huang Meijuan wrote on WeChat (via Canyu):

警察国保来了七八个,领头的便衣,估计是国保,说因为小孩子马上放学,不在家里谈话,我说进来一个谈可以,他们不同意。最后秀才同意跟他们去布吉派出所,没有开书面传唤证。美娟~我说没有传唤证不要去,秀才开门跟着走了,出门后他的电话就打不通了。深圳布吉派出所电话:0755-28872922 大家帮忙打派出所电话问问情况,拜托各位。

There were about seven to eight police officers. The team leader was in plain clothes and I guess he is a national security police. They said as the kids would return home soon from school, it was better not to have the conversation at home. I said it was okay to have one police officer talking inside the apartment. They refused. In the end, Xuicai agreed to go to Buji police station. Since they did not provide any written document for the summons, I bid him not to go with them. But Xiucai opened the door and followed the police. After he left, his phone line did not work. The phone number of Buji police station is 0755-28872922, please make the call and ask what happened.

Huang went to the police station the next day to obtain her husband's summons record. She believes that his detention will last for at least a few days.

Wu Bin has been a target for “stability control” and has been subjected to police harassment on multiple occasions in recent years. In September 2013, he was detained for 10 days by Hanzhou police for “picking quarrels” online. In May 2014, he was illegally detained along with several other dissidents before the anniversary of 1989 Tiananmen Pro-democracy Protest.

On 14 November 2015, Wu Bin was arrested by a national and public security policy in Shenzhen after participating in a public gathering concerning the “unnatural death” of Guangzhou citizen Zhang Liumao while he was in police detention. On 13 December of the same year, Wu Bin was taken away by Shenzhen police who said that they had arranged for him to travel out of town for a few days.

On 16 September 2016, Wu Bin was summoned by police accusing him of spreading rumors about protests in Wukan village. His wife was also detained at the time, for forwarding news about the same Wukan protests. She has since filed a lawsuit against the Long Gang Police Station in Shenzhen for her 10-day illegal detention. Hearings in the law suit begin today, 28 April.

Wukan, a fishing village in Guangdong, has been in dispute over land seizure since 2011 and several mass demonstrations have taken place. Villagers began marching in protest daily since mid-June 2016 after the arrest of protest leader Lin Zulian (formerly known as Lin Zuluan), an elected leader of the village.

It remains unknown what exactly triggered Wu Bin’s arrest. But on 26 April he mentioned that his friend Wang Yingguo was detained for several hours after they met a friend coming from the U.S. He also posted a comment on Twitter about his wife’s court case against the police on 28 April.

Under these “stability control” measures, it is increasingly common for netizens who are critical of the government to be summoned or detained by police. Many of the arrests and detentions are unreported and in most cases, netizens keep silent and stop making online comments. Wu Bin and his wife are in the minority who continue to raise their voices despite the risks.

by Oiwan Lam at April 28, 2017 02:23 PM

Indian Government Bans 22 Social Media Platforms in Kashmir including Facebook, WhatsApp

Social media ban. Images mixed by Rezwan.

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have blocked 22 social media applications including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.

An official state circular issued on Wednesday, April 26 and obtained by Global Voices said the social media services were “being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements” in the Valley to disturb “peace and tranquility” and could be blocked for up to 30 days. An excerpt reads:

The government hereby directs all internet service providers that any message … through the following social networking sites shall not be transmitted in Kashmir Valley with immediate effect for a period of one month or till further orders, whichever is earlier.

The move comes in the face of increasing unrest in the region, particularly since last week, when India's military was broadly condemned for strapping a Kashmiri man onto the front of an army jeep and parading him through several villages (see Global Voices report).

Many Kashmiri citizens and Indians are openly opposing the web ban, arguing that they go against the basic tenet of free expression, which is guaranteed by India's constitution. They have taken to social media to protest these bans. Journalist Gowhar Geelani tweeted:

The move comes in the face of increasing unrest in Kashmir. Student protests, both in person and on social media, have intensified in recent days, in opposition to the heavy-handed tactics deployed under India's Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which significantly expands military power in regions considered to be “disturbed”. The policy gives officers broad legal immunity for actions taken in zones under this designation. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been under the AFSPA since 1992, and currently has more than 700,000 troops deployed, making it the most militarized zone in the world.

As recently as April 9, separatist leaders called for boycotting elections in the state, which led to major protests and clashes. This resulted in the deaths of nine people (see Global Voices report).

Writing for EZine, Angshukanta Chakraborty suspected that social media was targeted in Kashmir because it showed a different narrative than what Indian authorities hope to portray:

By presenting the other side to the Kashmir storyline, the locals once again were able to own for a while what constitutes the highly complex and conflicted Kashmir narrative, something that made the government extremely uncomfortable, and it was left without a moral high ground.

Blocking social media to quiet ‘anti-national’ rhetoric

Though the Indian government has censored the Internet and discrete web platforms in the Kashmir valley with some frequency in the past, it is unusual for them to block social media platforms at such a large scale to quell protests. The Indian government has very often used the “anti-national” rhetoric to question critics of its policy, be it filmmakers, activists, or NGOs.

In addition to WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter, the ban also targets Chinese-owned platforms such as QQ, Baidu, and WeChat from the Valley. QZone, Google Plus, Skype, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube, Vine, and Flickr are also banned.

According to information from Bangalore-based Software Freedom Law Centre, Jammu and Kashmir have witnessed 28 internet shutdowns since 2012, the highest in any Indian state. The government blocked Internet signals for five months in 2016 after uproar over the killing of Burhan Wani, and pro-independence militant leader whose death resulted in major protests across the Himalayan region.

A crowd-sourced definition of Internet shutdowns, developed by Internet policy experts and coordinated by digital rights NGO Access Now, defines them as follows:

An internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.

The move presents a clear violation of India's commitments to human rights, both domestically and as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. In a resolution adopted in July 2016, the UN Human Rights Council explicitly condemned Internet shutdowns. Resolution 32/13, Article 10 reads:

[The Human Rights Council] condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law, and calls upon all States to refrain from and cease such measures.

Experts and activists weigh in

Indian digital privacy and media law expert Pranesh Prakash explained why the ban is illegal in a series of tweets:

Some say that the ban will not stop the resistance:

The ban also has inspired new waves of activism online:

Others see no point in the ban:

Mir Laieeq writes in a Facebook post:

It hardly matters that they call such raw courage and political clarity as a simplistic expression of “anger” or “recklessness”. More than anything else it has always been the people on the streets who have valiantly decimated the obfuscations weaved by the media wing of the Indian military occupation in Kashmir and this resistance will continue till the dawn of Azaadi (freedom), soon, Inshallah (God Willing)!

Steven Butler, Asia Program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists mentioned in a statement:

The sweeping censorship of social media under the pretext of ‘maintaining peace and order’ will bring neither peace nor order. Such broad censorship clearly violates the democratic ideals and human rights India purports to uphold.”

A report in reads:

There might be a legitimate security reason to turn off the internet, but it needs to be vigorously debated in public, with an examination of costs and benefits. Did the SMS ban in its time really reduce stone-pelting? Won’t those who use data services to organise simply move to another platform, leaving those who have adopted the government’s digital India approach helpless? Is this simply authoritarian laziness from a government that has been unable to deliver its promises?

by Vishal Manve at April 28, 2017 02:02 PM

April 27, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Censorship Spikes in India, Subsides in Cameroon

Banner for a 2010 Barcamp tech workshop in Kashmir. Photo by Ehsan Quddusi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have blocked 22 social media applications, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.

An official state circular issued on April 26 said the social media services were “being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements” in the Kashmir Valley to disturb “peace and tranquility” and could be blocked for up to 30 days. Other banned sites include QQ, Baidu, WeChat, Google Plus, Skype, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube and Flickr.

The move comes in the face of increasing unrest in Kashmir. Student protests, both in person and on social media, have intensified in recent days, in opposition to the heavy-handed tactics deployed under India's Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which significantly expands military power in regions considered to be “disturbed”.

Writing for EZine, Angshukanta Chakraborty suspected that social media was targeted in Kashmir because it showed a different narrative than that portrayed by Indian authorities:

By presenting the other side to the Kashmir storyline, the locals once again were able to own for a while what constitutes the highly complex and conflicted Kashmir narrative, something that made the government extremely uncomfortable, and it was left without a moral high ground.

The blocking has also hit businesses hard, leaving the local IT sector of approximately 15,000 workers with little capacity to do their jobs, and putting e-commerce and Internet-dependent businesses in limbo.

Meanwhile, in the Indian city of Kendrapara, provincial officials blocked Internet connectivity for 48 hours to prevent the circulation of an “objectionable” video that witnesses said was insulting to the Prophet Mohammad. With the suspension, it appears authorities were seeking to preclude the level of public unrest that broke out in early April, when a social media posting that contained derogatory messages about Hindu gods sparked an outcry in the nearby city of Bhadrak.

In better news, Cameroon’s government finally restored Internet access in the country’s English-speaking regions after shutting it down for 94 days. The blackout followed protests by North est and South est regions over the imposition of the French language in schools and courts and other disparities between francophone and anglophone populations in the provision of public services. Anglophone Cameroon makes up about 20% of the total population. The government accompanied the restoration of access with  a threat to reinstate the shutdown if they felt the Internet was becoming “a tool to stoke hatred and division among Cameroonians.”

Maldivian blogger stabbed to death

Maldives blogger and activist Yameen Rasheed was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of April 23, 2017. An outspoken critic of the government and radical religion-based politics, Rasheed had previously reported to police that he received death threats via text message and social media. Maldivians are demanding an international probe into the cause of his death. The Stock Exchange office where Rasheed worked as an IT technician closed for a day in his honor.

Saudi woman faces trial for human rights activism

Saudi internet activist Naima Al-Matrood is facing trial one year after being arrested on accusations that she participated in anti-state demonstrations and had violated public order by creating two social media accounts to demand the release of other human rights defenders who had been detained in the kingdom. The Gulf Center for Human Rights is demanding the immediate release of Al-Matrood and all other detained human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia.

Indonesian website put on notice for translating US media story to local language

Indonesian military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo reported independent news website to Indonesia’s Press Council for translating and publishing an investigative report by another news website. The report alleged that certain army officers were involved in a plot to oust President Joko Widodo, and suggested that the officers had ties to ISIS.

Originally published by the US-based cyber security and civil liberties-focused news site The Intercept, the report stated that General Nurmantyo was involved in the plot.

House Commission III member Ahmad Sahroni praised the move by the General Nurmantyo, saying “The TNI chief has taken a good step as I believe he would not like to be trapped into a cycle that could lead to destruction.”

Are British cops using malware?

According to a report on the VICE media tech blog Motherboard, a London police officer purchased the targeted surveillance software FlexiSpy, which enables the user to install malware on mobile phones and computers, allowing them to intercept phone calls, remotely turn on microphones and take photos with the infected device’s camera. It is unclear whether the officer purchased the software for personal or official use.

Canada gives a nod to net neutrality

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CTRC) issued a new regulatory framework that strongly favors net neutrality, which is the principle that telecommunications providers should treat all content and materials on the Internet equally, rather than giving certain materials faster delivery to customers. It also issued a decision against the practice of zero-rating, or providing free access to selected Internet services. Zero-rating schemes represent an unequal treatment of internet content, as they allow service providers to hand-pick which content their customers can most easily access.

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by Netizen Report Team at April 27, 2017 08:24 PM

Jailed Emirati Academic Endures Hunger Strike to Protest Ten-Year Jail Sentence

Nasser Bin Ghaith during a panel discussion on the “geopolitical significance of the Arab Gulf Region” in December 2014. Screenshot from YouTube video posted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

UAE academic and economist Nasser Bin Ghaith has been on hunger strike since 2 April to protest his sentencing to ten years in jail for online posts that were deemed “offensive” to the state. Bin Ghaith announced his strike in a open letter, which was widely shared by human rights groups.

Bin Ghaith was arrested in August 2015. Following his arrest, UAE authorities held him incommunicado for nine months. During a first court appearance on 4 April last year, he told the judge that he was beaten and deprived of sleep while in detention.

On 29 March 2017, the Federal Appeal Court in Abu Dhabi convicted him on a number of charges that include publishing online posts that were “offensive to the state’s symbols and values, its internal and foreign policies and its relations with an Arab state” and sentenced him to ten years in jail. These posts included tweets in which Bin Ghaith sharply criticized Egyptian authorities for their 2013 crackdown on protesters gathering at Rabaa square against the military's removal of elected president Muhammad Morsi. The crackdown resulted in more than 800 civilian casualties, according to Human Rights Watch.

Bin Ghaith was also convicted of “publishing false information” for stating on Twitter that he had not been granted a fair trial in a previous case known as the “UAE 5″ in which he and four other activists were arrested and jailed for calling for democratic reforms in the UAE. The activists spent nearly nine months in jail before they were released in late November 2011, after receiving a presidential pardon.

Though he can appeal his sentence within 30 days before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, Bin Ghaith has decided not to do so. Appealing the verdict “will change nothing but to give legitimacy to the court’s political order,” he stated in his letter from prison. Instead, Bin Ghaith has gone on hunger strike to demand his unconditional release.

I insist on my innocence and I deny all the charges against me. I feel really sad and depressed of the fact of being unfairly tried by my own people and in my own country which is proclaimed to be the land of tolerance and happiness.

Bin Gaith's health was already at risk before he began his hunger strike. Earlier this year, several human rights groups including the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GC4HR), the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, the International Centre for Justice and Human Rights, and the Emirates Center for Human Rights expressed concerns about his deteriorating health situation. According to the GC4HR, Emirati authorities were not doing enough to provide him with needed medical treatment. It took weeks before Bin Ghaith had access to a doctor to examine pain in his teeth, and the prison's authorities have not been consistent in providing him with medicine for his blood pressure. But for Bin Ghaith: “I have no choice but to go on hunger strike to restore my stolen freedom”.

The graphic below, created by Visualizing Impact, outlines the experience of a person on hunger strike over time, drawing on research from Forensic Science International, the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British Medical Journal.

by Afef Abrougui at April 27, 2017 07:59 PM

Three Ways the Russian Government Is Trying to Control the Internet

Top tweets in the Russian twittersphere. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The following is a translation of an article written by Russian journalist Darya Luganskaya. The post has been edited for clarity and length, and reprinted with the author's permission. You can read the original text here

“The Internet was created as a special project by the CIA, and is developing as such,” Vladimir Putin announced three years ago last week. Since then, Russian authorities’ faith in the Internet has declined even further.

Despite this negative reputation among officials, the commercial side of the Russian Internet plays an important part of the country’s economy, accounting for around 1.35 trillion rubles ($23.7 billion), or 2.4 percent of Russian GDP in 2015, according to statistics from the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC). If officials are seriously thinking about “bringing order” to the Internet, as they say they want to, it’ll be a very costly endeavor. OpenEconomy has learned of three potential ways the authorities might begin to “restore order” to the Internet in the coming years.

1. Total Wiretap

On July 1, 2018, the second part of the so-called “Yarovaya packet,” a set of anti-terror laws prepared by State Duma MP Irina Yarovaya that advances a new way of storing and decoding Internet traffic, will come into force. Service providers including MTS, MegaFon, Beeline, and Rostelecom, will be obligated to store phone call records and user messages, as well as all Internet traffic data (information about who visits which sites, and when) within six months.  This information must be turned over to the security services upon request.

Storing this information is very expensive: TMT Consulting estimates that it will cost the Russian telecommunications market nearly $1.7 trillion rubles ($29.8 billion) in 2016. The Ministry of Communications is talking with the security services about ways to reduce storage tenfold, but the costs will still be enormous.

Participants at the 2014 Internet Entrepreneurship in Russia Forum. Source:

Under the rules, Internet services are also obligated to turn over encryption keys to the FSB (the Federal Security Service) upon request or risk being fined, though it's unclear precisely which keys they've requested and from whom. And Kommersant reported in September that the FSB is trying to find a way to decrypt all internet traffic in Russia using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), despite the fact that it is less effective when sites use the https security protocol, which many major Russian sites do.

Beginning in September 2015, all this personal information was ordered to be stored on Russian soil, forcing foreign companies question whether they wanted to continue operating in Russia. Adding additional servers isn’t cheap, and the political implications of such a move could be costly for their users and their reputations around the world.

In November 2016, LinkedIn was blocked in Russia for violating this order. But this could change — according to Andrei Soldatov, the co-author of “The Fight for the RuNet,” LinkedIn parent company Microsoft has been known to cooperate with Russian authorities. For example, Windows reportedly handed over source code to Russian authorities so that the government would continue to use its products. This appears to have increased the odds that LinkedIn will be unblocked in Russia at some point.

The end of LinkedIn in Russia?

Twitter has long refused to comply with this data localization law, though the company has said that it is reviewing relevant policies for Russian users, and that it may reconsider “where it stores the data of Russian users who have a commercial relationship as advertisers on the platform.” The messaging system Viber and the ride-share app Uber have made similar announcements.

Soldatov belives that Facebook and Google will not hand over users’ personal information to the authorities. Roskomnadzor, the main RuNet regulator, has not yet threatened to block them. And, Soldatov says, they won’t be added to the list of companies that are up for compliance checks anytime soon.

Other countries are taking similar measures to control the internet, Rose Dlougatch, a senior research associate at Freedom House, which releases an annual ranking of Internet freedom around the world, told Open Economy. “In Turkey, PayPal lost its license for violating data localization laws. The Iranian authorities have indicated that communication services will soon have to store data within Iran. At the beginning of 2016, an analogous data localization law was adopted in Kazakhstan. Citizens’ information is thereby made accessible to the authorities and foreign platforms are pushed out of the local market,” Dlougatch explained.

2. Blocking Sites

In 2012, Russian authorities began thinking about a mechanism by which they could control the Internet—a “black list” of websites. Landing on the government’s register of forbidden sites for violating one of the many laws governing Internet content (like those prohibiting propagandizing suicide and drugs, or those banning calls to extremism or terrorism), websites are blocked, often without court review. By the middle of April 2017, free expression news site Roskomsvoboda counted more than 4 million sites that had been blocked in this manner.

Roskomnadzor has repeatedly threatened to block major websites like YouTube, Reddit, Vimeo, and Wikipedia (and access to these sites has been cut for hours at a time). But these warnings are not about the websites as a whole, but rather about specific pages that, according to authorities, violate one law or another. If a site uses the https security protocol, service providers aren’t able to block only a single page, meaning they have to shut down an entire site until the owner decides to remove the content in question.

It’s possible to access blocked sites by using anonymizers like VPN services that mask the location of your IP address, making it look like you are visiting websites from, say, Britain, rather than Russia. And Russians actively use these anonymizers. For example, only Americans use the well-known anonymizer Tor more than Russians, and nearly 12 percent of Tor’s clients are located in Russia.

At the end of April 2017, Vedomosti reported on a Roskomnadzor project aimed at blocking access to tools that allow users to visit blocked websites. Services can avoid being blocked, however, if they voluntarily cut users’ access to sites on Roskomnadzor’s “black list.” Proposed legislation also obligates search engines to prevent blocked websites from appearing in their search results. They could be fined up to 700,000 rubles if they do not comply.

Image: Pixabay and Kremlin Press Service, edited by Kevin Rothrock.

The goal of this initiative is to make it illegal to circumvent blocks and to block major anonymizers. Still, anonymizers aren’t going away.

Vedomosti also reported that rather than blocking specific sites, measures could be taken that make it difficult for users to access sites, including slowing them down. But this would be very difficult and costly to accomplish. According to the Institute for Internet Research, limiting traffic at the subscriber level would require special equipment that could cost as much as $5 billion to develop and implement.

3. An Autonomous RuNet

Finally, Russia is trying to regulate the so-called “critical infrastructure” of the RuNet—Internet exchange points with other countries and the .ru and .рф domain names.

Two years ago at a meeting of the Russian Security Council, Putin instructed state organs to think up ways to maintain the stability of the RuNet if it were to be cut off from the outside world. And at the end of last year, the Ministry of Communications and the FSB discussed legislation on this very topic.

The Ministry proposes bringing traffic onto a single Government Information System, which Vedomosti has reported would be necessary to localize Internet activity. It also proposes moving Internet exchange points under the administrative control of Russian companies, exclusively. Finally, the Ministry wants to introduce a rule mandating that the administrator of a national domain name system is a Russian legal entity and an executive body with power over communications—that is, the Ministry itself.

The FSB, meanwhile, is proposing changes to the Criminal Code for causing damage to or threatening the nation’s critical information infrastructure—with punishments running up to 6 years in prison.

Both proposals have faced loud criticism. Microsoft and Cisco have come out against the FSB’s plan, and the Ministry of Communication’s proposal has not yet been approved by RAEC or expert committees in the government. Neither proposal has become law.

by Guest Contributor at April 27, 2017 07:45 PM

Taiwan Tops Asia While Hong Kong Falls Four Places in Freedom of Press Index

Image from Reporter without Borders 2017 Index.

This post was written by Kris Cheng and originally published on Hong Kong Free Press on April 26, 2017. The version below is published on Global Voices under a partnership agreement.

International press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders has lowered Hong Kong’s press freedom ranking by four places in this year’s global index.

The 2017 ranking table examines 180 countries and regions. Hong Kong came in at 73, with China ranked at 176. Taiwan, however, rose six places to be 45 – the highest ranking among all Asian countries.

The group questioned whether Hong Kong was facing the “beginning of the end of ‘one country, two systems’,” a principle China designed to guarantee autonomy for the city.

Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Asia-Pacific desk at the NGO, said there was no shortage of examples demonstrating the erosion of press freedom in 2016. He told Hong Kong Free Press:

Many free speech and human rights groups have condemned the broadcasting by several outlets of the forced confessions of Hong Kong booksellers arrested in China.

He said observers have also pointed out changes in the editorial line of some outlets like the English-language South China Morning Post, which was acquired by Chinese internet giant Alibaba. He added:

Several Hong Kong citizens contacted us to inform us of censorship of their comments on the media’s website and the absence of [a] clear explanation.

He also noted that the government had limited the access of digital media outlets to government press conferences and events:

The fact that digital media, such as Hong Kong Free Press, are considered ‘2nd class media’ and face discrimination in terms of accreditation also shows the difficulties for independent journalists to work freely.

A protest urging the protection of press freedom in 2016. File Photo: Hong Kong Free Press.

‘Self-censorship is also rampant’

The Reporters Without Borders ranking is compiled partly by using a questionnaire, which is targeted at media professionals, lawyers and sociologists. The questionnaire focuses on indicators such as pluralism, media independence, the overall environment and self-censorship, legislative frameworks, transparency and infrastructure.

The Paris-based group highlighted incidents wherein outspoken journalists in Hong Kong, such as those working for the tabloid Apple Daily, were exposed to violence by who they describe as “the Chinese Communist Party’s henchmen.”

Ismaïl said:

Self-censorship is also rampant, and the index is also a reflection of the perception of press freedom by local journalists […] A majority have expressed an increasing pressure which results in deliberate self-censorship.

Reporters Without Borders earlier in April decided to open its first Asia office in Taiwan, after rejecting Hong Kong over concerns that China poses the “biggest threat” to press freedom.

Cedric Alviani, director of the Taipei bureau, said the new office could offer greater support for Hong Kong’s fight for press freedom. He explained the group's decision to Hong Kong Free Press:

In Hong Kong, we might be under surveillance, we might have pressure on the staff. […] Nobody is 100 per cent safe… But for our central office that is covering seven countries… it wouldn’t be a safe choice to have chosen Hong Kong.

We think we can bring more support by not [being] directly exposed.

Alviani also said Taiwan’s high ranking may not be because of improvements in the region recently, but rather a global decline in press freedom that may have indirectly kept Taiwan relatively free.

He also pointed out:

Taiwan also has problems of government officials trying to interfere with the work of the state-owned media […] Taiwan also has the problem of mainland China interfering more and more into the editorial line of some of the private [corporate] media.

He nevertheless described Taiwan’s recent improvements as being “beautiful.”

by Hong Kong Free Press at April 27, 2017 04:29 PM

April 25, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian Authorities Want Easy Access to Online Dating Logs

Image: Pixabay, edited by Kevin Rothrock

Do you hope to find love in Russia? If so, and you’re planning to use the Internet to meet people, the pursuit could be less private than you maybe hoped.

The Badoo dating network will soon be added to Russia's federal list of “information disseminators,” according to the website Roskomsvoboda, which monitors Internet freedom in Russia. This means that the dating site will be required to keep servers in Russia, where all Russian users’ data will be stored, so that the Federal Security Service and local law enforcement can have easier access to user data and communications logs.

If the company refuses to comply, they risk being added to Russia’s Internet blacklist and banned nationwide.

This may present a challenge for Badoo. Although the 11-year-old company was founded by Russian entrepreneur Andrey Andreev, the business is registered in Cyprus and headquartered in London.

Badoo is in good company. Other sites on the list, which is 73 strong, include email services and Yandex and social networks Moi Mir and Vkontakte.

Badoo is not the first dating network to land on Russia’s list of “information disseminators.” In September 2014, Roskomnadzor added “Mamba,” a “social discovery” website that Internet users outside the former USSR typically encounter by mistake, when looking for information about the fruit-flavored chews by the same name, manufactured by the Storck company.

Russian regulations on “information disseminators”, which are administrated and enforced by Russia’s state censor, Roskomnadzor, can extend to websites, apps, messengers, and anything virtual that collects “user data.”

The first Web resource that refused to obey the requirements of being an “information distributor” in Russia was the U.S.-based messenger Zello, which led to the push-to-talk mobile phone app being placed on Russia's Internet blacklist.

In a blog post on Zello’s website on April 8, founder Alexey Gavrilov said Russia’s legal demands “aren’t just absurd from a technical standpoint, but contradict Zello’s principles, which is why we won’t fulfill them.”

Days later, Roskomnadzor banned six different Web addresses linking to Zello’s website. It is unclear how many Russians have actually lost access to Zello, however. The company has advised users to keep the latest version of the app on their mobile devices, save their contacts offline, mirror their Zello channel subscriptions to other apps, and learn how to use the Opera Free VPN app.

by Kevin Rothrock at April 25, 2017 09:20 PM

April 24, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Maldives Blogger and Activist Yameen Rasheed Stabbed to Death

Screenshot from a YouTube interview of Yameen Rasheed by Nepali journalist and blogger Ujjwal Acharya.

Maldivian blogger and activist Yameen Rasheed, 29, was stabbed to death in the country's capital Male in the early morning hours of April 23, 2017.

Through his blog The Daily Panic and Twitter account @Yaamyn, Rasheed had become known as an outspoken critic of the government and radical Islamism. Shocked by this death, Maldivians expressed their grief and concerns on social media, while some demanded an international probe.

Rasheed was found in the stairwell of his apartment at 3 a.m. with multiple stab wounds and died soon after he was taken to the hospital. He suffered 16 stab wounds to his body, including 14 on the chest, one on the neck and one on the head. He had received several death threats via text messages and social media for his views against the government and religious extremists, which he had reported to the police.

Besides his online writings, Rasheed was an activist. On May 1, 2015, he was arrested with dozens of other activists for being part of anti-government protests and was held in custody for 21 days.

Rasheed was working for the Maldives Stock Exchange as an IT professional. In honor of Rasheed, the Stock Exchange office was closed on April 23.

The spokesperson of President Abdulla Yameen tweeted that the government “will deliver justice”. The public are also urged to provide information in order to help solve the case.

Former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom tweeted the sentiment of many netizens:

Another former president, Mohamed Nasheed, called for an open investigation:

Rasheed's friends in civil society also mourned his death:

His friend, expat Maldivian Muju Nasim, wrote about the online video series featuring the work of Rasheed:

Anyone who would like to know more about Yameen Rasheed and the kind of human being that he was, you can watch the web video series (This week in Maldives) we were doing together.

We were only able to record a few episodes when we were forced to stop the series fearing for his safety as I have been based overseas for the last 5 years.

Maldives has a troubling history of extrajudicial killings targeting journalists, activists, and bloggers.

Blogger, LGBT activist and journalist Ismail Khilath Rasheed, also known as Hilath, was stabbed in June 2012 by radical Islamists.

Quite similar to Rasheed's murder, Dr Afrasheem Ali, a member of parliament of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), was brutally stabbed to death outside his home in October 2012.

Rasheed was a close friend of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, another well-known Maldivian journalist, blogger and human rights advocate, who was abducted and disappeared in 2014 (see Global Voices report). Since 2014, Rasheed had been pushing hard to get justice for Rilwan, and was recently working with Rilwan’s family to file a case against the Maldives police related to the investigation into Rilwan's death.

Blogger Amira thought that Rasheed's murder was not an isolated incident:

This cannot be an isolated incident of a lunatic running around killing people. I feel very strongly that this had been planned and executed.

Writing on Facebook, Mickail Naseem criticized the police for failing to act on the death threats made against Rasheed:

Cannot trust people at Maldives Police Service who turned a blind eye to death threats against Yameen Rasheed to conduct an impartial investigation into his death.

Also writing on Facebook, Naafiz Abdulla was worried about the killings targeting ordinary citizens:

“So called” Paradise on Earth has no public safety for it's citizens. Tomorrow, it could be me, you, or any of us.

Below are some Twitter reactions to his death:

by Rezwan at April 24, 2017 01:21 PM

April 20, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Mexican Journalists Were Threatened Online, Then Killed

Hundreds of Mexican journalists silently marched in downtown Mexico City in protest of the kidnappings, murder and violence against their peers throughout the country in 2010. Photo by Knight Foundation via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

Four journalists have been killed in Mexico since March 2, 2017. Although their killers’ motives have not been confirmed in each case, all four journalists reported on corruption and organized crime. All but one are known to have received violent threats both on and offline in response to their work.

Among them was veteran journalist and crime blogger Maximino Rodríguez who was shot and killed as he and his wife were entering a parking lot. Rodríguez, 74, had recently written critically about the activities of a local criminal gang and had received a death threat from a reader just days before his murder.

Rodríguez covered the civil wars in Honduras and El Salvador in the 1980s and had worked with various media organizations in Mexico. In semi-retirement, he was an active contributor to Colectivo Pericú, a blog based in the state of Baja California Sur, where readers can contribute anonymous tips about crime and corruption in the area. This approach to crime reporting has become increasingly common in Mexico, particularly in northern states, where violence against journalists and media offices has become routine.

On March 2, freelance journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto was shot ten times at a car wash after having received numerous death threats in response to his crime-related reporting on his public Facebook page, where he had more than 31,000 followers. Pineda also wrote regularly for the national dailies El Universal and La Jornada de Guerrero.

Veteran crime journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea was killed on March 23 in the state of Chihuahua, where she had worked for multiple major print outlets including La Jornada and El Norte, a leading newspaper in northern Mexico that closed its doors shortly after her death in what the editor-in-chief described as an “act of protest” in the face of the rising risks encountered by their reporters.

Ricardo Monlui Cabrera, who covered politics and the local sugar industry for nearly 30 years, was killed on March 19 in the northeastern state of Veracruz. He had served as editor-in-chief of El Político and was the president of the local journalists’ association. The motive in his killing is unconfirmed.

Documentation from the Committee to Protect Journalists indicates that Mexico is the only country in the world where any journalist has been killed in direct retaliation for their work in 2017. In March, the media freedom organization Article19 Mexico released their 2016 report in which they documented 426 incidents of journalist repression, including physical attacks, legal threats and attacks via digital means.

Kashmiris see more violence — and cuts to basic communications services

With demonstrators boycotting recent elections and public violence increasing in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir,  mobile 3G and 4G connections were cut on April 17. Political party leaders now are urging the state’s chief minister to ban Facebook and WhatsApp in the coming days, in an effort to slow the spread of gratuitous images of violent acts in the region, including one viral video of a Kashmiri protester who Indian military officers tied to a military jeep as a “human shield”. This would be only the latest in a series of short and medium-term cuts to web sites and communication services in recent months.

3D vagina sculptor fined for obscenity in Japan

A Japanese artist was ordered to pay a fine on obscenity charges after she distributed 3D scans of her vagina as part of an effort to raise funds for her art work. The artist has made and presented multiple sculptures of vaginas, none of which have been cause for legal concern. “I’ve always believed that I’m innocent. But the 3-D data is guilty and Decoman (plaster artwork) is not,” Megumi Igarashi told reporters after the verdict was announced.

Ugandan academic faces criminal prosecution over ‘a pair of buttocks’

Ugandan academic and feminist Dr. Stella Nyanzi was charged with engaging in “cyber harassment” and “offensive communication” for posts on Facebook that compared President Yoweri Museveni to “a pair of buttocks”. With 141,000 followers on Facebook, Nyanzi is a leading voice on issues of sexuality and women’s health in Uganda, and has helped drive a nationwide campaign to raise money for sanitary pads for schoolgirls. A few days prior to her arrest, she was interrogated by police concerning her fundraising efforts. She will remain in detention until her next hearing on April 25.

Russian police may have misidentified online “terrorism” instigator

A Russian math instructor is facing charges of making “public calls for terrorist activity” after Russian police traced incendiary online messages to his IP address. Dmitry Bogatov says he didn’t write the messages, and there is ample evidence suggesting that their actual author was associated with Bogatov’s IP address either because he used Tor (Bogatov ran a Tor exit node) or an IP spoofing technique of some kind. The judge who heard his case on April 10 upheld the charges despite flimsy evidence and a strong alibi, and ordered Bogatov be held until his trial on June 8.

Telegram calls blocked in Iran

On April 14, Telegram voice calls were officially deployed in Iran, however within 24 hours users were reporting calls were blocked. On April 17, Iran’s prosecutor general officially announced the service had been blocked through a judicial order. According to Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov, and various mobile operators inside Iran, Telegram voice services are being blocked at the international gateway operated by the Telecommunications Infrastructure Company of Iran.

Russian orthodoxy vs. social media banishment

Critics of the social conservative Russian politician Vitaly Milonov are trying to get him kicked off the social network Vkontakte for using the phrase “Ορθοδοξία ή θάνατος!” (“Orthodoxy or death!” in Greek), which was judged to be “extremist speech” by a Russian court several years ago. Milonov, a devout religious conservative considered to be the main architect of St. Petersburg’s ban on “gay propaganda”, has a history of using the phrase in his political campaigns.

Thailand doubles down on Computer Crimes Act, tells users to unfollow state critics

Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society is urging Thai internet users to unfollow the social media accounts of three overseas critics of the military-backed government — scholars Dr. Somsak Jiamtheerasakul and Dr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun and former Reuters Bangkok correspondent Andrew MacGregor Marshall. The Ministry says that Thais who continue to follow, like or share online content posted by the three men may risk prosecution under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act.

Don’t spy, let us fly

Civil liberties advocates in the US are urging US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to reject any legislation that would require “visa applicants, refugees, or other foreign visitors to provide passwords for online accounts… in order to enter the United States,” asserting that such a requirement violates local and international laws protecting privacy, and that it “would chill the speech and behavior of people around the world.”

New documentary on social media moderation

A new documentary titled “The Moderators” explores the work lives of content moderators who remove explicit photos on social networks and websites, manually filtering out violent, pornographic and other types of content that would offend most users. The documentary says that there are approximately 150,000 workers responsible for content moderation worldwide, with the largest proportion of them living in India. Note: This film contains graphic images.

New Research


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by Netizen Report Team at April 20, 2017 09:36 PM

April 19, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Thailand Tells Internet Users to Unfollow Junta Critics on Social Media — Or Face Consequences

From Left to Right: Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and Dr Somsak Jiamtheerasakul.

Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society is telling Thai citizens to unfriend and unfollow three government critics, lest they be accused of violating the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.

In a public statement dated April 12, 2017, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) urged Thai Internet users to stop following and sharing posts from the social media accounts of three overseas critics of the military-backed government, Dr. Somsak Jiamtheerasakul, Dr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

Somsak is a historian who taught at Thammasat University in Bangkok for two decades until he was fired over his criticism of the 2014 military coup that brought the current government to power. Pavin is a lecturer based in Japan. Marshall is a Reuters correspondent formerly based in Bangkok, whose book about the Thai monarchy was banned in Thailand in 2011. Aside from being critics of the Thai government, they are all accused of violating the Lese Majeste Law (Anti-Royal Insult Law). All have left Thailand to avoid political persecution.

Below is an excerpt of an unofficial translation of the letter issued by MDES:

To ensure an offense is not committed (intentionally or unintentionally) in relation to the Thailand Computer/Cyber Crimes Act (2007), Thai citizens are urged to avoid following, contacting, sharing (directly or indirectly) the content of the below mentioned people on the internet and social media.

Letter issued by Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. Image from the Facebook page of Andrew MacGregor Marshall

The army grabbed power in 2014 and continues to dominate the bureaucracy through the Constitution it drafted in 2016. It imposed a strict regulation of the media aside from aggressively implementing the pre-existing Lese Majeste Law, which some analysts believe is intended to silence the opposition and other critics of the junta.

The MDES letter is the latest attempt of the junta to control the media and intimidate its critics. Previously, it “invited” journalists and activists for an “attitude-adjustment session” in army camps. It also jailed an activist for sharing a BBC article about the profile of the country's new king.

The letter does not explain why it is a crime to follow, contact, or share the social media accounts of Somsak, Pavin and Marshall. It also does not describe the alleged crimes committed by the exiled critics.

To avoid unnecessary legal problems for his followers, Marshall immediately urged his Thai friends to unfollow him on Facebook:

I'd like to request everybody who may be at risk to unfollow me immediately and be extremely careful about commenting on or sharing my posts.

You can still read my Facebook page even if you don't follow me.

This is a ridiculous and oppressive order but I don't want any innocent people being targeted just because they follow my journalism.

He also reminded Thai authorities that “nobody ever wins by trying to suppress the truth”:

I am much less of an expert on Thailand than Ajarn Somsak and Ajarn Pavin. I am just a farang [foreigner] journalist doing my best to report the truth, because I believe that Thais deserve to know what is really going on, not lies and propaganda. Thai people are smart enough to think for themselves and decide what is true and what is not. Nobody ever wins by trying to suppress the truth.

Pavin wrote that he and his university colleagues speculated on the limits of the rule:

Some professors and students at Kyodai asked me this morning whether it would be illegal to contact me via FB and send me homeworks to my email, since the Thai authorities warned that in so doing they could be charged…

Instead of reducing the online followers of the three critics, the unintended effect of the letter and the subsequent media hype it generated is increasing the popularity of the banned social media accounts. Marshall wrote that he has accrued an additional 700 Facebook followers since the junta released the letter:

The net change in my Facebook network since the Thai junta told people to sever social media contact is now +700 followers.

This cartoon poked fun at the letter and how it made the critics more famous inside and outside Thailand:

Despite the absurdity of the ban imposed by the junta, its political impact is no laughing matter. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance warned that the letter “tries to limit the choices of the people and influence their behavior by implying risks of violating the law.”

Jaran Ditapichai, a former Thai Human Rights Commissioner who also fled the country after being accused of Lese Majeste, urged international institutions to look into the issue:

This order not only violates human rights, especially free speech and the right to communication, but also affects all Thai citizens. I urge all international and national human rights organizations to investigate the Thai military government’s abuse of power.

Amnesty International also criticized the MDES letter:

The Thai authorities have plunged to fresh depths in restricting people’s freedoms of expression. After imprisoning people for what they say both online and offline, and hounding critics into exile, they want to cut people off from each other altogether.

Meanwhile, the country's prime minister reportedly ordered government ministries to go after other Internet users in other countries who often “insult” the royal family.

by Mong Palatino at April 19, 2017 02:09 AM

Russian Math Instructor Faces Criminal Charges for Online Posts He Says He Didn't Write

Russia 24 news segment on the arrest of Dmitry Bogatov. Source: YouTube

A Russian math instructor is being accused of “preparing to organize mass disorder” and making “public calls for terrorist activity” via a series of online posts published to a Russia-based tech discussion platform on March 29.

Russian police identified Dmitry Bogatov by tracing the messages to his IP address, but the 25-year-old free and open source software advocate has denied writing the messages.

Many in the Russian media and blogosphere are speculating that the true author of the messages somehow assumed Bogatov's IP address, either through IP spoofing techniques or by using Tor, the anonymous browser.

Bogatov's arrest comes amidst an ongoing crackdown on Internet privacy in Russia, with lawmakers most recently proposing legislation that would make social media illegal for children under 14 and require adult users to verify their identities by passport.

Waltz with Bashirov

On March 29, someone with the username “Ayrat Bashirov” and Bogatov’s home IP address wrote a series of posts on the website, an online forum for systems administrators. One post called for protesters to go to an unsanctioned, anonymously organized—and ultimately under-attended—demonstration on April 2 with “rags, bottles, gas, turpentine, styrofoam, acetone.” Another post linked to the music video for Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” or, as investigators put it, “a video recording with insubordination to the legal demands of the police, and mass disorder.”

It's unclear whether it was Kanye or the Molotov cocktails that did it, but the posts drew the ire of Russia's Investigative Committee, which on April 1 opened a case—without naming names—against the person posting as Ayrat Bashirov.

On the night of April 5, investigators came to Bogatov’s apartment where they seized his computer equipment. They took him into custody the next day. Some hours later, a judge denied the Investigative Committee’s request to hold Bogatov in custody, ruling that the charges were not serious enough to warrant his continued detention. Investigators then added a second and more serious charge of inciting terrorism, and he was brought back into court the following day. This time, a judge approved his detention for another 72 hours. On April 10, the court upheld the charges, formally arrested Bogatov, and ordered that he be held until his trial on June 8.

A flimsy case

The case against Bogatov appears to rest entirely on the fact that the offending posts were made from his home IP address.

Bogatov has a strong alibi for being away from his computer when at least some of the posts were published. Surveillance footage shows Bogatov and his wife leaving a supermarket four minutes before one of the posts was made on March 29. Given that the supermarket is half a kilometer from their home, it is unlikely that Bogatov could have made it home and posted online within four minutes.

Furthermore, since Bogatov’s detention, the profile for Ayrat Bashirov has remained active online, making numerous posts, commenting on his own supposed arrest, and even exchanging private messages with a journalist from Open Russia, saying that he is “of course not Bogatov.”

It appears likely that Bogatov was running a Tor exit node from his home computer. As a user on Geektimes pointed out (and as Tor's records confirm), several hours before Bogatov’s detention—likely around the time authorities were searching his apartment and seizing his computer equipment—an exit node that had been operating for more than a year and a half under Bogatov’s name went offline. The email address associated with the node matches the address listed on Bogatov's Github page.

More about Tor

The Tor network is a collection of servers located across the world, run mostly by volunteers. The network helps users connect to the Internet anonymously by sending traffic between at least three Tor servers, typically located in different countries, before allowing it to reach its destination. This makes it nearly impossible for anyone monitoring the Internet to understand where the traffic is coming from and where it is going. Tor “exit nodes” are the final set of servers used in the connection process. This is where a user’s traffic exits the Tor network and connects to the world wide web. When traffic sent through Tor reaches its destination, only the exit node can be traced.

Whoever was posting as Ayrat Bashirov clearly was—and still is—using either Tor or some other method, such as IP masking, which would allow the person posting as Bashirov to make it appear as if he was operating from Bogatov's computer, even when he was not. According to Bogatov’s attorney, the person has posted from more than one hundred different IP addresses across Russia and in Norway, the Netherlands and Japan.

It is possible that Bogatov was posting as Bashirov using Tor or another anonymization technique, and simply forgot to turn on the connection when some of the posts were made, revealing his true home IP address. But this seems less likely, given the grocery store footage, and the fact that Ayrat Bashirov remains active online.

Running an exit node can be a risky endeavor, especially in Russia, where in the past Tor has been targeted by proposed legislation intended to curb online anonymity. And regardless of location, Tor advises volunteers who choose to do so to take precautions, including not running it from their home internet connections. This would not be the first time that someone running an exit node has fallen under suspicion from law enforcement for criminal activities committed through their connection. A post on the forum describes at least one instance of an exit node operator in Russia being questioned by police for a bomb threat sent from their IP address.

If this is indeed what happened with Bogatov, it remains unclear whether prosecutors are pursuing the case due to a poor understanding of how Tor works or for some other reason, such as to send a warning to the many Russians using Tor and other VPN services. Notably, the Investigative Committee’s interest in Bashirov’s posts came amidst an online crackdown leading up to demonstrations on April 2.

Bogatov’s case also raises questions about the future of Tor and VPNs in Russia. Last year, one of the largest VPN providers stopped providing Russian IP addresses after the government seized its servers when the company refused to comply with new laws requiring that they locate their servers on Russian soil. In the past, Russian lawmakers have discussed the idea of banning VPNs, and this January Roskomnadzor, the agency that oversees the internet in Russia, blocked one VPN service.

In the meantime, the hashtag #freebogatov has appeared on social media, and Tor advocates have launched an appeal to rename exit nodes in his honor.

by Guest Contributor at April 19, 2017 02:06 AM

April 17, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Pick Your Poison? Russian Orthodoxy or Banishment From Social Media

Photo: Vitaly Milonov / Vkontakte

Critics of Vitaly Milonov, perhaps the most reactionary social conservative in the Russian parliament, have vowed to get him banned from Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, where his online status features an “illegal expression” — “Ορθοδοξία ή θάνατος!” (“Orthodoxy or death!” in Greek).

According to the news site TJournal, the campaign materialized this weekend on the imageboard Pikabu, where a user named Vselensky drew attention to Milonov’s controversial status on Vkontakte. Almost seven years ago, a Russian court banned this phrase, and the Justice Ministry later added it to the federal government’s list of banned extremist materials.

Though Milonov has defended the slogan as an affirmation of his commitment to the Russian Christian Orthodox faith (meaning something like “Orthodoxy or I’d rather die!“), the judiciary ruled that the phrase could be interpreted as a threat to people outside the church, along the lines of “Adopt Orthodoxy or die!”

A devout religious conservative, Milonov has a history of using this expression in his political campaigning, and courts have fined at least two opposition activists for sharing photos of Milonov wearing a t-shirt bearing the same slogan. Milonov is considered to be the main architect of St. Petersburg’s ban on so-called “gay propaganda,” which later served as the basis for a similar federal ban. For his critics, Milonov’s efforts to silence gay expression make his defiance in expressing his extreme Christian views especially frustrating.

In November 2016, Dmitry Semenov, a former State Duma candidate for the opposition group Open Russia, was fined 1,000 rubles (about USD $17) for reposting the photos two years earlier. Local police even called Semenov in for questioning. Federal agents supposedly discovered his infraction on a “random sweep of social media,” but activists suspect that the police were looking for any excuse to harass a member of Open Russia.

Five months later, this time with a kafkaesque twist, a Russian court fined another activist for sharing Milonov’s banned slogan, albeit by reposting a photograph of Milonov wearing his t-shirt in December 2013.

The Chuvashia-based activist Dmitry Pankov was acquitted of any wrongdoing, but then, in March 2017, Pankov reposted a news story about his acquittal. The repost also contained the slogan “Orthodoxy or death!” and elicited new charges against Pankov. This time around, a Chuvash court convicted him of spreading extremism, directly contravening the previous verdict.

Responding to Vselensky’s post on Pikabu this weekend, user “Skallpill” claimed that he already complained once to Russia’s Attorney General about Milonov’s status on Vkontakte, which has apparently been in place for some time.

Skallpill also uploaded photos of a letter he says he received last December from the St. Petersburg district attorney, where the government claimed that only the Russian version of the phrase “Orthodoxy or death!” has been banned in Russia. In other words, Milonov appears to be using Greek as a loophole to skirt Russia’s ban on this slogan.

According to the letter, state prosecutors also showed an uncharacteristic willingness to take into consideration Milonov’s motives for using the slogan. “He explained,” the letter states, “that the phrase in Russian has an entirely different meaning to him personally than the one reflected in the [trial] where it was ruled extremist. […] The meaning of the expression for Vitaly Milonov is that ‘without the observance of Orthodox Christian norms and rules, for him there is no living,’ and he did not intend to incite hatred or enmity.”

Enraged by what they describe as preferential treatment by Russian law enforcement, Pikabu users have vowed to take the matter to Vkontakte, hoping to get Milonov's account suspended for spreading “extremist materials.” According to TJournal, staff at Vkontakte are still investigating the issue.

by Kevin Rothrock at April 17, 2017 04:00 PM

Ugandan Academic and Sanitary Pad Campaign Leader Faces Criminal Charges For ‘Computer Misuse’

Ugandan academic and government critic Dr. Stella Nyanzi. Photo shared on her Facebook page.

Ugandan academic and feminist Dr. Stella Nyanzi has spent ten days behind bars for allegedly violating Uganda's Computer Misuse Act of 2011.

Nyanzi is an outspoken critic of President Yoweri Musveni, and has become a leading voice in a campaign to subsidize sanitary pads for poor women and girls in Uganda.

Arrested and detained on April 7, Nyanzi has been charged with engaging in “cyber harassment” and “offensive communication” (sections 24 and 25 of the Computer Misuse Act) towards President Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet Museveni on Facebook. Among other things, she compared the President to “a pair of buttocks.”

On social media, Nyanzi's story has become a rallying opportunity for Ugandans who oppose the Musveni government, with many of them using the hashtag #APairofButtocks to voice their frustrations.

Officials say she will remain behind bars until her next hearing, scheduled for April 25.

A few days prior to her arrest, Nyanzi was interrogated by police for raising money to buy sanitary pads for school girls without registration, which they told her was contrary to the Public Collections Act of 1966. Nyanzi went missing after speaking at an April 7 Rotary Club event in Kampala, as seen in the advertisement above. Several hours later, police said that she was in their custody.

A medical anthropologist who specializes in African sexuality, Nyanzi commands a large audience on her Facebook page, where she has more than 141,000 followers. Here, her messages are her sword. On average, she responds to every comment. She uses sexual language to challenge the practices of the current government and also challenges other social beliefs in a country where social conservatism still prevails in many sectors.

Dr. Stella Nyanzi in court on April 10, 2017. Photo by Voice of America, licensed for reuse.

Nyanzi has publicly questioned an unfulfilled election campaign promise of President Musveni to provide sanitary pads to poor girls, some of whom miss school or even drop out because they can’t afford them. In 2016, she attracted headlines when she stripped naked to protest the closure of her office, following a dispute with her dean, and posted a video clip of the incident on her Facebook wall.

After Nyanzi wrote that Uganda's First Lady Janet Museveni told the nation there was no money to fulfill her husband campaign promise to girls, the First Lady responded in a televised interview, saying that she had forgiven Nyanzi for “insulting” her. In response, Stella wrote a Facebook post saying that she hadn’t asked her forgiveness for her words. In another recent post, Nyanzi compared President Musveni to “a pair of buttocks.”

Nyanzi since has joined a group of Ugandans who started the #Pads4GirlsUG campaign to solicit money to buy sanitary pads.

Mrs. Musveni was also under fire from Nyanzi in late March, after the First Lady told the press that Ugandans should stop carrying their children to school on boda-boda (passenger motorcycles). Low-income parents commonly use this as a means of transport, despite the dangers that it can bring. This is nothing new coming from the First Lady — in the past, such statements have earned her comparison with Marie Antoinette.

In response to the First Lady's boda-boda comment, on March 29, Nyanzi wrote on her Facebook page:

She opened her lying mouth and said, “Walk your children to school,
I walked four kilometers to and from school when I was a child!”
The lazy pig that flew her children in aeroplanes to school looked down her long piggy nose and told us to walk our children to school.
Do as I say, not as I do, she says through her lying teeth.

On March 30, Nyanzi was suspended from her job as a lecturer at Makerere University, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. It is worth noting that the First Lady also serves as Uganda's Minister of Education.

Two days before her abduction, Nyanzi's house was raided and she was taken in for questioning by police for a few hours. Shortly thereafter, she hosted a Facebook live session in which she described the incident. The session garnered more than 1 million views.

On April 9, local NTV reporter Gertrude Uwitware, who had expressed support for Nyanzi on her Facebook page, was abducted in Kampala and held against her will for several hours before being released. It is unknown whether the incident was connected to her support for Nyanzi, but advocates including human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, who is aiding in Nyanzi's case, suspect that it was.

The African Centre for Media Excellence and the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda, along with international organizations including Amnesty International, have condemned Nyanzi's arrest and prosecution. These and other groups have also spoken out in support of Uwitware.

The hashtags #FreeStellaNyanzi and #APairofButtocks immediately trended following Nyanzi's arrest and continues to be used by Ugandans and supporters. Ugandans have shown their support despite the environment of fear.

Some supporters have looked back to 40 years and retweeted words by former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada:

Jongo Asiimwe joked:

Discussing Nyanzi's plight, Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire noted:

Nyanzi is not the only victim of this brute attack on academic freedom. Contributors and editors of the anthology, Controlling Consent, whose copies were confiscated by authorities recently are also victims. The anthology contained academic analyses of the 2016 Ugandan presidential and parliamentary election. The message is loud and clear. Academics are only allowed to be critical in spaces that are inaccessible to the public. When they engage publicly, the state clamps down on them. Even Facebook and other social media platforms are not immune from this repression!

To contribute online to the Pads for Uganda campaign, visit the official GoFundMe page.

by Prudence Nyamishana at April 17, 2017 02:57 PM

April 14, 2017

Joi Ito
Dealing with email and my partial attention problem during meetings


I currently have to deal with five hours or so of email a day and each day is packed with meetings, many as short as 15 minutes and 1 hour meetings being booked only in extraordinary circumstances. I have a list of 100 or so names of people that I've promised to meet, many who are very angry because we haven't been able to even book a meeting on my calendar.

I aggressively turn down all kinds of request and am aggressively resigning from boards and other obligations, but each day, I receive a steady flow of meeting requests that I just can't turn down.

I've chosen this path and I'm not complaining about the fact that I'm busy.

My concern at the moment is that the urgency and the rate of inbound email requires that in addition to the 2-3 hours of email in the morning and the 2-3 hours of email in the evening, I must diligently triage email during the day. Right now, depending on how much of my attention is required in a meeting, I keep an eye on my email and direct partial attention to my device and not my meeting. As someone who (ironically) co-teaches a class on awareness, I realize that this is both rude and a very poor way to have an effective meeting. People who know me well have gotten used to it, but for many people, it's disconcerting and disappointing.

I've thought about what I can do about this. The obvious answer is to try to check email between meetings, but that would mean that I would have to reduce the number of meetings since my meetings are so short. I could also ignore more of my email. I'm already unable to respond to many important email requests and reducing my responsiveness in email would also cause harm. At some level this is just a matter of being completely overcommitted, and I am doing my best to try to deal with that, but I was wondering if there might be some clever way to deal with the "partial attention during meetings" problem.

One idea that I had was to schedule several hours of email time during the day interspersed with "no devices / full attention" meeting times. When someone signed up for a meeting, we would ask if they needed full attention and if so, they would end up in the "full attention slot" queue or get booked a month or so out when my next "full attention slot" was available. On the other hand, if all they wanted was for me to be available to provide opinions or make decisions as part of a broader meeting or if the person didn't mind my partial attention during meetings, we could book the meeting in a "partial attention" slot which could be scheduled sooner. I would use un-booked partial attention slots to catch up on email if no one wanted such a slot.

This feels a bit too clever by half and maybe difficult to communicate to a person not familiar with my problem.

The other idea that I had was just to ask at the beginning of a meeting, "do you want this to be a laptops closed meeting or do you mind if I keep my eye on urgent email and triage?" I'm not sure if everyone would ask for my full attention or if I'd have a selection bias where only people confident enough would ask for my full attention and that those people who really needed my attention but were too polite would end up with my partial attention.

Lastly, I could just be a bit more mindful in the meetings and try to read the room better. I am generally pretty good at figuring out when the meeting requires my full attention, but as anyone who has seen someone trying to do this knows, one probably thinks they are doing this better than they actually are and in any case, it appears disrespectful to anyone who isn't used to people in this mode.

Any suggestions? Any thoughts on my crazy ideas? I know many of you will say, "You're just overcommitted. Just say 'no' to more stuff." OK. I will and I am, but I think I will still have some variant of this problem even if I'm just replying to earnest questions from students that I think deserve some sort of response.

by Joi at April 14, 2017 06:25 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Censorship Undressed: Iranian State TV Cuts Broadcast Mid-Sentence

Screen glitches occurred on IRIB's Shabakeh Khabar broadcast when the reporter mentioned the candidate registration of Hamid Baghaei, the former Vice President and close confidant of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Screen capture from a Fars News tweet of the broadcast.

In an unusual broadcasting flub this week, Iran's official state media network cut off the live video feed of a reporter in mid-sentence when she mentioned the name of presidential hopeful Hamid Baghaei, one of the more controversial politicians who has filed to run for president next month.

Baghaei served as vice president to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both represent a frequently contested hardline political position, and both men now have registered to run for president in Iran's May 2017 elections.

The broadcast, which aired on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcaster's Shabakeh Khabar channel, featuring a reporter identified as Ms. Nouri, was shot on location from the Ministry of Interior on Wednesday as prospective candidates filed their registration forms.

A video clip of the incident has gone viral on social media. The video plainly shows that within less than a second of the the reporter mentioning Hamid Baghaei, the broadcast feed abruptly cuts and goes back to the anchor in studio. As the anchor waits to resume the report, Nouri's voice can be heard asking her producers, “I shouldn't mention Baghaei?”

Shabakeh Khabar did not give their reporter the permission to announce the registration of Hamid Baghaei as a candidate.

The hashtag , translating into the Nouri's question, “I shouldn't mention Baghaei?” started trending amongst Iranians remarking on the broadcasters shameless censorship.

IRIB gets more shameless everyday. A broadcaster with lies, broken screenings, and censorship. There is a lot missing #I_shouldn't_mention_Baghaei

Candidate registration for the 12th Presidential elections of the Islamic Republic of Iran began on April 11 and will last for five days, followed by a period when the registrants will be screened for their political and Islamic qualifications by the hardline and religious body tasked with vetting, the Guardian Council. The Council typically disqualifies the majority of registrants.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcaster (IRIB) is known as a mouthpiece for Iran's hardline conservatives, echoing the concerns and opinions of this establishment. The IRIB's director is a position directly appointed by the country's highest power, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

When it comes to reporting on elections, the IRIB's decisions about who to mention — and who to omit — are often seen as a reflection of internal sentiment about the prospective candidates. The interruption of Nouri's report is a sign that Baghaei may be disqualified from the running.

It is unknown whether Nouri already knew not to report on Ahmadinejad's registration as well, or if she was deterred post-facto.

Former controversial populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces his intention to run for President today in the May Iranian Presidential elections. He is flanked by Hamid Baghaei to the left, and Mashaei to the right Photo shared on Twitter, by Mohammad Ali Marizad.

Wednesday's registrations made headlines as former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, flanked by his close confidants former Vice President Baghaei and former Chief of Staff Esfandiar Mashaei, stopped by the Ministry to announce that he and Baghaei had registered.

This is a change in course for Ahmadinejad, who in September 2016 announced he would not join the race, after being warned by the Supreme Leader that his candidacy would cause polarization and harmful divisions in Iranian society. While also banned in 2013 from running for reelection, Ahmadinejad campaigned for the candidacy of Mashaei, who ultimately failed to win the Guardian Council‘s approval.

The IRIB is known for inserting bias an censorship into election reporting. During the 2013 presidential campaigns, several of the candidates remarked on the IRIB's unfair coverage and use of censorship. Rouhani accused the state broadcaster of defaming prominent figures during an interview on 27 May 2013, while the reformist candidate Mohamad Reza Aref's campaign accused the IRIB of cutting his campaign appearances in an “inappropriate manner.”

While the broadcaster is watched by millions of Iranians, it is notorious for not giving airtime to those who do not fall in line with Khamenei and the clerical establishment, and for serving the interests of Iran's intelligence agencies, sometimes going so far as to air forced confessions of political prisoners under duress.

by Mahsa Alimardani at April 14, 2017 12:50 PM

April 13, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Censorship Spikes After Venezuela’s ‘Self-Inflicted Coup’

A student demonstrator speaks to National Guard members in Venezuela, during protests in 2014. Photo by Jamez42 via Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

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

Protesters in Venezuela have been mobilizing almost daily and in large numbers since the Supreme Court of Justice temporarily nullified the National Assembly on March 30, a move that many described as a “self-inflicted” coup. The change sparked international outrage.

Although the court reversed course days later and reinstated the National Assembly, public unrest has continued, forcing public officials to confront the economic and political crisis that has been ongoing since 2014. Alongside political turmoil and rising rates of violent crime, the global drop in the price of oil, the country’s main export, has left Venezuela with staggering inflation rates for more than three years. Inflation has not fallen below 50% since 2014. It exceeded 100% in 2015, and reached 800% at the end of 2016. President Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly blamed the United States for the downturn in the oil market.

Citizen media have become increasingly important for Venezuelans throughout this period, as the Maduro administration has sought to maintain tight control over official and corporate media outlets. A mainstay of critical reporting on the country, CNN, was kicked off of cable television in February 2017.

This has left citizen media outlets among the few sources of information regarding protests and crackdowns that readers can turn to. Perhaps as a result, numerous independent journalists have experienced harassment and physical threats while on assignment in recent weeks. Elvis Flores, a cameraman for the online channel VPITV was arrested mid-broadcast while filming protesters in Caracas. For nine hours, he was held in custody where he was reportedly beaten. VPITV and other popular web TV channels including Vivoplay and El Capitolio TV were blocked from April 7 onward, according to Venezuelan netizens. In response to the censorship, protesters have united around the hashtag #VzlaTrancaContraElGolpe (“Venezuela blocks the coup”).

Women’s rights campaigners face online threats in Kuwait

Kuwaiti human rights defender Hadeel Buqrais received a rash of online threats after she took part in a march in Kuwait City calling for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The march was part of the Namshi Laha, or “Walking for Her” campaign, which launched online last week. There have been attempts to block the campaign, and other participants involved in the campaign have also been targeted with insults on social media, according to Frontline Defenders.

Southeast Asian lawmakers use ‘fake news’ fears to justify censorship

Multiple governments in Southeast Asia are leveraging the issue of fake news as a justification for stricter laws and to harass journalists. In Singapore, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the country will soon amend its Broadcasting Act in order to ensure that overseas content providers “[are] in line with our community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony.”

In the Philippines, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed a bill mandating that social media companies verify the identity of users before registering them on their networks, in what he describes as an effort to more easily prevent users from creating fake accounts and spreading fake news.

Russian authorities block Zello, amid trucker protests

Russia's media regulator announced plans to block Zello, a mobile push-to-talk app that Russian long-haul truckers have used to organize protests in recent months. Roskomnadzor, the authority responsible for monitoring Russian media, has publicly stated that Zello failed to submit company information necessary to be included on the federal “Registry of Information-Dissemination Organizers,” a list of online platforms that Roskomnadzor oversees.

Iran’s Internet, between Rouhani and a hard place

As presidential elections approach in Iran, the contrast between the relatively moderate current president Hassan Rouhani (who is expected to seek re-election) and political hardliners is increasingly visible. In the first-ever Iranian government press conference to be broadcast over Instagram Live, Rouhani boasted about many of the achievements of his administration, including the effort to improve Internet speeds in Iran, which indeed have seen a ten-fold increase. He also claimed that if it wasn’t for the efforts of his administration, “all social media platforms would have been sacrificed.” Although Facebook is still blocked inside Iran, Instagram has remained uncensored throughout the Rouhani administration, along with other popular foreign platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram.

Nevertheless, some people have paid high prices for their participation on said platforms. On March 14, a dozen administrators of news channels on the messaging app Telegram were arrested by Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards, who said the channels — which are chiefly reformist and moderate in their political leanings — represented a threat to national security. To the chagrin of the judiciary, President Hassan Rouhani has since called for an investigation of the arrests, underscoring the political cleavage between the two entities.

Apple TV bows to Chinese censorship demands

In the first week of April, the Apple TV app store blocked the satirical news show China Uncensored from users based in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The creators of the show said that while they understand why the show is censored in China, they do not think the block in Hong Kong and Taiwan is justified. They sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook demanding the company unblock the show in Hong Kong and Taiwan within 30 days.

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Afef Abrougui, Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Oiwan Lam,  Weiping Li, Leila Nachawati and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at April 13, 2017 07:34 PM

Azerbaijan's Government, Dissidents Acquire New Weapons for Cyber War

Pixabay image. Licensed for reuse.

The following is a partner post from by Mike Runey. Republished with permission.

The Azerbaijani government appears to have taken yet another step to quash online opposition media in the country, who have responded by using a technique borrowed from Chinese dissidents in their escalating cyberwar with the authorities.

The internet freedom organization VirtualRoad reported on April 10 that it had found evidence a “dedicated appliance” aimed at “interfer[ing] actively with web traffic” in the infrastructure of Azerbaijan's de facto internet service provider monopoly. The device is being used to block three major opposition news sites: Meydan TV, Azadliq Qezeti, and Azadliq Radiosu, using a sorting technique called deep packet inspection.

The affected outlets haven’t given up, and on April 9 Azadliq Qezeti circumvented the blockage by cheekily hosting a mirror version of their website on Amazon Web Services (AWS), a tactic favored by Chinese activists in recent years.

By backing up their site on AWS, Azadliq Qezeti have forced the government’s hand, as Azerbaijan would now have to block all of AWS to block domestic access to Azadliq Qezeti. The potential consequences of this has so far stymied even those behind China’s famed Great Firewall, as it would mean everyone – including major corporations – using Amazon’s popular cloud computing system for apps, databases, management tools, and other services would lose access as well.

China, fearing the cost to its economy, has refrained from blocking AWS, and outward signs show that it has not succeeded in getting Amazon to remove “undesirable” pages. It had more success with Apple, which agreed to remove an anti-censorship app from its App Store. If China, the world’s second largest economy and a key source of revenue for Amazon, cannot convince the American internet giant to play by its rules, then it is hard to see how Azerbaijan might expect to.

VirtualRoad, which has been closely following the Azerbaijani government's technical attacks against dissident voices, identified the source of the new attacks as Delta Telecom, which has been previously identified as the tool through which the Azerbaijani state monitors and censors the internet. It was called “an informal mechanism for shutting down select internet sites” in a 2008 State Department cable obtained by Wikileaks. The device started operating on March 27, VirtualRoad found.

Deep packet inspection (DPI) is commonly used by governments to monitor internet traffic, and less frequently, as an effective tool of censorship, although the thoroughness of DPI means the plausible deniability that Azerbaijan has depended on for years is no longer available. The practice has been used for years by Iran, Russia, and the United States, but by funneling the bulk of its internet traffic through one network, Azerbaijan has made it comparatively cheaper and easier to monitor and censor domestic internet use. Although deep packet inspection can be used to monitor and block any website using certain key words – for example “Azerbaijan+PACE+Bribery” or “Anar+Mammadov+bear+kebab” – there are no confirmed reports of the state using this aspect of the technology to date. For now, Baku appears to just be blocking the three specific sites.

The speed with which Azerbaijan has grown its internet censorship capabilities in the past year is surprising, although the cat-and-mouse game it has played with VirtualRoad in that time surely plays a role. It is unlikely that Baku has the budget, technical capacity, or the will to outpace internet censorship pioneers like China, and will most likely have to live with the idea that it will not be able to fully block access to its more determined internet media outlets without paying a real economic cost.

Mike Runey is a Programme Officer for Eurasia at Civil Rights Defenders. He writes here in his personal capacity and the views expressed here are his own.

by at April 13, 2017 01:20 PM

April 10, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Russia Blocks Walkie-Talkie App Zello As Truckers Strike

Source: YouTube. A Russian truck driver protests the introduction of a new road tax.

Russia's media regulator announced plans on Monday to block Zello, a mobile push-to-talk app that Russia's long-haul truckers have used to organize protests in recent months—including to coordinate an ongoing three-week strike.

Roskomnadzor, the authority responsible for monitoring and censoring Russian media, posted a public announcement about the move in which it charged that the makers of the unencrypted walkie-talkie app had failed to submit company information necessary to be included in a federal registry by its deadline. Roskomnadzor said Zello had been asked to provide the information on the basis of a request from a “federal executive body,” which the news website TJournal identified as the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Following the introduction of a 2014 law passed ostensibly to help fight terrorism, the Russian government created a “Registry of Information-Dissemination Organizers,” a list of online platforms that Roskomnadzor oversees. Companies can avoid being included on this list if they give the Russian government unrestricted access to their data stream. Because it failed to submit the necessary documentation to Roskomnadzor, it does not appear that Zello, which has more than 400,000 users in Russia, will be added to the registry. Instead, it has been blocked.

A warning issued by United Truckers of Russia advising users of its Zello channel to use a VPN.

On April 8, Zello announced on Twitter that it had received a message from Roskomnadzor on April 6 saying that it had not alerted Russian authorities about the start of its operations in the country. Roskomnadzor informed Zello that it would be blocked this week if it does supply the requested information. The news daily RBK later reported that authorities had instructed internet providers to block mobile access to Zello.

Alexey Gavrilov, the Russian-born founder and CTO of Zello, which is based in the US (in Austin, Texas), wrote in a blog post published on Friday that his company would not comply with Roskomnadzor's request. He argued that the “Information-Dissemination Organizers” law is being exploited to block any “undesirable” internet-based service.

The demands of the law, he said “are not only absurd from a technical point of view, but they also contradict our principles and therefore we will not fulfill them.”

Communication and Protest: How to keep your conversations private

Zello became a popular among activists around the world in 2014, making it also a favorite government target: the Venezuelan government shut down Zello in 2014 after activists began using it to protest against President Nicolas Maduro's economic policies. In 2014, 15 Bahraini activists were arrested and disappeared after officials used Zello to lure them to a fake meeting. This prompted concerns about the app's vulnerability to hacking and government intrusion.

Technical security experts recommend that protesters seeking to communicate and organize privately use apps like Signal or Wire, both of which offer end-to-end encryption and allow users to make messages “disappear” shortly after they're read.

Zello, which allows users to communicate through private (but not wholly encrypted) channels, is popular among Russia's long-haul truckers, who have been on strike for the past three weeks in protest of a road tax that will increase their tax rate by 25 percent.

The protest's leaders say the new tax system will put truckers out of business. Andrei Bazhutin, the head of United Truckers of Russia (OPR, a trade organization) and an organizer of the strike, said as many as 700,000 Russian truckers could lose their jobs as a result of the tax.

Truckers have protested against the introduction of the “Platon” road tax system, which they say will enrich officials rather than improving the country's highways, since 2015, when the tax was approved; in response, authorities have postponed the introduction of the tax until this month.

Organizers say they expect more than 10,000 truckers to participate in the current strike, which is taking place across 80 of Russia's 83 regions (85, if you count illegally-annexed Crimea and Sevastopol). Truckers are using a Zello channel called OPR to organize their efforts. There is a link to the channel at the top of the OPR website, which advises users to use a VPN in light of Roskomnadzor's decision to block the app.

by Isaac Webb at April 10, 2017 05:24 PM

Satirical News Show ‘China Uncensored’ Censored by Apple in Hong Kong and Taiwan

The show is affiliated with the persecuted religious group Falun Gong.

China Uncensored host Chris Chappell interviews protestors in Mong Kok, Hong Kong during the Umbrella Movement. November 15, 2014. PHOTO: Matt Gnaizda/China Uncensored

Satirical news show, China Uncensored, says that the Apple TV app store has blocked users from accessing it not only in mainland China, but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Curated by Chris Chappell, the show was launched on YouTube in 2012 and is currently aired by New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD.TV), which is affiliated with Falun Gong — a religious practice that is suppressed in China.

The show mocks the Chinese Communist Party and its authoritarian rule by curating news about crackdowns on dissidents, persecution of religious minorities and state-sponsored hacking activities, and turning them into satirical reporting. Often times, its stories are a mixture of jokes and facts that are built upon the stereotypical image of a totalitarian China.

In a press statement on April 5, 2017, Chris Chappell stressed:

I totally understand why we’re blocked in mainland China. We’re clearly disrupting the Communist Party’s harmonious propaganda…but Hong Kong and Taiwan are not supposed to be under Chinese law.

Although Hong Kong is part of China, under the One Country Two Systems principle, the region has an independent legal system. As for Taiwan, it has been a de facto self-governed entity since Kuomingtang of the Republic of China was defeated by the Chinese Communist Party and fled to the island in 1949. In both regions, NTD.TV has reporters covering local news and Falun Gong members are free to practise their religion.

in March 2017, Apple approved the China Uncensored Apple TV app for availability in most of the world, but removed it from app stores in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Apple's legal team said its decision is in accordance with local laws:

Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where you make them available (if you’re not sure, check with a lawyer). We know this stuff is complicated, but it is your responsibility to understand and make sure your app conforms with all local laws […]. And of course, apps that solicit, promote, or encourage criminal or clearly reckless behavior will be rejected.

While your app has been removed from the China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan App Stores, it is still available in the App Stores for the other territories you selected in iTunes Connect.

Chris Chappell responded with satirical questions in a press statement:

Is Apple so scared of the Chinese Communist Party that it would censor China Uncensored in Hong Kong and Taiwan, just in case? […] Or is Apple just confused about which places belong to China and this was all an accident? They should probably consult a lawyer, like we’ve done.

In a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook on April 3, Chappell urged Apple to unblock the China Uncensored in Hong Kong and Taiwan app stores and vowed that he was prepared to take both legal and political action:

…we have retained a public interest attorney who will represent us and is prepared to bring in a major law firm to take legal action, although we would prefer to resolve this matter quickly and without lawyers.

If necessary, we are also prepared to discuss this issue with US federal regulators, who, while having no jurisdiction over Hong Kong or Taiwan, are nonetheless concerned with Apple’s business operations in general as Apple moves competitively into the television industry.

Since 2013, Apple has started taking down apps — including banned books and circumvention tools — from its China iTunes store in order to comply with local laws.

In June 2016, China tightened its control over mobile applications with the introduction of Provisions on the Administration of Mobile Internet Application Information Service. These regulations outlaw applications that spread rumors and information deemed harmful to national security. In January 2017, The New York Times was taken down from the Apple iTunes Store because of such provisions. However, the newspaper’s app remains available in the Hong Kong and Taiwan versions of the store.

In the letter to Cook, Chappell stressed that while he is aware of the restrictions in China, the management of Apple's Hong Kong and Taiwan app stores should be different:

No doubt, China Uncensored likely falls under some of mainland China’s dubious legal categories such as:

  • Undermining national unity
  • Spreading rumors
  • Disrupting social order

There is no point in disputing your app store decision with respect to mainland China… but Hong Kong and Taiwan are not ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. They are regions that operate under independent legal systems.

China Uncensored launched a petition on April 4, urging its viewers and supporters to tell Apple to “uncensor” the China Uncensored app from its Hong Kong and Taiwan app stores. As at the time of this story's publication, more than 5,800 people had signed.

by Oiwan Lam at April 10, 2017 03:33 PM

Iraqi Journalists Face Threats From ISIS, Armed Militias and the State

Armed militias have become an imminent threat for Iraqi journalists.

Shifa Gardi reporting from the Mosul frontline on 25 February. She was killed the same day in a bomb explosion. Photo: screenshot from a video report aired on Rudaw.

On 26 February, Shifa Gardi, a journalist and presenter with the Iraqi Kurdish TV station Rudaw, lost her life in a bomb explosion while covering Iraqi forces’ operations to reclaim Mosul from ISIS. The journalist was killed while she was interviewing the commander of a militia group near an ISIS mass grave, when a bomb believed to be planted by the militant group exploded killing Gardi, the commander and four other fighters. The explosion also injured Rudaw TV's cameraman Younis Mustafa. Mustafa was released from hospital, tweeted Rudaw on 20 March, and he is recovering.

Gardi's story is not unique in Iraq, and rights groups are concerned that she may not be the last one to lose her life while doing her job as a journalist in a country where at least 178 journalists were killed since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), a non-profit organization promoting press freedom in the country puts the number of journalists, media support workers and technicians killed since 2003 at 299. The discrepancy between these numbers reflects different methodologies — CPJ only counts confirmed cases of journalists killed in direct reprisal for their work, or those killed while covering clashes and conflicts. The JFO, on the other hand, appears to include numbers of unconfirmed cases.

As the conflict continues in Iraq, so do the threats against journalists and media workers. Because of its brutal tactics, ISIS has so far received extensive coverage for its violations committed against media and press freedoms. However, journalists in Iraq also face threats from armed militia groups and government authorities.

‘A death trap’

After ISIS took over Mosul in June 2014, the city “turned into a death trap for journalists,” the JFO and Reporters Without Borders said in a report shedding light on media and press freedom violations committed by the extremist and violent group.

Between June 2014 and the date of the release of an updated version of the report earlier this year, the organizations documented the kidnapping of 48 journalists, media workers and journalism students by ISIS in Mosul. Thirteen of those kidnapped were executed, while 25 were released thanks to clan and tribal mediation, but only after they were subjected to torture and pledged not to practice journalism anymore. The fate of ten others remains unknown. 

ISIS snipers have been responsible for killing journalists while they were on the frontline covering the Iraqi army's battle against the group. On 22 October 2016, Ali Risan a cameraman for Al-Sumaria TV channel was killed while covering clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS, when a sniper hit him with a bullet in the chest. Just a day earlier, another journalist, Ahmet Haceroğlu of Türkmeneli TV, was killed while covering clashes between Kurdish forces and ISIS militants in the city of Kirkuk. According to the journalist's news outlet and police, Haceroğlu was hit in the chest by an ISIS sniper.

A reporter in Mosul, Iraq in November 2016. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

“During the last three years we have lost many journalists: some were executed by Daesh [Arabic language acronym for ISIS] in the regions occupied by the terrorist group, and many others were killed while covering the clashes”, said Bahar Jasim a freelance Iraqi journalist and blogger previously based in Iraq. Jasim left the country in 2014 due to fears over threats in relation to his work.

Jasim is hoping that an end to the war with ISIS would “at least mean an end to the murder of journalists by the group” and that journalists “would not have to cover the clashes and put their lives at risk”. Although in the past few weeks, Iraqi forces have been making progress in the battle against ISIS, it remains unclear when the conflict will end, and to what extent the terrorist threat in Iraq will diminish. Most importantly, however, the threats, journalists and reporters face in Iraq, will not come to an end with the defeat of ISIS, as they are also at the mercy of armed militia groups.

The threat of militias

Renad Mansour, a researcher on Iraq previously affiliated with the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center, estimates the number of armed militias in Iraq between 60 and 70, comprising about 90,000 to 100,000 fighters. Government figures estimate the number of militia fighters at 140,000. Some of these militias are affiliated with political parties such as the Badr Organization, which has members elected to the parliament. Others have close ties to the government. The history of Iraq's militias dates back to the era of Saddam Hussein, where some were formed to counter his rule. Others like the prominent Sarayat al-Salaam (formerly the Mahdi Army) were formed with the purpose of opposing the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

Whether these militias are linked to the government or not, the impact on the work of journalists is the same, Jasim says: “the top of the pyramid in these militias and armed groups should not be touched.”

Militias “pose a threat to the lives of journalists and they narrow the space for freedom of expression in the country,” said Mustafa Saadoon, an Iraqi journalist and director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, in an email interview with Global Voices. He continued: 

You find Iraqi journalists trying their best not to address anything that could harm the interests of those armed groups or powerful people who were complacent in abusing any journalist covering them to reveal their [involvement] in corruption or human rights violations.

Today, these militias are considered “key to the fight” against ISIS, the fundamentalist militant group which in 2014 captured parts of Syrian and Iraqi territories including the city of Mosul. Yet they themselves have been accused of committing human rights violations, amounting to what Human Rights Watch described as “possible war crimes.” To take just one example, in 2016, members of two Shia armed groups abducted and killed “scores” of Sunni residents in a town in central Iraq, and demolished and looted civilian properties.

“As the war intensifies, and the number of armed groups and their influence in Iraq grows, the pressure on Iraqi journalists will increase,” Saadoon told Global Voices. “With more of these groups, there will be more rights violations and illegal practices from their part.”

As the conflict and violations continue, these armed militias will increasingly seek to silence any critics, including those journalists exposing their abusive practices and rights violations.

Afrah Shawqi is one journalist who came under target from armed groups. On 26 December, eight armed men in civilian clothes claiming to be members of the security forces kidnapped Shawqi from her home, and released her nine days later after. While she was in their custody, they interrogated her about her work as a journalist and her online publications. A day before her kidnapping, Shawqi published online an article critical of armed groups and the impunity with which they operate. She was also interrogated about a fake (i.e. fabricated) news article published on the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, about a surge in pregnancies outside marriage coinciding with a religious Shia event in the Iraqi city of Karbala. The fake news report may have just been a pretext to target Shawqi, as she stopped working for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat several months before its publication in November last year.

Impunity and lack of government action

Afrah Shawqi was unable to identify her kidnappers but said that they seemed to be “an unorganized armed group,” and despite the Iraqi government making pledges to hold those who kidnapped her to account, it appears unlikely that they will face justice. Impunity for crimes against journalists in Iraq is very high, with the country topping CPJ's list of journalists killed with complete impunity, with 110 unresolved cases since 1992.

The number of impunity cases is a concern for journalists and rights groups. Saadoon says the Iraqi government and the country's judicial institutions are not taking a stand in support of journalists who have been subjected to violations.

Ahmed Albasheer, presenter of the satirical talk show Albasheer Show, mocks a decision by the Iraqi Communication and Media Commission to suspend his program on Alsumaria TV. The program currently airs on DW Arabia and the Kurdistan based NRT Arabia.

Iraqi authorities are not only accused of failing to bring to justice those responsible for murdering or abusing journalists — they are also blamed of perpetrating their own attacks against the media. The JFO has documented several cases of security officers assaulting journalists. On 2 January, police violently dispersed journalists protesting in support of Afrah Shawqi while she was still held captive by her kidnappers. The police fired live bullets in the air and beat several journalists in the incident. In another case, on 14 February, a police officer in the city of Karbala pointed his gun at NRT TV journalist Haidar Hadi, insulted him, threatened him with murder, and prevented him from entering the local governor's building to cover a visit by the German ambassador.

The concerned government authorities “are not performing their proper duties” to ensure protection of media and freedoms, Jasim told Global Voices. He mentions as an example the Communication and Media Commission, established in 2003 by order of the Coalition Provisional Authority as an “independent and non-profit making administrative institution” to regulate the telecommunication and media industries in the country in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The commission, however, is rather “very active in going after TV programs,” says Jasim. In April 2016, it ordered the suspension of the news satire and talk show Albasheer show on Alsumaria TV for violating professional guidelines and for “its low language, and offensive suggestions to the public taste.”

Over the past few days, Iraqi forces have been making advances to take back control of Mosul, ISIS's last stronghold in the country. If they succeed in driving ISIS out of Iraq, journalists may breathe a sigh of relief. But the pressures and threats they face are not going to end anytime soon. On one hand they will still remain at risk of violations by armed militias that do not tolerate criticism or independent reporting on violence. On the other hand, they have to deal with abuses by security officers and the lack of government action to bring to justice those responsible for violating media and press freedoms.

by Afef Abrougui at April 10, 2017 10:09 AM

April 07, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Southeast Asian Leaders Use ‘Fake News’ to Justify Tighter Media Laws and Intimidate Their Critics

Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Several governments in Southeast Asia are invoking the fake news problem to introduce stricter laws and to harass members of the media.

Singapore: Defending ‘Community Values’

Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim announced to the Parliament a government plan to update the Broadcasting Act in order to address the rise of misinformation and “fake news” on the Internet.

When overseas content providers are directly targeting Singaporeans, we need to ensure that their content is in line with our community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony.

…if an entity reports news about Singapore regularly to inform Singaporeans on matters of public interest, we expect them to do so responsibly.

The minister didn’t provide details about the planned amendment but recent trends in legislation suggest that it could lead to the passage of a more restrictive law. In 2013, Singapore required major news websites to register with the government and pay a licensing fee. The licensing requirement law also empowered authorities to remove online content that destroys “social harmony”.

The minister's contention regarding the need to protect “community values” in dealing with fake news left activists at Wake Up Singapore worried that authorities might interpret this broadly and use it as a justification for censoring dissent and unpopular perspectives in the country. When it comes to more sensitive issues like homosexuality, the pledge raises the question of whether the government will cease to tolerate online content referencing romantic relationships between men. Indeed, the prime minister recently defended the country’s antiquated sodomy law since it supposedly promotes “society's values”.

Cambodia: ‘Shut it down, very simple. Expel them.’

After US President Donald Trump accused some media groups of reporting fake news and banned them from attending press conferences in the White House, Cambodian leaders used the same arguments to insult some media groups.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan wrote about it on Facebook:

Donald Trump’s ban of international media giants … sends a clear message that President Trump sees that news published by those media institutions does not reflect the real situation.

He identified Voice of Democracy, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia as media groups which report inaccurately about Cambodia. Asked about what the government will do if these media groups do not change their reporting, he gave a blunt reply: “Shut it down, very simple. Expel them.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for three decades already, echoed the sentiment of Trump and his spokesman in attacking the media:

We respect rights, but not the rights of anarchy, [rather] the rights of the rule of law. I hope our foreign friends understand this.

He added that “some just talk about rights but never talk about stability and peace.” He also repeated Trump’s description of some media entities as producers of fake news in what appeared to be an effort to downplay reports criticizing his government.

Philippines: Social Media Regulation

Like Trump and Hun Sen, some politicians in the Philippines are fending off criticisms by labeling certain media outlets as “fake news.”

Speaking at a side event at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operations Office described a report by the New York Times about President Rodrigo Duterte as fake news:

They only report the lies. We call that fake news. Like Richard Paddock of the New York Times.

It’s obvious that he wrote it just to throw negativity against the President.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed a bill mandating that social media companies verify the identity of users before registering them on their networks, so that they could more easily to prevent users from creating fake accounts and spreading fake news. The proposed Social Media Regulation Act of 2017 even identified certain social media companies that would be affected by the draft:

This proposed bill seeks to afford a remedial measure on the foregoing matters and will regulate these social media by mandating social media companies (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.) to reasonably verify the identity of user applicants before they are allowed to open an account. Penalties are also provided for failure to comply with this verification requirement.

Social media experts said the House Speaker is right to raise the issue of fake news and identity theft in social media but they reminded him that the measure is unnecessary and unenforceable. They also defended the rights of some users to remain anonymous when expressing their views.

Fact-checking websites against fake news

Meanwhile, some governments in Southeast Asia have launched fact-checking portals to counter the rise of fake news.

Malaysia unveiled, “an online tool that allows the public to share unconfirmed news items spread on social media, short messaging services and websites with relevant government agencies,” in an effort to help verify online sources and debunk false information. Sebenarnya is a Bahasa word for “actually”.

Malaysia is not alone in this. Since 2012, the Singapore government has been correcting wrong or inaccurate reports through its “Factually” website. Indonesia meanwhile has also announced that it will soon launch a new cyber agency to fight fake news.

by Mong Palatino at April 07, 2017 08:36 PM

As Protests Escalate, Web TV and News Sites Are Censored in Venezuela

Homepage for IPYS “Navegar con Libertad” (browse freely) portal.

On the morning of April 7, Venezuelan netizens reported that they were unable to access the web TV channel Vivoplay from inside the country. Others have since reported that VPITV and El Capitolio TV have also been inaccessible.

These and other web TV channels had been broadcasting protests in Caracas, which were organized by those opposing Nicolás Maduro's administration. The demonstrations unfolded last week after the country's Supreme Court dissolved the parliament and reassigned its functions to the executive branch and the Supreme Court itself.

Journalist and Global Voices author Luis Carlos Díaz posted the results of a traceroute test, indicating that the connection timed out and recommending users activate VPNs (virtual private networks) in order to connect.

Turn on your VPNs. It seems that website blocking on Venezuelan ISPs is back. This is from @VivoPlayNet's website.

Services like Vivoplay are popular among Venezuelans who have Internet access, particularly in times of unrest. Traditional outlets have been reluctant to cover protests since 2014, when the Telecommunications Commission threatened to fine them and shut them down for covering demonstrations, an act that  what the Commission characterized as “an incitement to violence.”

Without cable TV and without national channels informing, I resumed my account in @vivoplaynet. I'm surprised it's still cheaper than two liters of soda.

The local NGO VEsinfiltro [Venezuela unfiltered] later confirmed that not only Vivoplay, but two other online TV channels, including the streaming site used by the National Assembly to broadcast their sessions, are inaccessible due to domain name system (DNS) blocking.

Previous research by the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS), digital rights research group in Venezuela, has proven that local Internet service providers sometimes use DNS blocking, a technique through which domain name servers respond incorrectly to requests for a particular domain. When a website is blocked via DNS, the server will reply incorrectly or will deny the request when that website is called upon.

We confirm DNS blocking: @elcapitoliotv [ ] @VPITV [ ] and @vivoplaynet [ ]

The third channel that is now blocked, VPITV, had seen their streaming cut yesterday when the police arrested VPITV cameraman Elvis Flores, who was streaming live from the protests in Caracas. Flores was beaten while in police custody. He was released eight hours later and VPITV’s streaming resumed. While some of these site's broadcasts are still available via YouTube, there are also reports that the government is throttling Internet connections, making it difficult for Venezuelans to obtain multimedia coverage as events unfold in the country.

by Marianne Diaz at April 07, 2017 07:59 PM

News Website Cameraman Arrested While Broadcasting Protests in Venezuela

Elvis Flores. Image from the #FREEELVIS (#LIBERENaELVIS) campaign, promoted by VPITV.

Update: Elvis Flores was freed by midnight, April 6, 2017. He was held in custody for 9 hours and was reportedly beaten.

VPITV's cameraman Elvis Flores was freed this Thursday's midnight. He was beaten and was held illegally for 9 hours.

On the afternoon of April 6, 2017, Venezuelan authorities arrested Elvis Flores, the cameraman for online channel VPITV (Venezuelans for Information). VPITV had been broadcasting protests in Caracas, which were organized by those opposing Nicolás Maduro's administration.

The demonstrations unfolded last week after the country's Supreme Court dissolved the parliament and reassigned its functions to the executive branch and the Supreme Court itself.

#URGENT This is the moment when Elvis Flores, from @VPITV, was arrested by the PNB. We do not know his whereabouts. #April6

At the time of his arrest, police took Flores’ equipment and VPITV was subsequently forced to stop the broadcasts, which remain inaccessible at the time of this post's writing.

#Urgente The #PBN took our cameraman's equipment during his broadcast of the protest in #Caracas

The channel, which broadcast its coverage through platforms like YouTube and Periscope, which stopped covering scenes of protest several years ago to avoid potential financial sanctions and shutdown by the National Telecommunications Commission, which has previously stated that coverage of protests can be considered incitement to violence.

Almost 30,000 people were watching the @VPITV broadcast on YouTube when the PNB took the cameraman.

CONFIRMED: @VPITV cameraman is in Helicoide. They're accusing him of recording in a security zone. #CensorshipIsDictatorship #FreedomForElvis

In recent years, particularly in times of protest and crisis, Venezuelans have turned to social networks and broadcasts via streaming to obtain information outside of official channels, which are subject to increasing censorship.

Press conferences and statements from main political opposition parties are frequently broadcast through Periscope. On their part, the National Assembly – whose functions have been unknown to the executive branch – broadcasts its sessions through YouTube.

Despite the arrests of social network users and the deterioration of telecommunications, the Internet continues to be a battleground for Venezuela.

by Marianne Diaz at April 07, 2017 05:18 PM

In Venezuela, Activists Document Protests and Share Protection Tactics

“I'm finishing this April 6th sharing images and videos. [This day] will mark our lives” Photo: Luis Carlos Díaz. Used with permission.

Calls to protest have intensified in many Venezuelan cities following a short-lived move by Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice to nullify parliament and grant its legislative powers to itself and President Nicolás Maduro.

The ruling sparked demonstrations and international outcry, and the court soon reversed its decision, but this didn't stop opposition groups and other organizations that have accused the government of being dictatorial — since long before the court ruling — from continuing to mobilize.

Street protests in Venezuela in recent days have been marked by arrests and violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Citizen and alternative media and advocacy groups have also been reporting abuses by police. PROVEA, an NGO dedicated to the defense of human rights in the country, published a recap of the protests on April 4:

Además de detener, las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado también dedicaron su jornada a reprimir la protesta con bombas lacrimógenas, gas pimienta y perdigones, violando el derecho a la manifestación pacífica, la libertad y la integridad personal y poniendo en peligro el derecho a la vida.

A pesar de la grave situación en la que se encuentra el derecho a la información, debido a la hegemonía comunicacional del gobierno, la sociedad civil levantó su voz mediante las redes sociales en conjunto con los medios de comunicación alternativos,

Apart from arrests, state security forces have devoted their workday to repressing protests with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, violating the right to peaceful protest and personal freedom and integrity and jeopardizing the right to life.

Despite the serious situation of the right to information due to the government's communications hegemony, civil society raised their voice through social media together with alternative media outlets.

Demonstrations are ongoing and being documented online, particularly in the capital, Caracas, where supporters of the government and the opposition took to social media under the competing hashtags #VzlaTrancaContraElGolpe, (“Venezuela blocks the coup”, mainly used by the opposition),  #NoSeasCarnedeCañon (“Don't be cannon fodder”, used mainly by pro-government groups) and #6Abril (April 6):

They're repressing peaceful protests […] around Francisco Fajardo [avenue]. Photo taken by the PROVEA team.

The dictatorship of some won't tame the will of millions that are calling for change

Security strategies and protest documentation: Tips from the experts

In Venezuela, where censorship and limitations on free expression and internet access have become increasingly frequent, the use of citizen media has been key to organize, denounce and share accurate information about the protests.

Photo: Luis Carlos Díaz. Used with permission.

Acceso Libre (Open Access), a digital rights defense group, is collecting data and complaints about internet access problems:

If you're tweeting about internet problems this week, use the hashtag #internetVE and include provider + city + details of the problem

They also reminded followers of the reach of the government:

Once in the protest, remember that authorities can be monitoring communications in the area.

They distributed infographics created by Article19 Mexico, advising protesters on how to protect themselves during confrontations with the police:

Tweet: Tips on how to react when faced with police malpractice.

Image: Don't provoke. Document. Tone down your body language. When surrounded by police agents, keep calm and call your emergency contact. Identify yourself, have a dialogue. Cover your head and your chest. Try to move away.

And they explained effective ways to document abuses:

Tweet: Basic tips to document a social protest.

Image: Keep your distance. Identify yourself. Wear comfortable clothes, a helmet, gas masks, handkerchief. [Keep] extra batteries, charger, phone credit. Write down an emergency number.

The Red Venezolana de Periodismo Ciudadano (Venezuelan Network of Citizen Journalism) also shared advice:

Tweet: These are the students’ recommendations to participate in a protest.

Image: Use thick clothes. This will make it easier to protect yourself from possible beatings or rubber bullets. Take a face mask. They will be useful in case tear gas [is deployed]. Have an escape route. Before protesting keep an eye on a possible quick escape route in case of clashes. It's also useful to know places where you can take shelter. Just water is not enough [to clean tear gas from your eyes]. For tear gas, dilute with anti-acids (Maalox or milk of magnesia). Vinegar is an acid itself. If you use glasses, wear frames. Contact lenses tend to retain the chemicals and make the effect last.

Among these recommendations, some of the most shared were from journalist and Global Voices author Luis Carlos Díaz, who summarized best practices for documenting the protests and police abuse, such as accompanying images with the place, date, time and details of what they capture.

Recommendations to cover protests.

He underlined the importance of making and preserving complaints:

Human rights violations don't have a time limit and responsibilities are individual. Record for the future, when there will be democracy.

‘I ask myself when did fear become so strong, so invalidating. Unbearable.’

Some Venezuelans online are reflecting on the conflicts that have led the country into crisis, including how the discourse of political leaders and their supporters has taken the tension to new heights.

Said by Aristóbulo Istúriz: We'll defend our independence with blood if necessary. We'll defeat them.

Said by Diosdado Cabello: Every time they say they'll take the streets, we will also take the streets to defend the revolution.

Musicians and senior citizens were among those arrested. For some, like Willy McKey from the online news site Prodavinci, it was proof that the situation has reached a point of no return:

Han arrestado y golpeado a un músico. Han golpeado en la cara a un arquitecto de ochenta años […] Algo ha cambiado […] Algo grande […] Nos han traspuesto.

They have arrested and beaten a musician. They have hit an 80-year-old architect in the face. […] Something has changed […] Something big […] They've transposed us.

Meanwhile, Aglaia Berlutti recounted on publishing platform Medium how an almost-casual encounter with military officers patrolling the streets showed her how fear has become the norm:

El miedo. El miedo. El miedo en todas partes. Levanto la cabeza. Uno de los militares me mira con los ojos entrecerrados a la distancia. El arma apoyada en el muslo. El escudo de plexiglás bien visible.

Sigo caminando. Lo hago sin volverme a mirar. Preguntándome cuándo el miedo se hizo tan fuerte, invalidante. Insoportable. Cuando el miedo se volvió el único elemento reconocible en medio de esta cotidianidad absurda, lenta y turbia. Cuándo el miedo se hizo una forma de comprender al país.

Fear. Fear. Fear everywhere. I raise my head. One of the military officers squints when he looks at me from a distance. His weapon pressed against his thigh. The plexiglass shield very visible.

I keep walking. I walk without looking back. I ask myself when did fear become so strong, so invalidating. Unbearable. When did it become the only recognizable element in this absurd, slow, shady everyday life. When did it become a way to understand the country.

by Laura Vidal at April 07, 2017 05:07 PM

April 05, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Online Battles Break Out Amid Elections in Armenia and Ecuador

Stencil art in Wisconsin, US. Photo by David Drexel via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

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

Elections have become a time when Internet censorship, online harassment, and the deliberate spread of misinformation escalate. Last year, social media networks were blocked in Uganda and Montenegro during national elections. In the Gambia and Gabon, the Internet was shut down altogether.

Harassment of political candidates and activists alike was a hallmark of special parliamentary elections in Macedonia, presidential elections in the US, and last week’s chief executive elections in Hong Kong. As elections approach in Iran, hardliners are pressuring the Rouhani administration to block the Telegram messaging app. And the tide of harassment is rising in both Russia and France, as both nations prepare to choose their next leader.

Elections in Armenia and Ecuador last week proved to be no exception. The lead-up to general elections in Armenia was marred by apparent attempts to thwart the online activities of journalists and at least one incident of fake news. A prominent civil society figure reported attempts by government-backed hackers to access his email account, and several Armenian journalists said their accounts on Twitter were suspended just before the vote. Their accounts have since been restored.

Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections, which resulted in the victory of the current ruling Republican Party of Armenia, were generally well-administered, but still tainted by credible accusations of vote-buying and undue influence on civil servants and employees of private companies.

Meanwhile in Ecuador, opposition party candidates and supporters faced a wave of social media account suspensions, as did media rights NGOs. Pro-opposition websites and a handful of NGOs publishing voter education information noticed a sharp decline in web traffic on local ISPs on the evening of the election, leading to suspicions of interference. The website for the Internet access group Usuarios Digitales also experienced a DDoS attack a few days before the election, as did the website of opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso.

LiveJournal seals deal with Russia, bans ‘political solicitation’

After the blogging platform LiveJournal — which was acquired by the Russian company SUP Media in 2007 — moved its data servers from California to Russia. This means that the website’s data will now be fully accessible to Russian police, in accordance with Russia’s recently enacted “anti-terrorist” legislation. Along with other restrictions, an updated LiveJournal user agreement prohibits “political solicitation”, but does not define the meaning of the term.

Will Google go back to school in China?

Google Scholar may be the first Google service to return to China, according to a statement by senior Chinese lawmaker Liu Binjie. “China has been in touch with Google through various channels,” Binjie said, signaling hope that a part of Google’s business (which Binjie described as “service functions that do not involve [politically] sensitive information”) would return to China first, and be gradually followed by others. Google pulled its services from the Chinese market in 2010 due to a conflict over China’s strict censorship rules, but has expressed interest in returning to the market. Binjie’s remarks did not make clear whether censorship would be implemented in any of Google’s services.

Bangladesh regulator rejects Facebook bedtime ban

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission rejected a proposal to block Facebook between the hours of midnight to 6:00am, a measure proposed by lawmakers who argued that Facebook was “dimming the working capabilities of the youths” and should therefore be inaccessible during bedtime hours. The BTRC instead has suggested that parental controls and privacy and security features would be a better method to achieve this objective. The BTRC’s recommendation now leaves the final decision up to the government.

UAE intellectuals and activists face threats in court, and online

Prominent academic Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith was sentenced by a UAE court to 10 years in prison for “posting false information” on Twitter about UAE leaders “in order to harm the reputation and stature of the State.” According to Amnesty International, bin Ghaith made comments on Twitter that he had not been given a fair trial in an earlier case in which he and four others were prosecuted for “publicly insulting” the country’s leaders in online comments, in what is known as the “UAE Five” case. He may appeal the sentence within 30 days. Dr. bin Ghaith’s case follows that of Ahmed Mansoor, another member of the UAE Five, who was arrested the week prior.

Supporters of Mansoor who tweeted about his arrest were attacked for defending a “traitor that deserves to die”. Global Voices volunteers analyzed the interactions between supporters of Mansoor and those who attacked them and found that some of the most influential tweets critical of Mansoor came from accounts that appear to belong to government employees or affiliates, who led hardline government supporters in online attacks against Mansoor.

Spy stingrays spotted in Canada

An investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found that IMSI catchers, devices that spy on cellphones within a geographic area, are being used in the area around Ottawa’s Parliament Hill. Also known as Stingrays, IMSI catchers work by mimicking a cellphone tower and scooping up the data available within an area, typically of all devices within a radius of half a kilometer. Though CBC journalists confirmed that the IMSI catchers were being persistently used around Parliament, they were not able to determine who was using them.

Indian developers take on “fake news” on WhatsApp, Facebook

Two Indian technologists, Bal Krishn Birla and Shammas Oliyath, are working to build a website,, which will help to detect fake messages spread using WhatsApp and Facebook. The initiative aims to curb the spread of false and malicious information and to “make life easy for the common man and life trouble for spammers.”

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by Netizen Report Team at April 05, 2017 09:52 PM

Russian Lawmakers Want to Ban Kids From Social Media, Require ‘Real Name’ Registration

Image: Pixabay, edited by Kevin Rothrock

Newly proposed legislation in Russia would ban children under the age of 14 from creating accounts on social media and require adults to use their real names, verified with passport information, when registering with any social media platform.

This would mark a significant departure from current practice across the RuNet, and on Russia's most popular social media platform, VKontakte, where users are not required to register with their real names.

The Leningrad Oblast legislative assembly, which represents the greater St. Petersburg area, is reportedly planning to submit the legislation to Russia’s federal parliament, the Duma. As the law is currently written, violators would face administrative fines as high as 300,000 rubles ($5,350).

Though it’s unclear how officials would enforce the policy, particularly when it comes to foreign-owned social media platforms, the legislation is designed to apply to Russian citizens and foreigners living on Russian soil, according to the newspaper Izvestia.

The draft legislation would allow minors between the ages of 14 and 17 to register accounts on social networks, but it would restrict them from joining groups and communities that share content that cannot legally be distributed among children, including “occult-magical” subjects, information about “smoking mixtures,” and so-called “gay propaganda.”

The law also would double down on a pre-existing rule that bans Internet users from sharing information about “unsanctioned” public demonstrations, by explicitly criminalizing this type of sharing. And it would make it illegal to publish correspondence with another social media user without that individual’s consent, a measure perhaps inspired by recent political scandals involving leaked communications between public figures.

If passed, the law would take effect at the beginning of 2018.

Countries around the world — from Jordan to South Korea to Zambia — have implemented similar so-called “real name” registration requirements for both online platforms and mobile SIM cards, with varying degrees of efficacy. In all these cases, lawmakers have argued that the practice will help law enforcement better detect criminal activity online. But collecting this information also increases the abilities of government entities to monitor the activities of all Internet users, regardless of whether they've engaged in criminal activity. The storage of this type of data can also create challenges. South Korea rolled back the requirement after tens of millions of Internet users’ personal data was leaked in a massive hack of state-administrated servers in 2011.

“Nobody is trying to introduce censorship or restrict free speech,” Vladimir Petrov, a deputy in the Leningrad Oblast legislative assembly, told Izvestia. “Verification and strict control over the authenticity of [users’] names will only increase the value of virtual communication and one’s own opinions.”

“The less irresponsible anonymity, the better,” said Vitaly Milonov, a State Duma deputy infamous for pioneering anti-LGBT laws in Russia. “You can’t surrender this sphere to the pedophiles, terrorists, and criminals.”

Milonov told Izvestia that if the legislation is submitted to the Duma, it would have a good chance of being approved.

by Kevin Rothrock at April 05, 2017 04:54 PM

Two Years After Violent Raid, A Lebanese Town is Still Without Mobile Internet

A view of the northeastern town of Arsal located near the Syrian border, October 2016. (Nabil Hassan)

This article, originally written in Arabic by Elham Barjas, was first published on the site of Social Media Exchange (SMEX). Nadine Saliba translated it into English for the same website.

The residents of the Lebanese town of Arsal have been without access to the 3G and 4G mobile networks for over two years. This measure, taken for security reasons according to government officials, has placed a significant financial burden on the town’s residents.

In August 2014, fighters from al-Nusra Front (affiliated with al-Qaeda) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) raided Arsal and kidnapped 27 Lebanese soldiers and a member of the Lebanese security forces, holding them hostage in the hills of Arsal.

According to local civil society activists, 3G and 4G access was cut off by mobile telecom operators Alfa and touch after the raid, affecting the 160,000 residents of the northeastern border town, comprised of both locals and Syrian refugees. For the past two years, Arsal has been physically cordoned off from the rest of the country with checkpoints and heightened security measures. Being without mobile Internet has not only inconvenienced residents — it also left them with reduced access to emergency services and information when they need it most.

Khaled Rifai, president of a conglomerate of civil society organizations in Arsal, made inquiries “on behalf of the community” to the two telecommunications companies in 2016. He was told that “the decision was taken by the Lebanese state and is therefore not in [the telcos’] hands”. He then contacted the then telecommunications minister, Boutros Harb, who confirmed that the blocking of this service is a security decision taken by the army leadership targeting Syrians living in Arsal. Harb also asserted that the matter is “not in his hands” either.

Other individuals from the area have also called Alfa and touch to protest the shutdown and ask for an explanation. Activist Bassem Atrash questioned the two companies’ customer care representatives several times in 2015 and 2016, who said they were unaware of the issue. In an interview with SMEX, Atrash quoted one representative saying “Really? The internet is cut off in Arsal?”

He suspects that they feigned ignorance, in an effort to avoid having explaining why the networks remain inaccessible. Atrash also has observed that 3G and 4G services reconnect automatically as soon as he leaves Arsal to go to neighboring villages.

Despite the lack of information from the government and local telcos, it is conceivable that authorities are seeking to limit the abilities of violent extremist groups to communicate with one another. This tactic has been employed in various parts of the world, often in response to heightened security threats — such as insurgent attacks in Egypt's Sinai peninsula and the attack on Holey Artisan Bakery in Bangladesh last summer — and to the detriment of the local population.

Consequences of an Internet shutdown

Internet shutdowns are increasingly seen as a weapon of governments intent on stifling the access to information and media. Access Now, an international group dedicated to defending digital rights around the world, defines an internet shutdown as “an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.” During their worldwide #KeepItOn campaign against internet blackouts, SMEX warned that “in times of political unrest, an internet shutdown could lead to an increase in violence and acts of repression while making it nearly impossible to reach essential services and connect with loved ones.”

Indeed, Arsal has witnessed repeated clashes between the Lebanese army and extremist militant groups since 2014. This has left residents not only subject to acts of violence, but also unable to convey news to the outside world. The Crisis Group, an organization providing analysis of conflicts, has reported allegations of human rights abuse by security officers. Such reports become more difficult to corroborate and verify when those most affected don’t have the ability to easily communicate with others.

Shutdowns can also have negative economic consequences. An investigation conducted by Bahrain Watch in 2016 uncovered a pattern of internet disruption in the Bahraini village of Duraz, which the group suspects were tied to protests in the village of 20,000 people. The investigation revealed that ISPs were collecting overcharge fees amounting to nearly $279,000 per month from internet subscribers in Duraz alone.

“This is, of course, a conservative estimate of economic damages,” the report adds, “as it does not take into account further losses stemming from the shutdown, such as students unable to complete assignments, and businesses unable to process credit card payments.”

Fixed Internet connections are expensive

Since the raid, Arsal residents who want to get online have had only option: subscribe to IDM, the sole internet service provider (ISP) licensed by the state in the area. This means they cannot access the internet, except in their homes or workplaces, and have no access when moving around town.

It also means they are subject to increased costs. As Atrash notes, despite not having consistent service, “I still activate the service monthly because I visit these villages two or three times a week and I use it there.” IDM’s cheapest plan, offering 2M-10GB, costs $12/month, in addition to the installation fees. In contrast, mobile plans for 24 or 48 hours (giving access to instant messaging apps) are as cheap as $1, allowing hourly wage workers to communicate with their loved ones in case of an emergency. In northern Lebanon, where poverty rates are among the highest in the country, IDM services are simply too costly for many residents.

Unlike many people, Atrash can afford a monthly plan. He pays “50,000 Lebanese pounds monthly (about $33) for very weak internet service that sometimes cuts off for an hour or longer, especially during storms,” he says.

The shutdown is also disrupting other aspects of the lives of Arsal residents and activists. “Some people, especially students, have to go to neighboring towns to access the internet,” explained Tarek al-Hujeir. An exasperated Rifai, the conglomerate president, shared his frustrations too. “Sometimes I have to leave work and go to my house just to send an email.” Meanwhile, resident Mahmoud Fleiti observed that “people seem to have gotten used to this reality.”

Is this legal under Lebanese law?

The Lebanese state is taking these kinds of measures despite a United Nations Human Rights Committee resolution, adopted in July 2016, that calls for the promotion and protection of human rights online. Through the resolution, the Council condemns “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law, and calls upon all States to refrain from and cease such measures.”

Depriving people of access to the internet simply because of where they live is also a violation of the Lebanese constitution, which stipulates equality as a principle. The Preamble to the Constitution states that Lebanon is “based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.”

Despite the absence of a provision that explicitly guarantees the right of access to the internet, the Telecommunications Law 431 (2002), which regulates telecommunications services, provides that internet service is part of public telecommunications services. This law requires providers of these services to ensure their access by all citizens and residents in all regions. Access to the internet, as a public service, is enshrined by law. This calls into question the legal basis on which the Lebanese state can deprive an entire town of a basic public service in the digital age.

Without legal basis for the disruption of the lives of 160,000 people and in the absence of clear communication from government officials, residents are left vulnerable and further isolated in this remote border town.

Editor’s Note: SMEX contacted Lebanon’s two telecommunications companies and the office of Telecommunications Minister Jamal al-Jarrah for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

by Jessica Dheere at April 05, 2017 01:07 PM

April 04, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
After Moving Servers to Russia, LiveJournal Bans ‘Political Solicitation’

Image: Pixabay, edited by Kevin Rothrock

Last December, the blogging platform LiveJournal — purchased in 2007 by the Russian company SUP Media — finally relocated its data servers from California to Russia.

Calling attention to the shift, Anton Nossik (a former advisor to SUP Media) declared, “LJ’s servers have moved ‘closer’ not to its authors and readers, but to those who want to monitor them.”

This Tuesday, April 4, LiveJournal released an updated user agreement, revealing what steps it's taking to adjust to its new existence as a blogging platform in full compliance with Russia’s stifling Internet laws. In particular, users like Nossik have expressed concerns that the website’s data will now be fully accessible to Russian police snooping, in accordance with recently enacted “anti-terrorist” legislation.

No more “political solicitation”

One of the most chilling revisions in the new terms of service is Article 9.2.7, which forbids users from posting “political solicitation materials” without specific permission from LiveJournal.

Damir Gainutdinov, a lawyer specializing in Internet issues with the Agora Human Rights Association, told RuNet Echo that Russian federal law doesn’t actually use the term “political solicitation,” and regulates only “campaign agitation,” imposing administrative liability in just some cases.

“These [legal] procedures are absolutely not connected to the LiveJournal terms of service,” Gainutdinov explained.

LiveJournal published two versions of its user agreement: one in Russian and another in English, which begins with a disclaimer that reads, “This translation of the user agreement is not a legally binding document,” followed by a hyperlink to the “valid” Russian document. LiveJournal added no disclaimer to the Russian version.

According to Gainutdinov, this probably means the company is simply stating that the Russian text prevails over the English version, if any differences between the two are discovered. “This also means that all LiveJournal users, including people outside Russia, must follow the Russian text,” he said.

Frightening as it might seem to sign up for a blog and find yourself beholden to a Russian “legally binding, valid document,” the user agreement itself is just a generic contract that allows LiveJournal to suspend or delete your account, if you break the rules.

“The terms of service don’t establish any corpus delicti [concrete evidence of a crime] in terms of criminal procedures,” Gainutdinov said.

A wider crackdown

LiveJournal’s sudden turn on “political solicitation” follows a similar crackdown on political fundraising by the online wallet Yandex.Money, which abruptly suspended service this January to users pursuing “political aims,” less than two months after opposition leader Alexey Navalny began online fundraising through his campaign manager, Leonid Volkov.

Responding to criticism that the service was trying to handicap Navalny’s presidential campaign, Yandex.Money’s press service told the news site TJournal that it was simply protecting itself and its users from the potential risks of “legally ambiguous” activity.

Russia will hold its next presidential election in March 2018. Though he hasn’t yet announced his candidacy, incumbent Vladimir Putin is widely expected to seek and win a fourth term in office.

by Kevin Rothrock at April 04, 2017 08:28 PM

Indian Techies Work To Detect Fake WhatsApp And Facebook messages

Mozilla L10N Hackathon in Punjab, India. Photo by Subhashish Panigrahi via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Two Indian coders are building a website that helps detect fake messages shared widely on WhatsApp and Facebook. Known as, the site relies on both the research and investigation by the check4spam team along with volunteer users.

The group hopes to expand the portal's capabilities to provide certain services through technical tools. They describe the project as follows:

We verify any known posts with the below actions:

1. Contact the person/organization mentioned in the post
2. Do an extensive search (online and offline) to find any further fine information about the news

- How We Work,

India is seeing a rapid increase in Internet use, even among the elderly. Many of the new users do not yet know how to differentiate between authentic sources and fake or malicious ones. And there are threats of click bait, hoaxes or Trojan horse-style software built to steal information from the user’s device.

Bal Krishn Birla and Shammas Oliyath who created the website are two seasoned techies based in the Indian city of Bengaluru. With a vision of “unconditional Service for humanity” and a mission to “make life easy for the common man and life trouble for the spammers,” they have embarked on to educate people in India that fall victim to fake messages on social media, and help circulate those messages.

A typical certification. Image via Check4Spam Website.

They have set up a WhatsApp number in August 2016 for people to send in the messages for fact-checks. According to Shammas, they get as many as 100 messages a day for verification. Shammas reads the messages during his hour-long lunch break and starts researching the leads.

Check4Spam is a self-funded project. It gets some revenue from ads on the site which goes into its operation costs, including promotional posts on Facebook.

The currently supports messages that are text-only, image-only, and contains both text and image. They are also crowdsourcing spam message detection by asking people to report the spam messages that the users find out themselves. Currently the detected messages are categorized under internet rumours, accidents, jobs, medical, missing, government initiatives, and promotions.

The site gets half a million page views a month.

by Subhashish Panigrahi at April 04, 2017 06:06 PM

Ecuadorian Elections Marked by Website Outages, Twitter Suspensions

“The vote is secret.” Ecuadorians vote in presidential elections in 2013, at the Colegio Benalcázar. Photo by Fernanda LeMarie for the Cancillería del Ecuador, via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the days surrounding Ecuador’s closely contested April 2 primary election, online activists and digital rights groups witnessed a wave of social media account suspensions and technical attacks that they suspect were politically motivated.

This came as no surprise to those who have been expressing their views about the candidates online. Representatives from media rights NGOs including Fundamedios and Usuarios Digitales say their websites have suffered technical attacks over the past three months, which have typically followed the publication of election-related materials, such as guides on where and how to cast your vote and how to keep track of poll numbers as they come in. Along with pro-opposition websites, they saw a sharp decline in traffic on the evening of the election, over local ISPs.

Pressure began to rise on the afternoon of March 30, when the Twitter account of Usuarios Digitales (Digital Users), a Quito NGO that specializes in Internet access and other Internet-related policies, was suddenly put on notice by Twitter for a tweet that they published in July 2016:

#DigitalAlertEc the Twitter account for @usuariosdigital has been blocked for content related to the presidential candidate

Seen below, the offending tweet, published nine months before it was reported as abuse, violated neither Twitter’s rules nor Ecuador’s laws.

Translation: #DigitalAlertEC account of @SathBoss suspended for a tweet that contained tax-related information about @LeninMorenoPAIS

In a blogpost describing the incident, Usuarios Digitales wrote:

Esta situación altera el normal desenvolvimiento de nuestro trabajo y nos mantiene al margen de nuestra competencia de monitorear amenazas al libre ejercicio de los derechos en internet.

Nuestro trabajo lo hacemos con el fin de que autoridades e involucrados garanticen el libre ejercicio de los derechos en internet y que los sectores involucrados en la gobernanza en internet tengan un panorama completo de la situación para generar mejores políticas públicas desde un punto de protección de derechos humanos.

This situation affects the regular rhythm of our work and severely limits our ability to monitor threats against online rights.

We do our work in an effort to ensure that authorities and others in positions of power guarantee the free exercise of online rights and that the agencies involved in Internet governance have a complete understanding of the situation, in order to improve public policies in the interest of protecting human rights.

The next day, on March 31, Usuarios Digitales’ web servers underwent what they believe was a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. This took place shortly after they published a tweet reporting that website belonging to the party of leading opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso appeared to have been knocked offline.

On April 2, researchers at Usuarios Digitales monitored technical tests showing that on local ISPs including Movistar, CNT and Netlife, there was a network-wide disruption in traffic from 18:05 to 19:20. Following the disruption, researchers saw a sudden drop in traffic to websites known for their opposing views of Alianza PAIS candidate Lenin Moreno, while the website of the National Elections Center resumed normal activity. On VPN services, Claro and TvCable, the same websites were not affected.

The website for Usuarios Digitales has had multiple brief server failures since, including one that took place on April 3, while this story was being written:

Online attacks approaching the elections have also become routine for political activists on social media. For nearly a year, Twitter users expressing criticism of Lenin Moreno, a former Vice President of Ecuador and the candidate considered as victor in the general election — despite fraud accusations — have been met with account suspensions. Although many of these have been denounced on copyright grounds, users suspect they were filed with a political motive.

For many, Lenin Moreno in the presidency will be a continuation of power for the ruling party of current President Rafael Correa. A populist leftist leader lauded by many for reforming economic policies to benefit the poor, Correa has lost popularity in recent months due to corruption allegations.

Correa also has been criticized for weakening protections for freedom of expression in Ecuador and does not hesitate to speak ill of citizens (including state employees) who fall out of his favor. Numerous journalists, activists and satirists have experienced harassment after criticizing Correa and his policies.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at April 04, 2017 02:10 PM

April 03, 2017

Global Voices Advocacy
Criminal Case Against Indian Poet Provokes Controversy Over Speech Rights

Image from Flickr by Jennifer Moo. CC BY-ND 2.0

A poet in West Bengal, India has been charged with “deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings,” a criminal offense punishable by a minimum of three years in prison.

His crime? A poem alluding to State Assembly elections in India. Srijato Bandopadhyay's 12-line poem entitled ‘Abhishap’ or ‘Curse’ references the recent elections in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party swept opponents aside and elected Yogi Adityanath as the state's Chief Minister.

Yogi Adityanath, who is a Hindu priest, was a surprise appointee by the Bharatiya Party. The poem referenced the election and the ‘Trishul’, a trident said to be used by Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

The poem was posted on Facebook on World Poetry Day — but its verses were not welcomed by everyone.

A complaint was registered against the contemporary poet at the Siliguri Metropolitan Station for hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus. The Siliguri police pressed non-bailable charges against Srijato under Sections 295A (deliberate or malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 57 of Information Technology Act on Wednesday. They also reportedly contacted Facebook and asked the company to remove the poem.

Some spoke out in defence of freedom of speech, while others condemned the poet's writing:

The furore over the poem has also highlighted cleavages between followers of the country's two largest religions.

A Bengali blogger expressed support for both poets on Twitter:

Censored on Facebook, briefly

After much uproar, the poem was removed from Facebook on March 26:

It is unclear whether the US-based social media company removed the poem in response to a direct request from the Indian government, or simply due to users flagging the poem under Facebook's “Report Abuse” system. Facebook's internal “Community Standards,” which dictate the rules for participation in the network, do not explicitly prohibit this type of speech. However, the company does implement country-level censorship if it receives a legitimate court order proving that a specified piece of content stands in violation of the country's laws.

On March 27, the social networking site restored the poem and apologised for removing it.

Mandakranta Sen, another poet hailing from West Bengal, expressed public support on Facebook for Srijato Bandopadhyay and his poem. She reported to police that soon after, people on Facebook began sending her obscene messages and threats of gang rape. These messages stand in violation of Facebook's Community Standards, which explicitly prohibit harassment and threats of violence.

How free is free speech in India?

The right to freedom of speech is enshrined by India's Constitution, but not without limitations. And recent events have raised doubt over the extent to which this particular freedom is tolerated in the world's largest democracy by population in practice. This intolerance has been widespread, and multiple artists such as authors, comedians and filmmakers have found themselves on the wrong side of the issue.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression. The freedom of speech and expression means the right to express one's conviction and opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. This is one of six fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These fundamental rights however aren’t absolute. The Freedom of Speech and Expression cannot be extended to sedition, slander, defamation and obscenity since all citizens are equal before the law and have a right to seek legal help.

Artists have a right to publish their work and express their opinions — and so can those who feel offended by their work and ideas. Debate is a vital component of any democracy.

But when it comes to freedom of speech in India, cases like this suggest that the question of “how free” still is yet to be answered.

by Devika Sakhadeo at April 03, 2017 07:29 PM

A Brazilian Judge Demands a Blogger's Sources, Testing the Limits of Media Freedom

Eduardo Guimarães, from Blog da Cidadania, at the II National Conference of Progressive Bloggers — a network in Brazil known to be closely allied to the former Worker's Party government. Photo: Rogério Tomaz Jr./Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

A veteran leftist Brazilian blogger named Eduardo Guimarães has found himself embroiled in a legal case concerning his writings about the landmark Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) corruption scandal that involved dozens of politicians and tycoons.

Authorities confiscated Guimarães’ laptop and two phones and judge Sergio Moro, who is in charge of the Lava Jato investigation, ordered the disclosure of Guimarães’ telephone records, summoned him for questioning, and according to Guimarães, attempted to force the blogger to reveal his sources. The judge took these actions despite the fact that Brazil's constitution protects journalists from revealing the identity of their sources.

Moro later reversed his decision, but the action highlighted the weakness of the legal protection mechanisms of citizen journalists in Brazil.

The prosecutors in the ongoing Lava Jato investigation are currently working to stymie the efforts of a network of civil servants who are leaking confidential information on the probe to the press. They allege that Eduardo Guimarães is among those who have received confidential information.

In March 2016, Guimarães revealed on his blog that Brazil's former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also of the Worker's Party, would be summoned to testify by the Lava Jato investigators — which indeed happened a few weeks after the story's publication.

Guimarães’ blog, Blog da Cidadania (Blog of Citizenship), is well-known and aligned with the former government of the Worker's Party.

On March 21, Eduardo Guimarães was forcibly taken to testify by the Federal Police in São Paulo, following a court order issued by judge Moro. Guimarães said he was forced to give passwords of his phone and computer to the police agents, who stormed his house in the early hours of the morning, and also that he was questioned at the police headquarters without the presence of his lawyer. He added he was surprised by all this as, according to him, the police already knew who his source was.

Documents released by the Federal Police on March 23 showed that the investigators checked the social media profiles of the civil servants who had access to the files on Lula last year, and opted to pursue a court order for disclosure of the phone records of those with left-leaning posts and likes. According to the documents, this is how they found Guimarães’ source, before judge Moro ordered that his telephone records also be disclosed.

This triggered a wave of online protests in the country's blogosphere (including from right-wing bloggers) who denounced what looked like a flagrant violation of Brazil's Constitution that enshrines journalists’ rights to protect the identity of their sources. The federal prosecutors then issued an official statement in defense of the measure, saying that the constitutional protection wouldn't apply to Guimarães because his blog was a “platform to present personal opinion and political propaganda.”

The official note of the Federal Justice of Paraná states:

Não é necessário diploma para ser jornalista, mas também não é suficiente ter um blog para sê-lo. A proteção constitucional ao sigilo de fonte protege apenas quem exerce a profissão de jornalista, com ou sem diploma

Although a degree in journalism isn't requirement for being a journalist, having a blog isn't enough to be one. The constitutional protection to the confidentiality of sources applies only those who exercise the profession of journalist, with or without a degree.

The criticism only intensified after the note's release. The NGO Reporters Without Borders declared that it was worrying that one judge could dictate a definition of journalistic activity based merely on the content of the publication. The National Federation of Journalists and the Union of Journalists of São Paulo co-signed a note condemning the decision, which they consider to be inspired by the times of the military dictatorship.

Even Reinaldo Azevedo, who edits Brazil's most popular right-wing blog, defended Guimarães, pointing to the arrest of the blogger as a violation of the constitutional rules that protect journalistic activity. Many journalists and activists, from a wide ideological spectrum, also joined the critics on social media.

After the protests, judge Moro reversed his decision. On March 23, he issued a ruling requesting the exclusion from the investigation of all the information collected on Guimarães’ testimony, as well as from the sweep through his electronic equipment. The prosecutors also stated, in their defense, that the objective of the measure was not to identify the sources of the information published by Guimarães, which they already knew, but to collect additional evidence in relation to all of those involved in the leaks.

Who gets to be a journalist in Brazil?

The 1988 Constitution provides for the right of journalists to protect the identity of their sources. But it also lacks a legal definition of who can be considered a journalist.
The profession was previously regulated by the Press Law, edited in 1967 by the former military regime, which defined the journalistic profession as one exercised only by employees and frequent collaborators of communication companies registered with the government, who also had to have obtained a degree in journalism. But in 2009 the Supreme Court revoked that Law, ruling that it had an ‘anti-democratic inspiration’ and was incompatible with the new Constitutional order instituted in 1988.
Today — in Brazil and internationally — there is no clear legal definition of the profession of journalism. Neither degrees nor employment by traditional media outlets are criteria for its definition, and the lines are even more blurred with the widespread of alternative media outlets over the internet.

But the experience of Guimarães may indicate that Brazil's standards of press freedom are decreasing. In the Reporters Without Borders‘s annual report on media freedom, Brazil fell five positions in a worldwide ranking from 2015 to 2016, now occupying 104th place out of 180 countries. The concentration of media outlets in the hands of a few wealthy families and lack of a national mechanism for the protection of reporters are the main reasons for its current status.

by John Razen at April 03, 2017 04:41 PM

Pre-Vote Shenanigans — And Fake News — Cloud Armenia's General Election

Armenia's National Assembly. Wikimedia image creative commons.

The Republican party loyal to outgoing Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan looked set to score a win in polls held on April 2, but the vote was stymied by a series of alleged violations, apparent government attempts to thwart the online activities of journalists and activists, and at least one incident of fake news.

The election is important as far as constitutional changes passed in 2015 mean that Armenia's president will be elected by parliament, while the office of the prime minister has become the most powerful in the country. Election results had not yet been announced at the time of publication, but exit polls indicated a substantial lead by Sargsyan.

Sargsyan has said that the changes he lobbied for in the controversial referendum were not intended to benefit him, although some expect him to take up the premier's position if his party earns itself a majority in parliament.

Watching the vote intently was Russia, and a number of journalists based in the country and the broader Caucasus region flagged a fake news item spread by Twitter accounts that appeared bot-ish with a strong pro-Kremlin agenda.

The image distributed by the accounts was a purported USAID memo calling on civic groups to back the opposition. Washington's representatives in Armenia had earlier labeled the memo as a fake, but it began circulating once more on the eve of the vote.

Regardless of whether or not Moscow, which backs Sargsyan, was behind the disinformation, there is also plenty of evidence of local attempts to manipulate the vote.

One prominent civil society figure,  reported notifications from Google that government-backed hackers were attempting to hack his email account, while several leading journalists found their access to Twitter suspended just prior to the vote.

They later had their accounts restored following a concerted campaign by Armenian Twitter users.

In a round-up of these concerning reports, the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab produced an informative brief titled Fakes, Bots, and Blocking in Armenia. The piece concluded:

With a landmark vote imminent, Armenia’s online space is particularly vulnerable to manipulation and disinformation. The attempts identified so far have been small scale and of limited reach, but they illustrate the various ways in which online actors can attempt to manipulate the digital space.

Around a third of citizens in the South Caucasus republic of 3 million people live in poverty. In 2015, the capital Yerevan was rocked by protests over a utility hike that came to be christened as Electric Yerevan and revealed massive dissatisfaction over endemic corruption in the country.

by Akhal-Tech Collective at April 03, 2017 04:10 PM

April 01, 2017

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