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March 16, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
How a Viral Eye Roll Broke the Silence on China's Heavily Censored Web

Screen capture from CCTV.

For the past two weeks, China's National People's Congress (NPC) has worked to abolish the country's two-term limit for the presidency.

In conjunction with this move, Chinese internet censors have imposed strict measures to stop netizens from commenting on the sweeping change to the constitution and thus maintain harmony — at least at a superficial level.

But that forced silence was broken with virtual laughter after live camera footage at a congressional press conference caught reporter Liang Xiangyi rolling her eyes and making a face at another reporter, Zhang Huijun, who had posed a long-winded question concerning China’s One Belt One Road project. The conference aired on the Nation’s Central Television on March 13, 2018.

Later, a chatroom conversation between Liang and another colleague was leaked online. In it, Liang said she thought “the woman next to me was being an idiot.”

Almost immediately, clips and screen captures of Liang's skeptical facial expression went viral on social media and tens of thousands of users quickly followed Liang’s Weibo account, praising her for being spontaneous. Memes of rolling eyes spread like wildfire — until internet censorship authorities handed out notices banning discussions online of the eye roll.

What has been censored?

What actually has been censored? Here are some of the expressions on Weibo that fell afoul of internet authorities, as circulated by @Yorkson on Twitter:

“The darkness of night has given me dark eyeballs, but all I can do is to roll my eyes.”

“The whiteness of my eyes has the country collapsed and the whole world conquered.”

“Deprived of free speech, ancient people blink their eyes as secret codes. In the new era, we have the freedom to roll our eyes.”

“Everyone has rolled their eyes, but there are not enough cameras to capture all the rolling eyes.”

“White eyes look most pretty on a made-up face, the eyes expose a bunch of shamelessness that doesn’t have a face.”

All the above expressions showed discontent with the censorship of the incident. Since the news broke  concerning China's constitutional amendment on presidential term limits, all words and phrases related to the amendment have been censored online.

Since early March, propaganda authorities have been issuing instructions to make sure that no critical opinions are given space, in both conventional newspapers and on the internet during the “Two-Sessions” — the annual meetings of the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing.

As anticipated, the NPC passed the constitutional amendment that will pave the way for current President Xi Jinping to rule the country indefinitely. Everything looked harmonious during the Two-Sessions, until Liang's rolling eyes aired on CCTV on March 13.

An unverified report circulated by Apple Daily said that Liang's journalist license was suspended and she was banned from attending press conferences during Two-Sessions.

Despite her absence, the pair of eyes keep on rolling, at least online. @changhan327 praised the rolling eyes for unveiling a moment of truth:

The pair of rolling eyes is epic. It has triggered people’s laughter and ruined the sacred temple of carefully prepared and staged material. It is like a pin stabbing into the butt of the era, a rat running around in a banquet hall. This pair of rolling eyes will become an epic, while other self-designated epics are rotting away. The rolling eyes are like a bolt of lightening that destroys tens of thousands expressions of praise and outshines speeches made by hundreds of thousands of brain-dead people. History will praise it.

China’s overseas apparatus unveiled

The rolling eyes have done more than just inspire some laughs. In recent days, people have begun digging into the identity and background of Zhang Huijun, the reporter to whom Liang was reacting. Zhang presented herself as director of American Multimedia Television Station (AMTV) and enjoyed the rare 45-second question time aired by CCTV in the press conference.

It appears that Zhang has represented several foreign media outlets in the Two-Sessions since 2011. Netizens looking into the origins of the station have come to a conclusion that AMTV is very likely an overseas branch of China's publicity apparatus. A petition has been launched on the US White House petition website calling for further investigation into the news outlet:

We believe AMTV is most likely an unregistered agency of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China and secret branch of China Central Television (CCTV).
AMTV reporters cooperate with Chinese officials who would respond to their approved questions with propagandist materials while avoiding real questions from free media. Its programs convey the Chinese government’s lies and anti-American views to the Mandarin-speaking population on American soil.

Based on the Foreign Agents Registration Act, we ask to investigate its fund sources and cooperation with the CPC and shut it down if it is found to have violated the law.

In fact, AMTV’s current president is Jason Quin, whose LinkedIn profile says that he is the president of the Confucius Institute of Education — a Chinese government-funded initiative directly linked to its United Front Department.

Still, all terms related to the reporter's eye roll are still being censored online. But from now on, rolling one’s eyes will carry an extra layer of meaning among politically savvy journalists and netizens in China.

by Oiwan Lam at March 16, 2018 10:21 PM

Iranian Detainees Face Privacy Violations, Public Smear Campaigns

Tehran's Evin prison is notorious for housing prisoners detained unlawfully, interrogated, sometimes under torture. Image from Flickr: Sabzphoto, CC BY-SA 2.0.

A version of this post was written by Mahsa Alimardani for ARTICLE19 and republished here under a content partnership.

Imagine you’re about to board a flight home with your infant daughter when you are both seized and taken into custody by a group of Iran’s notorious revolutionary guards. They detain you without charge and place you in solitary confinement.

Overcome with fear, you want more than anything to be released and reunited with your family. You are willing to do anything that you think could help you in the short-term. Under pressure from authorities, you hand over the passwords to your email accounts.

Soon thereafter, your work contracts, financial documents and even family photos are used in a smear campaign against you.

This is the situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen and charity worker who was a project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation while living in London at the time of her arrest. She had traveled to Iran to visit family when she and her young daughter were detained in April 2016. Her daughter remains in the custody of her maternal grandparents, also in Iran, while her mother remains detained.

While issues of persecution and unjust prosecution are not new in Iran, there are new signs of violations of due process in how people are detained and prosecuted, and in how devices are seized and the right to privacy is violated.

Public concern on these issues has also mounted around the case of Canadian-Iranian environmentalist and academic Kavous Seyed-Emami, another dual citizen who was detained in January 2018, and who died in custody at Evin Prison on 9 February 2018.

As in the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Iran’s national broadcasters publicised personal information, emails, and photos confiscated by authorities from Seyed-Emami, to accuse him of being a foreign agent.

Public smear campaigns based on confiscated digital and physical documents such as those made against Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Seyed-Emami are rare. But confiscations of personal documents are not; and while they are not normally used for media purposes, they are often used by authorities to further prosecute detainees or prosecute other individuals. ARTICLE 19 previously documented this trend in its 2015 “Computer Crimes” report, whereby authorities used intimidation methods to extract information from detainees.

These cases bear witness to a judicial system that allows flagrant violations of its own laws, undertakes illegal interrogations that border on torture, and violates fundamental rights to privacy.

ARTICLE 19 has called on Iran to cease these measures, release prisoners such as Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and conduct a full investigation into the death of Seyed-Emami, and return the passport and ability for his wife, Maryam Mombeini, to leave Iran.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

On 7 December 2017 Press TV, an English language branch of the Iranian state broadcaster IRIB, released a documentary on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s alleged work encouraging “sedition” in Iran.

Aired on the eve of a new court case suddenly created to prosecute Zaghari-Ratcliffe a second time, this documentary in English and Persian appears to confirm that Iran’s security officials extracted invoices and contracts from her emails.

In the documentary, authorities misrepresented these as monthly salaries paid by the BBC in an effort to smear her. It had not been a secret by either Zaghari-Ratcliffe or the BBC that she used to work for the BBC World Service Trust (now BBC Media Action) in the capacity of a “training assistant” as a “junior and purely administrative” role on programs designed to train Iranian journalists from February 2009 to October 2010.  Photos showing Zaghari-Ratcliffe without a headscarf were spread to denounce her as an agent of the west in Iranian media before her court appearance. This false propaganda was created to block initiatives for her release and justify the violations she endured through her detention.

The following is an extract from the Press TV documentary narration:

Iran’s information apparatus was studying the Zaghari case before her arrest. […] A security organisation in Iran has given PressTV documents contrary to claims that she is just a mother in Iran. The said evidence shows she was a recruiter for BBC Persian service, targeting youngsters dissatisfied with the Iranian ruling body…

Image: Press TV images of documents that PressTV claim sto have acquired through security agencies.

Kavous Seyed-Emami

Kavous Seyed-Emami, a sociology professor and environmentalist at the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was arrested in January 2018 amid what Tehran’s prosecutor justified as arrests of people who had been gathering classified information under the guise of “scientific and environmental projects.” Seyed-Emami’s death on 9 February 2018 was one in a series of suspicious deaths of detainees in custody. Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi alleged with no proof that he committed suicide in a statement to ILNA news agency:

He was one of the defendants in a spying case and unfortunately he committed suicide in prison since he knew that many had made confessions against him and because of his own confessions.

According to the Seyed-Emami family and lawyers representing them, there has been no medical report to verify his cause of death. Authorities have denied the family an independent autopsy.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation (IRIB) aired a documentary based on evidence that appears to have been extracted from Seyed-Emami’s devices, online accounts, and physical raids of his family’s home, including private family photos and benign communications with friends and contacts.

One email between Seyed-Emami and a US friend was used in the documentary to conclude that Seyed-Emami had ties with US intelligence arms, with no supporting evidence.

Photo: IRIB’s 20:30 show airs a documentary smearing Seyed-Emami put forth a seemingly benign correspondence between him and a contact named “David” as evidence of Seyed-Emami’s role as a foreign spy.

Privacy, fair trials and legality of interrogations

These two cases underline deeply worrying trends for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Iran, in particular the presumption of innocence, the right to due process and a fair trial, and the right to privacy, as recognised under international human rights obligations.

The readiness of Iran’s judiciary and the IRIB to accept false narratives of “espionage” and evidence extracted from private communications and devices of detainees undermines the legality under which evidence is obtained and used.

Moreover, stipulations in both Iran’s Criminal Code and Computer Crimes Law on the rights of the prosecutor to access defendants’ personal data violate international standards on privacy.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iran, provides that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.” It further states that, “Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Iran’s Criminal Code provides powers for electronic accounts and data to be seized in Article 104, with a similar provision within Article 48 of the Computer Crimes Law. Although Article 103 of the Criminal Code states that only documents relating to the crime may be secured, this was clearly not the case for Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The prosecution accessed all of her private and personal data in pursuit of its vague, broad charges.

The illegal detainment and ill-treatment of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Seyed-Emami, and forcible extraction of their information via illegal interrogations further violate international law.

According to her family, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained without charge at the airport, taken to Kerman province, placed into solitary confinement and refused legal counsel when her accounts were seized and searched.

This contradicts Iran’s own protection of criminal procedures in the Penal Code under Article 12 and 13.  Furthermore, the case against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, built on long, gruelling interrogations, is also illegal under Iran’s Penal Code (Article 106) which stipulates that any confessions  “taken under coercion, force, torture, or mental or physical abuses, shall not be given any validity and weight and the court is obliged to interrogate the accused again.”

Iran’s legal procedures for accessing the devices and accounts of these two prisoners remain unclear. But evidence used in media narratives and adjudications against Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Seyed-Emami prove that the actions of Iran’s intelligence agencies, namely the revolutionary guards, have dictated these cases, as opposed to any criminal procedures, laws and regulations.

It is more important than ever that Iranian authorities acknowledge protections provided under national laws and the international obligations they are party to, and stop its blanket use of “national security” concerns to target individuals and assert power.



by Article 19 at March 16, 2018 04:07 PM

Netizen Report: Internet Censorship Bill Looms Large Over Egypt

Protesters outside the Egyptian Embassy in London, 2015. A Facebook user who posted the featured image of President El-Sisi with superimposed Mickey Mouse ears was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison that same year. Photo by Alisdare Hickson via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Egyptian parliamentarians will soon review a draft anti-cybercrime law that could codify internet censorship practices into national law.

While the Egyptian government is notorious for censoring websites and platforms on national security grounds, there are no laws in force that explicitly dictate what is and is not permissible in the realm of online censorship. But if the draft law is approved, that will soon change.

Article 7 of the anti-cybercrime law would give investigative authorities the right to “order the censorship of websites” whenever “evidence arises that a website broadcasting from inside or outside the state has published any phrases, photos or films, or any promotional material or the like which constitute a crime, as set forth in this law, and poses a threat to national security or compromises national security or the national economy.” Orders issued under Article 7 would need to be approved by a judge within 72 hours of being filed.

Article 31 of the law holds internet service providers responsible for enacting court-approved censorship orders. ISP personnel that fail to comply with orders can face criminal punishment, including steep fines (a minimum of 3 million Egyptian pounds, or 170,000 US dollars) and even imprisonment, if it is determined that their refusal to comply with censorship orders “results in damage to national security or the death of one or more persons.”

In an interview with independent Cairo-based media outlet Mada Masr, Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression legal director Hassan al-Azhari argued that this would be impossible to prove in practice.

The law also addresses issues of personal data privacy, fraud, hacking, and communications that authorities fear are “spreading terrorist and extremist ideologies.”

Writing for Access Now about the rising quantity of blocked websites in Egypt — which is now at 500, by popular count — Emna Sayadi points out that the law could contravene Egypt’s Constitution. She cites Article 57:

…the State undertakes to protect the right of citizens to use public means of communication in all its forms. It shall not ban, block or deprive citizens of such rights in an abusive manner and this shall be regulated by the law.

Ethiopian blogger arrested, held at undisclosed location

Authorities in Ethiopia arrested and detained Seyoum Teshome, author and publisher of the blog Ethiothinktank, on March 9. Teshome, who is a lecturer at Ambo University, had written critically about the government response to massive protests concerning land rights and other issues of public import. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Indonesian ISPs will block social media for Balinese Hindu new year

Officials in the Indonesian island of Bali have ordered internet service providers to block multiple online media and messaging platforms — including Facebook, YouTube, Netflix and WhatsApp — for the duration of Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu new year.

South Africans brace themselves for adoption of ‘internet censorship’ bill

On March 6, South Africa’s parliament approved a draft amendment to the country’s Films and Publications law, which extends the bill’s application to online space. Once in force, the amendment — colloquially known as the “internet censorship” bill — will allow the country’s Films and Publications Board to scrutinize and order censorship of online material, including user-generated content on social media platforms. The law will also re-classify online platforms like YouTube and Netflix as “content distributors” and require them to pay an annual fee.

Chinese feminist social media account suspended on International Women’s Day

The Feminist Voices account on Sina Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media platforms, received a notice on March 8 — International Women’s Day — saying it was suspended due to “irregularities”.

The account, which has more than 180,000 followers, had launched a campaign on March 6 asking users to post photos and a pledge to combat sexual harassment. Sina Weibo has told the account admin, Lu Pin, that it cannot be re-activated. She is appealing the decision.

Chinese authorities scramble to censor coverage of journalist rolling her eyes

After cameras caught reporter Liang Xiangyi rolling her eyes at a fellow reporter during a state press conference, footage of the interaction went viral on Chinese social media. In short order, Liang’s name was censored on Sina Weibo, and all state media houses received the following instructions from the government censor:

Urgent notice: all media personnel are prohibited from discussing the Two Sessions blue-clothed reporter incident on social media. Anything already posted must be deleted. Without exception, websites must not hype the episode.

Experts find more holes in India’s Aadhaar national ID system

A French cybersecurity researcher has been publicly reporting on vulnerabilities he has found in various websites that contain personal data from India’s national digital ID system, known as Aadhaar. This marks the latest in a long series of revelations about the system’s security flaws, which have led to massive leaks of sensitive citizen data. Public writing and advocacy about the flaws have also triggered condemnation from UIDAI, the government agency that administers Aadhaar.

Indian tech blog Medianama points out that this situation is a bit different, due in part to the fact that the researcher “is not under Indian jurisdiction and not intimidated by the typical tactics of the UIDAI in silencing reports of security issues.” UIDAI has nevertheless sought to discredit the researcher’s claims, mainly via Twitter.

WhatsApp promises not to share user data with Facebook outside EU data rules

On March 14, IP-based messaging service WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, signed an “undertaking” with UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, pledging not to share user data with any other “companies in the Facebook family” until it is able to do so in compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which will enter force in May 2018. Denham’s office had investigated the company after civil society groups and media cast doubt on the privacy implications of recent updates to WhatsApp’s Terms of Use.

UN Human Rights Council hears statement on internet speech of Palestinians

At the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Ramallah-based NGO 7amleh and the Association for Progressive Communications issued a statement concerning rising censorship of Palestinian voices online:

Recent years have witnessed a sharp rise in attacks on the right to free speech and privacy online for Palestinians. Digital rights violations are perpetrated at the hands of all three governments: the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the de-facto government of Hamas in Gaza. In addition, social media companies, whose policies have called into question their neutrality, are complying with Israel in censoring Palestinian voices.


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by Netizen Report Team at March 16, 2018 03:53 PM

March 14, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Is Censorship Coming Back to Tunisia? Court Order Bans ‘Blue Whale’ Online Game

The investigation of mysterious groups on VKontakte full of images of whales and butterflies that Novaya Gazeta claims drive teenagers to take their own lives has met with public criticism. Image from VKontakte.

A Tunisian court has ordered authorities to censor two online games that allegedly lead teenagers down a path to suicide. The issue has raised public concerns about self-harm — but also about arbitrary internet censorship.

The ruling calls on the Tunisian Internet Agency (known by its French acronym ATI) to block access to the Blue Whale Challenge and Mariam games, even though ATI has no legal mandate to block online content.

The Blue Whale Challenge is a decentralized online game where players are instructed to carry out specific tasks that include self-harm. After fifty days — in some documented cases — they are told to commit suicide. Mariam is a Saudi-developed horror-game that revolves around a lost girl, whom players help guide back home.

Apart from the fact that this would take ATI beyond the bounds of its legal mandate, the court order to “block” Blue Whale Challenge also fails to acknowledge the decentralized nature of the game. Blue Whale is not hosted on a single platform, but is instead orchestrated by various anonymous administrators interacting with players in private social media chat groups.

The game first came to prominence in Russia in mid-2016 after it allegedly resulted in cases of suicide and attempted suicide across a number of countries. Through a variety of legal measures, authorities in Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan have all attempted to reduce children's access to the game by shutting down VKontakte groups where the game is hosted, alongside other groups that are seen as promoting self-harm.

In 2017, when the game became popular in China, major social media platforms like Baidu and Sina Weibo began shutting down all the forum discussions with keywords like “Blue Whale” or “Blue Whale game”.

Tunisian authorities respond to public fear over Blue Whale

Only recently has the game risen to prominence in Tunisia. Last December, the National Agency for Computer Security (known by its French acronym ANSI) warned parents against the Blue Whale Challenge. While recalling that it cannot block any online content as it is not part of its mission, the agency advised parents to use parental control software, despite the limitations of this solution, given the game's decentralized nature.

In March, five Tunisian teenagers who are believed to have played Blue Whale committed suicide. Their parents, who found their children hanged in their rooms, say they died because of their addiction to these online games. Three others attempted suicide but were saved in extremis.

In February, the parents’ association of a local school and the delegate for child protection in the city of Sousse filed a lawsuit to order the Tunisian Internet Agency to block access to the two games.

In a verdict issued on 6 March 2018, the Court of First Instance (primary court) of Sousse ordered the ATI to block access to the two games, arguing that they represent a danger to youth in the country.

The implications of this decision, if upheld on appeal, would set a new precedent for internet censorship in Tunisia. If the final judgment is in the plaintiffs’ favor, it will obligate the agency to censor the two games. Even though this might be technically impossible in the case of Blue Whale, it would constitute a jurisprudence on which other requests for content censorship — that could be much more clearly detrimental to the public interest — could be based.

Echoes of the Ben Ali era?

The ATI was once known as the censorship body of the dictatorship of ousted president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Established in March 1996, the agency’s official mandate was to develop the internet in Tunisia beyond being the only gateway for international connectivity as an internet exchange point. But at the same time, and until the revolution, the ATI had orders from the presidency and government to control all online information, even though it had no legal mandate to censor content or spy on users.

After the public uprisings and consequent ousting of Ben Ali in January 2011, interim authorities ended internet censorship practices and the ATI adopted reforms to cut ties with its image as an internet censor by focusing only on the legal mandate it was first established to fulfill. Lawsuits like these would undermine such reforms, potentially sending ATI back to a position of censor.

And this month’s court decision is not the first attempt to bring back online censorship, in post-revolutionary Tunisia. In May 2011, a group of plaintiffs represented by three lawyers prosecuted the ATI to ban access to online pornographic content, also on the grounds of child protection.

ATI appealed the court decision, which they lost in August of the same year. But in February 2012 they won a second appeal and the Court of Cassation referred the case back to the Court of Appeal. In June 2013, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the agency.

In response to the recent court ruling on the games, ATI chief Jawher Ferjaoui reiterated his agency’s commitment to respecting users’ constitutional rights and internet freedom and pledged to appeal the verdict.

In an interview with Shems FM radio,* he said:

Although we do respect the court’s order and the parents’ demand, it is not our mission to censor the internet. Since the protection of the rights and freedoms is our top priority, we will challenge the censorship decision as soon as we receive the official order paper. We will explain why it is nonsense to ask for such a solution.

[Translation of audio by author]

Ferjaoui added that the ATI will soon offer a new parental control service called “Ammar Kids” which is an “at source” filtered internet connection. With this new service, parents will be able to subscribe to a filtered internet plan, rather than first subscribe to an internet plan and then buy the commercial software for parental control to be installed and activated.

Despite Tunisia’s progress in freedom of expression and internet freedom including its 2014 constitution that guarantees the right to access information and communication networks in article 32, it seems that the public is not uniformly convinced of the values that these rights uphold.

And while the content of the Blue Whale game is deeply disturbing, it is important for the public debate on this issue to acknowledge that online games are but one factor in trends of teen self-harm and suicide. There has been an alarming increase in the general suicide rate among young people in recent years. According to the ministry of health's report published in December 2017, there were 49 documented cases of suicide among those aged between 10 and 19 years old in 2016. These acts were attributed to violence, poverty, pressure and bullying in school.

Experts have also weighed in on the issue. On Facebook, journalist and activist H. El Mekki commented on the need for parents — no matter what is or isn't accessible online — to help their kids navigate the internet:

…to protect your children from Blue Whale, do the same thing you do to protect them for adult content and pedophilia, and violence or obscenity: watch what they are doing online, talk to them about what the see and hear online, install parental controls software in their phones….Just like the world, the internet has places that are not for kids and places that even adults should rather not go to. If you cannot protect your own children, no one is going to be able to so, not the judiciary, not the police and not the ATI.

Attempts to limit access to these two games may help keep some children from interacting with such material, but it will not wholly prevent Tunisian children and teens from inflicting self-harm. Parents and families will always have a vital role in helping their children navigate online content and their own emotional struggles.

What is certain is that the court decision, if upheld, would mark the return of arbitrary censorship in a country that was once a testing lab for filtering and surveillance technologies. For Tunisian users who experienced internet censorship before the revolution — and its dire consequences — the recent court order represents a step in the wrong direction.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Visit to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.

by Dhouha Ben Youssef at March 14, 2018 08:37 AM

March 12, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Prominent Chinese Feminist Social Media Account Shuttered on International Women’s Day

A photo posted by Lu Pin on her personal Weibo account. The sign reads: “Women’s day: Instead of giving me a discount, why don’t you fight sexual harassment with me?”

This post was written by Catherine Lai and originally published in Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on March 9, 2018. The version below is published on Global Voices as part of a partnership agreement.

A prominent Chinese feminist account was forcibly shut down on March 8, International Women’s Day.

The Feminist Voices account on Sina Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media platforms, received a notice saying it was suspended due to “irregularities” late on Thursday evening.

Prior to its suspension, Feminist Voices had more than 180,000 followers on the microblogging platform and was one of the most popular feminist advocacy platforms in China. It often posted articles related to feminism and rallied followers to support related causes. The account was also suspended on International Women’s Day last year, but administrators were later able to reactivate it.

The account’s founding editor Lu Pin told HKFP that their team called Sina Weibo on March 9, Friday morning to ask about the suspension:

They said it was because we distributed sensitive content that was in violation of regulations…But they didn’t tell us exactly which content it was… and they said they could not reactivate the account for us.

Lu added that they were appealing to Sina Weibo to get the account back online.

Feminist Voices had launched a campaign against sexual harassment on March 6. It asked users to post photos and a pledge to combat sexual harassment with the hashtag #March8againstharassment. The account had been reposting the responses in the run-up to the women’s day event.

It also posted content criticising corporate advertisements that it said were discriminatory, and hit out at the commercialisation of women’s day and sexist campus banners.

Lu explained the group's plan on Twitter:

Lu told HKFP she did not think the topic of feminism was particularly sensitive, but its large followership may have attracted Sina Weibo’s censors:

Our topic isn’t really related to the core of politics, but we have a big power to rally supporters… so that might be the problem, because a lot of people follow us.

Last year in February, the account was suspended when administrators posted a message about the advocacy of women’s strike, Day without a Woman, in the United States, but they were able to later reactivate the account, Lu said.

Prominent feminist activist Ye Haiyan posted her reaction to the account being blocked on Sina Weibo:

I think, the Chinese government does not understand feminism, does not understand what feminists are doing, and does not understand what they are advocating. But they are prejudiced against feminists, and have not truly communicated with them.

People have no way to know where the boundaries of speech are, and don’t know the standards that relevant departments use to block speech. That means, regarding the control of speech, the relevant departments do not have a very clear decree. They can only go by feeling right now.

It is unclear whether the ban on the account originated from the Chinese authorities or whether it was undertaken by censors at Sina Weibo.

Chinese authorities arrested five feminists in 2015 for their plans to commemorate International Women’s Day by handing out stickers to combat sexual harassment. Since the #MeToo movement launched last year, censors have deleted hundreds of social media posts featuring the hashtag #MeTooInChina and closed topic forums on the subject.

The Feminist Voices account remains blocked at this time. HKFP has reached out to Sina Weibo for comment.

On March 9, the user account shutter has been extended to the group's WeChat public account. WeChat is the most popular social media platform in China:

by Hong Kong Free Press at March 12, 2018 02:38 PM

March 08, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Sri Lanka Blocks Social Media Amid Sectarian Violence

Jami Ul Alfar Jummah mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo by Aksam Zarook via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission ordered telecom operators to block Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp on March 7, in reaction to sectarian violence.

In recent months, tensions have risen between Buddhists, who make up the majority of the population, and Muslims, who represent just ten percent of the population. Last Sunday, a Buddhist man died after a violent encounter with a group of Muslim men, over a traffic dispute in the central region of Kandy. The following day, residents reported that a mob of at least 200 people set fire to a local mosque and the homes of at least 15 Muslims. According to a provincial council member, dozens more homes and businesses have been vandalized.

On March 7, authorities imposed a ten-day “state of emergency” for the first time since 2011, when Sri Lanka was still freshly emerging from its civil war.

Regulators say the block will last for three days. An official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said that police had identified “anti-Muslim messages being shared on social networks, including a video posted by a hardline Buddhist monk urging violence against Muslims.”

Reacting to the measures in an analysis for Groundviews, an independent citizen media outlet based in the capital Colombo, journalist and social commentator Nalaka Gunawardene argued that this strategy was futile, and carried consequences for the entire population, leaving families unable to contact one another in a time of uncertainty and rising street violence. He wrote:

…this is more a case of public order than a matter of national security. Faced with a major breakdown in law and order, the government should have policed the streets properly, before trying to police the Internet.

Saudi reform activist sentenced to six years in prison

Saudi human rights and political reform activist Essa al-Nukhaifi was sentenced to six years in prison, primarily over tweets that criticized the Saudi military intervention in Yemen. After he is released from prison, al-Nukhaifi will face an additional six-year ban on social media use and a six-year travel ban.

In a recent letter written from his cell in Mecca General Penitentiary, where he has been detained for more than a year, al-Nukhaifi addressed Saudi Prince Bin Salman:

I have been delighted to hear your speeches and media interviews in which you call for freedom of expression and respect for human rights, which is what we are calling for and share your wish to achieve….I am writing to you about them from a place of detention, where I being detained because of calling for these things.

Al-Nukhaifi called for broad reforms to the Kingdom’s justice system, rule of law and mechanisms for political participation.

Nigerian media workers charged with cybercrime

A federal court in Abuja arraigned journalist brothers Timothy and Daniel Elombah of the independent Elombah news website on cybercrime and terrorism charges on March 1. The site covers Boko Haram and allegations of corruption in the upper tiers of government.

Chinese user accuses Apple tech support agent of stealing data, passwords

China Digital Times published allegations by a Weibo user who says their data was stolen by an Apple technical support employee. The report surfaced just days after Apple handed operations of its mainland China servers over to the Chinese government-owned company Guizhou Cloud Big Data.

According to the allegations, the employee accessed and tampered with multiple private online accounts belonging to the user. Apple subsequently claimed to have fired the employee, but could not offer further details on the safety of the user’s data or iCloud account, for confidentiality reasons. China Digital Times was not able to independently verify the allegations.

On Weibo, the user wrote: “They fired the employee so quickly, but still don’t even know how many people’s personal information and data was stolen and leaked. Apple users should all be wary!”

Has Iran been throttling Telegram?

At the height of this winter's protest movement in Iran, there was a temporary ban on the Telegram messaging app from December 30, 2017 to January 13, 2018. New technical evidence from the University of Tehran and the Open Observatory of Network Interference suggests that authorities were continuing to limit the application’s use after the ban was lifted.

Blocked Twitter users take Trump to court

A group of US citizens who have been blocked by US President Donald Trump on Twitter have filed a lawsuit accusing the president of violating free speech in a public forum. Represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the claimants argue that by blocking hundreds of citizens from publicly responding to his tweets, Trump is effectively restricting their first amendment rights. The case will confront thorny issues surrounding the treatment of online speech by public officials, and the adjudication of free speech on privately-owned internet platforms.

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by Netizen Report Team at March 08, 2018 08:44 PM

Evidence Says Iran Throttled Telegram Connections After January Protests

User reports and various data suggests even after the Iranian government removed censorship on the popular messaging and social media platform, they were still slowing down speeds. Image remixed by Mahsa Alimardani.

A version of this post was written by Mahsa Alimardani for ARTICLE19 and republished here under a content partnership.

At the height of this winter's protest movement in Iran, there was a temporary ban on the Telegram messaging app, alongside the other popular foreign social media platform, Instagram. This lasted from 30 December 2017 to 13 January 2018.

Although temporary, the ban had big implications in Iran, where the IP-based messaging app is immensely popular. Telegram dominates the messaging app market inside of Iran and is seen as the central (private and public) communication platform for Iranians.

Out of a total population of 80 million people, 50 million Iranians have Internet access, and among those users, 45 million are on Telegram. Telegram’s public channels boast a wide array of topics, both political and quotidian, some of which are opposition diaspora channels, which ordinarily would be censored on other platforms.

While the temporary ban was widely acknowledged, new evidence indicates that the government throttled or slowed connection speeds to the platform in the days after it lifted the block on the platform. This adds a new layer of concern to the issue of Iran’s attempts to control and tighten the net.

The ban on telegram — and indications of throttling — cast doubt on the discourse of opening up the internet that the administration of President Hassan Rouhani had promised to improve. One of the greatest achievements of the Rouhani administration in promoting Internet freedom has been their success at keeping platforms like Instagram and Telegram uncensored against efforts of the more conservative and hardline elements of leadership in the country. But efforts by the Rouhani administration to re-open platforms such as Twitter that have been blocked since 2009 seem more unlikely after the events surrounding Telegram.

The decision to block Telegram was a violation of due process and the rule of law, imposed by various security agencies within the country working outside the bounds of official law and associated protocols.

According to provisions of the Computer Crimes Law and the multi-agency body of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, multiple authorities should review and approve such decisions before they are acted upon. Statements by Minister of Information Communication and Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi later indicated the decisions were made by the Supreme National Security Council. The use of communication applications such as Telegram and Instagram should be always seen as tools that enhance the freedom of expression and access to information of Iranians, as enshrined in Article 19 of ICCPR.

Once the block on Telegram was removed on 13 January 2018, users reported slow connections over the application. Telegram founder and CEO Pavel Durov confirmed this to be the case on the platform in a 15 January 2018 tweet:

Data from the University of Tehran’s social lab demonstrated that the number of posts on Persian public channels and the number of views on these posts struggled to return to the same levels after the block was removed (the pink area is the period of blockage). Levels only returned to previous numbers around 20 January 2018.

Yellow represents the amount of posts, blue represents the amount of views on posts. The section in pink represents the period where blocking occurred from 31 December 2017 to 13 January 2018. The period following blocking appears to struggle to return to the levels of views and content shared on Persian Telegram channels. Previous decreases were caused by things like earthquakes. Data from the University of Tehran social labs and visualized by ARTICLE19.

Test results from the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), an initiative that uses remote probes to test for technical internet censorship around the world, showed a slow return on test times when they probed for censorship results from the Telegram app and web version within Iran.

OONI probes testing the Telegram app and Telegram web browser in Iran for blocks. The period after the block (the red dots that end when the censorship ended on 13 January 2018) shows slower connection speeds, correlating to statements by users, Telegram’s CEO Durov, and other user statistics. Graph produced by Arturo Filasto, the co-founder and lead software developer for OONI.

Telegram itself has released no data about activity in Iran since Durov’s 15 January 2018 statement, in keeping with its characteristic lack of transparency in documenting government interference with its platform.

The data from the University of Tehran and the OONI probes are not exact science. But when combined with anecdotal user reports, they give a strong indication that authorities were continuing to limit the application’s use after the ban was lifted, in further violation of internet access obligations that the Rouhani administration has pledged to meet, both at the national and international levels.

The government itself has made no official statements on whether or not it is throttling connections. Many users were still reporting that slow download speeds were posing hurdles to their business dealings. On 17 January 2018, Minister Jahromi tweeted that he was meeting with the Supreme Council for Cyberspace to coordinate their policy on digital economy, in the wake of the effects of filtering on businesses. Users started to question the Ministry’s role in the slow download speeds, but got no response from the typically vocal Minister.

Minister Jahromi on 17 January tweets: “After hearing from the Supreme Council of Cyberspace today, it was approved by the Ministry of Communications, with the formation of a working group consisting of the Minister for Economy, a deputy of the scientific community, with the presence of the National Cyberspace Center, will prepare within a month the document on the strategy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in developing the digital economy, and submit to the government for approval.” In response, one of Jahromi’s followers asked “Mr. Minister, is the Ministry of ICT deliberately slowing down the download speeds for pictures and films on Telegram?” Jahromi gave no response.

Given this evidence, it would behoove Iran’s Ministry of ICT, a institution part of the elected Rouhani administration, in place to represent the concerns of the Iranian people, to transparently document the means and extent at efforts to control online communication.

Furthermore, Telegram has not responded to how their infrastructure inside of the country was affected while the government implemented a ban on the platform. In July 2017, the company moved its Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) into Iran and began hosting public media on the platform's channel on servers inside of the country, in order to increase download speeds. Iranians would also be better served by Telegram if the company released any data bearing evidence of government disruptions or other types of interference in their service from January 15.

While Telegram is now accessible, both the government and the company should place mechanisms of accountability and process in place to ensure that access to information — regardless of politics or company policy — is a guarantee for Iranians, regardless of politics.

by Article 19 at March 08, 2018 09:07 AM

March 05, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Lantern Festival Riddles Outwit and Enrage Chinese Censorship Authorities

Dragon Lantern via Wikipedia. CC-BY 2.0


I love three things in this world.
Sun, Moon and You.
Sun for morning, Moon for night,
And you forever.

The above poem was circulated on one of my WeChat groups during the Lantern Festival on March 2, 2018, and was immediately viewed as a Lantern Riddle for people to decode. Everyone in the group knows that it is a mockery of the recent constitutional amendment proposal put forward by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarding the abolition of the two-term limit on the state’s presidency.

Of course, no one posts the answer, knowing that it would trigger the webcensor. They just give a thumbs up. This Lantern riddle is just one of the many examples of Chinese netizens’ recent attempts to circumvent censorship on the constitutional amendment. Here's how: The answer to the riddle is a new term — “Xi forever” (習到永遠) — which, ever since the constitutional amendment proposal was made public on February 25, 2018, replaces the common expression of “Forever and ever” (直到永遠).

The announcement was made on February 25. The Central Committee of the CCP suggested deleting a line from the country's constitution which states that the president and vice-president “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms”. The proposal would pave the way for Chinese President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely.

In order to stop people from commenting on and criticizing the abolition of two-term presidency limit, the Chinese webcensor has imposed a ridiculously long list of censored terms and expressions. China Digital Times has, thus far, recorded about 60 censored terms, which include the following:

  • The Emperor’s Dream (皇帝梦) — The title of a 1947 animated puppet film
  • Personality cult (个人崇拜) — Read more about the image-crafting campaign that has been steadily cultivated by state media over Xi’s first term
  • Long live (万岁) — Literally ‘ten thousand years’
  • Ascend the throne (登基)
  • Yuan Shikai (袁世凯) — Influential warlord during the late Qing Dynasty, Yuan became the first formal president of the newly established Republic of China in 1912. In 1915, he briefly re-established China as a Confucian monarchy
  • Hundred Days’ Reform (戊戌变法) — A failed Qing Dynasty reform movement by the Guangxu Emperor, quashed by a coup carried out by supporters of the Empress Dowager Cixi
  • Animal Farm (动物庄园)
  • For life system (终身制)
  • Emigrate (移民) — Following the news, Baidu searches for the word reportedly saw a massive spike
  • Shameless (不要脸)

Riddles have become a common way to avoid such traps. The lion's share of such clever wordplay is being circulated on chatrooms, although some netizens have dared to venture out to the public domain, using the most popular mainland Chinese question and answer platform, Zhihu, to outwit the webcensor. People believe that such courageous acts are what eventually led to a seven-day suspension of Zhihu’s app from all application stores.

According to the Cyberspace Administration's notice on March 2, 2018 (via China Digital Times):

Due to lax supervision and the spread of illegal information, the ‘Zhihu’ app is to be removed from app stores for seven days in accordance with relevant laws and regulations. Specifically, the suspension period begins at 15:00 today, and ends at 15:00 on March 9.

The notice did not specify what exactly the illegal information was, or why such a severe punishment was being imposed on a platform which had claimed loyalty to the CCP by setting up party branches in the company. Since the announcement was flagged as urgent during the Lantern Festival, some netizens pointed to one of the relevant question and answer threads:


Question: If the driver keeps going in spite of fatigue, without changing shifts, what should the passengers do?

This response, written with common expressions that appear in political propaganda, was the most “liked” of all the suggested answers:


Answer: In a crucial incident, we have to be determined and stick with the driver; this is a fundamental interest that has been proven through practice. The driver, without doubt, is the most capable person who is in control of the game. Position[ing] ourselves in the reality of anticipating the future, [the driver] would lead us to construct a safe and bright…

Though the link between the driver and Chinese president Xi Jinping is not a direct one, the majority of Chinese readers have managed to decode the riddle and have a good laugh about it. Of course, this sense of humor is not shared by the Cyberspace Administration.

In response to the suspension, Zhihu vowed that it would further strengthen its self-censorship measure. In fact, in the few days since the constitutional amendment proposal was announced, it has deleted more than 40,000 harmful bits of information and suspended 1,200 user accounts.

Nevertheless, the seven-day suspension notice indicates that even the self-censored loyalist has failed the expectations of the new era.

by Oiwan Lam at March 05, 2018 01:52 PM

March 02, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Here’s What We Learned from the Online Database of Vietnam’s Political Prisoners

Vietnamese Political Prisoner Database

Launched in January 2018, the Vietnamese Political Prisoner Database provides comprehensive and routinely updated information on the country’s political prisoners.

Built by 88 Project, a group that works to extend assistance to political prisoners and their families,  the website currently lists 113 activists who are in detention, 23 of whom are facing pre-trial investigation.

The website is updated each week, allowing researchers, journalists, policymakers, activists, and others who want to study or support the cause of the prisoners to regularly check on their statuses.

Unlike mainstream news reports, which typically mention the political affiliation of prisoners and not much else, the database includes the gender and ethnic profile of individuals. According to the database, Vietnam has 15 female political prisoners and 46 who belong to an ethnic minority group.

The site currently shows that 49 individuals are facing a prison term of more than 10 years, 33 are Christians, 43 were arrested in 2017, and 83 have cases related to promoting religious freedom.

In sum, this data supports a common sentiment, seen in news reports and on social media that persecution of dissenters increased in 2017, as did the proportion of harsh prison sentences handed out to writers and peaceful activists.

The database also confirmed the high number of individuals charged with the notorious article 88 of the criminal code or the crime of conducting “anti-state propaganda”.

The profile of detained individuals contains complete information about their activism, case history, situation inside the prison facility, and campaign activities pushing for their release.

For example, here’s the profile of Hoang Duc Binh who was arrested for livestreaming a demonstration about environmental protection in 2017. He was charged with violating article 330 or “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.” He was convicted last month and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Profile of Hoang Duc Binh. Vietnamese Political Prisoner Database

The profile also summarized the case of Hoang Binh:

Binh received one of the harshest prison terms for a known prisoner at this time. At trial, he affirmed that he made comments about police brutality during the livestream, but he also maintained that this was not a criminal act because it was the truth.

The database also sheds light on the impact of the incarceration of activists and writers on their families by providing information about the current situation of their families. Indeed, one of the objectives of setting up the database is to facilitate support for the families of political prisoners.

For example, we know from news reports that blogger Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh aka Me Nam (Mother Mushroom) is serving a 10-year prison term for writing about environmental pollution and human rights. But in the database we can learn about her family situation:

Quynh’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, is now caring for Quynh’s two young children. Lan has been followed and harassed by authorities since her daughter's arrest.

Profile of Me Nam (Mother Mushroom). Vietnamese Political Prisoner Database

The leaders of 88 Project have vowed that funds generated will not be used for political campaigns, but mainly to give assistance to families of political prisoners.

by Mong Palatino at March 02, 2018 01:58 PM

March 01, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Tunisian Court Refuses to Ban Online LGBTQ Radio Shams Rad
Gay Pride

LGBTQ pride celebration. Photo by lewishamdreamer via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world.

A primary court in Tunis has refused to ban the online radio station Shams Rad, which caters to the  lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, in response to a legal complaint.

The decision comes despite the fact that same-sex relationships are illegal in Tunisia.

In a lawsuit filed by a union representing imams (worship leaders at mosques), the group asked the court to request that the Tunisian Internet Agency block access to Shams Rad under the pretext that it threatens “social and family values.”

In its February 14 response, the court ruled that the radio station had not violated the rights of others or their reputations, and that the union did not have standing to make such demands.

When Shams Rad launched in December 2017, its founders received a huge volume of online harassment and threats of violence. As in a majority of Arab region countries, homesexuality is a crime in Tunisia, where it is punishable by up to three years in jail.

Pakistan’s High Court says mobile shutdowns are illegal. Will other countries follow suit?

In another judicial victory for free expression, the High Court in Pakistan ruled that mobile network shutdowns as carried out by the Pakistani government are illegal, and contrary to the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organization) Act.

The ruling raises the question of whether neighboring countries might someday follow their lead. In Bangladesh on February 12, authorities temporarily shut down mobile internet and throttled broadband speeds during nationwide school exams in an effort to curb attempts at cheating. It then changed course, instead imposing a mobile phone ban near exam halls.

Slovak web journalist shot dead reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were found dead on February 25 in their home, about 65 kilometers from the capital Bratislava. A police commander working on the case said that the killing was “most likely related to the investigative work of the journalist.” Kuciak had been working with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project on an investigation of the Ndrangheta mafia, which the organization describes as “one of the world’s most powerful and fearsome criminal groups.” The group also indicated that Kuciak is the first Slovak journalist ever assassinated in retaliation for his work.

Indian Facebook users arrested for mocking prime minister, Hindu gods

Two people were arrested in Uttar Pradesh, India, for allegedly making derogatory remarks made against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindu gods in a video posted on Facebook and WhatsApp. Authorities say they will be charged under India’s penal code for committing “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion and religious beliefs.”

Venezuelan man arrested for predicting a power outage via WhatsApp

The Venezuelan Intelligence Unit (SEBIN) arrested unionist and Communist Party of Venezuela member Elio Palacios on February 14, after he used WhatsApp to warn fellow residents of anticipated electricity blackouts. Palacios said the blackouts would likely be a result of negligence and lack of proper maintenance. This contradicts the government’s narrative that blackouts are the result of sabotage by opposition groups.

Turkey’s parliament to vote on digital media censorship measure

A parliamentary commission in Turkey has approved a bill that would require online broadcasters to be licensed and regulated by federal broadcast media regulator RTÜK. The bill may also extend RTÜK's regulation authority to personal social media accounts, raising concerns of political censorship among free speech advocates. The Committee to Protect Journalists has strongly condemned the bill.

São Paulo’s mayor is blocking his critics on Facebook. Is that okay?

Facebook users navigating to the official page of São Paulo’s city hall are being forced to mind their words or face being blocked. According to official government documents obtained by news outlet R7 via an Access to Information request, moderators for the page are actively banning certain terms and blocking users who criticize current Mayor João Dória. The page is a popular platform for dialogue between the city’s residents and its administration.

Covering the story for Global Voices, Taisa Sganzerla notes that “when a public official blocks users from commenting on their official pages, they effectively censor those users’ voices within a space for civic debate.”

Cuba censors local online magazine El Estornudo

Cuban authorities blocked the website El Estornudo (“The Sneeze”), adding it to a growing list of media outlets that are censored by state authorities. The site features critical essays on social issues and cultural change, and aims to tell stories of the “other Cuba” that is not part of the official story told by the government. In response, its editors wrote an open letter to “the Censor” saying that they would not change their editorial line, despite the block.

Spanish Instagrammer faces fine for re-mixing image of Jesus

A Spanish man was fined for superimposing an image of his face over Christ and circulating it on the internet, which prosecutors said showed “a disregard towards and mockery of” a local religious group, which brought the case against the 24-year-old. The decision led to a wave of indignation online, wherein numerous users posted similar images of their own faces superimposed onto that of Jesus. Supporters also raised money to pay for the fine, which the man says would have cost him 10 days’ worth of wages.

Minority Reporting: Predictive policing in China and the US

A new report by Human Rights Watch sheds light on the magnitude of China’s predictive policing surveillance infrastructure in the western Xinjiang region, where the population is largely comprises Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Using a combination of CCTV facial recognition technology, mobile phone surveillance software, national ID systems and physical surveillance, police now routinely aggregate and cross-reference data about citizens’ activities, movements, financial transactions and a host of other points as part of China’s “Strike Hard Campaign,” which claims to target violent activities and terrorism.

Meanwhile in the US, The Verge published new findings that the New Orleans police department used predictive policing software developed by Silicon Valley firm Palantir in order to track the identities and activities of gang members in the southern US city, without the knowledge of local city councillors.

According to the tech news site, the software “traced people’s ties to other gang members, outlined criminal histories, analyzed social media, and predicted the likelihood that individuals would commit violence or become a victim.” This information escaped the scrutiny of civilian government officials because the software was given to police as part of a “philanthropic” relationship between the department and the company.

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by Netizen Report Team at March 01, 2018 09:38 PM

February 28, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
São Paulo City Hall's Official Facebook Page is Blocking Users Who Criticise the Mayor

Mayor João Dória takes question from major media outlets, but not from all citizens. Photo by Jonas Pereira/Senado Federal via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Moderators for the official Facebook page of São Paulo's city hall are actively blocking users and banning words used to mock the current mayor João Dória, according to a new report by Ingrid Alfaya for local news site R7.

With 350k followers, the page is a popular communication channel between citizens of Brazil's largest city and its administration.

Drawing primarily on documents obtained by R7 via Brazil's access to information law, the report reveals the opaque moderation practices of the page, casting some light on the uncharted legal territory of how official digital accounts of public institutions are administrated when they are hosted by private platforms, such as Facebook.

There are currently 33 words blacklisted by the moderators. Any comment on the City Hall page that includes these words is deleted. Some people who used blacklisted words in their comments on the page report that they have been blocked from commenting on the page altogether. Documents obtained by R7 confirm that there are currently 80 users blocked from interacting with the page.

Among the banned terms are words that social media users have used to mock Dória, such as “prefake” (a wordplay with prefeito, which means mayor in Portuguese), “João Dollar” and “doriagray” (a reference to Oscar Wilde's famous narcissistic character). Comments containing “http” and “https” are also forbidden.

These rules are not explicitly stated in the page's code of conduct. The rules say that moderators will delete comments that promote illegal activities (“including harassment, fraud, libel, discrimination”), that contain “offensive comments, swearing with threatening tone or personal attacks”, “false, distorted or misleading information” and “partisan-political propaganda or favorable and contrary opinions to candidates and political parties”.

But they fail to specify which “offensive comments” are prohibited, or what would constitute false and misleading information. The code also does not say that users who violate the rules may be blocked, nor does it mention a blanket prohibition on all links, which the ban on “http” and “https” seems to imply.

Three Facebook users were quoted in Alfaya's story saying they had comments deleted for criticizing the Dória administration, and one of them was blocked by the page.

The Facebook page also states that it is non-partisan and represents the public interests of the city and its inhabitants. Yet the R7 report indicates that page administrators are not entirely willing to allow for open dialogue to take place between citizens and public officials when the dialogue includes public criticism.

Didn't This Happen With Donald Trump?

A similar situation unfolded last year after Donald Trump blocked several Twitter users from replying to his tweets or appearing in his Twitter feed. A group of these users sued Trump, arguing that his account amounts to a public forum in which he, as a government official, cannot bar people from participation.

The lawsuit argues that by blocking people from reading his tweets, or from viewing and replying to him, Mr. Trump violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

The lawsuit stated:

“The @realDonaldTrump account is a kind of digital town hall in which the president and his aides use the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public, and members of the public use the reply function to respond to the president and his aides and exchange views with one another”.

The lawsuit includes arguments that Mr. Trump was imposing an unconstitutional restriction on the plaintiffs’ ability to participate in a designated public forum, get access to statements the government had otherwise made available to the public and petition the government for “redress of grievances”.

Though this marked new territory for such interpretations of the First Amendment, it was not without precedent. In 2017, the US Supreme Court unanimously overturned a state-level ban (in North Carolina) on social media use by convicted sex offenders, on the grounds that the state law violated the First Amendment because social media had become “the modern-day public square”.

Nonetheless, many of legal arguments that ensued hinged upon whether Trump's personal Twitter account could be considered an official channel. The controversy with Mr. Dória, on the other hand, took place on the official page of City Hall — which would leave little leeway for such an argument.

It is unclear how the current Brazilian law could be applied in such a case, despite the country's 1988 Constitution having some robust provisions that enshrine a citizen's right to be informed. Those include the 2011 Access to Information Law, which, among other things, establishes the centrality of online communication by making it mandatory for public institutions to make information of collective or general interest available specifically on “official sites on the world wide web”.

Both cases also bring to the surface broader questions about whether private internet companies — i.e. Facebook and Twitter — should adhere to special obligations when it comes to the accounts of public officials. When a public official blocks users from commenting on their official pages, they effectively censor those users’ voices within a space for civic debate.

Thin-skinned Dória

This isn't the first time that Mr. Dória has punished social media users for being critical of him. Since the beginning of his term in January 2017, a team of lawyers has been privately demanding that users take down posts he deems offensive. These demands have typically been sent via Facebook Messenger.

A Messenger screenshot from May 2017 obtained by BuzzfeedNews Brazil shows how one lawyer, after introducing himself as a person “from João Dória's legal team”, asked a user to edit a post in which he suggested Dória would end up having eggs thrown at him, in retaliation for his public comments about a general strike that took place in April 2017. Out of fear, the user ended up editing the post as requested. João Dória nevertheless was hit by an actual egg a few months later, during an official trip.

Also in April 2017, the same lawyers won a legal challenge in which they demanded that Facebook reveal the identity of the owners of a Facebook page entitled “Leave the Left Free”, which organized a mock version of São Paulo's Virada Cultural street festival in front of João Dória's house. This was intended to spoof the actual Virada Cultural, São Paulo's largest yearly street festival, after Dória transferred most of the music stages to a racetrack on the outskirts of the city.

Dória's legal team told Buzzfeed that it represents the mayor in a personal capacity and has no links with São Paulo City Hall. But with Secretary of Justice Anderson Pomimi having only recently stepped down from working as an associate of the practice (he resigned in upon taking public office, but remains a shareholder), the line between private and public remains undeniably blurry.

by Taisa Sganzerla at February 28, 2018 03:33 PM

February 27, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Censored, But Not Backing Down: Cuban News Site Staff Say They Won't Change Their Editorial Line

“The Internet is shit! Let's see… whoever wants Internet, raise your hand.” Cartoon by Lázaro Saavedra, reproduced with permission.

El Esturnudo (“The Sneeze”), an independent narrative journalism site “written from inside and outside Cuba” is no longer accessible for internet users in Cuba.

The magazine, which includes critical essays and feature articles on social issues and cultural change, joins the ranks of media outlets in the country that are or have been temporarily censored by state authorities, in an ongoing effort to limit what information Cubans can access on the internet.

The move adds insult to injury in a country where internet connectivity is scarce, and the cost of using the internet is still prohibitively expensive for many citizens.

In an official response to the block, the editors of El Estornudo wrote an open letter addressed to “the Censor” that was republished by other local independent media outlets including Periodismo de Barrio and 14yMedio (a news site run by blogger Yoani Sánchezthat has also been blocked inside Cuba):

…el gobierno cubano ha decidido bloquear el acceso directo a la revista desde el territorio nacional, haciéndonos perder…[lectores] aquellos para los que El Estornudo probablemente cumplía una función más vital, ciudadanos que padecen la grisura informativa de los medios de propaganda del Estado y buscan con denuedo el relato verídico y honesto de un país que se asemeje al país en el que realmente viven y vivimos, gobernado hasta hoy con ineptitud y puño de hierro.

…the Cuban government decided to block access to our magazine from inside the territory, causing us to lose….[readers] for whom El Estornudo probably fulfilled a more vital function, for citizens who endure the mediocrity of the information provided by the State's propaganda, and want to take a closer look at a true narrative, one that reflects the country they actually live in, a country governed with ineptitude and an iron fist.

The letter goes on to say that the block will not change the editorial position of the magazine, “nor will it put El Estornudo into dialogue with political power in the terms that political power expects.”

No vamos a descender a esa forma conciliatoria y pusilánime del discurso en el que hacemos periodismo casi como si pidiéramos perdón, dando explicaciones gratuitas al represor en vez de exigírselas…

We are not going to descend to that conciliatory and pusillanimous form of discourse in which we do journalism as if we were asking for forgiveness, giving free explanations to the repressor instead of demanding them

El Estornudo is hosted in Australia and counts among its contributors Cubans on the island, along with Cubans who now live in the US, Spain and other countries.

In an interview with Revista7im, editor Abraham Jiménez says the magazine's aim is not only to make visible their critiques of the Cuban government, but to tell the stories of the “other Cuba” that that is not part of the official story.

Although it is difficult to determine the precise number of people in Cuba who regularly access the global internet, even the most optimistic estimates confirm that Cuba has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the Americas.

The challenges that Cubans confront in getting online or getting access to digital media has been a hot topic among tech savvy Cubans in the country and in the diaspora for some time. Local outlets including El Estornudo, Cachivache Media, and OnCuba all routinely publish news and informative essays about digital media literacy and informal networks of media exchange on the island.

While outlets like El Estornudo produce a full suite of content on their websites, editorial staff in-country typically use a range of distribution methods — including email (Cubans can maintain state-issued email accounts on the country's state-run intranet, which is freely accessible to all citizens), mobile messaging, local area (LAN) networks and pen drives circulated by hand. This is to say that while the site may not longer be accessible in Cuba, the stories and essays from El Estornudo will probably find some way to reach the site's most dedicated readers.

The letter to the Government Censor also expresses the importance of working not only for those reading about Cuba today, but those wanting to understand today's Cuba in the years to come:

En un país donde no pueden circular publicaciones impresas fuera de los márgenes del Estado, donde el acceso a Internet es sumamente limitado, y donde luego bloquean la dirección de tu medio de prensa para que ni siquiera a través de ese acceso limitado lleguen a leerte, hemos de recordar que esta revista también existe para que los cubanos puedan enterarse mañana de qué les sucedía hoy.

In a country where print publications cannot circulate outside the margins of the state, where internet is very limited, and where they block the URL to your outlet so people cannot even read you through that very limited access, we should remember that this magazine exists also for Cubans to find out tomorrow what was happening to them today.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at February 27, 2018 11:13 PM

February 25, 2018

Joi Ito
Reducing Reduction Essay Competition


Image by Nick Philip

In November 2017, I wrote with the help of some colleagues, "Reducing Reduction: A Manifesto". We received a number of interesting responses so the Journal of Design and Science decided to use it to create an issue on the theme of Reducing Reduction. MIT Press announced an essay competition for a publication from MIT Press.

Here are the details of the competition:

The MIT Press and the MIT Media Lab announce a call for essays on the topic of resisting reduction, broadly defined, for the Journal of Design and Science. Essays should be in conversation with Joi Ito's manifesto, "Resisting Reduction," and the articles, also on this theme, published in the third issue of JoDS.

In support of open access scholarship and the free exchange of ideas, JoDS will award up to ten authors $10,000 each for chosen essays. Selections will run in JoDS under a Creative Commons license and will be published in an MIT Press volume. Proceeds from the publication of this volume will support open access publishing at MIT.

This is an open competition and everyone is encouraged to submit a proposal.

The submission deadline for essay proposals of no longer than 300 words is 2 March 2018. Semi-finalists will be notified on 2 April 2018 and invited to submit essays of 3,000 to 5,000 words. All selections will be made by the JoDS editorial board and winners will be announced on 16 July 2018.

To submit a proposal, please complete this Google form.


  • Proposals should engage with and expand the conversation started by Joi Ito's manifesto, "Resisting Reduction" and issue 3 of JoDS, which comprises essays on this topic.

  • A proposal of no longer than 300 words that outlines a new perspective relating to resisting reduction.

  • Interdisciplinary essays are encouraged. Proposals can focus on topics in any field of inquiry and are not limited by discipline.

  • Essay proposals must be written in English.

  • Your name, email address, brief bio, and a working title are required.


2 March 2018: Proposal submission deadline (<300 words)

2 April 2018: Semi-finalists notified and invited to proceed to the next round

1 June 2018: Essay submission deadline for semi-finalists (3,000 to 5,000 words)

16 July 2018: Contest winners announced

August 2018: Essays published in JoDS

2019: MIT Press volume published

by Joi at February 25, 2018 03:27 PM

February 23, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Photoshopped Image of Christ Reveals Limits of Spain's Right to Free Expression

Image for which the youth from Jaén, Spain has to pay a fine, for “offending religious sentiments.” Photo published by and used with permission.

Daniel Serrano was ordered to pay a fine of 480 Euros for superimposing a photoshopped image of his face over that of Christ and circulating the resulting collage on the internet.

Almost a year ago, the 24-year-old shared the image on his Instagram account with the caption “Christ Disrobed.” The image of Christ came from a sculpture belonging to a group called the Hermanidad de la Amargura (brotherhood of bitterness) who use the sculpture during the Holy Week procession in the city of Jaén, Spain.

According to the town's daily newspaper, the brotherhood ordered Serrano to remove the photo from his account. He ignored the request, saying that he didn't consider the image offensive. The brotherhood decided to report the matter, and a local court agreed to hear the case

Prosecutors charged that Serrano had shown “a disregard towards and a mockery of the brotherhood,” adding that the photo was created with the “intention of offending the religious sentiments of its members.” They asked that Serrano pay a fine of 2160 Euros, or spend 180 days in prison if he was unable to pay.

Confronted with the possibility of jail, Serrano made a deal with the prosecution to plead guilty in return for a 480 Euro fine.

Serrano, who has a temporary job with an olive processing company, calculates that the fine constituted 10 days’ worth of pay.

The response from the Web

The judge's decision caused a wave of indignation and solidarity with Serrano online. Supporters created a crowd-funding support page and, in less than an hour, people had raised enough money to pay the fine.

Widespread exasperation at the decision caused a “Streisand effect”, contrary to what the brotherhood had been trying to achieve. Far from hiding the image, the case has now caused it to appear all over the internet.

Twitter was filled with memes of images of Christ and “Christ Disrobed” with a variety of different faces:

@amargura_jaen You have 480 Euros and a little embarrassment.

The Streisand effect on the photoshopped face of Christ: the web is rebelling against the young Spaniard's fine over his image #KallaLaBoca #OpFreeSpeech

— M. (@Ma_Madrid) 8 de febrero de 2018

#CristoFace the image of the embittered Christ isn't so embittered anymore. Now his name is Yisus B Boy and he's got moves!

— Athman M. Charles (@AthmanMCharles) 10 de febrero de 2018

One Twitter user, Carlos Vidal Ojea, has even created a web page where anyone can easily photoshop their face onto the image in question.

Joaquín Urias, ex-magistrate of the Constitutional Court of Spain, also joined forces with internet users reproducing the photo, to make clear his position on the right to freedom of expression:

Well, punishing a guy for photoshopping his face onto an image of Christ seems barbaric to me. I stand beside you. A big hello to the prosecutor's office!

— Joaquín Urias (@jpurias) 7 de febrero de 2018

Everything under the microscope

This is just the latest example of the attacks on freedom of expression in Spain in recent years. Due to a series of legal reforms passed in 2015, Article 525 of the Spanish Penal Code now imposes a sentence of eight to twelve months for:

“…offending the religious sentiments of members of a religious group, by public speaking, or by writing or through any kind of documents which have derisive remarks, about their dogmas, beliefs, rituals or ceremonies, or harass, also publicly, those who believe or practice.”

Drag Sethlas en la Gala Drag Queen 2017. Foto de, con licencia CC BY-SA

The vagueness of the law means that measuring the severity of the offence is a completely subjective process that depends of the judge's interpretation of the matter, which could vary substantially.

In an opinion piece for (the Spanish newspaper), criminal law professor Isabel Elbal explained that all of these supposed “crimes” were already punishable by the civil court, although they carried a lesser punishment.

Furthermore, while civil action can only be taken by people directly affected by the speech, the penal channel is open to any accuser. This combined with the previously mentioned lack of clarity in the law has lead to a wave of people and organisations representing extreme political or religious  groups bringing (mostly outlandish) complaints.

Such is the case of the lawsuit against Dani Mateo and Gran Wyoming, who were accused by the Asociación para la defensa del Valle de los Caídos – a monumental memorial constructed after the Spanish Civil War and home to the tomb of Spanish dictator Franco – of making fun of the enormous cross that sits at the top of the site. The case was later thrown out.

The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers also has brought some high-profile cases. A year ago it brought to trial the case of the artist Drag Sethlas, for the show which won him the Gala Drag Queen award at the Carnival of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, in 2017. The lawsuit was later thrown out by a judge.

Another case was brought against a group of people who carried a huge vagina through the streets of Seville, in what they called the procession of the “Blessed Rebellious Vagina,” a parody of the usual Holy Week parade featuring the Virgin Mary. They were not so lucky, and saw the case against them reopened after the Christian Lawyers fought an appeal against the dismissal of their case.

Cartel del Carnaval de A Coruña de 2017. Foto de con licencia CC BY-SA

One of the most bizarre cases of late came with a complaint filed by the president of the Widow's Association of the city Lugo, northwest Spain, against the City Counselor of Culture for the nearby city of La Coruña for using posters to advertise the city's carnival celebration, which depicted a puppet dressed up as the Pope. That case was also thrown out.

Although the majority of these cases did not result in criminal charges being brought, there are many others which ended with sanctions filed against the defendants. There is also the stress and expense by such cases, in which people are brought to court primarily for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, which is theoretically protected by the Spanish Constitution.

Joaquín Urías, professor of Constitutional Law, in his article ¡Menudo Cristo! ¿Qué hacemos con el delito de blasfemia? (That's Some Jesus! What do we do with the crime of Blasphemy?), believes that Spanish jurisprudence continues to be strongly linked to the principles and values of the Franco era:

La sobrevaloración del fenómeno religioso -especialmente católico- permite que todavía se utilice a menudo un parámetro religioso para decidir los límites de la libertad de expresión.

El derecho penal puede perseguir las ofensas contra quienes practican una religión. Pero no corresponde a los practicantes definir qué es lo ofensivo.

Over-valuing religious phenomena — especially when they're Catholic — means that religious parametres are still sometimes used to decide the limits of freedom of expression. Criminal law can be used to prosecute offenses against people who practice a religion. However, it is not their job to define what an offence is.

by Lourdes Sada at February 23, 2018 11:18 PM

Laughing in the Face of an Internet Shutdown In Bangladesh

Exam time has arrived in Bangladesh. Photo via pxhere (CC0).

Now is the season of school final exams in Bangladesh and the government is trying hard to cope with the issue of exam questions leaking online.

Leaking exam questions have become a regular phenomenon in public examinations like Junior School Certificate (JSC), Senior School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC), medical college and university admission tests, and state-owned bank recruitment exams over the last several years in Bangladesh.

Mostly using Facebook and WhatsApp, people sell exam questions ahead of the nationwide examinations. A few hours before the exam, the questions are often given away for free. The offenders in most of these cases have not been identified. These leaks have cast a shadow over the quality of exams and the process of assessing students.

In January, the Education Minister hinted that Facebook would be shut down during the exams to prevent these leaks.

On February 11, 2018, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission instructed all internet service providers in Bangladesh to shut off mobile internet and reduce broadband speeds to 25 kbps from 8:00am-10:30am on exam days throughout the remainder of February.

But on February 12, 2018 morning, within an hour from the start of the internet shutdown, the government backtracked and ordered ISPs to ensure uninterrupted internet service. It took some hours for the ISPs to implement the new order and things were normal again. The authorities have instead imposed a mobile phone ban near the exam halls.

Netizens criticized the move, using sarcasm and satire to express their dissatisfaction and protest the “rash and whimsical” decision.

Blogger Sabhanaz Rashid Diya tweeted:

Blogger and activist Imran H Sarkar thinks this seems like chopping your head off to cure the malady.

ইন্টারনেটের হাত-পা আছে, মাথা আছে। ইন্টারনেট দুর্নীতি করে। ইন্টারনেট প্রশ্নও ফাঁস করতে পারে! তাই বাংলাদেশে প্রশ্নফাঁস বন্ধ করতে ইন্টারনেট (প্রায়) বন্ধ রাখার সিদ্ধান্ত নেওয়া হয়েছে।
যারা এমন সিদ্ধান্ত নিতে পারেন তারা মাথা ব্যাথা হলে নিজেদের মাথাও কি কেটে ফেলবেন?

The internet has limbs and a head. The internet is corrupt. It can leak exam questions. So the internet was ordered shut down, as a measure to stop leaking exam questions. Those who can make such decisions – would they chop off their heads just because they had a headache?

Bangladesh is a riverine country. Each year the country faces floods which cause heavy damages. Stand-up comedian Naveed Mahbub wrote:

বর্ষাকালে বন্যা প্রতিরোধে ইন্টারনেট বন্ধ রাখা যেতে পারে…

We can shut down internet during rainy season to prevent flood…

Referencing recent news about defaulters on bank loans, Islam Raz wrote:

ঋণখেলাপী বন্ধের জন্য টাকামন্ত্রীর কাছ থেকে ব্যাংক বন্ধের নির্দেশনা আশা করছি।

I am expecting the Finance minister would instruct banks to close down in order to stop loan defaulters.

Hasnat Jamil opined that cancelling the exam would be the best solution:

প্রশ্ন ফাঁস ঠেকাতে ইন্টারনেট বন্ধ না করে,পরীক্ষা নেয়া বন্ধ করে দেয়া উচিৎ।
তাহলে আর প্রশ্ন ফাঁস নিয়ে দুশ্চিন্তা করতে হবেনা।

To stop the leaks, better to cancel the exam rather than shutting the internet down. Then you won't have to worry about leaks anymore.

Bad for the economy

This is not the first time Bangladeshis have faced an internet shutdown. In 2015 Bangladesh shut down the internet on security grounds and then blocked Facebook and a number of chat apps for 22 days. In addition to taking away peoples’ abilities to communicate and access important information online, these shutdowns had detrimental effects on the country's economy.

In the current scenario, many have spoken out about the fact that shutting down Internet — even for just two and a half hours for one day — has negative consequences for trade and commerce.

IT expert Fahim Masrur termed the decision as “foolish” and “suicidal” on his Facebook page:

ব্যবসা-বাণিজ্য আর অর্থনীতির উপর এটির বিরাট প্রতিক্রিয়া পড়তে বাধ্যI
১/ দেশে কয়েকশত আইটি আউটসোর্সিং প্রতিষ্ঠান কাজ করছে যাদের বিদেশে তাদের ক্লায়েন্টদের সাথে ২৪ ঘন্টা যোগাযোগ রাখতে হয়I এক ঘন্টা সময় বিচ্ছিন্ন থাকলেই ব্যবসা চলে যাবার সম্ভবনা! হাজার হাজার ফ্রিল্যান্সার দেশে কাজ করছে যাদের দরকার ২৪ ঘন্টা ইন্টারনেট কানেকশানI প্রতিদিন ২-৩ ঘন্টা ইন্টারনেট না থাকা মানে নিশ্চিত ভাবে ক্লায়েন্ট হারানো!
২/ দেশের সবচেয়ে বড় রপ্তানি খাত গার্মেন্ট শিল্প এখন ব্যাপকভাবে ইন্টারনেটের উপর নির্ভরশীল I প্রতি মুহূর্ত বায়ারদের সাথে যোগাযোগ রাখতে হয় I অনলাইনে বিডিং করতে হয়I সাপ্লায়ারদের কাছে প্রতিনিয়ত ইমেইল পাঠাতে হয়I সকাল বেলা এই যোগাযোগের ‘পিক টাইম'I ইন্টারনেট কিছু সময়ের জন্য না থাকা মানে ব্যবসার বিশাল ক্ষতি হওয়া I
৩/ বর্তমানে প্রতিদিন সকাল বেলা হাজার হাজার তরুণ Uber , pathao, Muv রাইড শেয়ারিং এপ ব্যবহার করে – কেউ রাইড নিতে, কেউ দিতে I সকাল বেলা (৮ টা থেকে ১০ টা) রাইড শেয়ারিং-এর পিক টাইম (দিনের অর্ধেক ইনকাম আসে এই সময় থেকে) I বিশাল ক্ষতির মুখে পড়বে এর সবাই I

This has a huge consequence for trade, commerce and the economy of the country:
1) Several hundred IT outsourcing companies are working in this country who have to maintain 24 hour communication with the clients across the world. Even a one-hour shutdown can cost a company to lose their business to competitors. There are hundreds of thousands of freelancers working in the country through internet. If they are deprived of Internet 2-3 hours each day they will lose their earnings and even clients.
2) The largest export earning sector is the ready-made garments sector which is dependent on Internet for constant communication with the buyers. They have to bid online and keep a constant communication with the supply chain. If in the morning, during their peak time of business, communication is cut-off they will lose millions of dollars.
3) Many people in this country are increasing using ride sharing (Uber, Pathao, Muv) and other e-commerce apps. The ride-sharing peak hours are in the morning when people go to the office. They will lose big sums of earnings everyday.

A commenter on Masrur's post echoed his comments with a real life example:

আজ রাত ১০ টার সময় নেট চলে যাওয়াতে আমার ২৬৫ ডলার লস। এক ক্লায়েন্টের সাথে ২৬৫ ডলারের একটা কাজ নিয়ে কথা বলছিলাম। হুট করে নেট চলে গেছে। পরে নেট আসার পর দেখি ক্লায়েন্ট অন্য একজনকে হায়ার করে ফেলেছে

The [February 12] internet shutdown has caused me a loss of US $265. I was bidding for a work contract for that amount with a client when the Internet went out. I contacted the client when Internet resumed and found that he had hired another person in the meantime.

Where is the solution?

According to a Transparency International of Bangladesh report, as many as 63 sets of questions for different public exams were leaked from 2012 to 2015. These question papers are being snapped by mobile phone cameras anywhere from printing press to the exam hall and are being shared instantly on various social media tools including Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat and regular email.

Some members of civil society have commented that methods like open book exams could be a different way to re-establish the quality and authority of state exams.

There have been comments that there are corrupt people within the Education Ministry and those who deal with the matter of question paper printing, safekeeping and distributing to the examination centres. Some have even called on the Education Minister to resign.

The police have on several occasions nabbed different offenders over the years. Earlier this month, the Education Ministry had announced a bounty of BDT 500,000 (US $6000) for information on question paper leak, to prevent such occurrence.

For now, with demand for exam questions increasing, the leaks continue. How the government will choose to combat the problem, short of an internet shutdown, remains to be seen.

by Rezwan at February 23, 2018 08:31 PM

Mexico's Electoral Authority Announces Collaboration with Facebook, Casting Doubt on its Credibility

Photo by Flickr user zeevveez. CC BY 2.0

In July 2018, Mexicans will elect a new president and all federal legislative offices will be renewed. At the local level, nine states will have elections to select a new governor. With more than 3400 public positions being contested, it is said to be the biggest election in the history of the country.

As the different offices and entities involved prepare for polling day, one key agency — the National Electoral Institute (INE) — has boasted about having a special ally in this election season: Facebook.

In the era of social networks and the rise of human interaction via the internet, it could make sense for the institution in charge of organising elections in Mexico to form an alliance with one of the internet's giants in content and advertising like Facebook. The Silicon Valley consultancy Pivotal Research estimates that Facebook and Google together took in half of global advertising revenues in 2017.

But according to the INE, the aim was something else, that has drawn even more attention. A joint agreement with the Silicon Valley company seeks to tackle the spread of what is known as  “fake news“.

In the context of the 2016 presidential elections in the US, Mexico's next-door neighbor, public opinion condemned the spread of so-called “fake news” through social networks like Facebook, something that many say benefited Donald Trump.

With the aim of avoiding similar results in Mexico, the INE announced its collaboration with Facebook as follows:

El INE y Facebook México firmaron un convenio con el fin de promover la participación ciudadana en las elecciones del próximo 1 de julio.

A través de esta colaboración, además, se busca contrarrestar noticias falsas.

The INE and Facebook Mexico signed an agreement with the aim of encouraging citizens to participate in the elections on 1 July 2018.

Through this collaboration, it also seeks to tackle fake news.

The announcement that was officially published by the INE was picked up by various media channels.

The website Plumas Atómicas elaborated on the statement from the INE, highlighting that:

…el INE informó a través de un comunicado que la participación de Facebook iniciará con la difusión de un material informativo dirigido a los usuarios de la red social que tiene la finalidad de facilitar la detección de fake news y así generar decisiones electorales mucho más informadas.

By means of a statement, the INE announced that Facebook's participation will begin with dissemination of informational materials to its users, in an effort to aid them in detecting fake news and thus producing much more informed electoral decisions.

The distribution of the reports left the public with two key questions: What would this collaboration entail? And how would it work in practice?

Of course, the document in which the agreement between the INE and Facebook was formalised could shed light on these questions. But when they were asked to share the document publicly, election organisers first denied this request for transparency: the INE said that the document signed with Facebook could not be disclosed due to a confidentiality clause in the document.

However, there are transparency laws in Mexico that order the release of any agreement or contract that government bodies sign with public or private entities. Because of this, after a few days and considerable social pressure, the INE published the document that it signed with Facebook Ireland Limited (a subsidiary of Facebook Inc.)

In fact, the document contains no reference to so-called “fake news”. It does include a series of ambiguous declarations in which the only entity bearing responsibility appears to be the INE.

With the text already published, some social media users helped to disclose the content of the document:

The secretive agreement between the INE and Facebook that El Universal published.

People following the issue have expressed surprise that the document in question (that has seven sections over a total of three pages) neither makes reference to the “fake news” issue, nor to the way in which it would supposedly tackle it, as had been announced by the INE.

Regarding this matter, Joel H. Santiago wrote an entire piece on the website La Silla Rota, in which he stressed:

El tema es que este convenio no dice nada de combatir las fake news, como afirmara Córdova Vianello [presidente del INE], y sí compromete con información proporcionada por el INE durante el proceso electoral y particularmente el día de las elecciones…

The issue is that this agreement does not say anything about tackling fake news, as Córdova Vianello [president of the INE] claimed, and yes, it commits to the INE providing information during the electoral process and the day of the elections in particular…

He then concluded with questions concerning the electoral body's performance:

¿Con pifias como esta van a llevar a cabo la organización y cuidado del proceso electoral 2018 en México?

With blunders like this are they going to proceed with the organisation and monitoring of the 2018 electoral process in Mexico?

What does the aforementioned document say?

The terms of cooperation between the INE and Facebook are described in the document as follows:

Durante el período de elecciones (del 30 de marzo al 1 de julio de 2018), Facebook tiene la intención (pero no la obligación) de hacer que algunos de sus productos de participación ciudadana estén disponibles en su plataforma para sus usuarios en México.

El día de las Elecciones, el Instituto proporcionará a Facebook información en tiempo real sobre los resultados de la votación.

During the election period (from 30 March to 1 July 2018), Facebook has the intention of (but not the obligation) making some of its civic participation products available for its users in Mexico.

On Election day, the Institute will provide real time information on Facebook regarding the voting results.

Some social media users thus began accusing the INE itself of creating “fake news” for having made false claims about the nature of its agreement with Facebook:

Well, it turns out that the INE ended by giving fake news, given that by disclosing its agreement with Facebook, we saw that it says NOTHING about tackling the #FakeNews that it had boasted about. They have lost credibility.

The user J. Cabrales Robles described the issue as a “failure” of the Mexican electoral authority:

#FakeNews an utter failure of the INE and the only thing it did was give our information, let's see whether their nonsense affects the elections.

For the moment, with the document signed between the INE and Facebook now public, it remains clear that the social media company has no formal obligation — nor has it shown any intention — to tackle the so-called “fake news” that so many people have been talking about over the past few days.

Let us remind ourselves that not far from Mexico, in Honduras, the Congress is debating a law that seeks to regulate the spread, also in connection with electoral matters, also in connection with non-transparent grounds.

by J. Tadeo at February 23, 2018 07:20 PM

One Country, Two Leaders and Four Censored TV Channels: Kenya's Political Crisis Takes a Toll on Human Rights

Encouragement on the streets of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya ahead of election. Photo by Pernille Baerendsten, used with permission.

Elections annulled. Media gagged. A citizen deported. These phrases are easy to find in today's headlines in Kenya.

The ceremonial “swearing-in” was meant to be a symbolic gesture by the main opposition party led by Raila Odinga. But it has triggered a series of events leading to a clampdown on media freedom and a threat to the right of citizenship in Kenya.

To understand what is happening in Kenya, one must begin with the contentious presidential elections of August 2017. After the results showed sitting president Uhuru Kenyatta winning by a slim margin, opposition candidate Raila Odinga challenged the results in court.

On 1 September, the Kenyan Supreme Court annulled the election of Uhuru Kenyatta, due to “irregularities and illegalities” in the system, making Kenya the first country in Africa to have a presidential vote annulled by a court ruling. The court subsequently called for a repeat election.

Some (but not all) Kenyans return to the polls

Raila Odinga did not participate in the re-run, and encouraged his supporters to do the same, arguing that systemic flaws that produced these irregularities had not been addressed, and that a free and fair election was therefore impossible. Repeat elections took place on 26 October and were marked by protests, multiple incidents of violence and destruction of property.

In the repeat election, Kenyatta garnered only 7.4 million votes from a voting population of 19.6 million. His win was upheld by the same Supreme Court.

Due to the dubious legitimacy of the repeat election, and the fact that Kenyatta did not earn the support of even half of eligible voters in Kenya, Odinga's National Super Alliance (NASA) party have since argued that the people of Kenya were denied their right to vote for him as their president.

This became the basis for symbolically swearing him in as the so-called “people’s president” , which was planned for 31 January of this year.

Odinga gets ‘sworn in’ and the media get shut down

Days before the oath ceremony that was set to take place in the country’s capital city Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta and other executive staff were reported to have summoned media managers and “threatened to shut their stations down and revoke their licenses” if they proceeded with the broadcast, which the government felt was a threat to national security.

All the major TV channels ignored this directive and went ahead with the live broadcast. What followed was the switching off of the transmission signals of four privately owned media outlets: NTV, KTN, Citizen TV, its sister station, Inooro TV.

Three journalists at NTV — Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu — told Reuters that security agency sources warned them they'd be arrested, and that plainclothes officers came to their office and hovered outside the entrance, threatening to arrest them if they tried to exit the building.

The Kenya Media Council condemned the network suspensions and muzzling of the press by the government, calling the situation “the greatest threat and assault on freedom of expression.”

On February 1, Kenya's High Court suspended the shutdown of the affected stations. The government defied the court order for a week, until it finally switched NTV and KTN News back on after seven days, and Citizen TV and Inooro TV after ten days, on 8 February.

‘Anything for them, going forward, will be fair game’

The clampdown on the TV stations’ transmission signals over an event that was largely viewed by Kenyans as symbolic (and not official), left many in shock.

The country is split down the middle on the issues in play. Some have voiced support for the move by the government, “so that it may be a lesson” to the opposition.

A cross-section of Kenyans did not see the shutdowns as an infringement on media freedom or their right to seek information, as many took the time to berate news organizations, arguing that they did not having the interests of Kenyans at heart:

Kenyan civil society, however, has condemned the government's actions as violating fundamental rights. The media shutdowns have been followed by intimidation and harassment of journalists, including the aforementioned NTV journalists, and staunch NASA supporters.

Kenyan lawyer deported

On 7 February, many woke up to the news of the arrest and deportation of Miguna Miguna, the barrister who oversaw the swearing-in of Odinga as Kenya’s “people’s president”. Miguna is a writer, solicitor, and firm supporter of NASA.

Miguna was deported to Canada on 7 February, in what many government authorities described as his “return home.” Miguna was born in Kenya, but also holds citizenship in Canada. He had run for Nairobi governor — and was cleared by the electoral body to do so — in the 2017 election, but he lost.

This recent turn of events has brought to the fore the question of citizenship. Many Kenyans are split on whether the government had a basis and legal right to deport a Kenyan citizen out of his country, though the constitution clearly protects the citizenship of any person born on Kenyan soil.

In a press statement released by, Miguna described the events that led to his deportation. The Ministry of Interior claims that he revoked his Kenyan citizenship, which he holds by birth, but Miguna said he had never done so.

Miguna subsequently filed suit against the government and on 15 February, Kenya's High Court ruled in his favor. Justice Kimaru said that Miguna's deportation “had no merit in law” and ordered authorities to relinquish his Kenyan passport within seven days.

Many Kenyans have expressed their anger at the latest government move in what is a clear violation of the human rights of a Kenyan citizen, whose only offense was to use his power as a barrister to legitimize Odinga's symbolic swearing-in.

The media clampdown, disregard for the Kenyan judicial system by the executive branch, and the illegal deportation of a Kenyan citizen despite a standing court order is going to have far-reaching implications for human rights in Kenya.

With the recent events, the illusion of an independent Kenyan media that is free from state interference has evaporated. The disregard for human rights continues to play out in the local and international media as Miguna Miguna continues to fight his extradition from Ontario, Canada.

by Njeri Wangari at February 23, 2018 06:18 PM

India's Investigation Agency ‘Defines’ Duties of a Journalist After Arresting Kashmiri Photojournalist Kamran Yousuf

Indian forces make a formation to stop the stones after protests erupted in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Image from Instagram by Ieshan Wani. Used with permission.

India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) — a counter-terrorism law enforcement agency — has outlined what Kashmiri journalists should report on in a court response that was issued after the arrest of 23-year-old Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf.

Yousuf worked as a freelance photojournalist for many local dailies including Greater Kashmir, the largest circulated daily in the valley, and MunsifTV, an English-language news channel. He was best known for his gutsy approach to covering the intensifying hostility between security forces and civilians in the Kashmir valley.

Despite campaigns from journalists and international human rights organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Yousuf has been in jail since September 2017. Indian officials accuse him of being part of an international terrorist group that plans to wage war against Indian security forces in the Kashmir valley. He was arrested in Kashmir's Pulwama district and flown into New Delhi.

In their statements in front of the court, officials claim that Yousuf is not a real journalist and go on to include a definition of the role of a journalist in their charge sheet:

Had he been a real journalist/stringer by profession, he may have performed one of the moral duty of a journalist which is to cover the activities and happening (good or bad) in his jurisdiction. He had never covered any developmental activity of any Government Department/Agency, any inauguration of Hospital, School Building, Road, Bridge, statement of a political party in power or any other social/developmental activity by the state government or Govt of India.

Notably, NIA's website has no mention of Kamran Yousuf, even in the ‘Arrested Person in custody of NIA’ list.

For decades, Kashmiri journalists have faced interrogation, threats, and intimidation. Some Kashmiri activists who publicly condemned the security forces’ high-handedness and use of pellet guns have been silenced with threats. Even international journalists who attempt to report on Kashmir have faced deportation and have been banned from entering India.

Yousuf's charges

Yousuf was imprisoned in September 2017 but was formally charged on January 18, 2018 with criminal conspiracy, sedition and attempting to wage war against India.

In its charge sheet, the NIA also points out that Yousuf's failed to report on the Indian army's civic accomplishments. In their charge sheet, they accuse Yousuf of harbouring ‘intentions to only cover activities which are anti-national and earn money against such footages’.

In an attempt to discredit Yousuf as a journalist, the NIA also points to Yousuf's lack of official media training from any institute; however, his lawyer Warisha Farasat claimed Yousuf had fulfilled all the criterions listed to be a journalist.

Meanwhile, Yousuf's family is distraught by the numerous charges that have been leveled against their son including being a stone-pelter. This charge, which the family vehemently denies, carries a heavy weight in the region. Many people associate both stone pelting and the subsequent retaliation from police forces with the greater socio-political conflict affecting Kashmir.

Yousuf's family and friends refute the government's allegations and say he was an earnest freelance photojournalist who simply wanted to carve a niche through his work. Kashmiri journalists have protested against NIA's arrest and its opaque investigations, citing charges have been fabricated against Yousuf for his work covering anti-governmental protests and militant activities.

Yousuf's supporters speak out to demand justice

After Yousuf's arrest, former employer Greater Kashmir disowned Yousuf and even refused to call him a journalist — a move that many felt came as the result of government pressure. The local journalism community was quick to criticise the move and jump to Yousuf's defense. Most notably, co-worker and freelance journalist Junaid Bhat wrote on Facebook:

I'm Junaid Bhat from Sopore, North Kashmir and I was affiliated with the Kashmir's leading newspaper Greater Kashmir. I was attached as a contributor for the said organisation, now after GK disowned my colleague Kamran Yousuf, I have decided to quit the organisation. So hereby I'm informing everyone that I will no longer be part of Greater Kashmir newspaper from now.

Others asked why other journalism associations haven't done more to protest Yousef's arrest. Associated Press photojournalist Altaf Qadri wrote on Facebook:

I feel ashamed to be part of a fraternity which only protests or raise their voice when a particular set of journalists are targeted. Kamran was targeted because his photographs from the South Kashmir from the spots of violence rattled the authorities. Because it challenged their narrative. Charges of stone pelting can be leveled against anyone, but it doesn't mean that he is guilty. This seems to be another way to control media. I honestly fail to understand why is Kashmir Editor's Guild, which came into being to address exactly the same issues faced by journalists, has not called for a protest or at least issued a statement. How about Kashmir Press Photographers Association? Or have we already accepted the charges leveled against Kamran? Today it is Kamran, tomorrow it could be YOU.

Muzammil Jalil wrote on Facebook:

We need to stand up for Kamran and if nothing more, we can at least demand to know what is the evidence against him. Taking pictures, shooting videos, being at the spot are all legitimate journalistic activities. That is no crime.

Yousuf's uncle Irshad Ahmad was quoted by as saying:

If it was the local police, we would have known whom to approach and how to deal with this. But this is the NIA, he is not even in Kashmir. Where do we go?

We would sometimes tell him not to work hard and cover every event given the situation in the valley, but he wanted to keep working. It was his passion […] he deserved to be appreciated and encouraged, not arrested and booked under false charges.

The Asia program coordinator of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Steven Butler said:

India's National Investigative Agency is way out of its league and has no business defining what ‘a real journalist’ should cover. […] Kamran Yousuf's work taking photographs of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir is a public service in the best spirit of journalism. He should be freed immediately.

Meanwhile, CPJ's Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said:

Indian authorities must stop trying to crush the independent press in the Jammu and Kashmir region. Authorities should immediately release Kamran Yousuf.

The Kashmir Editors’ Guild said:

The pathetic standards of journalism that NIA aims to thrust is not just childishly naive but also reflect a dangerous conspiracy to disempower the fourth estate. If [the] NIA does not understand the basics that separate PR [public relations] from journalism, it puts its own investigating capabilities into question.

by Vishal Manve at February 23, 2018 04:20 PM

February 22, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Mexican NGOs Push for Independent Investigation of Malware Attacks

Cartoon by Doaa Eladl via Flickr, Web We Want ( CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

The Mexican government has failed to investigate allegations that government agencies used surveillance software to infect the smartphones of journalists and human rights advocates in the country, according to an official statement from groups affected by the software.

In June 2017, a group of experts revealed evidence of 76 incidents of journalists and human rights defenders being targeted with a surveillance software product called Pegasus, which is manufactured by NSO Group, an Israeli firm. Pegasus allows the attacker to access and monitor the victim’s mobile phone communications and activities. These incidents were documented by Article 19, the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab and Mexico City-based NGOs R3D and SocialTIC.

After the New York Times reported on the findings, President Enrique Peña Nieto asked the Attorney General’s office to respond to the allegations. The groups say that since June 2017, authorities have not sought documentation concerning the use of the software, nor have they investigated its technical deployments or interviewed any government employee who was trained to use the software.

They are now calling for an independent investigation of the findings, arguing that the Attorney General’s office is unable to do this, due to evidence that it was the agency that purchased the malware to begin with. And while the Mexican government has not yet to carry out a thorough investigation on its own, it has asked the US government to assist in the process — a request the US officials have rebuffed.

This is the latest update in a series of revelations and investigations into the use of surveillance software in Mexico that date back to 2013. Policymakers advocating for stronger public health policies and experts investigating the disappearances of 43 students in Ayotzinapa also have been among those targeted.

Bahraini human rights leader sentenced to five years in prison over tweets

Nabeel Rajab, the outspoken leader of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was sentenced to five years in prison on February 21, over a series of tweets that prosecutors claimed were “insulting to national institutions” and “insulting to neighboring countries.” In the tweets, Rajab criticized Saudi Arabia’s position in Yemen’s civil war and also pointed to evidence of torture and ill treatment in Bahrain’s Jaw prison published by Human Rights Watch.

Malaysian cartoonist could face prison over PM clown painting

Malaysian cartoonist Fahmi Reza was prosecuted and found guilty of “uploading false communication” after he posted on Facebook a hand-painted cartoon of Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak wearing clown makeup. In a subsequent post about the case, he wrote:

“Painting the portrait of the PM with an evil clown make-up over his face was an at of protest against this corrupt government that uses the Sedition Act and other draconian laws to silence dissenting voices.”

He has been sentenced to one month in prison and a RM30,000 fine, as per Section 233 of the 1998 Multimedia and Communications Act. His lawyer intends to appeal the case.

Kashmiri digital photo journalist marks 150 days in detention

Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf has been behind bars for 150 days, after being arrested in September 2017. He was finally charged on January 18 with being associated with “funding of terror and anti-state activities in the Kashmir Valley.” His charge sheet also claims that he has not met the “moral duty of a journalist” for having neglected to cover any “social/developmental activity by the state government or Government of India.”

Yousuf rose to fame last year after his photos and videos of funeral processions and stone pelting battles went viral on social media, regularly receiving tens of thousands of views and shares. The Press Council of India has expressed concern about his detention. The Kashmir Editors Guild and the Committee to Protect Journalists have called for his release.

Macedonian citizen prosecuted for posting photos of on-duty police officers

Police in Macedonia pressed charges against a person who took photos of on-duty police officers during local elections and then posted them on Facebook. The photographer posted 30 photos, as part of an effort to demonstrate evidence of possible irregularities in the electoral process. The Basic Court of Gevgelija found the person guilty of “abuse of personal data” and issued a sentence of three months in prison. The person, who is unnamed, is appealing the decision.

Turkish journalists put behind bars, for life

Six Turkish journalists were issued lifetime prison sentences for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” on the same day Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel was released after spending a year behind bars without charges. Yucel was arrested on suspicion of “inciting the people to racial hatred and enmity” and “spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization.” His release came shortly after the Turkish Prime Minister’s visit to Germany. There are currently 155 journalists serving jail time in Turkey.

Spanish man faces prison for misogynistic tweets

On February 16, a 22-year-old man in Spain was sentenced to two and a half years in prison by the country's Supreme Court for publishing tweets in 2015 and 2016 that “incited hate against women.” One of the tweets that authorities singled out read, “And 2015 will end with 56 women murdered, it's not a good record but was all that could be done, let's see if in 2016 we can double that figure, thanks.” The man had previously been sentenced to two years imprisonment for those tweets and for others that authorities said “glorified terrorism.” On review, the Supreme Court absolved the terrorism-related conviction, saying the tweets were “generic,” but increased the punishment for the anti-women messages.

Venezuela is collecting more citizens’ data — and storing it for longer than ever

The National Telecommunications Commission of Venezuela has expanded the (already long) list of personal data necessary to access telephone services in the country. It also has lengthened the period of time that operators should retain the data, from three months after a contract expires to five years.

The new rule makes Venezuela one of the countries with the longest data retention periods in Latin America, alongside Colombia. In addition to an identity document, signature, fingerprint, and complete name and address, users must now also disclose their email address, be photographed, and have their fingerprint taken with a biometric device. The commission said telephone operators should digitize the data collected, but did not specify how it should be protected, only that operators and the state's security apparatus should define the conditions for proper storage and treatment.

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Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Marianne Diaz, L. Finch, Rohith Jyothish, Rezwan Islam, Inji Pennu, Karolle Rabarison, Elizabeth Rivera, Juke Carolina Rumuat and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at February 22, 2018 11:16 PM

February 21, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Tunisian Security Forces Target Journalists Covering Anti-Austerity Protests

Tunisian riot police in the capital Tunis on 6 February 2013. Photo by Amine Ghrabi (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Tunisian government’s overzealous security response to recent anti-austerity protests has put press freedom in jeopardy.

Throughout January, protesters across the country took to the streets to demonstrate against tax increases that are raising the prices on a wide range of goods and services, including phone and internet services and imported agricultural products.

The increases are the result of the 2018 budget law which introduces a 1 percentage point increase in the value-added tax and increases customs taxes. The budget also imposes new taxes such as a 1 percent social security tax on employees and companies, and a fee for every night spent at a hotel to be paid by residents.

Although most of the protests have been peaceful, some have turned violent, with acts of looting and vandalism. One protester was killed on 8 January, when a police car allegedly hit and ran over him. The government claims he died of suffocation after inhaling tear gas. Hundreds of protesters, including activists who were distributing leaflets demanding economic reforms, were arrested.

In this climate of social tension, where the role of independent media is key to dispelling misinformation and communicating the legitimate demands of protesters, the Tunisian authorities are harassing journalists and drawing criticism from rights groups. Press freedom advocacy groups including the Tunisian Journalists’ Union (SNJT), Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and the North African Correspondents Club have condemned the rise in attacks on journalists by police.

In its monthly report for January 2018, the Tunisian journalists’ union documented 18 cases of violations committed against journalists in the country over the course of the month. The violations, which included assaults, detentions and equipment confiscation, were mostly attempts by security forces to control the free flow of information by hindering the work of the media. The report found that together, security officers and members of security unions were responsible for 11 of the 18 violations documented.

Journalists questioned and put under surveillance

The union and other rights groups documented several cases of police detaining and questioning journalists in relation to their coverage of the protests. Shortly after the start of the unrest, Tunisian police questioned two French journalists, Michel Picard and Mathieu Galtier. Picard, a freelance journalist, was briefly detained on 14 January while covering President Beji Caid Essebsi’s visit to a working class neighborhood in the capital Tunis. Police asked him if he was working with other reporters, photographers or cameramen.

Galtier, a reporter for the French daily newspaper Libération was questioned for an hour by police officers on 11 January who asked him about the names of his sources in Tebourba, a town 30 km from the capital where the unrest turned violent and led to the death of one protester.

On 7 January, police detained Nadim Bou Amoud, a reporter for Tunis Review, seized his camera and smartphone and deleted from his devices all content related to that day’s protests. Two other journalists, Borhen Yahyaoui from radio Mosaique FM and Ahmed Rezgui from radio Shems FM, had their phones briefly confiscated by a police officer while they were covering a protest in Kasserine.

In addition to detentions, questioning and threats, journalists are also complaining of illegal surveillance practices. The union received several complaints from journalists about “the return of police surveillance of their homes, places of work and their movements.” These allegations have not been denied by the authorities. In fact, during a 29 January hearing at the parliament’s security and defense commission, interior minister Lotfi Brahem admitted to the wiretapping of the phone of Galtier, the Libération reporter, because he was allegedly in contact with “vandals.” On Twitter, the journalist denied this, saying he only talked to people on the ground in Tebourba.

Journalists take action, government responds in double-discourse

These multiple attacks on press freedom prompted Tunisian journalists to take to the streets in a “day of anger” on 2 February to protest what the union describes as a “systemic policy targeting journalists to subjugate and silence them,” and to hinder them from “communicating information, exposing the truth, and documenting the government's violations against citizens’ rights to peaceful protest.”

The union’s chief, Neji Bghouri, also addressed an open letter to President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and head of the parliament, calling on them to take concrete action to stop the escalating police violence against reporters, and to put an end to government policies that put at risk the democratic process. The syndicate also intends to complain to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression about the current situation and invite him to Tunisia to conduct an investigation.

In response, government officials reiterated commitments to press freedom and freedom of expression. Three days after the “day of anger,” President Essbesi received the union’s board members and renewed his commitment to the protection of freedom of information and journalists’ safety. But this rang hollow as Essbesi had described the press in Tunisia as being “too free” at a press conference several days prior.

In a meeting with the head of the union, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said that unhindered freedom of information is vitally important to the country’s democratic process, and that his government is committed to honouring its commitments to press freedom. The parliament’s security and defense commission jointly with the rights and freedoms commission will hear representatives of the journalists and security forces unions’ to collect their recommendations for a respectful work relation between police and the media.

Despite its reiterated commitments to press freedom, the Tunisian government's actions (and inaction) have helped to create the current situation. When the protests erupted, instead of addressing the root cause of public concern, a number of government officials chose to attack the media. President Essebsi has accused foreign media and journalists of “tarnishing the image of the country” in their coverage of the protests. The country’s foreign minister made a similar statement about foreign media’s “non-professional” coverage of the protests.  

In addition, the interior minister threatened to prosecute anyone who casts doubts [on social networks] on the security forces, and called for a legal framework to protect the security and armed forces from the ”physical threats they face,” but offered no resolution to the assaults and threats journalists are subjected to at the hands of security forces.

In fact, the interior ministry is pushing for a draft law “on the protection of the security forces” that would restrict press freedom, speech and assembly by criminalizing speech deemed “denigrating” towards the police.

Calls for jobs, social justice and freedoms were at the heart of the Tunisian uprising that toppled the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali more than seven years ago. While the country has achieved progress in terms of freedoms, in particular in the areas of free speech and press freedom, the economic situation remains so dire that nearly 1500 social protests were documented throughout the country in January 2018 alone.

A repressive security response that treats protesters as criminals and doubts the motivations behind their demands places journalists at a delicate situation where they are treated with suspicion and attacked and threatened as a result whenever they challenge the government’s narrative, shed light on security forces’ violations or give voice to those protesting.

by Afef Abrougui at February 21, 2018 10:18 PM

February 20, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Serbian Journalists Face Harassment for Investigating Spending by Defense Minister (And His ‘Aunt from Canada’)
Aleksandar Vulin

Caricature of Serbian Government Minister Aleksandar Vulin carrying a bag of money with an attached card “Love, Auntie ♥.” Photo by KRIK.RS, used with permission.

How many times must a hypothetical aunt of a government minister travel from Canada to Serbia in order to transfer 205,000 euros in cash?

Serbian law says that one can only enter the country with less than 10,000 euros in cash. Yet according to Serbian authorities, the answer to this seemingly simple mathematical problem is not  “at least 21 times”, but a very forceful nothing to see here!

Inquiring Serbian minds want to know, after years of controversy surrounding Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin, his 2012 purchase of a spacious 205,000 euros apartment in Belgrade, and his claim that the money came from his wife's aunt in Canada. By law, public officials in Serbia must account for all funds they receive while in office.

In September 2017, the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) — an independent Serbian media outlet — revealed that Minister Vulin didn't produce evidence of the source of 205,000 euros (over 242,000 US dollars). He first claimed that he got the money by selling other real estate properties (worth only 38,000 euros), but then backtracked and said that the money came from his wife's aunt.

According to Serbian law, a maximum of 10,000 euros in cash can be brought into the country without being declared at customs; anything over that amount is a crime. So, hypothetically, Vulin's generous aunt had to make more than 21 round-trips between Canada and Serbia to transfer those 205,000 euros. Thus far, there is no evidence of any such trips being made.

The Anti-Corruption Agency of the Republic of Serbia in fact confirmed that Vulin had not produced evidence of the source of the money, but the agency didn't disclose this information publicly until KRIK filed a request under Serbia's Freedom of Information Law. The Agency first denied the request, but then released it after the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance ordered it, acting upon KRIK's complaint.

Meanwhile, the Agency forwarded the results of its investigation to the Public Prosecutor's Office for Organized Crime, filing a criminal complaint because public officials must account for all funds they receive while in office. After two years of deliberation, the Public Prosecutor's Office dropped the case in August 2017, claiming that the act allegedly committed by Vulin falls outside of its jurisdiction. Two other prosecutor's offices also reviewed the case and dropped it too.

A caricature of the ‘saintly’ alleged aunt of Serbian Minister of Defence Aleksandar Vulin, by KRIK.RS. Used with permission.

On January 29, 2018, KRIK published a new report showing that three different state authorities — the Basic Prosecutor's Office, the Higher Prosecutor's Office, and the Prosecutor's Office for Organized Crime — had excused themselves from responsibility for investigating the case of the Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin.

First the Basic Prosecutors Office, then the Higher Prosecutors Office, and now the Prosecutors Office for Organized Crime conducted investigations without questioning either the minister or his aunt, who allegedly lent him a large sum of money to buy real estate. All three prosecutors concluded that Vulin didn't break the law when he filed an official report with inaccurate data declaring his property, which is a requirement of Serbia's transparency and accountability legislation. Instead, they rationalized it as “a possible mishap” or “imprecision” on the part of the minister.

Witch-hunt against journalists who are demanding accountability

From as far back as 2013, Aleksandar Vulin has served at several ministerial posts within the Serbian government. After the KRIK story came out, his party — the Movement of Socialists (part of a right-wing coalition led by the Serbian Progressive Party, a member of the European People's Party) — issued a communique intended to insult, defame and discredit journalists who had written about the accountability of public officials in the country.

In Serbia, such libelous articles do not beat around the bush; rather, they directly attack the dignity of the target. In this case, the target was KRIK editor Stevan Dojčinović. The Movement of Socialists published an announcement in September 2017 (widely shared by Serbian mainstream media) that portrayed as a sadomasochistic ‘junkie who hates Serbia’:

Čime se Dojčinović zaista bavi, osim što ponekad ima čudne sklonosti da visi po plafonima, probada bradavice iglama i samopovređuje se? Nije tajna da je Dojčinović plaćen iz inostranstva za svaki tekst kojim napada Vulina, a nije tajna ni da uzima narkotike. Ako hoće da nas demantuje, tražimo da izađe sa svim računima, a posebno da se podvrgne testu na droge. Odmah vam kažemo neće smeti. Narkomani obično neće. Ali, tako drogirani, rado svoje fantazije stave u tekstove…

What does Dojčinović actually do, except practice his curious habits of hanging from ceilings and piercing his nipples with needles to inflict bodily harm upon himself? It is not a secret that Dojčinović is paid from abroad for every text attacking Vulin, and it's not a secret that he uses narcotics. If he would like to issue a denial, we demand that he produces all his evidence first, and in particular, undergo a drug test. We can already tell you he won't dare do it. Junkies usually don't. And under the influence, they often put their fantasies into words…

The Movement of Socialists soon amended the announcement, which said that the journalist “immensely hates” everyone who, like Vulin, loves Serbia, and replaced it with another statement, more vulgar in tone, which repeated the allegations about drug abuse and concluded, “We sincerely hope that you cure yourself, but we know that that's impossible in your case.”

Dojčinović responded by filing libel lawsuit against the Movement of Socialists. The co-ruling political party denied they called him a junkie, saying they merely asked that such allegations be examined.

“We'll be happy if investigation proves that this young man hasn't used narcotics,” was their response.

Some media outlets which had published the original announcement subsequently removed their articles about it.

Alongside finding themselves as the target of defamation campaigns and threats, KRIK editors and reporters, along with other investigative journalists, have increasingly been subject to malicious libel lawsuits by politicians, draining their already limited resources. For instance, another government minister, Nenad Popović, filed four lawsuits against KRIK after it revealed that he was named in the leaked Paradise Papers.

‘Emotional reactions’ by politicians and citizens

When asked about the announcements made by her coalition partner, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic called them “an emotional reaction”, claiming that these “statements” are not those of Minister Vulin, but rather, announcements of a political party. She described the issue as a “clash” between a party and a media outlet, with no connection to the Government of Serbia. She did not acknowledge the direct connection between the party and Vulin, or the fact that the president of that party is a member of her government.

The prime minister added that she too had “an emotional reaction” to that media outlet, but she focused instead on producing statements that would be “tolerant and balanced”. Zora Drcelic, a journalist at Vreme, a weekly news magazine, commented that the prime minister has tried to put on an act, sending a message to citizens that they should not concern themselves with the “emotional reactions” of government officials who are challenged about their integrity in public office.

The term “emotional reaction” quickly become part of contemporary political jargon. Serbian citizens have been making the connection between this case and the overall decline of freedom of expression, including the closing down of local newspaper Novine Vranjske, which was edited by Vukašin Obradović:

Vukašin Obradović received threats that anything can happen to his daughter.
These were not pressures, as Brnabić would know, those were only emotional reactions.

While most of the Serbian mainstream media have decided not to cover the affair of the alleged “aunt from Canada”, citizens using social networks support the efforts of investigative journalists, who are determined to keep following the story.

Netizens have been using the hashtag #TetkaIzKanade (#AuntFromCanada) to amplify the reach of new information, as well as to link the case with similar instances of suspected government corruption:

Some people say the authorities proved that Vulin's aunt exists. Further research would show that Vulin's aunt took the money from her aunt, who also has an aunt. At the end of the line stand Adam, Eve and God — so everything is investigated and proven, so what's not to understand??

A yellow rubber duck at a protest in Russia. Photo by Daggets via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Another tweet brought up various unresolved abuses of power in recent years, including illegal demolition in the Savamala district to make room for a government construction project, a cover-up in the arrest of a state secretary's drug-dealing brother, and the case of right-wing politician Miša Vacić, who was threatening war against Albanians and silencing critics with promises to mobilize their children. His stance was subject to public ridicule, thanks in part to his large physical stature, which makes him unfit to serve in the security forces:

Maybe they'll discover who was destroying buildings in Savamala, who smuggled heroin from Kosovo in a car owned by the Ministry of Labor, who is the #AuntFromCanada, how to reduce the size of your belly before you get mobilized..?

Some Serbians immediately connected the aunt affair to the recent public appearance of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who wore purple socks adorned with a pattern of yellow ducklings at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Since 2015, a giant yellow duck has become the symbol of the protest movement against government corruption in Serbia. Mocking conspiracy theories, some connected these two sets of ducks to draw a conclusion about the Canadian aunt as well:

Vulin should call his #AuntFromCanada so she would file a protest note to Canada in the name of Serbia…! This is such a Provocation..?! Canadian Prime Minister came to Davos to topple Vučić and destabilize Serbia..!

by Marko Angelov at February 20, 2018 10:29 PM

February 17, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
What Do Argentinians Give Up in Exchange for “Free” WiFi in Buenos Aires?

Public promotional image for the Metro WiFi connection in Buenos Aires: “BA WiFi throughout the network. 1. Activate WiFi on your device. 2. Access the BA WiFi network. 3. Accept the terms and conditions.”

A recent report by VICE Argentina reveals some disturbing facts about the terms and conditions that users accept — often without having read them — to access the WiFi network that the city of Buenos Aires offers for free.

Just like many modern cities, Buenos Aires has for some years now had a public wireless internet network that people can access from parks, plazas, bus and omnibus terminals, and even from the underground metro, thanks to the installations made by the Buenos Aires City Government (in Spanish, GCBA) in collaboration with the Underground of Buenos Aires State Society (in Spanish, SBASE).

The report points out how every user who wishes to use the BAWiFi (Buenos Aires Wifi) network must register themselves and accept the terms and conditions before accessing the connection. These terms, to which users hardly pay much attention, include giving permission to the GCBA and the SBASE to compile their personal and search data, such as name, username, password, identification number or work identification key (CUIL, which is an Argentinian tax identification number), nationality, gender, telephone number, postal address, and geolocation data, as well as photographs and voice data collected from whichever device the user connects to the network.

Another striking aspect of Buenos Aires's WiFi network terms and conditions is that, by accepting them, the user gives their consent to the City Government and to SBASE to make use of and to disseminate their photos and voice for advertising and communication purposes:

SBASE se reserva el derecho a realizar la acción publicitaria, de prensa, promoción, publicación y difusión que considere conveniente de los datos proporcionados por los USUARIOS que hagan uso del Servicio. Con la sola proporción de datos y aceptación de los presentes términos y condiciones, los USUARIOS prestan su expresa conformidad para la utilización y difusión de sus datos e Imágenes (foto y voz) por los medios publicitarios y de comunicación que SBASE y/o el Gobierno de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires disponga.

SBASE reserves the right to carry out the act of advertising, press, promotion, publication, and dissemination that it considers appropriate for the data provided by the USERS that make use of this Service. By the single provision of data and acceptance of the present terms and conditions, the USERS offer their express approval for the utilization and dissemination of their data and images (photo and voice) for advertising and communication media that SBASE and/or the Autonomous City Government of Buenos Aires might arrange.

VICE's work illustrates this fragment in a more straightforward example:

Si lo hizo [aceptar los términos y condiciones], no debería sorprenderse si un día al entrar a la estación, ve su cara en una gigantografía con la frase: “De lunes a viernes bien temprano, (su nombre y apellido) disfruta de nuestro servicio”.”

If you do [accept the terms and conditions], you should not be surprised to one day see, upon entering the station, your face on a giant print with the phrase: “From very early on Mondays through Fridays, (your first and last name) enjoys our service.”

The aforementioned description, however, is not as serious as what we cite below from Article 2, the section on “Term and Duration”:

SBASE podrá establecer nuevas condiciones y/o modificaciones a cualquiera de las cláusulas contenidas en los presentes términos y condiciones y las políticas de privacidad sin necesidad de contar con la autorización del USUARIO.

SBASE will be able to establish new conditions and/or modifications to any of the clauses contained in these current terms and conditions and the privacy policies without needing to contact the USER for authorization.

In other words, users accept a contract where the terms and conditions can change at any moment without them knowing or agreeing to the new terms. This raises some serious questions about what could happen to all of the data and images the State has compiled and stored. In light of the impending reform to the current Argentinian Personal Data Protection Act, established in October 2000 as Law N° 25.326, it also raises a serious red flag.

Why does the SBASE need a user's labor key number? Why does the city government need to store any citizen's personal photos and voice notes? What other potential use could they have for this information, protected by future modifications to the data protection law or to the terms and conditions of the contract itself?

The fourth article of Argentina's Personal Data Protection Act says that the “personal data that is collected for the intent of data processing should be true, appropriate, relevant, and not excessive in relation to the scope and purpose for which they were to have been obtained.” One could suppose that some of the data compiled by SBASE (in particular, a user's photos) could be considered “excessive in relation to the scope and purpose for which they were to have been obtained.”

At the moment of this article's publication, the contract's text has not been uploaded to the City Government's or SBASE's official site for further reading and consultation. It can only be accessed from the subte, the city's metro.

Twitter user Tomás published the binding contract's complete text, which he had saved in a Google doc some time ago and, regarding the VICE report, commented:

This caught my attention and one time I sent them to myself via mail after accepting. I had never read them until today:

The ‘Transparent Society’

On social networks, there was very little reaction from netizens in response to VICE's publicized report (or the conditions themselves). Javier Pallero, an internet policy analyst for the US-based digital rights NGO Access Now, explains that there is very little awareness concerning privacy and that what is most worrisome about all of this is the fact that it is the state that is gathering this data: “It is the only entity that still has the capacity to take away your possessions, to deprive you of liberty, or, under certain circumstances, to legally shoot you.”

The users who access social network platforms, applications, and other digital services are accustomed to accepting their terms and conditions without reading them. Valeria Milanés, director of the Digital Association for Civil Rights (ADC), explains that “these are extremely large, binding contracts with very complex terminology. What should happen is that the text is accompanied by messages with very clear ideas about how they are going to use the data, for how long, in language that is as plain as possible.”

The data delivery has already been naturalized among users, to the point of being considered a relatively low price to pay for gaining the benefits of a “free” connection:

The most incredible thing of all: to the average Argentinian it doesn't matter, as long as they are given free wifi they will accept anything, “in the end they have nothing to hide.”

In other cases, the problem is simplified and a practical solution suggested: don't use the service.

Don't use it. No one is forcing you to do so.

The scant resistance by users for entering their data reflects a worrisome disinterest or ignorance of the potential risks involved in accepting terms and conditions that are not completely understood.

Censorship on the #BAWifi Network?

In another vein, the blog El Disenso (The Dissent) openly criticized the Buenos Aires City Government and the national government, reporting how its site was blocked from the Buenos Aires WiFi network after they published a series of investigations that, according to them, “made the GCBA uncomfortable.” The blog alleges that, on February 1st, various readers informed them that they could not access the website when they were connected to the BA WiFi network.

📌#ThisWeek, Thur 1/2 Censorship 👉#CensuraPRO: After reporting to #Larreta, the #BAWiFi blocked @ElDisenso – Now the #GCBA not only monitors you, but also decides what you can and cannot read!
Read all about it at @ElDisenso🇦🇷📢

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta is the Head of Government for Buenos Aires, successor to the position that the current president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, once held.

El Disenso presented its complaints before the Department of Protection of Citizen's Rights of the City of Buenos Aires and the company Subte BA. On February 7, it confirmed that access to the site had been reestablished on the network, which they described as an “erroneous URL blocking incident.”

Of course, many still question whether this incident was accidental or intentional.

by Romina Navarro at February 17, 2018 01:55 AM

February 16, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
‘They Fear Pens, Not Guns': Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life in Prison

Demonstrators on World Press Freedom Day in Turkey, 2013. Image by Amnesty International Turkey.

After spending just over a year behind bars without charge, Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel was released from a Turkish jail on February 16. Just hours later, six other journalists in the country were issued a life sentence for “or attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”.

With 155 journalists serving jail time because of their work, these days of highs and lows are beginning to feel routine for Turkey's embattled independent media community.

BBC described Deniz Yucel's imprisonment as a long-standing “irritant” in the relations between the two countries. His release came shortly after Turkish PM's visit to Germany this week.

Deniz Yucel was arrested exactly 367 days ago on suspicion of “inciting the people to racial hatred and enmity” and “spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization”.

Soon after his release was announced, crowd gathered outside the jail, where Yucel joined his wife who was waiting for him:

But the ordeal is not yet over. Yucel was charged and indicted upon his release, with the prosecution demanding that he be sentenced to 18 years in prison.

While colleagues and friends celebrated the news of Yucel's release, another court decision came down, this time affecting the fate of a different group of journalists.

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilica, Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özsengül were handed a lifetime prison sentence after being convicted of involvement with Turkey's 2016 coup, despite a lack of direct evidence.

Five of the six defendants are journalists and intellectuals all had strong ties with opposition news outlets in the past. Ahmet Altan is the former editor-in-chief of Taraf newspaper and his brother, Mehmet Altan is an academic and journalist who once wrote for Hurriyet. Nazli Ilıcak has written for Hurriyet, in addition to other newspapers, and briefly served as an MP for the Virtue party.

Yakup Şimşek and Fevzi Yazıcı worked with Zaman newspaper, which was one of Turkey's largest independent daily newspapers until 2016, when the government seized its operations, alleging that the outlet had ties to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Anadolu Agency reported that six people were convicted for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and of having communicated with associates of Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the July 2016 failed coup.

In addition to facing legal threats, all of these journalists have been subject to extralegal harassment. One year ago, President Erdogan called Yucel a terrorist in one of his televised speeches.

I filmed this speech one year ago. Deniz is finally free. I wish the same for the rest non-German citizen journalists friends of mine.

Video clip translation:
They are hiding this German terrorist, this spy at the embassy. They hid him for a month. And German Chancellor asked him from me. She said to release him. I told her we have an independent judiciary. Just like your judiciary is independent so is mine. It is [the judiciary] objective. That is why I am sorry to say, you won't take them from us. Finally, he was brought to court. He was arrested. Why? Because he is spy terrorist. Who cares he is a German citizen. It doesn't matter whose citizen you are, if you are spreading terror in Turkey, if they are secretly spies, they will pay the price.

Supporters in Turkey and around the world tweeted their shock at the decision:

On February 12, both Ahmet and Mehmet Altan were thrown out of the courthouse, for demanding to read the constitutional court decision which ruled for their release in January. The two brothers demanded that the decision which was overturned within 24 hours by the ruling of the 27th High Court is put on the record.

The next day, on February 13, speaking from high-security prison via video link, Ahmet Altan in his defense said the following:

Those in political power no longer fear generals. But they do fear writers. They fear pens, not guns. Because pens can reach where guns cannot: into the conscience of a society.

When the verdict was handed to Altan brothers today, one observer said cries and screams filled the courtroom.

Meanwhile, there are at least four other German Turkish citizens behind bars in Turkey, while the total number of imprisoned journalists and writers since the coup has now surpassed 150.

by Arzu Geybullayeva at February 16, 2018 06:45 PM

Social Media Giants Are at the Center of a Censorship Scandal in Russia — Again

Navalny's report alleges corruption on the part of Russia's Deputy PM. Now the government media regulator wants the video censored // Screencap by Christopher Moldes

Although barred from running in the 2018 presidential elections, Russian activist Alexey Navalny has found a way to ensure he stays in the news.

On February 8, Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, an organization dedicated to publicizing corruption scandals and property holdings of Russian politicians, shined their spotlight on a trail of evidence linking a Russian oligarch and the Russian deputy prime minister.

The revelations have triggered a sharp response from Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor, which ordered Instagram, YouTube and multiple Russian media sites to remove posts related to the scandal. Nearly all of the posts targeted have since been taken down, in one way or another.

From a ‘sex hunt’ to a national scandal

Navalny's report is based chiefly on the writings and social media postings of Nastya Rybka, a Belarusian national (real name Anastasia Vashukevich) and the author of a book entitled “Diary of a billionaire’s seduction.” In the book, Rybka describes her relationship with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and aluminum industry billionaire, who has become a prominent figure in US media coverage of congressional investigations into Russian election interference.

US president Donald Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned after it was discovered that he had reached out to Deripaska offering to provide inside information on the Trump campaign.

Using thinly-veiled code names, Rybka describes her visits with Deripaska, from the moment of their meeting to a trip on Deripaksa's yacht near Norway, where they made a secret detour to meet with Russian Deputy PM Prikhodko. This meeting on the yacht also appeared in a video on Rybka's Instagram account.

In a small snippet of conversation she captured in the video, we hear Prikhodko and Deripaska discussing the worsening of US-Russian relations, and speculating on why one American official has a negative opinion of Russia. Rybka's book also alleges that Prikhodko flew to Norway with the express purpose of meeting Deripaska.

This information had been available for some time in Rybka’s book, which was published in early 2017. But it seemed to have slipped under the radar of mainstream media, until Rybka captured Navalny's attention by posting a video online in which she declared to carry out a “sex hunt” targeting Navalny.

Despite Rybka's peculiar approach, upon reading her account of the relationship and reviewing her Instagram posts, Navalny decided that this was indeed a story. If the oligarch paid for the deputy prime minister’s travel arrangements, which seemed likely to Navalny's group, this would constitute a bribe.

Navalny brought Rybka's story into the spotlight with a featured video about the scandal on his website and YouTube channel. Navalny's video report on the revelations (which can be viewed here in its entirety with English and German subtitles) has already been viewed more than five million times in one week.

This wave of attention led Deripaska to sue Rybka on privacy grounds. Deripaska is married, so this is undoubtedly causing him some consternation at home.

In the meantime, Rybka's book has become a best-seller.

Instagram and local sites cave to censorship demands

Deripaska also filed an injunction with Russia's federal media regulator, Roskomnadzor, asking the agency to demand that the videos and associated online reports be removed. This caused Roskomnadzor to unleash a blitz of censorship protocols that ultimately targeted Instagram, YouTube, Navalny's website and various Russian news sites, that were either pressured or ordered to take down all copies of the yacht visit video.  Most of the local sites — along with Instagram — have since complied.

The regulator ordered Navalny to delete the relevant post from his website, to which Navalny refused. ISPs were thus ordered to block, though the group has now employed circumvention measures to keep the site accessible. Navalny responded by suing Roskomnadzor for threatening to blacklist his site.

Roskomnadzor also obtained a court order which it served to Instagram, demanding that the Facebook-owned social media site delete some of Rybka’s Instagram posts that figured prominently in the Navalny investigation. Instagram complied and deleted the requested videos, which now cannot be found on Rybka’s Instagram page.

Blocking the activist’s site outright drew the condemnation of some segments of Russian twitter. StalinGulag, a well-known tongue-in-cheek account, said:

They’re saying that Roskomnadzor started blocking Navalny’s site. There’s no censorship in the country, just odious dickheads deciding what you can and cannot read, but there’s no censorship in the country. THERE’S NO CENSORSHIP IN THE COUNTRY!

YouTube has so far not complied with Roskomnadzor’s requests, but on February 15, YouTube removed the recording of Navalny's weekly live show on copyright grounds, in response to a claim from Russia's largest state-owned TV network. The timing of this move could be coincidental, but smacks of an attempt at political censorship.

It was a good show. 30 thousand simultaneous online viewers. But 20 minutes later they blocked it globally after Channel One [Russia's largest state-owned TV network] filed a copyright violation complaint (this must be for a minute-long clip from the “Putin” movie) [The Putin Interviews by Oliver Stone]

Stuck between the government and the user base

As Coda Story points out, this is just the latest manifestation of online platforms being targeted for censorship by the Russian government. If companies like Facebook (owner of Instagram) can be swayed by government demands, their critics say, then they are abdicating their role as promoters of expression and communication.

By submitting to pressure and demands of a government (whichever it may be), social media platforms demonstrate that they are willing to undermine user interests if a government does not approve of the content that their platforms help to make publicly accessible.

However, as Navalny pointed out in his suit:

Согласно постановлению Пленума Верховного суда, информацию можно распространять без согласия гражданина при наличии публичного интереса. То есть гражданин является публичной фигурой, а обнародование информации является общественно значимым. Расследование имело целью раскрыть факты коррупции со стороны должностного лица Правительства Российской Федерации.

In accordance with a decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court, information can be disseminated without the approval of a citizen where there is public interest. This citizen is a public figure, and the publication of information is socially significant. The investigation’s goal was to expose facts of corruption on the part of a government official of the Russian Federation.

Given that Navalny has sued in an effort to affirm the validity of keeping these reports and videos online in the public interest, the social media companies involved could suspend further response until the courts have made a decision. But as Russian courts are not known for their independence, the Roskamnadzor bans are most likely to be upheld in the end.


Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Oleg Deripaska also sued Alexey Navalny for libel, which he has not at the time of the update.

by Christopher Moldes at February 16, 2018 06:44 PM

February 15, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: In Leaked Docs, European Commission Says Tech Companies Should Self-Regulate on Harmful Speech

Photo by Cory Doctorow. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

In the wake of public panic surrounding a spike in threats of violence and hate speech online, the European Commission has been preparing new recommendations on how member states should address “illegal online content.”

Although they have not been officially submitted, a leaked draft of the recommendations has begun to circulate and is now accessible on the website of European Digital Rights, a coalition group of civil society and human rights groups dedicated to protecting free speech and privacy online. The draft suggests that the Commission will not propose new regulations, but rather envisions private companies like Facebook and Google taking greater responsibility for these issues voluntarily.

In a brief analysis of the recommendations, EDRi’s Joe McNamee writes:

On the basis of no new analyses, no new data and no new pressing issues to be addressed, the leaked draft Recommendation seeks to fully privatise the task of deciding what is acceptable online or not. The only protection for user rights like freedom of expression is an unenforceable hope that certain “adequate safeguards” will be put in place voluntarily by the companies. The draft reminds readers – twice – that the providers have “contractual freedom”, meaning that any such safeguards will be purely optional.

The only specific types of online content referenced in the draft are “terrorist material” (no definition offered) and content under copyright. McNamee argues that “the repeated references to measures proposed to address copyright and ‘intellectual property rights’ infringements gives an indication of the real driving force behind for such far-reaching measures.”

Bangladesh orders internet shutdown, then backs down

On February 11, the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission ordered internet service providers to shut down the internet over a few set time periods, during the month of February that corresponds with national university placement exams. The impetus for the temporary shutdowns was to stifle the circulation of leaked answers to the exams. The order was swiftly reversed following broad public criticism.

Malawi suspends mandatory SIM card registration until further notice

The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority announced in June 2017 that it would become mandatory for mobile phone users to register their SIM cards with network operators, citing registration provisions in the Communications Act of 2016. In late January, authorities doubled down on this promise and set a deadline for SIM registration, threatening that any phone with an unregistered card would have its service shut off on April 1, 2018.

But this week, the measure was suspended, with authorities citing the need for a “civic education” campaign on the matter before resuming registration practices. Azania Post reports that some citizens have shown reluctance to register their SIM cards for fear that the program is “a ploy by the government to tap people’s phones.”

Research shows that European telcos behave better at home than in Africa

A new study by the French NGO Internet San Frontieres shows that major European telecommunications providers offering services in Sub-Saharan Africa do not offer the same levels of transparency and consumer protection to African customers as they do to their European markets. The study compares the practices and policies of Orange in Senegal and Safaricom (owned by Vodafone) in Kenya.

Brazil’s largest newspaper ditches Facebook

Folha de Sao Paulo announced that it will no longer post news articles or updates on its Facebook page, which has nearly six million followers. In an editorial-like article, the company said the decision stems primarily from Facebook's recent decision to reduce the amount of newsfeed content from Facebook pages, instead favoring posts by friends and family. Folha’s executive editor accused Facebook of “…banning professional journalism from its pages in favour of personal content and opening space for ‘fake news’ to proliferate.”

Big advertiser threatens to leave Facebook, calling it a ‘swamp’

The behemoth British-Dutch company Unilever, which owns major food and toiletry brands including Lipton tea and Dove soap, is threatening to pull its advertising from Facebook. CNN published a pre-released copy of a speech by Unilever marketing executive Keith Weed in which he says that the company “cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain … which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.” CNN says that Weed attributed the move to a “proliferation of objectionable content on social media — and a lack of protections for children — is eroding social trust, harming users and undermining democracies.”

Facebook is violating German consumer laws

A Berlin court ruling (made in January but released to the public in mid-February) found that Facebook’s default settings for privacy and corresponding policies do not meet the basic standards for personal data protection required by German consumer protection laws. The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Federation of German consumer organizations, VZBV. The company has pledged to overhaul its privacy approach in tandem with the release of the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

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by Netizen Report Team at February 15, 2018 09:24 PM

February 14, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
In Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Network Shutdowns Leave Civilians Unreachable — And Unable to Call for Help

A demonstration against mobile shutdowns in North Sinai. Banner reads: “We don't want to use Israeli networks because of your neglect.” Photo by Sinai2014/SinaiOutofCoverage group page.

This post was written by Asser Khattab and originally published on the SMEX blog. It is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

As part of a military operation to root out “terrorists and criminal elements and organizations” from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and adjacent areas, the Egyptian Armed Forces have ordered a region-wide shutdown of internet and telecommunications services.

Dubbed “Comprehensive Operation: Sinai 2018,” the military campaign is targeting insurgents affiliated with ISIS in the northern and central areas of the Sinai Peninsula, west of the Nile valley, and the Nile Delta.

Online activists and Egyptian citizens are sounding the alarm on Twitter using the hashtag #سيناء_خارج_التغطية [“Sinai is out of the coverage area”] to express concern over the fate of Sinai civilians, which is largely unknown since they are now both physically and virtually inaccessible. Since July 2013,  Northern Sinai has been treated as a closed military zone by Egyptian authorities, who have banned access to journalists and human rights observers. Thousands have been forcibly evicted and displaced as the Egyptian military bulldozed homes to create buffer zones on the border with Gaza, and most recently around the Sinai airport.

This major military campaign has effectively placed the Sinai in a media blackout, with telecommunications shutdowns disconnecting Sinai residents from each other and isolating them from the rest of the country and world.

Such shutdowns have become commonplace for residents of Al-Arish and other cities in the sparsely populated North Sinai, who are subjected to network disruptions “whenever military and security operations are conducted in the desert area south of the city,” according to an engineer from al-Arish who spoke to SMEX on the condition of anonymity, fearing that he could be summoned by the authorities. The source added that the government does not warn residents before a shutdown and does not provide any justifications once services are restored.

The Egyptian government has been launching offensives against the Sinai insurgency since it began in 2011, in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution that toppled the presidency of Hosni Mubarak. Extremist militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM) repeatedly attacked Egyptian security forces before pledging allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula, known as ISIL-Sinai Province.

Mohannad Sabry, a journalist and researcher who has extensively covered the Sinai, told SMEX in a phone interview that internet and telecommunications blackouts are simply ineffective.

“Government forces suffer from network disruptions more than the insurgents,” he said, referring to instances when ground forces lost contact with each other or with the Ministry of Interior during combat. Insurgent groups “have alternative ways to communicate, like through BGAN portable terminals and shortwave walkie talkies,” Sabry added, explaining that disruptions to telecommunications services have little impact on their alleged targets.

These shutdowns prevent local and foreign journalists and non-governmental organizations from reaching sources on the ground.

“Limiting coverage of the failure of Egypt’s strategy in the Sinai and of the negative impact it has had on the community there is one of the reasons behind these disruptions,” Sabry said.

On February 3, The New York Times exposed a “secret alliance” between Egypt and Israel in the war against militants in North Sinai. The Egyptian government is trying to conceal such information from the public, according to Sabry, “Egyptian leaders wanted to cover up the approval of Israeli airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Sinai,” he said.

The telecommunications sector in Egypt is operated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA), which “means that this body is implicated in any network disruptions that occur in the country,” a freedom of expression activist told SMEX on the condition of anonymity, as a safety precaution.

“Various government bodies interfere in the work of the NTRA, including the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Agency, and others like the Ministry of Telecommunications,” the activist added.

The recurring interference in internet and telecommunication services comes as press freedoms and freedom of expression are jeopardized by the military rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. In 2016, Egypt was the world’s third-ranked offender in terms of imprisoned journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Reporting on the North Sinai is even more difficult since the area was declared a closed military zone in July 2013 and rendered inaccessible to journalists. Our source in Al-Arish said that while journalists can request permission to enter the area from Egypt’s military spokesperson, Tamer al-Refai, “he barely gives any authorizations … no one has been allowed to write about this story or any story that actually matters [to Sinai residents].”

Asked if any organizations are advocating on behalf of residents’ right to access the internet and other telecommunications services, the engineer in Al-Arish said: “absolutely not, no one is … just like the press, the work of NGOs is very restricted here.”

Sabry said that the real victims of those disruptions are the local civilians in the North Sinai because “they cannot report cases of collateral damage or injuries and they have limited access to emergency services.”

“Several women were unable to call an ambulance while in labor,” he added.

For residents like our source in Al-Arish, who are directly impacted by these shutdowns, “the worst aspect is the element of surprise.” Some residents have been unable to learn about a relative’s death, learning of it 10 to 12 hours after its occurrence. Others have had to travel long distances, as much as 90 kilometres, to simply make a phone call or send an email.

Hindering and limiting access to information and communications services is a national concern in Egypt that extends far beyond the Sinai Peninsula. Since May 24, 2017, the Egyptian government has blocked at least 496 websites, according to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, an independent legal firm.

Websites of several international news outlets, such as The Washington Post, and independent local media outlets, such as Mada Masr, are blocked. Under the pretext of supporting terrorism or the catch-all “fake news,” the Egyptian public is being deprived of essential services and information while the work of local journalists is coming under systematic attack.

by SMEX at February 14, 2018 08:39 PM

February 13, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
‘We Want the World to Know': Activists Reporting on Occupation Face Legal Threats in Western Sahara

A crowd en route to join a rally in the city of Laayune is charged by Moroccan forces. The scene was captured by Equipe Media on April 29th 2013.

Among media freedom and human rights groups, Morocco is often described as having a relatively favourable landscape for media freedom, in contrast to other oppressive regimes and dictatorships in the neighbourhood, such as Egypt and Mauritania.

These assessments, which are already subjective, do not extend to the occupied territories of Western Sahara.

In a militarized environment with aggressive controls on media and citizen reporting, few stories of Western Sahara reach audiences beyond the immediate region. Local journalists and media activists reporting on the occupation and Moroccan abuses face legal obstacles and risk lengthy jail sentences in order to make their voices heard.

One group that has found itself on the edge of this divide is Equipe Media, a video documentation and human rights group that mainly reports on rights abuses committed by Moroccan forces in the territory.

Along with a Swedish film production collective, the Sahrawi media group recently released its first documentary film, 3 Stolen Cameras, which addresses the group’s struggle to document and report on Moroccan violations in Western Sahara.

“Our mission insists on showing that we are peaceful,” says Equipe Media co-founder Ahmed Ettanji. “We are campaigning our cause without violence and we want the world to know.”

Multiple Sahrawi journalists who worked with Equipe Media are currently behind bars because of their work activities, including video coverage of the 2010 Gdeim Izik protest movement.

Western Sahara: A Disputed Territory

The conflict in Western Sahara dates back to 1975 when the former colonial power Spain withdrew from the sparsely-populated territory and joint forces from neighbouring Mauritania and Morocco moved in to take control. While Mauritania eventually withdrew from Western Sahara, Moroccan forces to date still control what is sometimes referred to as ‘’Africa’s last colony’’.

For 16 years, the rebel group known as the Polisario Front fought a guerilla war for independence against Morocco, before a UN brokered ceasefire came into effect in 1991. The UN recognizes the Polisario Front as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, a mixed ethnic group that lives mainly in Western Sahara and Mauritania.


The Gdeim Izik protests

In late 2010, just weeks before the Arab uprisings swept across the region, Western Sahara saw a massive, largely peaceful civilian uprising against the occupation. The uprising became known as Gdeim Izik, named after the area of the desert where the protest took place.

Thousands of Sahrawis abandoned their homes to join what grew into a huge self-governed tent city, squatting on the land for almost a month before being violently dispersed by Moroccan forces, who then burned the tent city to the ground.

Although largely unknown to the world, Gdeim Izik is an important milestone in the modern history of Western Sahara that rejuvenated the civilian independence movement.

Riots ensued after the evacuation of Gdeim Izik and resulted in several deaths and injuries that the opposing sides still blame each other for. The official narrative from Moroccan authorities holds that two protesters and 11 police and security people were killed on duty. Other sources give different numbers and different identifications.

A report by Sahara Docs cast greater light on the consequences of the event for the protesters:

[The eviction of Gdeim Izik] caused for hundreds of victims among protesters, and some deaths among Moroccan ranks; eleven of them according to Moroccan sources. Some died on the field, while some others did so in hospitals, but as a consequence of their wounds.

Equipe Media made it their mission to document the movement, as there were few other people doing so. Alongside a small network of grassroots media activists, they are paying a heavy price as a result.

Four media activists — Hassana Alia, Bachir El Khadaa, Hassan El Dah, and Abdullahi Lakfawani — affiliated with Equipe Media and similar networks of grassroots journalism are among a group of 25 Sahrawi activists who were prosecuted for their roles in the Gdeim Izik protest movement.

Lakfawani, who was arrested on 12 November 2010, was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of “membership in a criminal gang” and “violence against a security force member leading to death, with intent.”

“Criminal gang” is a common terminology used by Moroccan authorities to describe activist groups in the region.

El Khadaa and El Dah were arrested at a cafe in Laayune, almost one month after the protest camp was dismantled. While El Khadaa got twenty years in jail for “entering into a criminal agreement” and “complicity in violence against security force member leading to death, with intent,” El Dah was sentenced to thirty years in jail for “membership in a criminal gang and complicity in violence against security force member leading to death with intent.” In addition to contributing to Equipe Media, El Dah was a reporter for the official TV station of Polisario (RASD TV).

Hassana Alia member of Equipe Media was tried and convicted in absentia in 2013 on unspecified charges, and sentenced to life in prison. He is currently exiled to Spain where he was granted asylum before the trial. Alia did not appear among the defendants in the 2017 re-trial.

Commenting on the cases, Ettanji told Global Voices:

When our members are put on trial we are never charged with violating the press code, but always some made-up accusations of us assaulting the police or something like that. Foreign journalists are kicked out, Moroccan journalists know the law and keep their mouths shut and us Sahrawis are treated in the worst way possible.

Gdeim Izik trial

Moroccan authorities accuse 25 activists of the Gdeim Izik protest movement of committing acts of violence in relation to clashes that erupted when Moroccan security forces dismantled the protest-camp on 8 November 2010.

Eleven Moroccan security officers and two Sahrawis died in those clashes, according to official sources. However, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and international observers say the trial is unfair due to forced confessions obtained through torture. Moroccan authorities have not heeded calls from rights groups to investigate these allegations of torture. In March 2013, after more than two years of pre-trial detention, a military court sentenced the activists to jail terms ranging from two years to life imprisonment.

In 2016, after Morocco changed its military justice law to end military trial of civilians, the cassation court ordered a retrial before a civilian court. On 19 July 2017, a court of appeal released a verdict, upholding most of the sentences previously pronounced by the military court of Rabat.

Another Equipe Media contributor also currently in jail, although not in relation to the Gdeim Izik protest, is Mohammed El Bambari, who is currently serving a six-year jail term in relation to his coverage of protests that turned violent in the city of Dakhla in September 2011.

The Moroccan government accuses him of participating in the violence on a number of charges including “committing violence against public servants,” “obstructing a public road,” and the “formation of a criminal gang.” Although the events for which Bambari is accused took place in 2011, he was not arrested until August 2015 when he appeared at local police station in Dakhla to renew his identification card.

If you can't challenge ‘territorial integrity’, how can you do journalism?

Morocco's 2016 Press Code criminalizes any expression that might challenge the “territorial integrity” of the kingdom. Print media accused of undermining Morocco's “territorial integrity” can face suspension while news websites can be blocked in accordance with Articles 71 and 104 of the Press Code. Any discussion or investigation related to the subject, and any independent journalistic activities carried out in Western Sahara, are thus violations that can garner a prison sentence ranging from six months to two years in jail and a fine, under penal code amendments from 2016.

But in this context, where any media coverage that challenges the “territorial integrity” of the Moroccan state is criminalized, the line between journalism and activism becomes blurred. To underground and activist media groups like Equipe Media, the cause for West Saharan self-determination and freedom of expression coalesce into one defiant and dangerous act of resistance.

While there has been a UN brokered ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front in effect since 1991, the conflict is by no means settled. As the gravitational centre of West Saharan resistance started shifting away from the guerrilla fighters in the desert onto the Sahrawi civilian population in the occupied cities, an environment of underground media began to form.

International disinterest in the Sahrawi cause

Despite the efforts of groups like Equipe and other independent media workers, there is still very little international attention on the Western Sahara conflict. The silence also plays into the hands of the Moroccan propaganda, a narrative built around a national consensus that “Moroccan Sahara” is a non-issue.

“They push the image that there are no problems here,” says Ahmed. “Whenever resistance is brought to surface they say we are a minority of troublemakers, common criminals or foreign (Algerian) agents.”

When Gdeim Izik happened and news started finding its way out, Moroccan media immediately painted it as a protest over unemployment and economic hardships, making little if any reference to the military occupation. As the territory is exceedingly difficult for foreign journalists to visit and report from, foreign media often resort to reprinting what appears in the Moroccan press.

Ahmed is quick to underline that several governments in Europe, foremost the former colonial powers of Spain and France, are directly complicit and invested in the occupation.

What our group tries to do is to fix the spotlight on this place, the last remaining colony in Africa and we are simply asking to be free. But [Spain and France] continue to put economic interests ahead of our human rights. They just don’t care.

by Advox at February 13, 2018 01:05 PM

February 10, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
After Alleged Election Fraud and Protests, Honduran Congress Moves to Regulate Hate Speech Online

Hondurans have been protesting in rising numbers since the contested inauguration of incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernandez. Image by Flickr user ‘Rbreve’, used under Creative Commons. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Honduran Congress is debating a law that seeks to regulate hate speech and “fake news” on the Internet. Honduran activists and opposition political parties say the proposal would function as a gag law aimed at silencing government critics.

The motion was introduced less than a week after the contested inauguration of incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernandez on January 27. After a three-week period of uncertainty regarding the vote count, Hernandez was declared the victor, leading to a large public outcry and numerous street protests.

The would-be law obligates website administrators and telecommunication companies to monitor and remove speech considered to be hateful, insulting, threatening or incitement to violence. It also intends to tackle “fake news”.

Similar to efforts in other countries, including Germany's controversial new NetzDG law, this legislation would place the responsibility of determining what does (or does not) qualify as offending content on private internet platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. The experience of a company like Facebook, which already (under its own policies) seeks to keep hate speech off its platform, has proven that this is easier said than done.

The law does not describe how, specifically, internet providers would implement such procedures, but it would require companies and administrators to submit a report on their efforts to a governmental commission, CONATEL, every three months. If they fail to do this, they can be fined up to 1 million lempiras (equivalent to USD 42,533) or have their website or account blocked altogether.

The proposed law also envisions a Cybersecurity Commission, made up of institutions such as the Defense Ministry, the Supreme Court, the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank of Honduras along with a Consultative Counsel which include human rights experts, journalists, lawyers and university organizations.

Marcos Bertilio Paz, the congressman from the majority party who put forth the proposal, justifies his motion as a protection from disruptive hate campaigns. Although he claims that everyone “can share content and opinions like before,” many citizens and civil society groups question his motives.

The Honduran Journalist Association swiftly expressed concern about the law, arguing that it undermines democracy. The group also pointed out that proliferation of hate speech is already regulated by Honduran penal law.

Honduran citizens also have been tweeting their concerns about the proposed law:

@ONUHumanRights The #BertilioLaw wants to hide the corruption and impunity, which is only denounced through social media, because in Honduras, the press is bought

With the #BertilioLaw, these CONATEL officials will decide what is hate speech and what is not in Honduran social media. And I don't think that they like the #FueraJOH

On the other side of the spectrum, a minority of Twitter users explain that no ill intention is behind the proposal.

Even journalists are tangled in their own mental spiderwebs. THIS IS NOT SOCIAL MEDIA REGULATION. It's regulation of hate and discrimination campaigns. Hopefully you will start reading the law proposal. #Honduras

Others say that Honduran Congress’ legislative priorities are out of line, in light of recent allegations of corruption and relations with narco-traffickers in government ranks.

Since the recent handover of power, which unfolded under a heavy cloud of suspicion of rigged polls, more than 30 protesters have died in clashes with the militarized police. And intergovernmental bodies including the Organization of American States have also cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election results.

Many also believe that Honduran mainstream news is biased in favor of the government, making social media a logical target for the legislation.

In the image: “When [mainstream] media remains silent, social media shouts. No to the ‘gag law’ against social media.” The government asks for peace while oppressing the people… #FueraJOH #Honduras #ONU
Congress is about to decide on blocking social media in Honduras, is that fair????

#Honduran politicians are afraid of social media's power. I'm more afraid of [mainstream] mass media…

As noted by International Central American Radio, social media provides a vital alternative for Hondurans to get their news and organize protests. Hashtags such as #FueraJOH (seen above, meaning “Down With Juan Orlando Hernandez”) have created strong momentum online and offline for citizens to show their discontent about the election results.

The recent news of Honduras’ government acquiring spyware from the UK further complicates the perception around these changes in the law. According to The Guardian, the UK sold telecommunications surveillance equipment to the Honduran government shortly before the explosion of protests that contested the results of the elections.

Some activists argue that this confluence of events and issues will effectively consolidate a dictatorship has been on the horizon since the 2009 military coup. Recent years have witnessed a surge of violence against those who speak out and another new law, under Honduras’ penal code (Article 335 B), that restricts the freedom to demonstrate on national security grounds, creating legal grounds for authorities to accuse activists and demonstrators of threatening national security and even terrorism.

This change has created unique hurdles for environmental activists and indigenous land rights defenders and compounds the many perils activists face throughout the country. Since 2010, more than 120 activists have been killed in Honduras with relative impunity.

Ofraneh, a Honduran association defending ethnic minority Garifunas peoples‘ rights, has highlighted the implications of Article 335 B, and the fact that the article was introduced without due process. Despite efforts to repeal it, the Congress refused to make any changes.

According to Ofraneh, these reforms paved the way to the “gag law” being proposed today:

In Honduras, freedom of expression has been constantly at risk since the 2009 coup d'état. The article 335B introduced surreptitiously by Oscar Álvarez was never derogated, giving leeway to the Gag Law which is promoted by “nationalists”

The implications for land and environmental defenders, as well as human rights defenders are worrisome, given the context of vulnerability and the level of stigmatization of their causes and activities, that often includes protesting. As Ofraneh's tweet underlines, these laws set the path for stronger and more restrictive laws that can be translated to more limitations to freedom of speech and stronger backlash against dissidents.

by Melissa Vida at February 10, 2018 04:20 PM

How Apple is Paving the Way to a ‘Cloud Dictatorship’ in China

Remixed image

This article was written by Lo Shih-hung, professor in the College of Social Sciences at National Chung Cheng University. It was originally published in Chinese by the online magazine Up Media on 26 January. The translation is published on Global Voices with the permission of the writer and Up Media.

The US-based global tech giant Apple Inc. is set to hand over the operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a local corporation called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) by February 28, 2018. When this transition happens, the local company will become responsible for handling the legal and financial relationship between Apple and China's iCloud users. After the transition takes place, the role of Apple will restricted to an investment of US one billion dollars, for the construction of a data center in Guiyang, and for providing technical support to the center, in the interest of preserving data security.

GCBD was established in November 2014 with a RMB 235 million yuan [approximately US$ 37.5 million] registered capital investment. It is a state enterprise solely owned by Guizhou Big Data Development and Management Bureau. The company is also supervised by Guizhou Board of Supervisors of State-owned Enterprises.

What will happen to Apple's Chinese customers once iCloud services are handed over to GCBD? In public statements, Apple has avoided acknowledging the political implications of the move:

This will allow us to continue to improve the speed and reliability of iCloud in China and comply with Chinese regulations.

Apple Inc. has not explained the real issue, which is that a state-owned big data company controlled by the Chinese government will have access to all the data of its iCloud service users in China. This will allow the capricious state apparatus to jump into the cloud and look into the data of Apple’s Chinese users.

Apple Inc. has not explained the real issue, which is that a state-owned big data company controlled by the Chinese government will have access to all the data of its iCloud service users in China.

Over the next few weeks, iCloud users in China will receive a notification from Apple, seeking their endorsement of the new service terms. These “iCloud (operated by GCBD) terms and conditions” have a newly added paragraph, which reads:

If you understand and agree, Apple and GCBD have the right to access your data stored on its servers. This includes permission sharing, exchange, and disclosure of all user data (including content) according to the application of the law.

In other words, once the agreement is signed, GCBD — a company solely owned by the state — would get a key that can access all iCloud user data in China, legally.

Apple’s double standard

Why would a company that built its reputation on data security surrender to the Chinese government so easily?

I still remember how in February 2016, after the attack in San Bernardino, Apple CEO Tim Cook withstood pressure from the US Department of Justice to build an iPhone operating system that could circumvent security features and install it in the iPhone of the shooter. Cook even issued an open letter to defend the company’s decision.

Apple’s insistence on protecting user data won broad public support. At the same time, it was criticized by the Department of Justice, which retorted that the open letter “appears to be based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy.”

This comment has proven true today, because it is clear that the company is operating on a double standard in its Chinese business. We could even say that it is bullying the good actor while being terrified by the bad one.

Apple Inc. and Tim Cook, who had once stayed firm against the US government, suddenly have become soft in front of Chinese government. Faced with the unreasonable demand put forward by the Chinese authorities, Apple has not demonstrated a will to resist. On the contrary, it is giving people the impression that it will do whatever needed to please the authorities.

Near the end of 2017, Apple lnc. admitted it had removed 674 VPN apps from Chinese App Store. These apps are often used by netizens for circumventing the Great Firewall (blocking of overseas websites and content). Skype also vanished from the Chinese App Store. And Apple’s submission to the Chinese authorities’ requests generated a feeling of “betrayal” among Chinese users.

Some of my friends from mainland China have even decided to give up using Apple mobile phones and shifted to other mainland Chinese brands. Their decision, in addition to the price, is mainly in reaction to Apple’s decision to take down VPN apps from the Chinese Apple store.

Some of these VPN apps can still be downloaded from mobile phones that use the Android system. This indicates that Apple is not “forced” to comply. People suspect that it is proactively performing a “obedient” role.

The handover of China iCloud to GCBD is unquestionably a performance of submission and kowtow. Online, several people have quipped: “the Chinese government is asking for 50 cents, Apple gives her a dollar.”

Selling the iPhone in China

Apple says the handover is due to new regulations that cloud servers must be operated by local corporation. But this is unconvincing. China's Cybersecurity Law, which was implemented on June 1 2017, does demand that user information and data collected in mainland China be stored within the border. But it does not require that the data center be operated by a local corporation.

In other words, even according to Article 37 of the Cybersecurity Law, Apple does not need to hand over the operation of iCloud services to a local corporation, to say nothing of the fact that the operator is solely owned by the state. Though Apple may have to follow the “Chinese logic” or “unspoken rule”, the decision looks more like a strategic act, intended to insulate Apple from financial, legal and moral responsibility to their Chinese users, as stated in the new customer terms and conditions on the handover of operation. It only wants to continue making a profit by selling iPhone in China.

Many people have encountered similar difficulties when doing business in China — they have to follow the authorities’ demands. Some even think that it is inevitable and therefore reasonable. For example, Baidu’s CEO Robin Li said in a recent interview with Time Magazine, “That’s our way of doing business here”.

I can see where Apple is coming from. China is now the third largest market for the iPhone. While confronting vicious competition from local brands, the future growth of iPhone in China has been threatened. And unlike in the US, if Apple does not submit to China and comply with the Cybersecurity Law, the Chinese authorities can use other regulations and laws like the Encryption Law of the People’s Republic of China (drafting) and Measures for Security Assessment of Cross-border Data Transfer (drafting) to force Apple to yield.

However, as the world's biggest corporation in market value which has so many loyal fans, Apple’s performance in China is still disappointing. It has not even tried to resist. On the contrary, it has proactively assisted [Chinese authorities] in selling out its users’ private data.

Assisting in the making of a ‘Cloud Dictatorship’

This is perhaps the best result that China’s party-state apparatus could hope for. In recent years, China has come to see big data as a strategic resource for its diplomacy and for maintaining domestic stability. Big data is as important as military strength and ideological control. There is even a new political term “Data-in-Party-control” coming into use.

As an Apple fans, I lament the fact that Apple has become a key multinational corporation offering its support to the Chinese Communist Party’s engineering of a “Cloud Dictatorship”. It serves as a very bad role model: Now Apple that has kowtowed to the CCP, how long will other tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon be able to resist the pressure?

by Guest Contributor at February 10, 2018 03:48 PM

February 09, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Brazil's Largest Newspaper Quits Facebook, Accuses it of Harboring ‘Fake News’

Facebook announced in January it will reduce content published by pages — including brands and media — from users’ newsfeeds, favoring instead posts by friends. Image: Pixabay CC0

One of Brazil's largest and most influential newspapers decided to rebel against Facebook by ceasing to publish content on its page, which has nearly six million followers.

The move, which was announced in an editorial-like article on February 8, may be unprecedented for a major news outlet page with such a massive following. Time will tell whether other major news outlets follow in Folha's footsteps.

The media conglomerate Folha de S. Paulo, whose print and digital sales nears the 300,000 copies, said its decision stems primarily from Facebook's recent change on users’ news feed, which aims to reduce the amount of content posted by Facebook pages, instead favoring posts by friends and family.

The article says:

[The current newsfeed] underscores the tendency of the user to consume content with which they have affinity, favoring the creation of opinion bubbles and spread of fake news.

In addition to its main Facebook page, Folha's Facebook pages for individual sections of the newspaper boast an additional 2.2 million followers. Folha does not plan to get rid of the Facebook pages, but says that from now on, they will no longer be updated. The last post on the page's timeline is the article announcing its exit.

Folha says it will continue updating its accounts on Twitter (with 6.2 million followers), Instagram (727,000 followers) and LinkedIn (72,000 followers).

For Brazilians who get most of their news on Facebook, this will mean that they won't be getting it from Folha in the future. But the editorial adds that Facebook had lost prominence among its distribution platforms even before the tech company announced its algorithm change. In a study conducted by Folha itself, which analyzed interactions in 51 Facebook pages from professional media outlets and 21 from “fake or sensational news” sites, showed that users’ interactions with the first group dropped by 17% from October to December 2017. Interactions with the second group (“fake and sensational news sites”) rose by 61% in the same period.

Still, Folha executive editor Sérgio D'Ávila said in an interview with The Guardian that Facebook's algorithm change was “the deciding factor”:

In effectively banning professional journalism from its pages in favour of personal content and opening space for “fake news” to proliferate, Facebook became inhospitable terrain for those who want to offer quality content like ours.

Unease over “fake news” and misinformation looms large in Brazil ahead of the September 2018 presidential elections. This will be the first ballot following the controversial impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party in 2016.

In early December 2017, Brazil's government established a committee to monitor and possibly order the blocking of false news reports on social media before the upcoming election. The news has raised concerns about censorship among the public.

Founded in 1921 and owned since 1962 by the Frias family, whose origins trace back to Brazil's 19th-century colonial aristocracy, Folha de S. Paulo is generally seen as the most liberal of Brazil's center-right mainstream press, although still associated with Brazilian society's more conservative sectors.

It has long been accused of collaborating with the military regime that governed Brazil from 1964 to 1985, by even lending its cars to the police at that time. The newspaper denies these allegations. In 2009, an editorial referred to the military regime as ‘ditabranda‘, meaning ‘meek dictatorship’, when comparing it to other regimes of the time in Latin America, sparking outrage among the public and a rally in front of the paper's headquarters.

During the 2013 protests, Folha reporter Giuliana Vallone was shot with a rubber bullet in the eye on the same day Folha ran an editorial defending the police crackdown. The following widespread circulation of a photo of Vallone on social with a bleeding eye was considered a major turning point in the protests — and one that prompted a shift in the press toward supporting the rallies.

by Taisa Sganzerla at February 09, 2018 05:38 PM

Netizen Report: Cyber Attacks Sideline Independent Media in Azerbaijan, Philippines

“Hacker” by the Preiser Project via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Technical attacks ranging from 1:1 hacking incidents to full-on DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks have become an increasingly common tactic for silencing critical voices on the internet. Two examples of this threat have emerged in recent weeks in Azerbaijan and the Philippines.

Independent news site MeydanTV was one of those targeted in a wave of attacks on the websites, Facebook pages and email accounts of Azerbaijani dissidents and their supporters. Meydan TV, which has provided routine coverage of politics and social movements (despite clear and present risks), had its Facebook account hacked, resulting in the loss of years’ worth of posts and 100,000 followers.

The attacks appear to be part of a broad campaign to quell online dissent in Azerbaijan in the lead-up to presidential elections this October. Another such measure came with legal amendments in 2017 that enabled the government to block websites including MeydanTV and the independent news sites Azadliq, Radio Azatliq, Turan TV, and Azerbaijan Hour on “national security” grounds.

Across the ocean in the Philippines, independent media site Kodao is facing a powerful attack that has left it offline for a week, as of February 8.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the attack and reported that it was the result of a “code injection” against Kodao’s WordPress site that has prevented technicians and staff from logging in.

Referencing the Duterte government’s recent attempt to revoke the license of Rappler, another prominent independent news site in the Philippines, the NUJP said it “sees the attack on Kodao as part of the Duterte government's efforts to silence critical media, as seen in the continuing attempt to shut down Rappler, threaten other news outfits, and other voices of dissent.”

Kuwaiti blogger sentenced to 31 years for ‘insulting’ Gulf countries

Although he is currently in exile in the UK, Kuwaiti citizen Abdullah al-Saleh was convicted in absentia by a Kuwaiti court of multiple charges of insulting the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in his online postings. He was sentenced to a cumulative total of 31 years in prison. Al-Saleh is a prominent blogger, YouTuber and social media voice, with more than 106,000 followers on Twitter. Among other political commentary, al-Saleh has openly criticized the Saudi-led diplomatic blockade against Qatar.

Indonesia boots BBC editor from Papua over tweets

BBC Indonesia editor Rebecca Henschke was asked to leave the remote Indonesian island region of Papua after military officials said that she had “hurt the feelings of TNI (Indonesian military) personnel” with a tweet. Henschke was reporting on a massive outbreak of measles and chickenpox in Papua that has claimed the lives of at least 61 children. The tweet, which Henschke has since taken down, cast doubt on the quality of food being brought to malnourished children by the Indonesian military.

Egypt blocks Google AMP, creating new hurdle for independent news sites

The open-source web publishing tool known as the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, run by Google, was blocked in Egypt on February 2. The project has been a boon for independent Egyptian media sites that would otherwise be completely blocked and thus difficult to run from inside the country. Like many other smaller websites in Egypt, news outlet and Global Voices partner Mada Masr has been using the platform since its site was blocked in May 2017.

Honduran lawmakers take a swing at online hate speech

Lawmakers in Honduras are reviewing legislation that seeks to regulate hate speech, insults, threats, and incitement to violence on the internet. The law would place the burden of to determining what content does (or does not) qualify as offending content on private internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Companies that fail to comply will face financial penalties. In a critical analysis of the law for Chilean NGO Derechos Digitales, policy expert Juan Carlos Lara explained:

La regulación de las expresiones en línea en Honduras se produce en un contexto político álgido, de riesgo para la libertad de prensa, y un reciente proceso electoral marcado por las protestas y la violencia, donde las redes sociales digitales fueron quizás un factor importante en la movilización social.

The regulation of online expression in Honduras is emerging in a pivotal political moment, where press freedom is at risk, recent elections have been marked by protests and violence, and social media networks were a key factor in social mobilization.

 Government-owned company will manage Apple iCloud data in China

Control over Apple’s iCloud in China will be transferred on February 28 to Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), a company owned by the Guizhou provincial government. Although Apple says it has strong data privacy and security protections in place, and “no backdoors will be created into any of [their] systems,” GCBD will have access to all user data — including content of communications — according to a newly added clause in the agreement that iCloud users in China must accept.

Reporters Without Borders is urging journalists and bloggers to quit iCloud. The press freedom watchdog voiced concerns that the transition will pose a threat to the security of journalists and their personal data.

YouTube institutes warning labels for state-sponsored content

YouTube announced plans to start labeling content that is posted by governments or government-funded news and information sources. A company blog post about the change said: “Our goal is to equip users with additional information to help them better understand the sources of news content that they choose to watch on YouTube.” In its initial phase, this feature will only be functional in the US.

Put a patent on it: Facebook has a socioeconomic status calculator

Researchers pointed out last week that Facebook has secured a patent for a technical process that effectively measures a person’s socioeconomic status. The process assigns value to factors like home ownership, travel history and education level, and appears to be part of Facebook’s broader strategy for targeted advertisement.

Cool things are still happening

The Spanish city of Barcelona announced plans to transition all applications on city government computers away from Microsoft and replace them with open source alternatives. This year, 70% of the city’s software budget will go toward developing open source software.

New Research

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by Netizen Report Team at February 09, 2018 12:31 AM

February 07, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
‘According to the Digital Security Law, I am a Spy': Bangladeshi Journalists Defend Their Right to Investigate

Screenshot from Facebook – people protesting with #আমিগুপ্তচর (#IAmSpy) hashtag

Since January 29, dozens of journalists in Bangladesh have claimed, in their social media profiles, that they are spies.

Holding placards bearing the #আমিগুপ্তচর hashtag (pronounced “Ami Guptochor”, and meaning “#IAmaSpy” in the Bengali language) they are speaking out against a newly proposed law that would criminalize key research practices of investigative journalists.

The 2018 Digital Security Act, still in draft, is said to target digital crimes. The current draft was approved by the Council of Ministers of Bangladesh government on January 29 and is scheduled to be submitted to the Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament) for approval. The act is expected to be approved without opposition, thanks to the majority held by the ruling Bangladesh Awami League party.

The Act is intended to replace the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act (amended in 2013), which has drawn much criticism over the past years. The notorious Section 57 of the law prohibits digital messages that can “deteriorate” law and order, “prejudice the image of the state or person,” or “hurt religious beliefs.” For these non-bailable offenses, the punishment is a minimum seven years in prison and a hefty fine. These vague terms paved the way for dozens of journalists and hundreds of bloggers and online activists to be prosecuted for their writings and comments on social media. The Law Minister Anisul Huq promised in July 2017 that Section 57 would be scrapped.

Why #IamaSpy?

The Section 32 of the proposed act stipulates:

If a person enters any government, semi-government or autonomous institutions illegally, and secretly records any information or document with electronic instruments, it will be considered as an act of espionage and he/she will face 14 years of imprisonment or a fine of BDT 2 million (US$ 24,000) or both.

Many journalists and online activists fear that their investigative work to expose irregularities by government employees and politicians could be regarded as espionage.

From Section 57 to Section 32, from protests to shaming. According to the Digital Security Act, I am a spy! Come arrest this self-proclaimed spy and let this country progress by strangling the journalists.

Journalist Parvez Reza, Special Correspondent at Ekattor Television, is believed to be the person who started the trend. He wrote in a Facebook post:

অনেকেরই প্রশ্ন, কেন সাংবাদিকরা নিজেকে গুপ্তচর হিসেবে স্বীকার করে নিচ্ছে? সহজ উত্তর, সরকার, রাষ্ট্র এখন আইনের মাধ্যমে আমাদের গুপ্তচর বৃত্তির অভিযোগে অভিযুক্ত করার পায়তারা করছে।[…]

Many are asking, “why are journalists calling themselves spies?” The answer is simple, the government is trying to criminalize our investigative work by booking us as spies.

Investigative journalist Badruddoza Babu fumes:

#আমিগুপ্তচর। আমি বদরুদ্দোজা বাবু। অনুসন্ধান করি, সাংবাদিকতা করি। মানুষের স্বার্থে কাজ করি। অনিয়ম আর দুর্নীতি খুঁজি। ফলে আমাকে সরকারি অনেক নথি জোগাড় করতে হয়! ডিজিটাল নিরাপত্তা আইনের ভাষায়, এখন আমি গুপ্তচর!

#IAmSpy. I am Badruddoza Babu. I investigate, I am a journalist. I work for the people searching for irregularities and corruption. I have to get a lot of evidence secretly. According to the latest Digital Security Law, I am a spy.

Journalist Rozina Islam told BBC Bangla in an interview that the Digital Security Act will make the process of obtaining evidence for news articles very difficult.

What else is inside the 2018 Digital Security Act?

There are 48 sections in the proposed Digital Security Act. The journalists initially reacted to its section 32, which says that unsolicited collection of information from any government, semi-government or autonomous institutions using electronic devices will be defined as digital spying.

There are a number of other sections in this new act that could threaten online free expression and media rights in the country. Section 57 of the soon-to-be-scrapped ICT Act stipulated a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for offenses such as defamation, hurting religious sentiments, causing deterioration of law and order and instigating against any person or organization. The draft of Digital Security Act splits these offenses into four separate sections with punishment ranging from three to 10 years’ term. Some of the other more striking portions of the law include:

- Section 27: Material in websites or in electronic devices that hurts religious beliefs. The offense is non-bailable and punishment is 5 years imprisonment and BDT 1 million (USD$ 12,000) fine or both.

- Section 28: Publication of false and degrading remarks in media. The offense is bailable and punishment is 3 years imprisonment and BDT 300,000 (USD$ 3,600) fine or both.

-  A lifetime prison sentence for spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or the Father of the Nation using digital devices

- Authorization for security agencies to search or arrest anyone without any warrant if a police officer believes that an offense under the Act has been committed or there is a possibility of crimes

Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, an advocate of Supreme Court in Bangladesh says in an interview with Monitor:

The Digital Security Act is an Eyewash. It is section 57 for all intent and purposes. All the provisions have merely been redistributed among other sections. Its approval will ensure that people lose their freedom of speech.

Barua also mentions in an interview with Dhaka Tribune:

Why won’t I be able to record something wrong happening before my eyes? If I try to copy classified government records, we have the Official Secrecy Act for that.

Screenshot from Facebook

Journalist and blogger Maskwaith Ahsan observed that the government is following the colonial era official secrets act in this new act. He writes in Facebook:

ডিজিটাল নিরাপত্তা আইন ২০১৮ প্রণয়ন দেখে অনুভূত হয়; সরকার ২০১৮ সালের বাস্তবতায় বসে ১৯১৮ সালের তামাদি শাসন কৌশল অনুসরণের চেষ্টা করছে। বৃটিশ শাসনে অফিশিয়াল সিক্রেসি এক্ট বা দাপ্তরিক গোপনীয়তা আইন প্রণীত হয়েছিলো। ঔপনিবেশিক অপশাসন চালিয়ে যাবার জন্যই জনগণের স্বার্থে পরিচালিত সরকারী দপ্তরের তথ্য জানার অধিকার থেকে জনগণকেই বঞ্চিত করার অপচেষ্টা চালানো হয়েছিলো এই আইনের মাধ্যমে।

Seeing the Digital Security Act 2018 passed, it seems that the government is trying to follow the tactics of the governance of 1918 in the reality of 2018. During the British colonial rule, this official secrets act was introduced. The main focus of this law was to expand colonialism and prevent the common people from obtaining information in government offices.

Journalist Aditya Arafat feels that section 32 is the last nail in the coffin to restrict investigative journalism. He writes:

এ ধারায় অনুসন্ধানী সাংবাদিকতা বলতে কিছুই থাকবে না। সারাবিশ্বেই অনুসন্ধানী বা অনিয়ম-দুর্নীতি নিয়ে রিপোর্টিংয়ের তথ্য সাংবাদিকরা জনস্বার্থে গোপনেই নিয়ে থাকেন। এ ধারার প্রয়োগে কোনো দুর্নীতির সংবাদের তথ্য সংগ্রহ করা যাবে না। এমনিতেই দেশে অনুসন্ধানী সাংবাদিকতা, দুর্নীতি বিরোধী রিপোর্টং করা অনেক ঝুঁকির। থাকে মামলা হামলার শংকা। [..]আর যাই হোক ধারাটি যারা তৈরি করেছেন তারা অসৎ সরকারি কর্মকর্তা-কর্মচারি এবং দুর্নীতি পরায়ন ব্যক্তিদের বাহবা পাবেন, হয়তো পাচ্ছেনও।

If this law is implemented there will no more be any investigative journalism. In other parts of the world, journalists obtain information on corruption or irregularities secretly in public interest. This law will not let information be collected. The process of investigative journalism and reporting against irregularity are very dangerous in this country. The journalists brave the fear of the lawsuits. Those who wrote this law will get accolades from the corrupt and dishonest officials and maybe already they have.

Parvez Reza reacted to the Law Minister's statement in an interview with online site

আইনমন্ত্রী বলছেন, ” গুপ্তচরবৃত্তি আর সাংবাদিকতা এক নয়, দুর্নীতির খবর করলে এই আইন প্রযোজ্য হবে না।” আপনি কিভাবে নিশ্চয়তা দিচ্ছেন মন্ত্রী বাহাদুর? আইনের প্রতিটা প্রয়োগ কি আপনাকে জিজ্ঞেস করে হবে? ৫৭ ধারা অপপ্রয়োগের শিকার কিন্তু সাংবাদিকরাই বেশি হয়েছেন।

The law minister said “espionage and journalism are not the same, this law will not be applicable for reporting about irregularities”. How can you be sure Mr. Minsiter? Will every imposition of the law be controlled by you? Journalists were at the receiving end of the misuse of the section 57 of the ICT act.

I protest the Digital Security Act 2018. Let the pen of the investigative journalist live on. #IAmSpy

Scenes of protest. The police did not allow the use of microphones.

Along with journalists, various political parties, members of the civil society and ordinary people are protesting the law. An editorial published by The Independent notes that “recommendations of stakeholders were ignored in the formulation of the draft act”. They have urged the government to hold a public consultation before enacting the law.

by Global Voices at February 07, 2018 11:50 AM

February 06, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Kenyan TV Networks Censored for Airing Symbolic ‘Swearing In’ of Opposition Leader Raila Odinga

Raila Odinga speaks at the 2013 World Economic Forum. Photo by WEF via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga was symbolically — if not legally — sworn in as the “people's president” on January 30, three major broadcasting networks were unplugged by the Government of Kenya.

Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in for a second term as president on November 28, 2017 after winning a controversial re-run election, which was held in October 2017 after the country's Supreme Court annulled the results of the initial August 2017 vote, having found “irregularities and illegalities”. Raila Odinga did not participate in re-run, arguing that systemic flaws that produced these irregularities had not been addressed. The elections were marked with protests, multiple incidents of violence and destruction of property.

After months of uncertainty, incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta remains in power. But supporters of Raila Odinga remain committed to his campaign and cause.

On January 30, 2018, thousands of Kenyans flocked to the famous Uhuru Park to witness a symbolic swearing-in ceremony for Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA). The majority of attendees were mainly people from Western, Nyanza, Coast and Eastern parts of Kenya where NASA enjoys sizable support.

Raila Odinga being “sworn in” as the Kenya's People's President [Screen shot taken on February 1, 2018]

Some Kenyans did not go to work and decided they were going to watch this historic event from the comfort and safety of their homes. To their disappointment, the government decided to disconnect all the major broadcasting stations in the country including KTN News, Citizen TV and Inooro TV (both owned by Royal Media Services) and NTV, preventing them from effectively airing live coverage of the event.

According to Kenya's Attorney general, the mock ceremony was “treasonous” and therefore, in their view, had no place on national television.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that President Kenyatta and other executive staff “summoned media managers and editors on January 26 and threatened to shut their stations down and revoke their licenses” if they proceeded with the broadcast.

This raised a loud uproar from civil society organizations and Kenyans in general from all walks of life and different political affiliations. The freedom of media is well-anchored in Kenya’s 2010 constitution, but this did not stop the Kenyatta government from denying Kenyans access to information

‘People's president’ or ‘treasonous’ swearing in? 

While Odinga indeed does not hold the office of the President in Kenya, the ceremony at hand was more than just a show of support for Odinga and the NASA.

It came as the result of the People's Assemblies Bill, a motion tabled in all opposition-controlled counties that legalized “the formation of the people's assemblies in the devolved units”. The People’s Assemblies bill has been passed by at least 20 county governments out of 47.

According to the People’s Assemblies bill, the power is vested in the people and their assemblies will have the power to recognize a leader of their choice. Though this move by a select number of counties was perceived to be unconstitutional, it received substantial national support. The law also allows anybody of the capacity of a high court judge to administer the oath.

The swearing in ceremony of Mr. Odinga was meant to be held in 2017, but it was delayed due to a deep divide between Odinga and his core principals.

In the January 30 swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Odinga’s running mate, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka and other NASA core principles, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetangula, did not turn up to the historic event. This kept Odinga waiting for too long, and infuriated the highly-charged crowd.

With advice from his key supporters, Odinga decided to take an oath of office as the people’s president in the absence of his running mate Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka and other NASA principles. Musyoka claimed they did not turn up at the Uhuru Park for the swearing in ceremony because their security guards were withdrawn by the state:

I was left alone. I stayed (at home) until about 11 am, and that is the time journalists came to my home. I left. We had spoken on phone with Hon Raila, Wetang’ula and Mudavadi to plan our journey to Uhuru Park. We did not get there. We found ourselves, Wetang’ula, Mudavadi and I, because we did not have bodyguards, unable to leave the room. That is what happened…

On the other side, the ruling government insisted that the move is unconstitutional and warned that it is treasonous and “a mockery” to take oath of office when there is a legitimate government in place. The Cabinet Secretary, Fred Matiang'i,  threatened that those who engaged in the exercise would be arrested and charged in a court of law.

True to his words, the member of parliament for Ruaraka T.J Ojwanng who led the “swearing-in” was arrested on 31 January 2018 in a local restaurant in the city.

Contrary to the popular view that blood would be shed, the symbolic swearing-in exercise was peaceful. The police kept away from Uhuru Park where the ceremony took place. This was a strategic move by the government as they knew that if the police were present in the venue, this would have provoked confrontation between the NASA supporters and the police. This could have resulted in major casualties.

 Persecuting the press

A statement by the Kenya's Editors Guild charged that President Kenyatta had “threatened to shut down and revoke the licences of any media house” that airs the swearing in of Odinga:

The media remains a mere messenger and a chronicler of any events happening in our country. Our country's vibrant media is made up of competent professionals in journalists and editors that continue to make sound decisions on what constitutes news, in public interest… The Guild is appalled by the details of the meeting which was held under an atmosphere of intimidation for the media representatives present… We condemn and reject the threats and purported instructions issued at the State House on Friday…

Fred Matiang'i, the interior cabinet secretary, announced that the “media houses will remain closed until we complete investigations.”

Three journalists at NTV told Reuters that plainclothes security officers came to their office and hovered outside the entrance, leaving the three fearful that they would be arrested if they tried to exit the building. The journalists — Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu — reported that security sources had warned that they'd be arrested. Linua Kaikai is the managing editor for NTV, and also serves as the chair of Kenya's Editors’ Guild.

The Kenya Media Council has condemned the network suspensions and muzzling of the press by the government and called for the stations to be “switched on“:

The media council is shocked that at the recent turn of events in Kenya, a political contest has turned out into the greatest threat and assault on freedom of expression… While it was initially alleged that the switch off was to stop media houses from airing live the swearing in of Raila Odinga, more than 24 hours their signals have not been restored and no explanation put forward as to when they will be allowed to resume operations.

On February 1, Kenya's High Court suspended the shutdown of the affected stations. The government has, however, defied the court order. According to the New York Times, a spokesman for the ministry of interior suggested that the government could appeal its case, since relevant representatives were not in court at the time of the suspension order.

The persecution of the press in Kenya is a sad reminder of the authoritarian rule that once characterized that East African country under the civilian dictatorship of President Arab Moi.

Writing for Al Jazeera, Nanjala Nyabola asserts that the move was “painful, self-destructive and counterproductive”:

The Jubilee administration doesn't need another battlefront given the legitimacy questions leftover by [the] contentious 2017 election, and it is unclear from a purely instrumentalist perspective why they would open one up. By responding with so much force, the administration unwittingly signalled that the NASA event rattled them even while the actual “inauguration” was rather anticlimactic. Odinga was only on stage for about 15 minutes. None of the other NASA principles turned up. For most of the morning, viewers were treated to panoramic images of the crowd gathering at Uhuru Park and a gaggle of men offering in-studio analysis. Switching off three media houses just because you can is the definition of swatting a fly on your head with a hammer – painful, self-destructive and counterproductive.

by Advox at February 06, 2018 01:49 PM

February 05, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Justice Deferred: Uproar After Turkish Court Releases, Re-Arrests Amnesty International's Taner Kilic

Supporters gather outside the courthouse in Turkey. Photo by Arzu Geybullayeva.

A small crowd was gathered outside Caglayan court. They held “Free Taner” signs while representatives from the Amnesty International's Turkey office were read their demands out loud.

“We demand an unconditional release for Taner,” said one of the human rights defenders, speaking to a group of journalists at the January 31 gathering.

There was a palpable burst of surprise and relief among family and friends when the court ordered the conditional release of Taner Kilic, chair of Amnesty International Turkey, who has spent eight months in prison. He was the only one left behind bars after the court released all members of the #Istanbul10 human rights defenders group in October of last year.

This joy was short-lived, however. The prosecutor — who had already requested that Taner be kept in detention — immediately appealed the decision, and the second court granted the request.

Just a day later, the first court accepted the second court's decision to continue his detention. Kilic is now likely to remain in jail until the next hearing, which is scheduled for June 21, 2018.

‘Crisis in Turkey's justice system’

In a statement following the reversal, Amnesty's Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

This is the latest example of the crisis in Turkey's justice system that is ruining lives and hollowing out the right to a fair trial. To have been granted release only to have the door to freedom so callously slammed in his face is devastating for Taner, his family and all who stand for justice in Turkey.

Kilic is accused of being a member of a terrorist group, a charge that his supporters and the international human rights community have broadly dismissed as bogus. More precisely, Kilic is accused of using a messaging app called ByLock that was allegedly used by coup plotters in July 2016.

Kilic and his lawyers argued no such app was ever downloaded on his phone during the hearing yesterday.

Kilic joined the hearing via video link as he was bring held in a prison in the western province of Izmir. He has denied using the app on many occasions, including on January 31. After several hours of witness questioning, the court took a brief recess, after which it announced its ultimately short-lived decision to release Kilic on bail.

At that moment, a collective burst of joy could be felt in the air and online:

Just hours later, the news of the new court decision sent a devastating blow to Taner's family:

This is not the first time a court has overruled its own decision.

The author of this article attended the January 31 hearing at the Caglayan courthouse in Istanbul.

by Arzu Geybullayeva at February 05, 2018 04:29 PM

February 02, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Gambian University Instructor Detained for Newspaper Interview, Then Released

People waving in a protest against president Yahya Jammeh in the Gambia in 2017. Screenshot from YouTube video.

Authorities in the West African state of the Gambia arrested political scientist Ismaila Ceesay and charged him with “incitement to violence” on January 31, over an interview that he gave to a local newspaper. He was released without condition on February 1.

Ceesay's arrest was in connection to a newspaper interview in which he said the presence of ECOMIG sub-regional forces in the Gambia will not prevent long-term security risks.

The Economic Community of West African States Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG) was part of efforts to enforce the December 2016 presidential election results, which took long-time leader Yahya Jammeh out of power.

Despite the election results, Jammeh refused to step down from office for several days following the scheduled transition of power. The current president, Adama Barrow, was thus forced to remain outside of the country, in neighboring Senegal, until Jammeh finally relented and departed from office.

In the interview in question, Ceesay told The Voice newspaper that long-term security will not be restored “if the president [Adama Barrow] does not win the trust of the [Gambian] army.”

The Barrow administration has been hailed for restoring respect for fundamental human rights, a direct departure from the brutal dictatorship of former president Yahya Jammeh.

Shortly after assuming office, Barrow freed hundreds of prisoners and detainees. Since then, a series of investigations and prosecutions for alleged human rights violations under the Jammeh regime has commenced.

But the fragile security state following the political impasse still remains a major stumbling block for the full enjoyment of civil liberties.

Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union Saikou Jammeh (who has no relation to former president Yahya Jammeh) condemned the arrests and warned against sliding back into the dark past.

Ceesay, a political science lecturer at the University of The Gambia (UTG), is a regular political commentator for local media.

Rights activists have condemned Ceesay’s arrest and detention and have called for his immediate and unconditional release. (Photo taken from Facebook)

In a statement posted on Facebook, the university staff association described Ceesay's arrest and detention as “a blatant affront and a threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression” and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Statement from UTGFSA
Following the arbitrary arrest of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, Political Science lecturer UTG and President of the University of the Gambia Faculty and Staff Association (UTGFSA), over an article published in a local newspaper, the entire UTG community under the umbrella of the UTGFSA strongly condemn the said arrest as a blatant affront on his civic right and a threat to academic and freedom of expression in the country.

The change that Gambians envisaged in December 2016, is a nation where citizens can express their opinion on national issues such as development, education, security, and democracy without fear of harassment from anyone. The Gambian people did not sacrifice their lives for a change of face in the December 2016 Presidential Election but a change that guarantees all and sundry to enjoy their rights and liberty in their country with dignity. Therefore, the arrest of our colleague, Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, is a violation of his constitutional right to freedom of expression and an attempt of provocation on the resolve of UTGFASA to protect its members’ rights at all costs. As academics and citizens of the Gambia, we will not sit by and watch the security personnel or anybody else trample on our rights with impunity. We therefore demand the immediate and unconditional release of Dr. Ceesay.

If the authorities fail to unconditionally release Dr. Ceesay, the UTGFSA executive hereby calls on all her members to sit at home and refrain from taking part in all university functions and activities including orientation ceremonies starting from Thursday 1st February, 2018. However, the UTGFSA executive will use all available means to secure Dr. Ceesay’s release. The executive shall inform members through the UTG platform as to what our next move is.

A Senghore
(Asst. Secretary General UTGFSA)

Ceesay was briefly charged under section 59B of the Criminal Code of the Gambia. Had he been convicted, he could have faced imprisonment for a term of three years. But following intense pressure from staff and students of the University of the Gambia, he was released unconditionally.

by Demba Kandeh at February 02, 2018 02:30 PM

Netizen Report: The Rising Cost of Cameroon's Internet Shutdowns

Cloud cartoon from Fundacion Karisma video.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Seven local civil society organizations are suing the Cameroonian government for imposing an internet shutdown on the country's two Anglophone regions for more than three months in 2017, just before both regions planned to make a symbolic declaration of independence. Besides imposing the long-term internet shutdown (along with several shorter shutdowns of platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp), the government deployed security forces who clashed violently with Anglophone activists.

Cameroon's Veritas Law Offices, working with international NGO the Media Legal Defence Initiative, instituted two separate court actions challenging the internet shutdown in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon. The respondents include the State of Cameroon, Cameroon Telecommunications (CAMTEL), the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, and several telecommunications companies in the country.

The suit aims to not only seek reparations for the shutdown, but also help counter the growing trend of using internet shutdowns for political gain.

Other digital rights groups have also filed briefs in support of the suit. Internet Sans Frontières and Access Now.

Peter Micek, General Counsel of Access Now, said of the suit, “Cameroon’s courts have the opportunity to set a global precedent in favor of human rights and the rule of law. By declaring the government’s shutdown order a discriminatory, unnecessary, and disproportionate decree, issued under flawed procedures, the court can provide remedy to Cameroonians and light a path for victims of shutdowns elsewhere.”

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) estimates that internet shutdowns in 2017 cost the Cameroonian economy USD $1.67 million per day.

More recently, the Philippine National Telecommunications Commission approved a request by the National Police to shut down mobile services during the Dinagyang festival in the Visayas island region on January 27-28, 2018.

In January 2018 alone, similar network shutdowns were imposed during the Feast of the Black Nazarene, Sinulog, and Ati-atihan festivals, writes the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA).

The FMA opposes network shutdowns because they violates the right of free expression and access to information, not to mention access to communication networks, which are vital to public safety. The non-profit group also notes there is little evidence that this tactic leads to greater security.

Hundreds arrested in Turkey for criticizing military operations on social media

Turkey’s Interior Ministry announced on January 29 that authorities had arrested and detained 311 people that it had identified as having made social media comments criticizing Turkish military efforts to push a Kurdish militia out of Syria's northern Afrin region. Among the detainees, who authorities say were spreading “terrorist propaganda”, are journalists, activists and opposition politicians.

Thai woman faces criminal charges for sharing a BBC story on Facebook

Chanoknan Ruamsap, an anti-junta activist and member of the New Democracy Group, received a police summons on January 18 indicating that she was being charged under Thailand’s notoriously harsh lèse majesté or “royal insult” law for sharing a BBC article profiling King Vajiralongkorn. She had shared the article in December 2016. Upon reckoning with the maximum prison sentence that she could face — 15 years behind bars — the young woman elected to flee the country. She told independent news outlet Prachatai, “I had less than 30 minutes to decide whether to stay or to leave. What is difficult is the fact that I won’t return after this journey.”

Myanmar man faces police intimidation in real life, hate speech on Facebook

A Myanmar man is facing threats online after being arrested arbitrarily by the police and posting about it on Facebook. Police responded with a Facebook post in which they accused the man of fabricating the incident and revealed his name and religion, which is Islam. Given ethno-religious tensions in Myanmar, his left him vulnerable to further online abuse. Though the station has since deleted the post, hate speech comments directed at the man have become more prominent in recent days. Yangon Police say they will conduct an investigation in response.

#MeToo China

The #MeToo movement is catching on in China despite the censorship of phrases like “anti-sexual harassment” on social media platforms. Following the dismissal of prominent Beihang University professor Chen Xiaowu over multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, students and alumni from dozens of universities across China are advocating to establish official policies against sexual misconduct in universities (which are very uncommon in China) using the hashtag, #EveryoneIn. Though similar calls have been made in years past, no concrete policies have been introduced thus far.

St. Lucia launches nationwide free WiFi network

On January 24, the government of St. Lucia announced the installation phase of the Government Island-Wide Network—a USD $4 million project to establish public internet access across the Caribbean island. The network will provide free or low-cost wireless connection in public areas for both residents and visitors. The project is a partnership with the government of Taiwan, which is contributing USD $3.28 million in funding. The network is expected to be installed within three months.

WiFi spies in Buenos Aires’ subway system

A new investigative piece by Vice Argentina shows that while the public WiFi network of Buenos Aires’ subway system is indeed free of charge, it collects a barrage of personal data about the user, including the person’s name, home address, phone number, national ID number, geolocation data and — depending on their device settings — potentially much more, including photographs.

Strava is tracking fitness — and a whole lot more

When the company that owns the fitness tracker app Strava published a series of heat maps showing where its users were most active, it inadvertently revealed the locations of secret military bases. The company says that the data was made public because users allowed the app to capture this information, arguing that they ought to have “opted out” of tracking while in military zones. The Guardian also reported that the Strava website “allows users to drill down into the tracked runs to find the names of individuals”, raising additional personal privacy concerns.

Want more Twitter followers? You can buy them from Devumi.

A New York Times investigation into the obscure US-based company Devumi examines the dark underbelly of social media identity fraud. The firm sells bot accounts to anyone who wishes to “exert influence” in their social network and appears to have used the names, profile pictures, and other personal data of actual Twitter users to create more than 50K fraudulent accounts that it then sells for profit.

New Research


CORRECTION [February 5, 2018]: The original version of this report identified Access Now and Internet Sans Frontieres as the NGOs leading the lawsuit regarding internet shutdowns in Cameroon. In fact, Cameroon's Veritas Law Offices and the Media Legal Defence Initiative are leading the suit. Along with multiple local organizations, Access Now and Internet Sans Frontieres have filed briefs in support of the suit.


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by Netizen Report Team at February 02, 2018 02:18 PM

February 01, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Malaysiakini News Site Will Appeal Defamation Case by Gold Mining Firm, Thanks to Crowdfunding by Readers

Malaysiakini office. Flickr photo by fuzheado (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Malaysia’s Court of Appeal ruled on January 12 that news website Malaysiakini had defamed Raub Australian Gold Mining (RAGM) in a series of articles about the health risks associated with living near a mine.

The independent news site was ordered to pay 90,000 USD for damages and legal costs. The ruling was criticized by various human rights groups, who see the case as an attack on press freedom.

As part of an effort to appeal the decision before a higher court, Malaysiakini has successfully raise funds for its legal battle by asking for donations from its readers.

Malaysiakini is one of the most widely read news sites in the country and has received awards for its coverage from the International Press Institute, Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists. The news site has been attacked in the past, with both legal and technical threats, particularly during times of political uncertainty.

RAGM filed the defamation case after Malaysiakini published three news reports and two video clips on September 5, 2012 about the health concerns of residents in the central state of Pahang, where RAGM was operating a gold mine.

In 2016 Malaysia’s High Court dismissed the case. But on January 12, 2018, the Court of Appeal reversed the ruling after reviewing the coverage of Malaysiakini. The ruling said that the news site was ‘reckless’ for failing to get the side of the mining firm. During the initial trial, Malaysiakini said it merely covered a press conference by local groups about the destructive legacy of mining in their area.

Malaysiakini has vowed to appeal the ruling. For its part, while RAGM maintains its position, the company has entered liquidation procedures after suffering financial losses. It is unclear whether this has created additional motivations for RAGM to pursue the case.

The ruling alarmed many groups, as it could set a precedent for large companies to pressure independent media who seek to cover their activities.

Ban Cyanide Action Committee was one of those which criticized the ruling:

We express our worries that the high sum of the claim by RAGM could drive media away from critically investigating and reporting issues of public interest that involved big corporations. This will further shrink the media freedom in the country.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) insisted that the work of media should not be criminalized:

It is completely unacceptable and disproportionate that journalists should be the target of judicial proceedings just for attending a press conference serving the public interest.

Some believe the ruling is politically-motivated. Sarawak Report suggested that it is intended to harass Malaysiakini and other independent media outlets:

It threatens to destroy Malaysia’s most established, successful, best known and extensive independent online media operation just weeks before the prime minister launches his re-election bid in the midst of massive corruption scandals, involving billions of dollars of thefts of public money – by him personally.

Malaysia’s ruling party has been in power since the 1950s. Prime Minister Najib Razak has been accused of pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars through the anomalous transactions of a state-owned investment firm. Najib once sued Malaysiakini for allegedly allowing libelous comments to be posted on its website.

Writing for Asia Sentinel, Mariam Mokhtar noted how the ruling can be considered as punishment and “warning to other newspapers to tread warily” when reporting on issues that can affect the ruling party.

Some think RAGM has powerful political connections that allowed it to appeal the case, despite the ruling of the High Court in 2016.

Source: Facebook

After the announcement of the verdict on January 12, Malaysiakini immediately appealed for public donations to be used for its defense fund. About 2,175 supporters contributed to the defense fund in just 12 days.

Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran thanked all those who supported the company:

It was amazing that the sum was raised in just 12 days. It showed that the public supported our efforts to report community issues.

On behalf of Malaysiakini's staff, I would like to thank all contributors and everyone who supported us in spirit.

Premesh Chandran and Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan vowed never to disappoint their contributors:

There were no tycoons, no corporate sponsorship. Only people like you – wage earners, the self-employed, retirees – giving their hard-earned money to the fund. It is this spirit which we promote among those who work in Malaysiakini. And it is this spirit that we want to see among our supporters and among all Malaysians.

Malaysiakini said it will appeal its case before the Federal Court.

by Mong Palatino at February 01, 2018 05:16 PM

‘Buy a New SIM Card’ and Await Further Interrogation: Russia's Security Services Detain and Question a Reporter

Pavel Nikulin, a member of the independent Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union, pickets the headquarters of Russia's domestic security agency FSB, to protest against a colleague's detention. Photo by Igor Yasin, used with permission.

When state security officers arrived at his home early in the morning of January 31, Russian journalist Pavel Nikulin learned firsthand that punishment is not always timely.

Nikulin, a co-chair of the Journalists and Media Workers Union in Russia, was visited by members of the FSB, one of Russia’s security services, who searched his apartment and seized several of Nikulin's possessions including laptops, documents and copies of his independent magazine, Moloko Plus.

Posting on his channel on Telegram, a widely-used messenger service in Russia, Nikulin told his subscribers that the search was related to Article 205.3 of Russia's criminal code, a statute that deals with “undergoing training for the purpose of committing terrorist activity.” This was confirmed by a lawyer from Open Russia, an organization dedicated to the promotion of democracy and human rights in the Russian Federation.

Nikulin also took to Twitter to tell everyone the reason for the visit:

They’re searching my apartment. Good morning. For my article in The New Times. They’re taking away the phone.

The article in question, “From Kaluga With Jihad”, drew on an interview Nikulin had conducted with a Russian national from the Kaluga region, who went to Syria to fight for the Al-Nusra Front, a splinter faction of al-Qaeda. When it was published in March of 2017 in The New Times, the interview immediately drew the attention of the Russian authorities.

Roskomnadzor, Russia's media regulator, issued a warning to The New Times for “signs of justifying terrorism” in the interview. The piece was later removed from The New Times’ website.

As The New Times’ chief editor later wrote on Facebook:

Путин публично говорит о том, что тысячи россиян воюют за ИГ, а писать о мотивах, почему русский парень из Калуги принимает ислам и уезжает воевать в Сирию — это „признаки оправдания терроризма“! По мне так это классическая цензура, которая запрещена Конституцией.

Putin publicly says that thousands of Russians are fighting for the Islamic State, but writing about motives, why a Russian guy from Kaluga accepts Islam and goes off to fight in Syria is “signs of justifying terrorism”! I feel this classic censorship, which is banned by the Constitution.

The search was not the end of Nikulin’s troubles, as one of his colleagues later posted on Twitter:

They’ve just taken Pavel Nikulin for questioning, and look at how everything looks after the search. It’s immediately clear that they put some effort into it! They spent 8 hours. Confiscated three notebooks, a phone, documents, all the issues of moloko plus, all the t-shirts, pins, and stickers.

As news of his detainment spread, the Journalists and Media Workers Union issued a statement condemning the move and demanding his release and the end of journalist harassment:

It later became clear that Nikulin himself was not being investigated under Article 205.3, but rather as a witness to terrorist training. After about two hours in FSB custody, Pavel wrote on Telegram “I’m free.”

He later told Mediazona, an independent news website that exclusively focuses on covering Russia's court and prison system:

Мы за 15 минут отстрелялись по 51-й [статье Конституции], и дальше мне было велено завести новую симку, связаться с калужским управлением ФСБ и договориться, когда я приду на допрос. Возможно, мне уже на допросе отдадут большую часть вещей, но компы они дольше всего будут отдавать.

It took us about 15 minutes to get through this once I invoked Article 51 [a constitutional guarantee against being forced to testify against oneself], and then I was told to buy a new SIM card, contact FSB's local directorate in Kaluga and set up a formal debriefing. I expect most of my stuff to be returned then, but they'll definitely hold onto my laptops longer.

Although it was a relatively short ordeal, this sort of unprovoked interaction is indicative of the pressure that Russian journalists are sometimes subject to. To arrive at a journalist’s home and detain them several months later speaks to either gross incompetence in investigating criminal matters or outright extralegal harassment. Neither possibility bodes well for government accountability in Russia.

by Christopher Moldes at February 01, 2018 12:08 AM

January 31, 2018

Joi Ito
Super-Presentation - It's a Wrap!

Six years ago, NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster, approached me and asked me if I wanted to work on a TV show airing TED Talks that I would comment on. I'd do the comments with the camera on my laptop and just upload them from wherever I was. A few months later, NHK had cut a deal with TED, and I was sitting in front of five video cameras and a full crew in my office at the Media Lab, shooting a series called "Super-Presentation" for NHK's educational network. The show featured a TED talk (or two) and involved my making comments about the talk, speaker or the topic in general and some B-Roll and background, plus a conversation in the studio in Tokyo. It has aired weekly in Japan on nationwide TV.

A few years ago we added Sputniko!, then a faculty member at the Media Lab, as a co-host.

Several hundred episodes and close to 300 TED Talks later, we shot the last episode last week. It's been a lot of work and a lot of fun. I had to research and think about a lot of topics in the course of the show in order to think of something interesting to say. The show was even voted the best educational show by viewers of NHK.

Thanks to NHK, TED, the wonderful staff who've been involved over the years, my co-host Sputniko! and Kazue Fukiishi, Kylee and Takashi Iba who appeared on the Tokyo side.

PS The show is just a wrap from my perspective. They will continue to air through the spring in Japan. :-)

by Joi at January 31, 2018 03:41 PM

January 30, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
A Victim of Police Brutality in Myanmar Seeks Justice While Confronting Racist Comments on Social Media

Kyaukdata police station in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo via Google Map Streetview.

A Myanmar man is facing a backlash online and in the justice system, after reporting that he was arrested arbitrarily by the police.

On his Facebook account, the young man described how a group of men in civilian clothes — who claimed to be police officers — attempted to arrest him while he was on the street using his phone at night of January 18.

Frightened by the situation, the man ran inside a nearby hotel to ask for help. The hotel staff refused to help and turned him over to the same police officers, who then took him to the police station. The man said the plainclothes officers verbally and physically abused him while they were en route to the station.

“ရဲတွေမှန်ရင် ဖမ်းဝရမ်းပါလား၊ ခင်ဗျားတို့ ကျနော့်ကိုဘာအမှုနဲ့ ဖမ်းမှာလဲ”လို့ ကျနော်ထပ်မေးပါတယ်။ […] “ဖမ်းဝရမ်းပါစရာမလိုဘူး၊ ငါတို့ကရဲတွေကွ”ဆိုပြီးကျနော့်ကို ၆ယောက်လုံးက လုံးထွေးပြီး ရိုက်နှက်ပြီးကားနောက်ဖုံးထဲကို အတင်းစောင့်တွန်းပြီးတင်ပါတယ်။

[When I was caught, I asked them] “If you are police, do you have warrant to arrest me? On what charge do you arrest me?” […]

Then they said: “We are police, we don't warrant” and then all 6 of them beat me together and pushed me into the back of the car.

He was released on the same night when his father arrived at the police station. A week after he was released, he wrote about his experience on his Facebook page.

The story quickly went viral, receiving over a thousand shares in just one night, and was subsequently reported on by mainstream media. In his post on January 26, the man recounted his experience and explained why he had to post his story on social media:

နောက်တစ်နေ့မနက်မှာ ကျနော့်သူငယ်ချင်း မောင်ဆောင်းခနဲ့အတူ မြို့နယ်ရဲမှုးဆီကို သွားရောက် တိုင်တန်းပြီး ဒီလိုမျိုး အပြစ်မဲ့တဲ့ နိုင်ငံသားတစ်ယောက်ကို ဥပဒေဘောင်တွေ ရဲလုပ်ထုံး လုပ်နည်းတွေကျော်လွန်ပြီးရိုက်နှက်ဆဲဆို၊ ခြိမ်းခြောက်ဖမ်းဆီးခဲ့တဲ့ကိစ္စကို အရေးယူပေး ဖို့ပြောဆိုခဲ့ပါတယ်။ ဒါပေမယ့် ရဲမှူးကအထက်ကို အမြန်ဆုံးတင်ပြပြီး ဆောင်ရွက်ပေးပါ့မယ်လို့ပြောပြီး ယနေ့ထက်ထိအရေးယူခြင်းမရှိသေးပါဘူး။

The next day I went to the township police officer to report this case and asked them to take action [against the plainclothes officers] for intimidating, unlawfully beating, and arresting an innocent citizen without a warrant. Although the township police officer has promised to bring justice, no action has been taken to this day.

Many Facebook users rallied behind the unlawfully arrested citizen and expressed their support.

One activist invoked provisions in the constitution that guarantee the right to protection and privacy of citizens:

ကျမတို့ အကာအကွယ်တွေ ရပြီး လွတ်လပ်လုံခြုံနေပြီလား ???
ကျမတို့တွေရဲ့ ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာ လွတ်လပ်မှုနှင့် ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာလုံခြုံမှု ကိုရော ကာကွယ်ပေးနေကြရဲ့လား ???

၂၀၁၇ခုနှစ် မတ်လ(၈)ရက်နေ့က အတည်ပြုပြဋ္ဌာန်းထားတဲ့ “နိုင်ငံသားများ၏ ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာ လွတ်လပ်မှုနှင့် ပုဂ္ဂိုလ်ဆိုင်ရာလုံခြုံမှုကို ကာကွယ်ပေးရေးဥပဒေ” မှာ အောက်က အခန်းနှစ်ခန်းပါပါတယ်။ ဖတ်ကြည့်ပါ။


Are we free and safe now? Do we have protection now? Is our right to privacy and the right to personal safety being protected?

In “Citizen Privacy and Personal Safety Protection Law” prescribed on March 8, 2017, there are two sections [that protect his case]. Read below


Thaw Htet highlighted the fact that the police were not wearing uniforms:

Seems like Burmese police aren't police but thugs who beat up people for no apparent reason. Well, no surprise there.

After the story went viral, the police station's Facebook page denied the accusation and even insinuated that the person had fabricated the incident and his injuries. It also exposed the personal identity of the complainant and mentioned that his religion is Islam, a detail that has no relevance to the incident, but could make the man more vulnerable, due to religious tensions in the country. The post was later deleted.

Screenshot of the post published on the Kyauktada police station Facebook page that was later deleted.

Myat Thu questioned the relevance of citing the religion of the complainant:

လမ်းဘေးမယ် ငုတ်တုပ်ထိုင်ပီး ဖုန်းပွတ်မိလို့
ရဲအရိုက်ခံရတဲ့ ကိုသန်းတိုးအောင်ကိစ္စကို ကျောက်တံတားရဲစခန်းက ပြန်ရှင်းထားတာမှာ
ဘာကြောင့် အစ္စလာမ်လို့ ထည့်ရေးထားတာလဲ?
ပြီးတော့ အဖမ်းခံရချိန်မှာ မင်း ကုလားလား၊ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံသားလား ဘာညာလည်း မေးတယ်ကြားတယ်
Hate Crime လေလား

When Kyaukdata Police Station released a statement to explain the situation, why did they need to mention ‘Islam’ in their statement? They arrested and beat him while he was using his phone on the street at night. And from what I heard, they asked if he was ‘kalar’ or a citizen of Myanmar while he was being arrested.

Could [we] even call it a Hate Crime?

The word “kalar” is derogatory term, typically used to refer to people of east Indian origin in a racist manner. In recent years, it has been used by ultra-nationalists and religious fundamentalists to attack Muslims in Myanmar, especially the Rohingya minority in the northwest part of the country. Rohingya Muslims born in Myanmar are not recognized by the government as an ethnic minority group and thus are typically not recognized as citizens of the country at all, despite it being the place of their birth.

While there were many comments criticizing the actions of the police and their failure to bring the perpetrators to justice, there were also racist comments under his post.

After the story went viral, hate speech comments attacking the complainant based on his facial features, skin color, and ethnic identity became more prominent than the original issue of police brutality.

Hate speech on social media targeting religious minorities in Myanmar has been a disturbing trend since the rise of the ultra-nationalist movement in 2012. The increasingly large number of people who subscribe to extreme Buddhist nationalist ideology in the country have been targeting the Muslim minority and Rohingya people on social media with racist hate speech.

The Yangon Police say they will conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.

by Guest Contributor at January 30, 2018 01:14 PM

‘We Want the World to Know': Activists Reporting on Occupation Face Legal Threats in Western Sahara

A crowd en route to join a rally in the city of Laayune is prevented and charged by Moroccan forces. The gathering was directed toward the UN peacekeeping force in Western Sahara, MINURSO, urging them to intervene against human rights-violations in Western Sahara. The scene was captured by an Equipe Media member in 2015.

Among media freedom and human rights groups, Morocco is often described as having a relatively favourable landscape for media freedom, in contrast to other oppressive regimes and dictatorships in the neighbourhood, such as Egypt and Mauritania.

These assessments, which are already subjective, do not extend to the occupied territories of Western Sahara.

In a militarized environment with aggressive controls on media and citizen reporting, few stories of Western Sahara reach audiences beyond the immediate region. Local journalists and media activists reporting on the occupation and Moroccan abuses face legal obstacles and risk lengthy jail sentences in order to make their voices heard.

One group that has found itself on the edge of this divide is Equipe Media, a video documentation and human rights group that mainly reports on rights abuses committed by Moroccan forces in the territory.

Along with a Swedish film production collective, the Sahrawi media group recently released its first documentary film, 3 Stolen Cameras, which addresses the group’s struggle to document and report on Moroccan violations in Western Sahara.

“Our mission insists on showing that we are peaceful,” says Equipe Media co-founder Ahmed Ettanji. “We are campaigning our cause without violence and we want the world to know.”

Seven Sahrawi journalists who worked with Equipe Media are currently behind bars because of their work activities, including video coverage of the 2010 Gdeim Izik protest movement.

Western Sahara: A Disputed Territory

The conflict in Western Sahara dates back to 1975 when the former colonial power Spain withdrew from the sparsely-populated territory and joint forces from neighbouring Mauritania and Morocco moved in to take control. While Mauritania eventually withdrew from Western Sahara, Moroccan forces to date still control what is sometimes referred to as ‘’Africa’s last colony’’.

For 16 years, the rebel group known as the Polisario Front fought a guerilla war for independence against Morocco, before a UN brokered ceasefire came into effect in 1991. The UN recognizes the Polisario Front as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, a mixed ethnic group that lives mainly in Western Sahara and Mauritania.


The Gdeim Izik protests

In late 2010, just weeks before the Arab uprisings swept across the region, Western Sahara saw a massive, largely peaceful civilian uprising against the occupation. The uprising became known as Gdeim Izik, named after the area of the desert where the protest took place.

Thousands of Sahrawis abandoned their homes to join what grew into a huge self-governed tent city, squatting on the land for almost a month before being violently dispersed by Moroccan forces, who then burned the tent city to the ground.

Although largely unknown to the world, Gdeim Izik is an important milestone in the modern history of Western Sahara that rejuvenated the civilian independence movement.

Riots ensued after the evacuation of Gdeim Izik and resulted in several deaths and injuries that the opposing sides still blame each other for. The official narrative from Moroccan authorities holds that two protesters and 11 police and security people were killed on duty. Other sources give different numbers and different identifications.

A report by Sahara Docs cast greater light on the consequences of the event for the protesters:

[The eviction of Gdeim Izik] caused for hundreds of victims among protesters, and some deaths among Moroccan ranks; eleven of them according to Moroccan sources. Some died on the field, while some others did so in hospitals, but as a consequence of their wounds.

Equipe Media made it their mission to document the movement, as there was nobody else to do so. Alongside a small network of grassroots media activists, they are paying a heavy price as a result.

Five media activists — Hassana Alia, Bachir El Khadaa, Hassan El Dah, Abdullahi Lakfawani, and Mohammed Lamin Haddi — affiliated with Equipe Media and similar networks of grassroots journalism are among a group of 25 Sahrawi activists who were prosecuted for their roles in the Gdeim Izik protest movement.

Lakfawani, who was arrested on 12 November 2010, was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of “membership in a criminal gang” and “violence against a security force member leading to death, with intent.”

Haddi, who was arrested on 20 November, was sentenced to 25 years in jail after he was convicted of “membership in a criminal gang and complicity in violence against a security force member.”

“Criminal gang” is a common terminology used by Moroccan authorities to describe activist groups in the region.

El Khadaa and El Dah were arrested at a cafe in Laayune, almost one month after the protest camp was dismantled. While El Khadaa got twenty years in jail for “entering into a criminal agreement” and “complicity in violence against security force member leading to death, with intent,” El Dah was sentenced to thirty years in jail for “membership in a criminal gang and complicity in violence against security force member leading to death with intent.” In addition to contributing to Equipe Media, El Dah was also a reporter for the official TV station of Polisario.

Hassana Alia, who at the time worked with the Smara News network, was tried and convicted in absentia in 2013 on unspecified charges, and sentenced to life in prison. He is currently exiled to Spain where he was granted asylum before the trial. Alia did not appear among the defendants in the 2017 re-trial.

Commenting on the cases, Ettanji told Global Voices:

When our members are put on trial we are never charged with violating the press code, but always some made-up accusations of us assaulting the police or something like that. Foreign journalists are kicked out, Moroccan journalists know the law and keep their mouths shut and us Sahrawis are treated in the worst way possible.

Gdeim Izik trial

Moroccan authorities accuse 25 activists of the Gdeim Izik protest movement of committing acts of violence in relation to clashes that erupted when Moroccan security forces dismantled the protest-camp on 8 November 2010.

Eleven Moroccan security officers and two Sahrawis died in those clashes, according to official sources. However, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and international observers say the trial is unfair due to forced confessions obtained through torture. Moroccan authorities have not heeded calls from rights groups to investigate these allegations of torture. In March 2013, after more than two years of pre-trial detention, a military court issueed the activists to prison sentences ranging from two years to life imprisonment.

In 2016, after Morocco changed its military justice law to end military trial of civilians, the cassation court ordered a retrial before a civilian court. On 19 July 2017, a court of appeal released a verdict, upholding most of the sentences previously pronounced by the military court of Rabat.

Two other Equipe Media contributors are also currently in jail, although not in relation to the Gdeim Izik protest. Salah Labsir, who worked with Equipe Media and Smara News prior to 2013 before he fled to a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria, was arrested on 6 June 2015 after returning to Western Sahara. He was sentenced to four years in jail for “premeditated violence against the police and destruction of public property.”

Mohammed El Bambari is currently serving a six-year jail term in relation to his coverage of protests that turned violent in the city of Dakhla in September 2011. The Moroccan government accuses him of participating in the violence on a number of charges including “committing violence against public servants,” “obstructing a public road,” and the “formation of a criminal gang.” Although the events for which Bambari is accused took place in 2011, he was not arrested until August 2015 when he appeared at local police station in Dakhla to renew his identification card.

If you can't challenge ‘territorial integrity’, how can you do journalism?

Morocco's 2016 Press Code criminalizes any expression that might challenge the “territorial integrity” of the kingdom. Print media accused of undermining Morocco's “territorial integrity” can face suspension while news websites can be blocked in accordance with Articles 71 and 104 of the Press Code. Any discussion or investigation related to the subject, and any independent journalistic activities carried out in Western Sahara, are thus violations that can garner a prison sentence ranging from six months to two years in jail and a fine, under penal code amendments from 2016.

But in this context, where any media coverage that challenges the “territorial integrity” of the Moroccan state is criminalized, the line between journalism and activism becomes blurred. To underground and activist media groups like Equipe Media, the cause for West Saharan self-determination and freedom of expression coalesce into one defiant and dangerous act of resistance.

While there has been a UN brokered ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front in effect since 1991, the conflict is by no means settled. As the gravitational centre of West Saharan resistance started shifting away from the guerrilla fighters in the desert onto the Sahrawi civilian population in the occupied cities, an environment of underground media began to form.

International disinterest in the Sahrawi cause

Despite Equipe Media’s peaceful activities aimed at promoting the cause of the Sahrawi people and their rights, there is still very little international attention on the Western Sahara conflict.

The silence also plays into the hands of the Moroccan propaganda, a narrative built around a national consensus that “Moroccan Sahara” is a non-issue.

“They push the image that there are no problems here,” says Ahmed. “Whenever resistance is brought to surface they say we are a minority of troublemakers, common criminals or foreign (Algerian) agents.”

When Gdeim Izik happened and news started finding its way out, Moroccan media immediately painted it as a protest over unemployment and economic hardships, making little if any reference to the military occupation. As the territory is exceedingly difficult for foreign journalists to visit and report from, foreign media often resort to reprinting what appears in the Moroccan press.

Ahmed is quick to underline that several governments in Europe, foremost the former colonial powers of Spain and France, are directly complicit and invested in the occupation.

What our group tries to do is to fix the spotlight on this place, the last remaining colony in Africa and we are simply asking to be free. But [Spain and France] continue to put economic interests ahead of our human rights. They just don’t care.

by Advox at January 30, 2018 09:10 AM

January 29, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
#MeToo Has Hit China's Universities, Despite Efforts of Internet Censors

Chinese students displayed anti-sexual harassment banners at the January 20 Women's March in Washington, DC. Image via Voice of America, licensed for reuse.

The global #MeToo movement is slowly catching on in China, despite strict censorship on the internet.

After highly-regarded Beihang University professor Chen Xiaowu was dismissed over multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, students and alumni from dozens of top universities have launched online petitions demanding that school administrators establish official policies against sexual misconduct, which are all but non-existent in Chinese universities. The initiative has its own hashtag, #EveryoneIn.

Following more than a dozen sexual misconduct allegations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, the #MeToo campaign and hashtag became a global social movement to raise public awareness of sexual assault and harassment. Since that time, women from all over the world have been sharing their own experiences online using the #MeToo hashtag.

The movement has also spread to mainland China but was difficult to see online, thanks to China's aggressive internet censorship regime. Activists say that phrases like “anti-sexual harassment” were targeted and censored on social media.

But this began to shift when the story of Luo Qianqian, a former student at Beihang University in Beijing, went viral.

Luo, who is now living in the US, published an essay in which she described how Chen Xiaowu lured her to his sister’s home and forced himself upon her twelve years ago, during her post-graduate study. Although she was able to escape, she later learned that another student had been lured by Chen and had become pregnant as a result.

Luo’s account went viral overnight. Censors responded quickly, but could not contain the response when five other Beihang students came forward and made similar sexual misconduct allegations against Chen.

Upon investigation, Beihang University decided to dismiss Chen, who at the time had served as vice president of the university's graduate studies program. The Ministry of Education also stripped Chen of his academic title as “Yangtze River Scholar”.

The decision was widely reported and discussed on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

A Beihang student commented in one of the Weibo news threads about this disciplinary action, noting that it was long overdue:


As a Beihang student, I can only say the school is regretfully slow in responding to the sexual misconduct. The case had been reported before. It was revealed on Zhifu (an online platform), but the post was deleted and the victim was threatened. The expose was repressed. A similar [sexual harassment] case happened in Beijing Posts and Telecommunications University, which is 1km away from Beihang. There wasn’t any follow-up. People are disappointed with the government’s inaction. More and more elites are leaving the country. Can we still see hope in this country in the long run?

Feminist activists consider the result a small victory, warning that on-campus sexual harassment is endemic in China and that universities still do not have concrete policies addressing the problem.

Wei Tingting, a feminist activist who was arrested by police for organizing an anti-sexual harassment action on March 8 Women's Day in 2015, conducted a nationwide survey on university campus sexual harassment in September 2017. Among the 6592 respondents, nearly 70 percent had encountered different forms of sexual harassment.

Many agreed that Chen Xiaowu’s sexual misconduct is just the tip of the iceberg:


When you see a cockroach in the middle of the living room, you can find usually find a whole colony of them in the corner


China’s education sector is such a mess — from kindergarten to university, the environment is not safe. And the problem is addressed with either repression or a clean-up show.

Some pointed out that it is a reflection of systematic power abuse in the society. One user wrote:


In a society driven by “desire and thirst”, how can people resist such temptations? Especially for those who hold positions of public authority, they use their positions to lure women. For the sake of survival, women have to be submissive, willingly or unwillingly.

To address the problem of systematic power abuse, students, alumni and teachers from several universities including Beijing University, Fudan University and Wuhan University have made public appeals to school authorities to introduce a set of monitoring and disciplinary measures to prevent campus sexual harassment.

In addition, more than 50 professors from universities across the country signed a declaration on January 19 urging the Ministry of Education to address school and university campus sexual harassment with a concrete policy. The professors suggested that offenders should be prosecuted in court. They also pledged to report on sexual harassment and protect victims.

However, similar calls to establish campus sexual harassment policies have been made repeatedly in recent years and thus far no concrete policies have been introduced.

Feminists like Wei Tingting are using this moment to push for more public pressure:

有人说这是中国高校版的Me Too,我要说的是,Me Too并不够,而是要Everyone In
不是只有受害的当事人站出来说:Me Too 还要更多其他的人(包括女人和男人)拿出行动来说:I’m in
Me Too 只解决了”说出来“的部分,说出来之后要做什么,需要更多人的I’m In

Luo Qianqian is just a single case, there are many mang “Luo Qianqians”… it takes twelve years for this Luo Qianqian [to tell her story], while other Luo Qianqians remain invisible.
Some say that this is China’s campus version of the Me Too movement. I want to stress that the Me Too campaign is inadequate, we need everyone in.
Not only the victims should stand up and tell their Me Too stories, we need others (female and male) to take action and say “I’m in”.
Me Too will only address the story-telling part. After the stories are told, we need more “I’m in” to follow up with action.

Wei launched a crowdfunding campaign with a plan:


1. Send a copy of the survey report and a set of policy suggestions to the 211 universities that participated in the survey.
2. Support the salary for a coordinator who will maintain a [national anti-sexual harassment] network.
3. Recruit more people into the network.

Meanwhile, some are worried that the current #MeToo campaign in China will face another round of online crackdowns. In 2015, five feminist activists were arrested for speaking out against sexual harassment ahead of March 8 International Women’s day.

According to a report from New York Times, in addition to censoring a public appeal calling for a campus sexual harassment policy, activists were warned by authorities that their action could be viewed as colluding with foreign forces and betraying the country. Feminists and allies of the movement in China are bracing themselves for more censorship, as International Women's day approaches.

by Oiwan Lam at January 29, 2018 10:31 PM

January 25, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Can Brazil’s Government Use Google to Manipulate Public Opinion?

Anti-Temer protest in São Paulo, August 2016. Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

A January 12 article on the website of O Globo, one of Brazil’s most widely read daily newspapers, alleges that Brazil's government is seeking to work with Google to customize search results for Brazilian users, based on their location and possibly other characteristics.

According to the O Globo article, which did not name its sources, the government is hoping to tailor search results related to a controversial pension reform bill, which the Congress is scheduled to vote on in the near term. Google has made no public statements on the matter.

O Globo reports that members of President Michel Temer’s administration met Google representatives in early January to discuss the viability of directing users’ queries to official content produced by the government. According to the article:

It would work more or less like this: a rural worker who searches ‘pension reform’ would see content that explains that this category of worker won't be affected by the current version of the bill.

The highly unpopular pension reform bill is the boldest component of Temer's austerity package, which is aimed at keeping the public deficit under control. Since late 2016, the government has been struggling to secure support for the bill in Congress, and has since proposed a more moderate version of the bill. The stakes are even higher now as lawmakers worry that approving such an unpopular bill will hurt their chances of re-election in October.

If Google were to agree to such a proposal, the company would undercut its own previous arguments about the service it provides. In numerous court challenges, including multiple cases in Brazil, Google’s lawyers have argued that the search engine is a “neutral intermediary,” a algorithmic system designed to show users “relevant” information, according to a set of (highly subjective) metrics intended to determine relevance.

The idea also raises significant questions about the reach of Brazil’s Marco Civil da Internet, or Civil Framework for the Internet. Passed in 2015, shortly before the impeachment process began for former President Dilma Rousseff, the law protects network neutrality by prohibiting “discrimination or degradation of traffic for commercial purposes while permitting it for emergency and public calamity situations.” It does not explicitly address content discrimination for political purposes.

Ethiopia’s ruling coalition is paying people to promote its agenda — and harass its opponents

A series of government documents and chat logs, leaked by sources suspected to be inside the regime, reveal that the Ethiopian government is paying social media commenters to influence online conversations in the government’s favor. Among the documents is a list of individuals and the precise amounts of money paid to them for pro-government and anti-opposition postings. Most of the people on the list are already government employees. The revelations are consistent with increasingly aggressive pro-government, anti-opposition online campaigns, which have coincided with a rise in online hate speech online and persecution of independent journalists.

Mexican regulators threaten community phone network over fee waiver

Indigenous Community Telecommunications, Mexico’s first and only association of community indigenous service providers, may be forced to stop operating after being charged one million pesos by Mexico’s national communications regulator for the radio frequencies it uses. Indigenous Community Telecommunications requested an exemption from payment as they are not-for-profit and have no commercial use, which was accepted as part of their initial licensing agreement. One year after they began operations, their request for exemption from the fee was denied. The group is challenging the resolution.

Social media gag order extends to university employees in Jammu and Kashmir

This week, faculty and staff at the University of Jammu, in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, learned that a 2017 regulation restricting state employees from certain types of speech on social media will extend to university employees as well. The 2017 regulation indicates that “no government employee shall engage in any criminal, dishonest, immoral or notoriously disgraceful conduct on social media which may be prejudicial to the government.”

Iran has an Access to Information law — and Rouhani wants to start using it

The protests in Iran that broke out in late December could open an opportunity for the government to put into practice the country’s Access to Information law, which was passed in 2009, but has yet to be fully implemented. In the wake of the protests, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech on the importance of transparency in governance, arguing, “We have no way other than clarity for rooting out corruption; we must all go inside a glass room so that people can see every measure we take.”

Sinking ship succumbs to censorship under Germany’s anti-hate speech law

Twitter blocked the account of satirical magazine Titanic under the newly implemented German anti-hate speech law, NetzDG. The magazine’s account was shut down for 48 hours after it republished a deleted post parodying the anti-Muslim tweets of a far-right German politician, according to Columbia Journalism Review. The law gives social media platforms 24 hours to remove posts reported by users as being illegal.

UK plans to fight disinformation, somehow

The UK government is setting up a dedicated national security task force to counter disinformation spread by state actors, amid an investigation of claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign. No further details have yet been revealed about the operations of the new unit.

The NSA is listening more carefully than we thought

A new report from The Intercept reveals that the US National Security Agency has technology that can identify people by the sound of their voices, which is captured in a unique file called a “voiceprint.” The report draws on classified documents dating from 2004 to 2012, and indicates that US intelligence agencies have been using the technology in counterterrorism operations since as early as the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The report raises legal concerns about the right to privacy, particularly as voice identifiers are a unique form of biometric data.

UN says more people need internet access, especially women

The United Nations Broadband Commission announced new targets for 2025 to support the expansion of global internet access, with the ultimate aim of connecting the 50% of the world who are currently offline. The 2025 targets urge countries to establish national broadband plans, make internet access more affordable and increase opportunities to build digital skills.

The commission also lowered the threshold for internet access “affordability” from 5% to less than 2% of monthly gross national income (GNI) per capita, reflecting increased sensitivity to income inequality. These proportions were first proposed by the Alliance for Affordable Internet in their 2016 Affordability Report. The targets also call for gender equality in all areas of internet use, acknowledging that women and girls are among the groups least likely to benefit from the digital economy.

New research


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by Netizen Report Team at January 25, 2018 09:47 PM

Veto Viber? Tax Telegram? Such Are Tajikistan's Tech Company Conundrums

Cartoon by Hussam Al-Zahrani.

In an attempt to stem a cash flow crisis, Tajikistan is taking up increasingly hostile postures towards digital communications companies.

In recent months, the government has made moves to monopolize the internet service provision and revoke licences for cheap IP-based call services. It has also been reported that restrictions are being placed on popular mobile messaging applications.

These changes all could make life costlier for users in Tajikistan, the poorest country to emerge from the Soviet breakup.

At the beginning of January 2018, the state Communications Service ordered local, privately-owned internet service providers (ISPs) to purchase internet infrastructure only from the state-owned company “Tojnet” (managed by the state's telecommunications monopolist “Tojiktelecom”) instead of buying it directly from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, as was their custom.

This was made worse when on December 18, 2017 authorities revoked ISPs’ licenses to provide IP-based cheap call services through a protocol known as NGN (New Generation Network).

At the start of 2018, users reported problems making calls through call and messaging app Viber, and suspected that the government was blocking the app.

Although state officials claimed that they took these measures in the interest of “national security” “because of extremists’ threats”, motivations for revoking NGN service and blocking Viber's audio and video call features appear to have been more economic than political. Both had become a thorn in the side of state-run Tojiktelecom, as they allowed millions of citizens with friends and relatives working abroad to keep in touch without using costly international calling services.

Over a million Tajiks are migrant workers outside the country, mostly in Russia. If it weren't for apps like Viber, Tajiks would likely be using international phone lines to call their relatives, and thus generating revenue for Tojiktelecom, the government-run international exchange point for telephony. Or they would simply call home less often.

Messaging apps face uncertain future

While massive numbers of users complained Viber had become inaccessible at the beginning of the year, problems using the app later evaporated under mysterious circumstances.

Viber began working again some days ago, but its functionality has been inconsistent, with some users reporting that they are unable to make calls, while others say it is full functional. IMO, another popular messaging app, remains fully functional.

Curiously, the news website Akhbor, claimed that the (perhaps only partial) revival of Viber was the result of an intervention by Rustam Emomali, the 30-year-old mayor of capital city Dushanbe, who is also the son of long-reigning autocrat Emomali Rakhmon.

While the news report is seemingly based on the testimony of a single anonymous government source, the claim is believable.

Viewed as his 65-year-old father's most likely successor, Emomali has used social media and apps to boost his public profile in his new role, after prior stints in charge of the customs service and state anti-corruption agency.

According to regional news website

Only three months ago [Emomali] ordered the creation of a channel on Viber through which the general public could get in touch with the city government, so he is hardly likely to want to see the app being squeezed out.

Communications as a cash cow

Few major companies operate in Tajikistan. The country of 8.5 million is largely agrarian and strongly dependent on cash transfers sent by migrants working in Russia, which have dropped as a result of the economic downturn there. 

That has left telecom companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) among the most significant contributors to Tajikistan's state budget. And beyond taxes, the companies have made other contributions to the state coffers.

At the beginning of 2017, at least three large telecommunications companies, two of them Russian (Megafon and Beeline) and one European (Tcell), faced large fines for tax evasion, ranging from USD $17 million to $35 million. The companies took the case to a local court but lost their legal battles. The only locally-owned major telecom, Babilon-M, was fined around USD $55 million in 2014.

Tajikistan also expects global tech firms to line up and pay. At the end of 2017, media reported authorities were looking to tax Google, Alibaba Group, and Telegram.

The basis for the reports was a letter from the head of the local tax committee to the government of Tajikistan dated September 2017  but leaked in December 2017. In it, tax chief Nusratullo Davlatzoda complained the Russian state budget had seen billions of rubles in income from Google, Apple, Alibaba, Amazon and others in 2017.

Davlatzoda suggested that mirroring Russia's approach could help Tajikistan solve its budget deficit.

The same letter also supports the idea that the attempted block on Viber was rooted in economic concerns.

The official blamed mobile messenger apps including Viber, WhatsApp and IMO for allowing Tajik citizens to communicate with their relatives in Russia free of charge:

Зарурат ба миён омадааст, ки барои ба танзим даровардани амалиёт дар интернет чораҳои дахлдор андешида шавад. Ҳамчунин, ба қонуни андоз ворид кардани талабот оид ба нигоҳ доштан ва ба буҷет гузарондани андозҳо аз хидматрасонии электронӣ, аз ҷумла ҷорӣ кардани андоз аз Интернет, ба мақсад мувофиқ мебошад

There is a need to take appropriate measures to regulate all actions carried out via the Internet. It is necessary to introduce a provision in the tax legislation that provides for the obligation to pay taxes for provision of services in electronic form, including tax from Internet.

Akhbor news site meanwhile recalled the words of the same official from a few years ago, when he was asked why the country was raising taxes on mobile companies:

Ҳозир ҳар як пойлуч соҳиби телефони мобил шудааст…

Now even barefooted ones have a mobile phone…

Blocks can be political, too

While the latest restrictions on online activity seem to stem from the country's dire economic situation, major platforms have been blocked for political and security reasons n the past.

YouTube famously became inaccessible in 2013, after a video of President Rakhmon singing and dancing at Rustam's wedding went viral. Russian social media website Odnoklassniki went down in 2014, apparently due to its popularity among Tajiks who had joined extremist groups fighting in Syria. Facebook, a hub for online opposition to the Rakhmons, has also been blocked on numerous occasions. All these come alongside many other blocks on small websites and blogs.

Most of these blocks are attributed to the country's communications director, Beg Sabur, who is related to the ruling Rakhmon family by marriage.

Sabur (formally called Beg Zokhurov) gained international notoriety in 2012 after he summoned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to meet him in Dushanbe “during [his] office hours”. Needless to say, Zuckerberg didn't respond.

by Salam Aleik at January 25, 2018 04:40 PM

January 23, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Protests Underscore the Potential Power of Iran's Access to Information Law

An Iranian protester holds up a peace sign. Image from Article 19, used with permission.

Written by Afsaneh Rigot and David Banisar of ARTICLE 19 in content partnership with Global Voices.

On 28 December 2017, widespread protests broke out across Iran on an unprecedented scale, in what has become the country’s largest anti-government demonstration since the post-election protests in 2009.

Security forces have responded to the protests with aggressive and in some cases lethal force, resulting in over 3,700 arrests and 21 deaths during the protests. Three demonstrators arrested during the protests have since died in prison.

These protests have awakened a new call for anti-corruption and transparency in Iran, opening what could be an opportunity for the government to fully implement regulations intended to support government transparency, namely Iran’s Access to Information law.


How are the 2017 protests linked to transparency?

The protests in Mahshad appear to have been triggered by government corruption and increasing prices of basic goods. The protests quickly spread throughout Iran in the following days, with messages ranging from the economic chants of “bread, land, freedom” to political opposition against President Hassan Rouhani, Ayatollah Khamenei and the Islamic Republic as a whole.

These demonstrations are set apart from the anti-government protests of 2009, with the widespread involvement of working class people, who have been hit hardest by inflation and austerity measures.

Rouhani’s new proposals in December 2017 to cut state subsidies – cash handouts – for 30 million people and increased the price of fuel and eggs by 50%. This was further compounded with proposals to increase government funds to opaque religious institutions.

The protests reinitiated calls from political officials and citizens for transparency around the government's economic activities. Rouhani himself spoke out about the right to information and need for transparency in a speech just 10 days before the protests, where he called for greater budget transparency from the Minister of Economy and Treasury.

In short order, the first week of December saw Rouhani release details on the new national budget. This unprecedented decision functioned as a symbolic move towards transparency, by allowing citizens to see how public money is being spent.

The budget itself sparked widespread discontent, and is seen as a catalyst of the protests, during which screenshots of the budget were circulated through popular Telegram channels, showing cuts to subsidies and funding increases to religious institutions.


Accessing information is easier said than done

Rampant corruption and calls for institutional transparency could pave the way for Iran to fully implement its Publication and Free Access to Information Act, passed in 2009 amid corruption scandals under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although the government has taken some steps to promote its use through online trainings and informational materials, the law has yet to be fully implemented.

Government materials on the right to access of information. From

Implementing the law could help citizens and civil society hold the Iranian government accountable for its responsibilities to the public. Beyond serving as an anti-corruption tool, it also provides citizens the right to information on key issues which affect their lives, such as the safety of local hospitals or budgets for local schools. The law also provides a mechanism for Iranians to request access to their personal records from government bodies, including medical and social insurance.

In his December 2017 speech on the importance of transparency in governance, president Rouhani said:

We have no way other than clarity for rooting out corruption; we must all go inside a glass room so that people can see every measure we take.

Time will tell if he makes good on this promise.


Learn more: ARTICLE 19 has published an analysis of Iran's Access to Information law, along with tips on how to make an information request.

by Article 19 at January 23, 2018 11:20 PM

January 22, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Filipino Bloggers Rally to Defend Rappler News Site

Black Friday protest in Quezon City, Philippines on January 19, 2018. Photo by Therese Reyes, shared on Twitter.

Filipino bloggers are rallying to defend press freedom against moves by Rodrigo Duterte's administration to shut down Philippine-based news website Rappler.

On January 11, the Securities and Exchange Commission cancelled the company’s license to operate as a business, claiming that it has violated rules against foreign ownership of media companies.

Although Rappler has received some financial support the US-based Omidyar Network, it is fully is owned and operated by Filipinos who reside in the Philippines. Nevertheless, President Duterte insinuated in his July 2017 State of the Nation Address that Rappler is “fully owned by Americans.”

Supporters held “Black Friday” protests on January 19, condemning the attacks against the besieged news site and demanding stronger protections for media freedom.  Members of mainstream media, campus journalists, activists, and press freedom advocates gathered in Quezon City and Bacolod City to raise their voices.

On the same week the SEC revoked Rappler's license, the country's National Bureau of Investigation also summoned company CEO Maria Ressa, along with a reporter and one of the company's corporate owners. The investigation is the result of a claim by businessman Wilfredo Keng, who alleges that Rappler committed “cyber libel” in a 2012 article that showed evidence that Keng had been involved in human trafficking and drug smuggling. Rappler has vowed to challenge these claims against the company.

On January 19, Filipino bloggers collectively wrote and signed a statement expressing their commitment to freedom of expression, and their solidarity with Rappler. Initiated by Mom Blogger Noemi Dado, the statement is part of an outpouring of support by Filipino social media users and netizens for Rappler and in defense of press freedom.

More bloggers are invited to join the signatories by signing up at Here is the statement's text and initial signatories:

Statement: Bloggers for Freedom

We concerned Filipino bloggers stand for the rights to free expression and to free speech. And our first responsibility is to protect these rights.

We thus stand with Rappler, its right to exist, the rights of its working journalists and contributors, and the rights of its community of readers.

We stand against moves to silence and scare journalists, bloggers and media practitioners just because the President and his ardent supporters dislike their news and views.

Now is a time for making choices amid battles between truth and lies, debate and dissonance, democracy and dictatorship.

We sign our names here to tell everyone we have made a choice. We are bloggers for freedom.

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado
Tonyo Cruz
Dale Bacar
Marcelle Fabie
Myk Mykapalaran Cruz
Rod Magaru
Ely Valendez
Alex Lapa
Tess Termulo
Zena Bernardo
Jover Laurio
James Romer V. Velina
Ramon Nocon
Flow Galindez
Helga Weber
Mc Richard Viana Paglicawan
Raymond Palatino
Loi Landicho
Saul de Jesus
Karlo Mongaya
Ricky Rivera
Mark Will Mayo Magallanes
Eyriche Cortez
Julius Mariveles
Yusuf Ledesma
RJ Barrete
Dino Manrique
Peachy Tan
Rhadem Camlian Morados
Julius Rocas
Jon Limjap
Markku Seguerra
Jam Ancheta
Estan Cabigas
Enrico Dee
Acee Vitangcol
Stefan Punongbayan
Jesus Falcis
Hancel Reyes
Czarina Maye Noche
JM Mariano
Reginald Agsalon
John Clifford Sibayan
Jane Uymatiao
Johnn Mendoza
Carlos Celdran
Christian Melanie
Jann Medina
Carlo Arvisu
Inday Espina Varona
Eugene Alvin Villar
Melo Villareal
Brian Ong
JM Tuazon
Fritz Tentativa
Fitz Villafuerte
Tina Antonio
Mykel Andrada
Reynaldo Pagsolingan Jr.
Renz Daniel de Vera
Alfred John Tayona
Jed Lariego
Judith Albano
Maritel Ledesma
John Paul Manahan
Vencer Crisostomo
John Phillips Bengero
Leo D. Cloma
Kassy Pajarillo
Dianne Salonga
Joseph Gonzales
Bimbo Isidro
Alan de Luzuriaga
Acielle Angeli Garcera
Maria Jose
Nath Hermosa
Mavic Conde
Anton Deleon
Pepe Cabrera
Jorel Alfuente
Yshmael Cabana
Allandale Antenero
Consie Lozano
John Philip C. Bravo
Eduardo Joven
Claire Madarang
Randell Tiongson
Michelle Ressa Aventajado
Jim Paredes
Didi Tiu Tang
Menard Osena
Oji Sanchez

Note: Filipino Global Voices community members Karlo Mongaya, Julius Rocas and Mong Palatino (Global Voices’ Southeast Asia editor) are signatories of the statement.

by Karlo Mikhail Mongaya at January 22, 2018 02:40 PM

The First Mobile Phone Network for Indigenous Communities in Mexico Is Under Threat

Photograph from the public Facebook profile of Redes, A.C., an organization that is part of Indigenous Community Telecommunications, A.C. Used with permission.

Indigenous Community Telecommunications, the first and only association of community and indigenous service provider that facilitates affordable mobile phone and internet services to rural areas of Mexico, might be forced to stop operating after the national telecommunications regulator demanded the network pay one million pesos (more than 50,000 US dollars) for the radio frequencies it uses.

In July 2016, as Global Voices previously reported, Mexico's Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT) granted the first license to operate a telecommunications network for indigenous community use to the non-profit organization Indigenous Community Telecommunications.

This non-profit, community-driven structure has given economically marginalized indigenous communities greater and more affordable access to mobile communications networks than they had in the past. The local, community governance of the network means that people are able to use it on their own terms, rather than those of a large corporation.

The project had originally provided GSM (2G) mobile phone service to around 20 isolated communities in the southern state of Oaxaca under an experimental license. With the IFT's historic decision, Indigenous Community Telecommunications was authorized to provide voice and data services, to operate for 15 more years, and even to expand to the states of Guerrero, Chiapas, Veracruz and Puebla.

Such agreements typically require the provider to pay a set fee for the use of radio spectrum, but in this case, Indigenous Community Telecommunications filed a writ of amparo requesting an exemption from payment. They made this request in light of the fact that their operations are not-for profit and have no commercial use.

Erick Huerta, a legal advisor for the Indigenous Communal Cell Phone Network (which is part of Indigenous Community Telecommunications) told El Financiero newspaper that one of the main problems faced by indigenous community-run service providers is that the payment of fees established by law does not differentiate between a community service provider and a commercial one.

Rhizomática—the organization in charge of facilitating the construction and maintenance of infrastructure for Indigenous Community Telecommunications’ networks, and a beneficiary of one of the grants by Rising Voices to establish these networks—explained the differences between the community and commercial telephony.

One of the most important differences is the central role that the community plays. Commercial telephony depends on the decisions of the operator and is for profit. Community telephony, however, depends on the decisions of community members. Instead of profit, its objective is communication among communities, who are often located in remote areas, and maintenance of the network.

The chart below breaks down the differences:

Source: Rhizomática and Redes AC, “Information for new members.”

Community Telephony
The community owns the local network.
The community defines the way in which it will administer the network.
The community establishes the rates for its users.
It is non-profit.
The income is used for the improvement of the network.
The community owns the concession together with other communities that are also part of an association.
The community gives priority to applications that provide a greater benefit to users.

Commercial Telephony
The commercial operator owns the network.
The commercial operator is the one who defines the form in which the network will operate.
The commercial operator is the one who establishes the price that users will be charged.
The commercial operator seeks to obtain the greatest profit possible.
The income is used for the maintenance of the network and as profit for the owners of the company.
The operator is the owner of the concession or leases the concession to another operator.
The operator gives priority to applications that bring more income.

A network for indigenous community use is not designed to earn money, and thus could never afford to pay such high fees. The network provides mobile phone, SMS and data services to more than 3,000 households in remote areas for 40 pesos per month (USD $2 per month). In addition, of the 40 pesos charged, 25 go to the community and 15 to the association (The Indigenous Community Telecommunications), which invests this money in the maintenance of the network.

However, on November 15, 2017, as reported by El Financiero newspaper, the Second District Court for Administrative Matters in Economic Competition, Broadcasting and Telecommunications denied the request for exemption.

Rodrigo Huerta Reyna, coordinator of the legal department of Indigenous Community Telecommunications, explained to the independent news website Sin Embargo:

Nosotros tenemos un título de concesión de uso social indígena para usar ciertas bandas de frecuencia del espectro radioeléctrico. El título lo otorgaron en septiembre de 2016 y nos están cobrando la parte correspondiente a 2016 y 2017, que eso suma como 900 mil pesos, más lo que se siga acumulando en los años. […]

Damos servicio a comunidades que no son viables económicamente, obviamente un cobro de estos es impagable, además de que no tenemos el ánimo de lucro que los operadores comerciales.

We have a concession title for indigenous community use of certain frequency bands of the radio spectrum. The title was granted in September 2016, and for the 2016 and 2017 period they are charging us 900,000 pesos, plus what continues to accumulate over the years. […]

We provide service to communities that are not viable economically and that can obviously not pay this amount of money, plus we are not profit-oriented as commercial operators are.

In the photo: A sign letting costumers know the service is not available gets corrected. The original messages reads (mainly in orange letters): “There are no long-distance calls yet. Don't be stubborn”. Once the community-based mobile network started working in the village, they crossed out some of the words of the original message for it to read: “YES, there are long-distance calls NOW”. Photograph taken in Talea de Castro, the first community beneficiary of the networks facilitated by the Indigenous Community Telecommunications. Available on the public Facebook profile of Redes, A.C.

Currently, the resolution adopted by the Second District Court for Administrative Matters, Specialized in Economic Competition, Broadcasting and Telecommunications is being legally challenged by Indigenous Community Telecommunications.

Commenting on the resolution, Huerta Reyna told Sin Embargo news site:

Nosotros consideramos que tenemos los argumentos legales para ganar el amparo y nos permitan la exención del pago. Este es el único servicio de telecomunicaciones que esas comunidades tienen, históricamente no han sido atendidas, no cuentan con servicios, las redes no llegan a ellos, consideramos que debería estar en la ley una exención clara para este tipo de operadores

We think that we have the legal arguments to win the writ of amparo and allow us to be exempted from the payment. This is the only telecommunications service that these communities have, historically they have not been covered, they do not have services, the networks do not reach them, we believe a clear exemption for this type of operator should be in the law.

Commercial operators have long argued that these communities do not represent profitable business for them. As a result, since 2013 these communities have learned to operate the technology themselves, as well as oversee the economic and legal administration of such services.

The current battle over radio frequency fees touches on how important it is for the country's telecommunications regulator to establish a management model in accordance with the reality of Mexican indigenous communities.

by Giovanna Salazar at January 22, 2018 01:46 PM

January 20, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Leaked Documents Show That Ethiopia’s Ruling Elites Are Hiring Social Media Trolls (And Watching Porn)

EPRDF rally in Addis Ababa in 2010. Photo by Uduak Amimo/BBC World Service via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Over the past two months, a series of leaked documents from Ethiopia’s powerful political elites have been circulating online.

Among other revelations, the leaks show that the Ethiopian government has been paying online commenters to influence social media conversations in the ruling party's favor. The documents include hundreds of pages of chat logs and email correspondence of Ethiopia’s top government officials, multiple government planning documents and top-secret meeting records.

The leaks have come at what may be a turning point in Ethiopia's recent political crisis. Since mid-2015, thousands across Ethiopia rose up, demanding more political freedoms and social equality and a stop to government land grabs in the Oromia region, which represents Ethiopia's largest ethnic group. The government response was brutal: Hundreds have been killed, thousands have been arrested, and critical voices — both on and offline — have been systematically silenced.

Among the recent leaks, which began to circulate on Facebook in November 2017, one of the most revealing documents is a list of individuals who appear to have been paid to promote the ruling coalition on social media. The list shows the names of the so-called “social media commentators” along with their job titles and a precise amount of money that they apparently received for their online postings. Most of the people listed are government employees.

The list corroborates previous evidence that the Ethiopian government has been hiring online commenters to promote its agenda and harass its opponents.

Online communities in Ethiopia have been calling these paid commenters “cocas”, a colloquialism in Amharic (the second most widely spoken language in the country) that can be translated as “contemptible cadres.” In Amharic, this term typically refers to people who sell themselves for easy money. But in this case, most of the commenters listed in the leaked directory are already on the government payroll.

Who is responsible for the leaks?

The origin of the leaks has been rumored and contested at several levels. The documents were originally sent to diaspora activists from the at least two Facebook accounts, both of which belong to government employees, in November 2017.

The first known leak, of the “coca” list, came from the Facebook account of Gebremichael Melles Gebremariam, an employee of the communications affairs office of the Tigray state. Gebremariam first denied sending the documents, claiming his account was hacked. But he then backtracked on this claim. It is now rumored that he has been dismissed from his job.

Soon after the initial leak, more documents began arriving in the inboxes of diaspora activists, this time coming from the Facebook account of the Director of the Federal Communications Affairs office, Haddush Kassu. Shortly thereafter, Haddush began to publicly shame those government officials who are implicated in the leaks. On January 18, he denigrated Deputy PM Debretsion Gebremichael in a public Facebook post.

It is unclear whether Haddush sent the documents himself have been hacked.

Social media ‘cocas’ push pro-government discourse

The revelations of political and state officials paying “cocas” to promote the ruling party agenda online correspond with a recent rise in polarization and hate speech on social media, alongside increased online persecution of independent journalists.

The leaked “coca” list reveals that at least thirteen commentators were each paid at least USD $300 (a large sum in Ethiopia, where average GDP per capita was USD $660 in 2016) for blog posts or Facebook messages that they wrote at the behest of the ruling coalition.

List of paid internet commentators. Image widely circulating on Facebook

Among individuals named on the list are Daniel Berahane and Dawit Kebede, publishers of two Ethiopian internet news site HornAffairs and Awaramba Times respectively. The two journalists have long been accused of cheer-leading a pro-government information campaign especially during a heightened political tension.

In recent years, independent Ethiopian journalists reporting on government affairs, corruption and human rights have been arrested or exiled en masse. The resulting gap in news coverage has thus been filled by opposition activists and protesters who often work with diaspora-based media outlets to draw global attention to the brutal military crackdown on protesters that has killed more than 1200 people and has led to several mass arrests since mid-2015.

On the heels of the list came a separate leak of what appears to be a proposal to counter opposition groups using social media platforms. The Amharic-language document from the office of Ethiopia’s longtime governing coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF), enumerates solutions and strategies to curtail the influence of online diaspora-based activists.

The document also describes how officials have ordered paid commenters to attack people who call for democracy and to praise the ideologies of ruling coalition. The document encourages its members to post comments on the internet as if they were regular citizens.

Other documents show that Ethiopia’s spy agency, the Information Network Security Agency, known to surveil and censor journalists and political dissidents, issued a money order of USD $12,000 to send two of their employees to China for special training. The documents do not specify what kind of training the two employees were meant to receive, but this information has begun to come to light with the release of subsequent chat logs.

Five weeks after the list was leaked, another document surfaced showing a written exchange over Facebook Messenger between two high-level public servants —  Haddush Kassu and a high-level operative of Ethiopia’s spy agency, Zeray Hailemariam — who were furious about the leaks, and the disclosure of the paid commentators.

One said the leaks are threats to their security and pledged to seek help from  Information Network Security Agency to investigate the source of the leaks. The other blamed a “disgruntled regional communication officer” for leaking the names to diaspora-based political rivals.

At one point in the exchange, the operative of Ethiopia’s spy agency suggested that they should encourage a “brave solider” like Daniel Berahane “who is fighting every extremists”. In response, the official from government communications affairs confirmed their support for him and wrote back “we pay him 33,000 [about USD $1200] for two articles.”

The exchange between the two top government officials also sheds light on the power struggle at the helm of Ethiopian ruling party, where infighting has led leaders to hire figures like Daniel and Dawit to undermine political opponents or curry favor with diplomats and foreign organizations in Addis Ababa. Daniel and Dawit have been leading voices in the pro-government media backlash against opposition activists and diaspora media.

And what is the deputy PM up to?

Other revelations have pointed to the online habit of Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Debretsion Gebremicheal.

On December 16, 2017 member of the inner circle of the ruling party dumped screenshots of ten years browsing history of Dr. Debretsion Gebremicheal on his Facebook page. The details only lasted for about two days. It was removed sometime on December 18, 2017 without any explanation.

Debretsion does not have a respect for woman as well as for himself. Okay, you can go ahead say my account was compromised. Does a person has to be hacked ten times? Hell no!

For Dr. Debretsion this looks especially bad because he could not even clean his browsing history or encrypt his online communications, which means it was much easier than usual for the hackers to steal his browsing history. It’s quite amateurish mistake for a person who brands himself as one of the country's top ‘intelligence’ personnel.

Abebe Gelaw, a prominent diaspora based journalist pieced together a revealing fifteen-page expose after he scrutinized over two hundred pages of Dr. Debretsion’s embarrassing and salacious browsing history.

But one of the most interesting aspects of the story itself was the sourcing of the revelations. The documents are said to originate from various sources, some say disgruntled insiders leaked them, others say hackers are responsible. But from an incoherent drip of leaks a common outlook emerges that there is unprecedented power struggle happening among Ethiopia’s ruling elite.

by Endalk at January 20, 2018 02:16 AM

January 19, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Reuters Journalists Covering Rohingya Conflict in Myanmar Detained for ‘Illegally Acquiring Information’

Journalists protesting in front of Myanmar Peace Center. Photo by Kyaw Zaw Win, Kyaw Lwin Oo. From the Facebook page of RFA Burmese, licensed for reuse.

Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, are being accused of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act for allegedly possessing military files about the Rohingya conflict.

The two disappeared on 12 December 2017. Two weeks later, Myanmar authorities revealed that they had arrested and detained the journalists, alleging that they had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media.”

The police claimed the journalists obtained military documents containing information about “security force numbers and the amount of ammunition used in a wave of attacks in late August” in Rakhine State.

The conflict in Rakhine has led to the displacement of more 600,000 Rohingya Muslims. Many fled to nearby Bangladesh, seeking protection in Rohingya refugee camps. The Myanmar government does not recognize Myanmar-born Rohingya people as citizens, as it does with the country’s other ethnic minorities.

Alongside the refugees, numerous foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations (including the UN High Commission on Refugees) have demanded and pressured the Myanmar government to stop radical Buddhist nationalists from attacking Rohingya villages and to ensure safe return for Rohingyas who have fled the country.

Image from the Facebook page of ‘Protection for Journalists Committee’ – Myanmar

For its part, the Myanmar government blames the pro-Rohingya armed group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army for instigating the conflict in Rakhine.

Following the escalation of clashes in August 2017, the government imposed strict controls over the flow of information about what’s happening on the ground in Rakhine. Some journalists were only given a restricted tour of the affected villages. Local authorities even prevented Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, from fulfilling her mandate by barring her from entering the country.

In an official report, Lee said:

By not giving me access to Myanmar and by refusing to cooperate with the mandate, my task is made that much more difficult, but I will continue to obtain first-hand accounts from victims and witnesses of human rights violations by all means possible, including by visiting neighbouring countries where some have fled.

It was in this politically fraught and high-risk context that the two Reuters journalists found themselves investigating a mass grave that was discovered in southern Maungdaw Township.

Their search for information about the mass killing, which took place in Inn Din village, was seen by authorities as a violation of the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The two will face up to 14 years imprisonment if found guilty by the court.

News about their arrest was quickly denounced by various groups as another sign of heavy restrictions on press freedom in Myanmar.

The International Federation of Journalists criticized the use of a colonial-era law to attack journalists:

…placing press freedom back to colonial times and charging journalists with laws dating back to 1923 are actions of an undemocratic state.

The International Press Institute bemoaned the reversal of democratic reforms in a country where military rule was supposedly defeated in 2015:

If Myanmar is serious about democratic reforms, it must accept the right of journalists to work freely and report on topics that make those in power uncomfortable.

The free expression advocacy group Article 19 denounced the failure of the ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to uphold the right to speech despite the fact that it used to be the leading force of the democracy movement during the military dictatorship:

NLD government has demonstrated an alarming disregard for the freedom of expression and fostered a chilling environment for independent media throughout the country.

And the Southeast Asian Press Alliance urged the NLD-led government to be more transparent:

Instead of guaranteeing the people’s right to know and the journalists’ safety, the authorities have not been transparent in their decision-making and have further restricted journalists’ access since the conflict escalated in late August.

Reuters reported that some Myanmar netizens have accused the detained journalists of “selling the country” to foreigners, and thus acting as traitors. But the report also mentioned that friends and supporters of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are using social media to deny these claims, while praising the charity and volunteer work of the two.

Beyond the Official Secrets Act, this case highlights the need to amend other laws being used to stifle free speech, including the Unlawful Associations Act and Article 66(d), otherwise known as the defamation law. Both were passed during the previous military regime.


by Mong Palatino at January 19, 2018 05:16 PM

January 18, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Five Months After Houthis Arrested Him, Human Rights Blogger Hisham Al-Omeisy Walks Free

Hisham Al-Omeisy with his two sons. Photo shared by Iona Craig on Twitter.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Yemeni blogger and journalist Hisham Al-Omeisy was freed and reunited with his family in Yemen on January 15, after being detained for more than five months by Houthi forces. Security officers from the Houthi-controlled National Security Bureau arrested Al-Omeisy in August 2017 in the capital Sana’a.

With more than 35,000 Twitter followers, Al-Omeisy had been actively tweeting and blogging about the humanitarian crisis and violations committed by both warring parties. Prior to his arrest, he had analyzed and spoken about the conflict to international media including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, NPR and TRT World.

While in custody, he was unable to communicate with a lawyer or his wife and two young sons.

Though family and friends rejoice at his return, they worry for the many other Yemenis who have been subjected to enforced disappearance, either at the hands of either Houthis or the Saudi-led coalition fighting against them.

Reacting to Al-Omeisy’s release, fellow blogger and journalist Afrah Nasser tweeted:


Pakistani journalist attacked after being harassed for social media criticism

Renowned Pakistani journalist and vocal social media user Taha Siddiqui was attacked in Islamabad by several armed men who attempted to abduct him. Although Siddiqui escaped with no serious injuries, the assailants took his laptop, mobile phone and passport. Siddiqui had been very critical of the military establishment on social media. In May 2017, he was summoned by the counter-terrorism wing of the civilian Federal Investigation Agency and asked to submit his laptop for forensic tests. Siddiqui filed a complaint against the agency, which was upheld by Islamabad High Court.

Philippines seeks to ban independent news site, berated by Duterte

The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the license to operate from Rappler, a news and social media site. The January 11 SEC decision asserts that Rappler is “violating the constitutional and statutory Foreign Equity Restriction in Mass Media” for receiving donations from the Omidyar Network, a foundation created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

While the Philippine Constitution limits mass media ownership and control to Filipino-owned corporation, it does not prohibit monetary donations from foreign foundations. Rappler is a 100 percent Filipino-owned and managed company.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte went after Rappler in his July 2017 State of the Nation address, charging that the site is “fully owned by Americans.”

The UAE is banning VoIP services — and a petition against the ban

After blocking multiple web services that offer free voice and video calling — including Skype, WhatsApp and Viber — UAE authorities are now stifling residents’ attempts to protest the ban. In late December 2017, Mostafa Amr mounted a petition asking the country’s telecommunications regulator, along with lead telecommunications providers Etisalat and Du, to reinstate VoIP service in the UAE. This week, authorities blocked the web-based platform, where the petition was hosted.

Written in the first person, the petition urges authorities to reconsider the block in order to help families stay connected through affordable communication services. Amr writes:

VoIP is crucial and needed for many families who are living in the United Arab Emirates and need to contact their loved ones who are living outside of the UAE. There are so many residents in the UAE who have family members and loved ones who live off-seas and an easy, and free way to contact them and keep in touch is via VoIP.

Egyptian media regulator goes after journalists on Facebook

The head of Egypt’s National Media Council said in a public statement that journalists should be liable for messages they post on Facebook. Makram Mohammed Ahmed said, “If Facebook is a publication platform for everyone, then anything published on it, whether insult or defamation, will be scrutinized. And if a complaints reached the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, we will look into it and issue a decision immediately.”

Visiting Chongqing? Watch where you look.

The southwestern city of Chongqing, China recently launched a pilot program for facial recognition technology called “Xue Liang”, meaning “Sharp Eyes”. The program combines video surveillance data collected from security cameras on the streets and residential compounds with China’s “Police Cloud”, which contains a vast store of personal data for all Chinese citizens including their identity numbers and machine-readable photographs.

Pakistani intelligence agency bashes Bitcoin

In an obligatory report to the Pakistani parliament — which was delayed by nearly a year — the Federal Investigation Agency asked the government to criminalize the use of Bitcoin and make this a punishable, offense under Pakistan’s 2016b Electronic Crimes Act.

Vladimir Putin has already won the March 2018 election (according to the internet)

For about 20 minutes on January 15, a Russian-language Google search of “elections 2018″ resulted in a snapshot of the analogous Wikipedia article, which declared Vladimir Putin the winner of the yet-to-be-held election. This curious error came about thanks to Google's search result technology, which sometimes features information from Wikipedia or other websites that are likely to answer the user’s query. In this case, Wikipedia’s Russian site had briefly listed Putin as the winner, an error that was resolved shortly after the news went viral on social media.

Amid protests, Psiphon reports record downloads from Iran

The censorship circumvention tool Psiphon has reported a 20-fold increase in users since protests erupted across Iran at the end of 2017. Hugely popular web platforms and apps including Telegram and Instagram have been periodically blocked since, leaving Iranians suddenly unable to communicate on these platforms without using special tools — like Psiphon — to get around the block. The app now serves eight to ten million daily users from Iran.

New Research

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by Netizen Report Team at January 18, 2018 08:29 PM

January 17, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Philippine Authorities Order Shutdown of Rappler News Site, Bringing a Blow to Press Freedom

Soldiers taking selfies photos with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in an army camp in Mindanao. Photo from the Facebook page of Presidential Communications (Government of the Philippines).

The government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has moved to close down news website Rappler after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the company’s license to operate as a business.

The January 11 SEC decision asserts that Rappler is “violating the constitutional and statutory Foreign Equity Restriction in Mass Media” for receiving donations from the Omidyar Network, a foundation created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

The Philippine Constitution limits mass media ownership and control to Filipino-owned corporations and Filipino citizens, but does not prohibit monetary donations from foreign foundations.

Rappler is a 100 percent Filipino-owned and managed company operating in the Philippines. In order to sustain its work, it utilizes Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), investment tools that allow foreign partners to have commercial interests in the company.

The independent news and social media curation website has been a frequent target of attacks by the president’s online supporters for its critical coverage of his administration.

The President himself insinuated in his July 2017 State of the Nation Address that Rappler is “fully owned by Americans,” despite the fact that Rappler is owned and operated by Filipino citizens and corporations.

The largest of the company, totaling 91 percent, are owned by company president Maria Ressa, private investor Benjamin So (both Filipino nationals) and media groups Dolphin Fire Group and Hatchd Group, Inc. (both Philippines-based companies).

The move against Rappler was instigated by Solicitor General Jose Calida. Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, insisted that the SEC decision is not an attack on press freedom because it merely enforced a constitutional mandate that prohibits foreign ownership of the media. Duterte himself accused Rappler of being a “fake news outlet” just one day after the SEC cancelled the company's registration.

Rappler has contested the SEC’s allegations, saying it is “pure and simple harassment” against a company that has been transparent about its business practices and compliant with SEC requirements and regulations.

Rappler vowed to exhaust all means in fighting the order and called on its readers to defend press freedom:

We intend to not only contest this through all legal processes available to us, but also to fight for our freedom to do journalism and for your right to be heard through an independent platform like Rappler.

We will hold the line.

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), an organization of artists and media practitioners, sees the move as an escalation from the online bullying initiated by Duterte loyalists against Rappler and its reporters:

Who is next, Mr. President? ABS-CBN? The community journalists tagged as communists? The artists who expose your bloody drug war?

ABS-CBN is a major TV network in the Philippines. Its petition for franchise renewal is pending in Congress.

Screenshot of Rappler website

The Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), an umbrella group opposed to Duterte's war on drugs and his authoritarian tendencies, warned that the administration is targeting media outlets it cannot control or shakedown:

For a government that violates the multiple constitutional provisions on territory, checks and balances, separation of powers and the Bill of Rights, the Duterte regime is fooling no one in its “constitutionality” case against Rappler. Duterte has no credibility on constitutionality.

The Duterte government’s move against Rappler has earned widespread condemnation on social media. Here are some reactions on Twitter:

For Rappler, for all campus publications red-tagged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for all the journalists killed and imprisoned under this fascist administration #DefendPressFreedom

For now, Rappler is continuing to operate as it seeks to appeal the SEC ruling in court.


Editor's note: Global Voices is a grantee of the Omidyar Network.

by Karlo Mikhail Mongaya at January 17, 2018 03:32 PM

January 16, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
How Will Macau's New Cybersecurity Legislation Impact Freedom of Speech?

Consultation on the legislation of cyber security law in Macau. Image via All About Macau with permission.

Macau, an autonomous urban region on the south coast of China, is currently developing a Cybersecurity Law based on a public consultation that took place in December 2017.

Political critics have noted that the current proposal does not sufficiently protect citizens’ privacy, but does provide a legal framework for mass surveillance.

As a former Portuguese colony, Macau unified with China in 1999 but maintained a high degree of autonomy as a special administrative region (similar to Hong Kong) with its own constitution known as the “Basic Law” written under the principle of “One Country Two Systems.”

Macau's 2009 National Security Law criminalized seditious acts, including certain types of speech. The city is now en route to reviewing the proposed Cybersecurity Law. A long political “watch list” of individuals who have spoken out for democracy in Hong Kong have been labelled as “threat” to the city's stability and banned from entering Macau during sensitive periods, such as during mainland Chinese state leaders’ visits or election campaign month.

On December 11, 2017 the Macanese government initiated a 45-day public consultation on the proposed Cybersecurity Law. Commercial sector leaders and ordinary citizens are invited to submit their opinions in written form.

Under the proposed law, telecommunication operators and internet service providers (ISPs) would be responsible for implementing a “real name” registration system, including prepaid Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards. It also mandates that ISPs retain their users’ online activity logs for at least one year.

Under the current proposal, the law would authorize the establishment of a cybersecurity standing committee and a cybersecurity incident alert system, as well as an emergency center intended to deal with any cybersecurity threats. The committee will be authorized to monitor online data traffic in binary code, as well as keep track of and investigate future cyber attacks.

The document also proposes that companies operating in 11 crucial sectors would enforce protection measures, including internet operators and mass media, water and energy supply, financial systems, gaming, and health, among others, according to Consultation Document (CD) 4.2. These sectors would be under the supervision of related government departments and authorities. For example, the Macau Monetary Authority upon receiving instruction from the cybersecurity emergency center would be responsible for overseeing the implementation of measures in the banking and financial systems.

Officers from the cybersecurity emergency center would be guaranteed the right to enter the offices and facilities of internet service operators (in both the private and public sector) for inspection. Operators would be required to fulfill all reasonable requests of the officers and to follow any instructions they issue on the maintenance of their communication networks (CD 5.2).

When hiring for key positions, operators within these sectors would be required to consult with law enforcement authorities on candidates’ backgrounds (CD 5.1), giving unrestrained power to the police.

Penalties for operators that do not comply with the law could be as high as 500 million MOP (Macanese Patacas) or approximately USD $62 million.


Cyber security or mass surveillance?

Wong Sio Chak, Secretary for Security, stressed that the authorities would not monitor individual online activities or restrict freedom of speech enjoyed by Macau's residents. But citizens are worried.

The Macau Civil Servants Association (MCSA) issued an open letter raising the concern that monitoring and tracking online data through the binary code is “arbitrary, disproportionate and illegal.”

According to Article 32 of Macau's constitution, “no public authority or individual may violate the freedom and confidentiality of the residents’ communications, for whatever reason” except in cases of necessary public security or criminal investigations conducted and authorized by local authorities.

The MCSA pointed out that binary code “can easily be converted to comprehensive data” and hence should not be monitored by the authorities unless there is a real threat:

In accordance with international standards, monitoring of such data [by the authorities] should only be allowed after cyber attacks, in order to avoid spreading over critical city infrastructures, or in the following up of investigations.

It further argues that the responsibility to monitor data should only be relegated to individual cybersecurity operators of critical infrastructures rather than through a centralized system.

New Macau Society also criticized that the proposal for being draconian as it only stressed the responsibility of citizens and business sectors while it had not defined any mechanisms for the public to monitor and counterbalance the power of cybersecurity police to prevent abusive act.

Political activist Jason Chao believes that once enacted, the Cybersecurity Law would authorize a “legal framework for mass surveillance.”

Chao points out that by authorizing cybersecurity police to monitor internet binary codes, data flow and data package formats, police will have excessive power to intercept communication data.

Chao believes that further extending police power may undermine reporters’ privileges regarding the protection of information sources, pointing out that media outlets are defined as one of the 11 critical infrastructures.

As a tourist city, Macau has issued 1.38 million prepaid SIM cards sold in vending machines and convenience stores. With the implementation of real-name registration legislation, tourists would have to register their identity when purchasing a SIM card. Chao stresses that the new law would not only affect Macau local residents but tourists as well.

After the consultation process is complete, the government will draft a bill for further deliberation in the legislature.

by Guest Contributor at January 16, 2018 09:56 PM

Why Wait? Wikipedia and Google Accidentally Declare Putin the Winner of March 2018 Presidential Elections

Putin accidentally declared winner of the 2018 presidential elections by Google // Screenshot by Christopher Moldes

Russia's presidential elections are two months away, and while there are multiple contenders, the expectation is that Vladimir Putin will secure a fourth term handily.

On January 15, in what looked like an effort to save time or skip the nail-biting drama of counting votes on election night, Google declared Putin the winner of the March 2018 election.

A Russian-language Google search of “elections 2018″ resulted in the usual snapshot of the analogous Wikipedia article. Under “winner” there appeared a portrait of Vladimir Putin, as seen above.

This curious error came about thanks to Google's search result technology, which sometimes features information that is intended to help answer the user's query. With searches like this, such information typically comes from either Wikipedia or official state government websites that Google deems to be reliable.

But in this case, the Russian Wikipedia article on the 2018 elections was anything but.

Stanislav Kozlovsky, the director for the Russian department of Wikimedia, Wikipedia’s parent company, explained the error in a comment to RBC, a Russian business news website:

Неизвестный дописал фамилию Путина в преамбулу статьи о выборах, после чего поисковик индексировал ее и отобразил в выдаче новый вариант.

Someone added Putin’s name to the preamble of the article on the elections, after which the search engine indexed it and reflected the new variant in its results.

Wikipedia is known for its crowd-sourcing model, through which volunteer users can make substantive contributions after completing a vetting process. While they can vary from language to language, all Wikipedia sites have standard procedures in place to prevent inaccuracies like this one. But it appears that these procedures were not followed for the Russian version of the page. Whether the error was intended as a joke, or as a political move, is unknown.

The error was corrected within 20 minutes, but this was more than enough time to spawn some humorous reactions, such as this tongue-in-cheek reference:

Someone call Senator Pushkov. Using Google, the Americans have interfered in our elections, putting forth a candidate that will be favorable for them.

Alexey Pushkov, a Russian senator who sits on the Council of the Federation's committee for defense and security, is known for his frequent and hawkish tweets both dismissing allegations of Russia's interference in other countries’ affairs and decrying foreign (especially US) interference in Russia's.

Although it is unlikely that many users took this seriously, the incident is symptomatic of some much larger problems.

It raises the question of how Google decides what sources are reliable enough to be featured such that they purport to “answer” questions posed in a search query. While Wikipedia may be a stronger and less controversial choice than any major news outlet, it is still subject to errors like these. Official government websites can also offer a significantly skewed version of facts. This error might prompt Google to reconsider whether this type of featuring might create more problems than it solves.

Assuming that Google and other search engines continue to show results in this way, the incident also raises questions about trust in web platforms when it comes to news and information. A significant percentage of young Russians use the Internet for news, though they are in the minority when compared to the population as a whole, who by-and-large still rely on television.

As internet penetration rises in Russia, one can expect these numbers to climb. From Brazil, to Indonesia to the US, more and more people of all age groups are starting to shift or have shifted to using web platforms as their main source of news and information. This means that people will increasingly expect search results, social media feeds and other automated information tools to give us accurate information about the world around us. If something so simple as a Wikipedia error can spawn a cascade of misinformation about something so important as a presidential election, there may be more trouble ahead.

In response to arguments about the need to combat disinformation and “fake news”, media analyst Nina Jankowicz suggests we take a long-term approach and push to develop the critical thinking skills of users.

This may or may not succeed, depending on where one lives and how one is taught to use the internet. But luckily for anyone who ran into this search result, it didn't take much critical thinking to see that this was nothing more than a great big error.

by Christopher Moldes at January 16, 2018 05:11 PM

January 13, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
In 2017, Samoa's Parliament Made Libel a Crime. How Will This Affect Bloggers and Social Media?

Hand showing the international symbol for peace, decorated in the national colors of Samoa. Flickr page of Public Domain Photography (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 2013, Samoa withdrew libel from its criminal law as a media reform initiative. But the change didn't last long. At the end of 2017, the parliament of the Polynesian island nation unanimously voted to revive its criminal libel law after Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said it is needed “to fight ghostwriters and troublemakers.”

The Crimes Amendment Bill features a new part (9A), following Section 117, that proscribes “crimes against a person’s reputation.” A person found guilty of violating this law faces a three-month prison term.

Tuilaepa said the criminal libel law has roots in Christian teachings, and is intended to protect ordinary citizens against defamation:

This is a Christian move to protect the victims who are being defamed. This law is designed as a refuge to people whose names and reputations have been ruined.

But Tuilaepa added that the law will be used against anonymous bloggers and Facebook users who spread lies and misinformation.

He cited the blogger Ole Palemia, who has been writing posts accusing politicians of corruption, sexual assault, and abuse of power without providing evidence.

In November 2017, Tuilaepa suggested that someone should hire hackers to track down the person or people behind this anonymous blog.

Mata'afa Keni Lesa, the editor of local news outlet the Samoa Observer, called the new law a “stunt” that will not catch faceless bloggers.

The fact is the government’s recent “Criminal Libel” stunt will not catch these faceless bloggers. You cannot prosecute an unknown person.

The editor warned that the government’s real aim could be the “crippling of the media:”

This is yet another move designed to cripple the legitimate media who exist to be the watchdog and challenge (to) the establishment. Perhaps what Prime Minister Tuilaepa and members of his administration should do is get off Facebook and do some real work.

But Tuilaepa dismissed the charge that he wants to control the media:

There have been writings that accuse me of being a dictator (in relation to the Criminal Libel). But it is not my law. They (writers) are in favor of those doing the damage. What about those who are victims of defamation?

He stressed that journalists have nothing to fear if they write accurate stories:

If your sources give out the facts then there is nothing to worry about. But if it’s a lie, then there will be an issue here. The government’s concern is for people who are affected by the publication of inaccurate information.

Pacific Freedom Forum, a regional media watchdog, expressed concern about the impact of libel in undermining free speech in the country:

Concerns about anonymous bloggers should not override the right of citizens to speak freely, without fear of being jailed.

The group said that ethics complaints against journalists can be addressed by media outlets or the Samoa Media Council instead of filing libel charges.

Misa Victoria Lepou, head of the Media and Communications Department at the National University of Samoa, said the return of the libel law is unfortunate. But she urged that it should also motivate the media to improve the training of its reporters:

The right of an individual to protect his or her good name must be balanced against the public interest in freedom of speech which is also a fundamental right.

There should be newsroom procedures, code of conduct and every other procedure in place…to provide the best defence for professional communicators and protect sources that deserve confidentiality.

Misa wrote in Pacific Journalism Review that as of July 2016, Samoa has 18 media outlets with a total number of 43 reporters.

by Mong Palatino at January 13, 2018 11:38 AM

January 11, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Fearful of ‘Fake News’, Lawmakers in France and Brazil Want to Limit Free Speech Before Elections

Stencil art in Wisconsin, US. Photo by David Drexel via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

The specter of “fake news” is still looming large and the power of internet companies to control and capitalize on news distribution seems to grow greater by the day. This has democratic leaders around the world scrambling to rein in free speech laws and to distinguish between the motivations behind online news and information — whether they be political power, money, or the simple free exchange of ideas.

In early December 2017, Brazil's government established a council to monitor and possibly order the blocking of false news reports on social media ahead of the 2018 presidential elections. The news swiftly raised concerns about censorship among the public.

In its first meeting, the council proposed to create a tool through which users could file reports to the council of news that appeared suspicious.

The council has not explained how this system would interface with social media companies, which are the only entities capable of removing content or accounts propagating “fake news”. Members say they are negotiating support from social media companies, but it remains unclear where this will lead.

Previous attempts at such control have yielded mixed results. When Facebook introduced a “report fake news” feature in December 2016, many users reported fake content as part of an effort to discredit information or ideas with which they disagreed, even when those ideas were based on verified facts.

Across the Atlantic, French President Emmanuel Macron announced new measures targeting “fake news” that will mandate content deletion, censorship of websites that spread false news, and the closure of accounts of infringing users, following judicial orders.

In addition, a new bill before the French Congress that is intended to target sponsored content on social media platforms. If adopted it would require social media platforms to ‘’make public the identity of sponsors and of those who controls them,” and to impose limits on the amount of money paid to sponsor such content.

The law’s purpose is to “protect democratic life,” according to Macron.

In both France and Brazil, it remains unclear precisely how government actors will compel social media companies to identify and/or remove such content at this scale.

Vietnam hires thousands of workers to go after “wrongful views” online

Colonel General Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy chairman of the General Political Department of the People’s Army of Vietnam, announced at a December 25, 2017 meeting that the military has created a special force tasked with “combating wrongful information and anti-state propaganda.” The special force already has 10,000 workers.

China censored more than 100,000 websites in 2017 for ‘harmful’ content

China’s state-run Xinua news agency reported on January 8 that approximately 128,000 websites were censored in China in 2017 due to “harmful” content, including news from “unauthorized” sources, material said to threaten “social stability”, and pornography. Most recently, Cyberspace Administration officials penalized the popular Toutiao news aggregator app, which they said had illegally distributed news content without having obtained necessary permissions from the authorities.

Chinese courts hear challenges against censorship, surveillance

A Beijing court agreed to hear a case addressing the media regulator’s censorship of LGBTQ content online. In June 2017, the China Netcasting Services Association sparked outrage when it issued new rules banning online content that depicts “abnormal sexual relations or behaviour,” including homosexuality. The lawsuit—filed by 30-year-old Fan Chunlin from Shanghai—challenges the media regulator to provide a legal basis for the description of homosexuality as “abnormal.” The court is expected to deliver a ruling within the next six months.

In Jiangsu province, a court agreed to hear a challenge by a consumer rights group against Baidu, one of China’s largest internet companies. The Jiangsu Provincial Consumer Protection Committee charges that Baidu products, including its mobile app and web browser,are accessing users’ messages, phone calls, contacts and other data without their consent.

Indonesian drone aids censorship instead of surveillance

Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Informatics has deployed a new program that is intended to enhance the process of blocking “negative” content on the internet by using artificial intelligence. Known as “Cyber Drone 9,” the program combines new technical tools (which do not actually include drones) with a team of staff who will monitor “negative” content identified by the software and decide whether it should be censored.

Visiting the US? You might have to hand over your mobile phone.

United States border agents reportedly searched 30,200 devices in 2017 for both inbound and outbound travelers, in comparison to 19,051 in 2016. The US agency of Customs and Border Protection issued new guidelines requiring devices be unlocked on request and authorizing agents to copy and save information that they obtain through travelers’ mobile phones, among other measures.

Internet and mobile phone penetration are rising everywhere — except in Venezuela

The Venezuelan news and commentary site El Estimulo published an in-depth report (in Spanish) on falling rates of internet and mobile phone connectivity in Venezuela. The article highlights International Telecommunication Union statistics showing that mobile phone penetration has dropped from 102% in 2012 (a number reflecting individuals with multiple mobile phones) to 87% in 2016, and also charts damage to subterranean internet infrastructure that the state has failed to repair. The article quotes Global Voices author Marianne Diaz:

The increasing deterioration of infrastructure is neither coincidental nor accidental. It is the result of decisions and policies implemented by power structures. The end result is that it is making citizens suffer the consequences of infrastructural decay and the state is not upholding its obligations to guarantee access to basic services…

Tunisia’s biometric ID bill is dead, for now

The Tunisian government withdrew a proposed law on January 9 that would have imposed a national biometric identification scheme for all Tunisian citizens. The withdrawal was due in part to an influx of requests and amendments proposed by the parliamentary commission of rights and freedoms, many of which were drawn from citizen input.

New Research


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by Netizen Report Team at January 11, 2018 10:12 PM

India's Biometric ID System Is Leaking Personal Data — And State Agencies Won't Fix the Problem

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

India's national scheme holds the personal data of more than 1.13 billion citizens and residents of India within a unique ID system branded as Aadhaar, which means “foundation” in Hindi.

But as more and more evidence reveals that the government is not keeping this information private, the actual foundation of the system appears shaky at best.

On January 4, 2018, The Tribune of India, a news outlet based out of Chandigarh, created a firestorm when it reported on that people were selling access to Aadhaar data on WhatsApp, for alarmingly low prices.

The investigation followed a man named Bharat Bhushan Gupta, a village-level entrepreneur who was lured into buying access to the database by people who approached him on WhatsApp. Gupta later realized that he had access to much more information than he'd asked for

Concerned about what this might mean for ID holders, Gupta attempted to notify the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI), the agency responsible for issuing Aadhaar numbers, about the problem, but was unable to confirm that UIDAI was aware of or addressing the problem. Gupta is one of 270,000 such village-level entrepreneurs who operate Common Service Centres responsible for various e-services between governments, businesses, and citizens.

He then approached Tribune journalist Rachna Khaira, who undertook the investigation.

Following the investigation, India Today conducted a ‘sting operation’ of their own to confirm the findings of the Tribune reporter.


Inconsistent responses from government

The UIDAI's response to the breach was to file a criminal complaint against Rachna Khaira who conducted the investigation into the breach of personal data and called it ‘misreporting’. When the Editors Guild condemned penalising the reporter, the UIDAI's response was to justify their action.

The Information Technology Minister, Ravishankar Prasad made a statement:

This is not the first time that the UIDAI has “shot the messenger,” so to speak. In early 2017, UIDAI filed a criminal complaint against CNN-News 18 journalist Debayan Ray for conducting an investigation in which he created two Aadhaar enrollment IDs using the same set of biometrics.

UIDAI filed a second complaint against entrepreneur Sameer Kochchar after he blogged about how Aadhaar can be hacked through a “biometric replay attack.” In all three cases, the UIDAI says that the claims made are “misleading.”


‘Leaky’ by design

The Aadhaar unique identification number ties together several pieces of a person's demographic and biometric information, including their photograph, fingerprints, home address and other personal information. This information is all stored in a centralized database, which is then made accessible to a long list of government agencies who can access that information in administrating public services.

Although centralizing this information could increase efficiency, it also creates a highly vulnerable situation in which one simple breach could result in millions of India's residents’ data becoming exposed.

In June 2017, twiterrati warned of the dangers of giving database login credentials and e-Aadhaar download capabilities to state officials for this very reason:

[Editor's note: 1 lakh = 100,000]

The Annual Report 2015-16 of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology speaks of a facility called DBT Seeding Data Viewer (DSDV) that “permits the departments/agencies to view the demographic details of Aadhaar holder.”

According to @databaazi, DSDV logins allowed third parties to access Aadhaar data (without UID holder's consent) from a white-listed IP address. This meant that anyone with the right IP address could access the system.

The UIDAI confirmed as much on Twitter:

This design flaw puts personal details of millions of Aadhaar holders at risk of broad exposure, in clear violation of the Aadhaar Act.


#AadhaarLeaks by government entities

The Aadhaar Act forbids the public display of Aadhaar numbers. Yet there is irrefutable evidence that both state and central government departments have exposed bank account and Aadhaar numbers of pensioners, minors, scholarship grantees and others.

In October 2017, @iam_anandv pointed out how even a simple Google search for the UIDAI's tagline reveals hundreds of Aadhaar details.

In November last year, it was proven that more than 200 government websites were showing Aadhaar details. The UIDAI admitted this, after they were compelled to release this information in response to a Right to Information (RTI) request.

UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey has repeatedly maintained that the exposure of Aadhaar numbers alone poses little risk as “Aadhaar numbers are like bank account numbers.” But this has been proven to leave people vulnerable to phishing, identity fraud, and corporate malfeasance, as seen in December 2017, when telecom giant Airtel opened three million payment accounts for customers without obtaining their informed consent.

Screenshot from the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) website displaying warning against sharing Aadhar Numbers publicly.

In spite of the furor, the leaks continue. The trend has not gone unnoticed among international technology privacy experts. Professor Graham Greenleaf recently identified it as one of the world's most “dangerous privacy developments”:

While the UIDAI's actions offer little optimism, the last hope may be with the Supreme Court of India which will hear main Aadhaar petitions for the last time beginning on January 17, 2018.

by Rohith Jyothish at January 11, 2018 06:36 PM

Yemeni Human Rights Blogger Hisham Al-Omeisy Has Been Missing for 150 Days

Hisham al-Omeisy. Photo handed over by his family to the GCHR. Used with permission.

This post was written by Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, an independent, non-profit organisation that promotes freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the Gulf region and its neighbouring countries.

It has been 150 days since Yemeni political analyst, rights activist and blogger Hisham Al-Omeisy was detained by Houthi forces.

At approximately 2:45 pm on 14 August 2017, a group of security officers from the Houthi-controlled National Security Bureau (NSB) arrested Hisham Al-Omeisy in the neighborhood of Jawlat al-Misbahi in the capital Sana’a.

According to a local journalist, Al-Omeisy was arrested for exchanging emails in English with US-based organizations. Although 150 days have passed since Al-Omeisy's arrest, he remains in an undisclosed location and has not been charged, a violation of Yemeni law and international law.

Since his arrest, he has been held incommunicado where he has no access to a lawyer nor his family. All this suggests that Al-Omeisy has become a victim of enforced disappearance, a practice many other Yemenis have been subjected to, either at the hands of Houthis or the Saudi-led coalition fighting against them.

His family members — including his wife and two young sons, Khaled and Saif — are concerned about his health and safety.

Nearly three years ago, the country plunged into an armed conflict, with Houthi forces fighting to seize power from the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is supported by a Saudi-led coalition. Forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh (who was removed from power following street protests in 2011) had fought with the Houthis, until Saleh changed his position and called for dialogue with Saudi Arabia. On 04 December, 2017, the Houthis killed Saleh.

Yemen is still in the throes of a crippling civil war and and regional conflict that has resulted in a full-blown humanitarian and health crisis, with more than one million Yemenis having contracted cholera. Advocates have documented massive human rights violations committed by all parties fighting in the ongoing civil war.

Before his detention, Hisham Al-Omeisy was outspoken about the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

Through his Twitter account and his contributions to international media, he provided commentary and analysis on Yemen’s conflict and reported on daily events including airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition.

He also denounced violations committed by the different warring parties and spoke out about the humanitarian impact of the conflict.

Prior to his 12 August arrest, he tweeted in both Arabic and English about “corrupt officials” confiscating real estate by force in the capital Sana'a, which is under Houthi control.

The arrest and detention of Hisham Al-Omeisy is another example of the harassment and targeting of human rights defenders and journalists in Yemen as they attempt to draw attention to the ongoing conflict and strive to promote and protect human rights.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses serious concern for the health and safety of Hisham Al-Omeisy, particularly as he is being held incommunicado in an undisclosed location. GCHR expresses further concern for the situation of all those in Yemen who are being targeted as a result of legitimately reporting on the conflict.

by Gulf Center for Human Rights at January 11, 2018 03:24 PM

Despite Threats of Censorship, Documentary Filmmakers Show Human Rights Violations in Western Sahara

A Sahrawi crowd in Laayune, Western Sahara, is charged by Moroccan anti-riot police in plainclothes. It is not uncommon for police to outnumber the protesters. Screen capture from 3 Broken Cameras.

Stories about life in Western Sahara — a disputed territory controlled by the Moroccan government — are rarely told by people who live there.

In a militarized environment with aggressive controls on media and citizen reporting, few stories of Western Sahara reach audiences beyond the immediate region. But a new documentary film that charts one independent media group’s struggle to document human rights violations in Western Sahara has the opportunity to change this.

The film, 3 Stolen Cameras, had its world premiere at the DOK Leipzig Documentary Film Festival in Germany last November, despite threats of censorship and funding challenges.

The 17-minute short film produced by the Western Sahara media group Equipe Media and the Sweden-based film production collective RåFilmis both by and about Equipe Media. It features footage taken by Equipe Media in Western Sahara since 2009, but was edited and post-produced in Sweden.

The film gives audiences a close look at Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation through the lens of Equipe Media as they film protests and collect testimonies on human rights abuses, often while hiding or running from police.

The conflict in Western Sahara dates back to 1975 when the former colonial power Spain withdrew from the sparsely-populated territory and joint forces from neighbouring Mauritania and Morocco moved in to take control. While Mauritania eventually withdrew from Western Sahara, Moroccan forces to date still control what is sometimes referred to as ‘’Africa’s last colony’’. For 16 years, the rebel group known as the Polisario Front fought a guerilla war for independence against Morocco, before a UN brokered ceasefire came into effect in 1991. The UN recognizes the Polisario Front as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, a mixed ethnic group that lives mainly in Western Sahara and Mauritania.


3 Stolen Cameras – TRAILER from RåFILM on Vimeo.

The film idea

3 Stolen Cameras found its way to film festival in Leipzig after several years of hard work across multiple countries, languages and legal hurdles.

Some years ago, RåFilm and Equipe Media became connected through a local Western Sahara solidarity network. Soon after the release of the Palestinian documentary film 5 Broken Cameras, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2013, the idea for 3 Stolen Cameras came about.

While the story in 5 Broken Cameras is structured around the destruction of the cameras of a Palestinian farmer and activist as he tries to document a protest-movement in his village against the confiscation of agricultural land by Israel, the Sahrawi film is structured around 3 cameras that were confiscated by Moroccan authorities from Equipe Media activists as they were filming protests in Western Sahara. Both films tell of struggles to document and shed light on violations committed under occupation.

Funding challenges

As a production by an activist media group that challenges the Moroccan government’s narrative regarding the Western Sahara, the team behind 3 Stolen Cameras have at times found itself caught in a propaganda trap, where the underground journalism of Equipe Media and other counter-narratives are discarded as vested interests. Despite the fact that the dismissal of such a key counter-narrative only reinforces the one-sided Moroccan information blockade imposed in the name of neutrality, the film’s producers faced funding challenges.

Anna-Klara Åhrén, the Swedish co-director of 3 Stolen Cameras, described for us RåFilm’s experience with this when applying for sponsorship for 3 Stolen Cameras:

Sometimes it was like those funders requested that RåFilm would take it over completely, like they hoped that we would make something more artsy and less political from it. To me that would be such a weird thing to do with a powerful material like this.

She adds:

We participated with Equipe Media in a panel together with some Arab Spring journalists and it is striking how they are all really activists at the same time. But here in Sweden it’s like you can’t, it’s something frowned upon being an activist when you work with media. That’s actually really absurd when considering that we are supposed to be the democracy here!


Censored at the Beirut International Film Festival

In October 2017, the Beirut International Film Festival (BIFF) announced that they would host the world premiere of 3 Stolen Cameras. This was a great victory for the filmmakers, as 3 Stolen Cameras is intended for an Arab audience, with narration in a standard Arabic-speaker voice.

Soon however, the festival staff began to express concern that the film could be censored. According to the film's producers, BIFF staff dissuaded Equipe Media’s representatives from even attending the festival, for fear this might draw unwanted attention from authorities.

A pro-independence rally in Laayune, the capital of Western Sahara. Equipe Media camerapersons typically position themselves on rooftops in order to safely record and witness scenes on the streets.

Eventually, two days prior to the screening, the festival announced that 3 Stolen Cameras had not received approval from the Lebanese censor and would thus be cancelled. The filmmakers received this news not from the festival staff, but rather by happening upon with the following statement on the BIFF website:

We are saddened to announce that “3 Stolen Cameras” from the Rejection Front – Public Square selection has been censored and hence will not be shown.

The festival provided no further details as to the cause or the party behind this censorship decision.

The film’s producers say that the Moroccan government pressured Lebanese authorities to censor the film. Local media in Morocco reported that the Moroccan ambassador to Lebanon reached out to pressure six different departments of the Lebanese government to ban the screening. All six complied and demanded that the festival cancel the premiere.

Local news website described the film as “undermining” Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara and insinuated that the film was actually staged and recorded in Algeria (which supports the Polisario Front). The article made no mention of Equipe Media and RåFilm.

Commenting on Moroccan media coverage of the film and its censorship in Lebanon, Anna-Klara said:

In my mind censorship has a very negative connotation so if imagining myself in the role of the censoring power I assumed it’d be something you want to keep quiet. Interestingly, to Morocco that wasn’t the case at all, it was more like they were bragging and detailing how they went about it.

In our conversation, Anna-Klara suggested that the Moroccan government's response to 3 Stolen Cameras should be regarded as a proof of quality for their project.

The film's censorship in Lebanon only increased public intrigue around the film. Soon after the BIFF incident, 20 international film festivals signed a petition of protest against the censorship of 3 Stolen Cameras.

Soon after, the DOK Leipzig Documentary Film Festival became the official host for the world premiere of 3 Stolen Cameras. Although not this did not give the film the Arab audience it was made for, DOK Leipzig was nevertheless a prestigious alternative. 3 Stolen Cameras was received well by the audience and got nominated in competition for best short film. In due time, after the festivals have had their chance at exclusive premiership, the film will be released for online streaming and then finally available to local audiences in Western Sahara.


by Advox at January 11, 2018 03:22 PM

January 10, 2018

Global Voices Advocacy
After Facing Harassment from Authorities, Pakistani Journalist Narrowly Escapes Abduction

WION's Pakistan bureau chief Taha Siddiqui, Screenshot from YouTube via WION.

Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui was on his way to the airport on January 10 when his taxi was stopped and several gunmen attacked and tried to abduct him.

“They were cordoning off the road, armed with rifles, and the men who pulled me out of the car, they had small weapons, pistols”, Siddiqui told Al Jazeera.

Siddiqui was traveling to the United Kingdom for a work-related tour. The attackers fled the scene and took with them his laptop, mobile phone, passport and other belongings.

Siddiqui has covered terrorism, persecution of minorities, economic instability, corruption, and civil-military affairs for multiple foreign publications including the Guardian, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor and France24. He was awarded the Albert Londres Award — referred to as the French Pulitzer — in 2014 for his work on “La guerre de la polio” (“The Polio War”) for France 24. He currently serves as the bureau chief for World Is One News (WION).

Shortly after the incident, Siddiqui tweeted from Dawn correspondent Cyril Almeida’s Twitter account as his own phone had been taken by the attackers.

Asad Hashim, an independent journalist and AJ's web-correspondent tweeted:

In May last year, Siddiqui filed a formal complaint against the counter-terrorism wing of the civilian Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) after they summoned him and asked him to submit his laptop for forensic tests. On May 24, 2017, the Islamabad high court ordered the FIA to refrain from harassing Siddiqui, yet the summons to appear still stands.

In a December 2017 interview with BBC, Siddiqui said that he can “hardly do any serious journalism without talking about the military, which has an extensive footprint in the country beyond its mandate”. The report also quoted the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, which mentioned that in more than half a dozen cases, journalists have either been issued threats or physically assaulted with a view to warn rather than kill by state or non-state actors. Siddiqui also is an avid social media user and critic of the military.

Siddiqui's experience is not an isolated incident.

In 2017, journalists Rana Tanvir, Matiullah Jan and Ahmad Noorani all came under attack by unidentified assailants. Three years earlier, in April 2014, senior journalist Hamid Mir, a critic of the military and host of a popular TV show “Capital Talk” on Geo TV, was shot several times by unknown gunmen in Karachi. Mir blamed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for the attack, and Geo TV repeatedly aired the picture of Zaheerul Islam, the now-former head of ISI. The same year, another prominent liberal journalist Raza Rumi, known for criticizing the Taliban, narrowly escaped death in Lahore. His young driver was killed in the attack.

Umar Cheema, an investigative journalist and vocal critic of government practice, was picked up by intelligence agencies in 2010. There was no case filed against him. Cheema informed the Committee to Protect Journalists that he was tortured, humiliated and videotaped nude in comprised positions. He is the only journalist in Pakistan ever to go on record about being tortured in custody.

Pakistan is ranked 139 out of 180 countries as per the World Press Freedom Index 2017 by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) and is one the world's most dangerous countries for reporters.

Journalists and journalists’ unions and civil society organizations have made statements in support of Siddiqui and pushing to end enforced disappearances in the country.

Saeed Shah, a Pakistani journalist with the The Wall Street Journal tweeted:

Jon Boone, former correspondent Afghanistan-Pakistan correspondent for The Guardian and The Economist tweeted:

The Rawalpindi Union of Journalists condemned the attack:

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party tweeted that the matter of enforced disappearances and attacks on journalists should be addressed in Parliament:

Amnesty International condemned the attack on Siddiqui and other Pakistani journalists:

Pakistani journalists like Taha Siddiqui have a right to carry out their work freely and without fear. Journalism is not a crime, but attacking journalists is. These crimes must be immediately and effectively investigated. All journalists should be provided the protection they require. And there must be a clear and unequivocal commitment by the Pakistani authorities to end impunity for attacks on journalists.

Siddiqui later posted an update via his own Twitter account:

by Annie Zaman at January 10, 2018 04:56 PM

‘If I Don't Oppose Dictatorship, Am I Still a Man?': Chinese Activist Gets Eight Years in Prison

Wu Gan via Apple Daily News. Licensed for non-commercial use.

“For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who ‘subverts state power’ is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen.”

Chinese human rights activist Wu Gan made this statement to a Tianjin court after receiving an eight-year prison sentence on December 26, 2017. In early January, he filed an appeal to the sentence.

Wu Gan, better known by his nickname “Super Vulgar Butcher”, has been active in Chinese human rights circles since 2008, when he began campaigning on behalf of Deng Yujiao, a waitress who was charged with murder after she stabbed and killed a government official when he attempted to rape her.

His earned his nickname after writing a blog post on “how to slay pigs” (a euphemism for bringing down corrupt officials) and thus established his reputation as a “butcher”. Speaking with the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog, Wu's lawyer, Ge Wenxiu, explained that the name is intended to mock state officials’ use of vulgarity with a sarcastic suggestion that he wants to “slay” for them their corruption and misconduct.

Wu was arrested in 2015 after a protest outside a court in Jiangxi province over a rape and murder case in which the defense was denied access to court documents. His arrest marked the beginning of a nationwide crackdown on human right lawyers and activists.

He was initially charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and defamation but upon his refusal to confess to his crime, the police changed the allegation to “subversion of state power.”

Wu explained in his statement (via China Change) that he had refused to trade a lighter sentence with public confession:

For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who “subverts state power” is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights. Liang Qichao (梁启超, famous reformist at end of Qing dynasty) said that he and dictatorship were two forces inextricably opposed; I say: If I don’t oppose dictatorship, am I still a man?
They have attempted to have me plead guilty and cooperate with them to produce their propaganda in exchange for a light sentence — they even said that as long as I plead guilty, they’ll give me a three-year sentence suspended for three years. I rejected it all. My eight-year sentence doesn’t make me indignant or hopeless. This was what I chose for myself: when you oppose the dictatorship, it means you are already walking on the path to jail.

Wu Gan’s friends were disheartened upon hearing the news of his sentencing. On Twitter, Old Wine said:

One after another, my friends were sentenced to jail. Apart from anger, I have complex feelings: I wish that my friends would stand up to their principle like Butcher. On the other hand, I don’t want them going through torture and wish that they could compromise. I respect Butcher and I understand those who make compromise. It is now the new year, whenever I think about those who are in jail, my heart hurts and I feel so helpless.

After Wu’s statement was widely circulated, another round of smear campaigning targeting him and other human rights lawyers has emerged. A number of Twitter bots spread posts (examples one, two, three and many others) accusing Wu Gan of garnering personal benefits through online activism backed by anti-China forces.

Knowing that the Chinese dissident community has been overwhelmed with pessimism, Wu Gan wrote a letter to the Chinese Twitter community, urging them to carry on defending conscience and freedom on December 31:


I wish that fellows outside [the Great Firewall] would not be silenced and overwhelmed by pessimism. No matter how bad the situation is, you can’t conspire with [the dictator]. We can be nervous and frightened, but we can’t be blind to the cruel reality and tell lies that are against our common sense, or imagine that an enlightened emperor can save us, or that the battle can be won without paying efforts. We have to spread the truth, defend conscience, respect knowledge, encourage bravery. Everyone has weaknesses, including me. But I believe that with openness to ideas, more understanding, and less calculation for personal gain, more contribution and acts will be rewarded. The fact that I can feel your support and attention is the best proof.

Lastly I want to borrow a sentence from The Shawshank Redemption: some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers carry the color of freedom. [The original quote from Stephen King is: some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice.]

In response to the letter, veteran Chinese activist Wu’er Kaixi from the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement wrote:

Let’s face the future in a solemn manner today. We are not living in a good time, but we can be good people. We can be affected by Butcher and see fearlessness as an option. Our fearlessness will block terror and make our time better. I hope 2018 can be a starting point for this attitude. Happy New Year!

Wu Gan’s lawyer filed a written appeal to the court’s ruling on January 8 2018 (English version via China Change) defending citizens’ rights to free speech:

When rendering judgement on whether an individual’s conduct is criminal, it is vital to examine the character of their actions. The actions of the appellant — whether speech made via Weibo, WeChat, Twitter, his three “Guides,” interviews given to foreign media, or audio lectures — all fall under the rubric of legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. Similarly, the appellant’s participation in 12 noted cases — which involved ‘stand-and-watch’ protests, appealing in support of a cause, raising funds, or expressing himself via performance art — are also all exercises in freedom of expression, provided for in his civil rights of: the right to criticize and make suggestions; the right to lodge appeals and complaints; the right to report and expose malfeasance, and so on. These rights are innate, and are provided for in the constitution and law of the People’s Republic of China. The exercise of these rights has nothing at all to do with so-called subversion of state power.


by Oiwan Lam at January 10, 2018 02:46 PM

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