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September 24, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Sudanese Authorities Use ‘Pornography’ as Evidence in Criminal Trial of Human Rights Advocates
A student protest in Sudan. PHOTO: Sudan Forum. Used with permission

A student protest in Sudan. PHOTO: Sudan Forum. Used with permission

Human rights activists in Sudan are being prosecuted in what critics are calling a “morality” trial.

Six activists, all of whom are affiliated with Khartoum Center for Training and Human Development (TRACKS), have been charged with undermining the constitutional system, waging war against the State, espionage, and terrorism. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison, or death.

Case number 110/2016 filed on 15 August against eight TRACKS staff and affiliates is brought against TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar, trainers Al-Hassan Kheiry, Abu Hureira Abdelrahman, and Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, administrator Arwa Ahmed Al-Rabie and Cameroonian volunteer Imany Leyla Raye. Albaqir al Afif Mukhtar, the director of Alkhatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), and Musatafa Adam, the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development are also accused in this case.

Case number 56/2015 was originally brought against TRACKS director Afif Mukhtar, and human rights trainer Adil Bakheit. However, after they were summoned to court on 22 May 2016, they were informed that two other TRACKS staff members Al-Rabie and accountant Nudaina Kamal, were also accused in the case.

Despite the seriousness of these charges, Sudanese prosecutors have turned the trial to an investigation into the private lives of activists showing private photos and videos from the defendants’ confiscated laptops, as evidence of “immorality”.

On 22 May 2016, police arrested eight TRACKS activists after they appeared before the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against the State for investigation in relations to charges brought up by the NISS. While five of them have since been released, three remain in prison, including TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar and trainer Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, and Mustafa Adam, the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development, who was at TRACKS’ office at the time of the most recent raid.

Over the past two years, the Khartoum-based civil society group, which provides trainings on human rights and information technology, has been subjected to multiple incidents of police harassment. Their offices were raided twice by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), in March 2015 and February 2016, with police repeatedly interrogating the group’s staff and confiscating their documents and electronic devices.

During a hearing on 4 September, the prosecutors screened a pornographic video allegedly found on one defendant's computer. They also showed private photos they found on defendants’ computers as evidence of “immorality”. The defendants say there is nothing “immoral” or “pornographic” about these photos, as the picture in the tweet below shows.

The violation of the defendants’ privacy continued in a 22 September hearing, with investigators exposing details about the defendants’ lifestyles.

For these and other Sudanese civil society members, the use of personal photographs and data as evidence has undercut the legitimacy of the trial and the judiciary.

Showing such pictures and videos may not be relevant to the trial, but it is a calculated strategy of the Sudanese authorities to “discredit civil society” in the country, writes Sudanese journalist Reem Abbas, who was present during the hearings on 4 and 22 September:

Setting the ground by damaging the defendants’s public image and presenting them as immoral as understood and seen by the conservative Sudanese society will cause confusion within the solidarity movement. This tactic is very dangerous as it will be used to instigate public opinion against the defendants and initiate a smear campaign that changes the entire discourse of the trial causing the lawyers to become distracted from the actual charges…With women who are perceived as activists or active in the civil society, this is done on another level. Our pictures were shown to reiterate their point, this is the civil society here! They watch pornography and their women are uncovered and they are even smiling in the pictures!

She concludes:

The civil society was painted as a world of debauchery and this debauchery was documented in pictures that were shown inside the courthouse, violating the privacy of the defendants and their friends. But it was done for this exact reason, the NISS wanted to put the whole civil society on trial and in Sudan, the worst kind of trial is a moral one

The Sudanese government's crackdown on civil society groups and human rights activists is nothing new. In 2012, authorities shut down four civil society groups based in the capital Khartoum, while earlier this year the government banned four civil society representatives from traveling to Geneva to take part at a UN-led human rights event. TRACKs is one of very few independent civil society groups still operating in the country, and its trial is seen as a trial against the entire Sudanese civil society, as activist Dalia Haj-Omar tweets:

by Afef Abrougui at September 24, 2016 08:43 AM

Links for 2016-09-23 []

September 24, 2016 07:00 AM

September 22, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Internet Shutdowns Are Ever-Present in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula
A 2014 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.

A 2014 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.

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

Citizens in Egypt’s North Sinai region weathered a shutdown of phone and Internet services over the weekend of September 17 that went on for at least eight hours. Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that most areas of the region have had service restored, but there’s little hope that networks will remain connected for good.

The northern zone of the Sinai Peninsula, which abuts Israel and Palestine’s Gaza strip, has been heavily controlled by the Egyptian military since mid-2013, when they began in earnest their assault on violent insurgent groups in the region. By early 2014, cuts to telecommunications networks would regularly last throughout the day, in what appears to be an effort to deter insurgents from communicating with one another. The collateral damage this has brought upon citizens, leaving them unable to communicate, stay in touch with loved ones, send and receive information and money, among many other things, is incalculable. Citizen groups have organized to protest the cuts on various occasions, but have seen little result. The cuts have also helped solidify a de facto media blackout in the region that has resulted from strict punishments for journalists seeking to cover military operations in the area.

In December 2015, Egyptian technologist and Global Voices’ author Ramy Raoof described to TIME Magazine how security authorities were cutting network connections “indiscriminately,” noting that they have made no effort to preserve basic or emergency services, such as the ability to call for an ambulance. And when networks are down, insurgents can use other unblockable means of communications like roaming foreign (chiefly Israel-based) mobile networks and satellites. Like many others, Raoof reasons: “It doesn’t prevent the bad guys from doing bad things.”

Kuwaiti royal faces jail time for insulting emir on Snapchat

A Kuwaiti court convicted Sheikh Abdullah Salem Al Sabah of insulting the royal family, despite the fact that he is the grandnephew of the emir. He has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of USD $16,500 for sending a Snapchat message in which he criticized the main cabinet, which is occupied entirely by members of the royal family (and his own).

Russian blogger convicted of publishing ‘extremist statements’ about Syria

Russian prosecutors have called for opposition blogger Anton Nossik to be sentenced to two years in a penal colony for publishing “extremist statements” online. The charges stem from a blog post titled “Wipe Syria From the Face of the Earth,” where Nossik called for bombing all of the country, including territory controlled by the Syrian government — an expression of opposition to the Assad regime. The post was published just days before the Russian government began a bombing campaign in support of the ruling Assad government. Nossik’s verdict is set to be announced on October 3.

Why didn’t the UAE have an ‘Arab Spring’?

Despite a relative absence of government protests, state-sponsored repression in the UAE is commonplace: arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, deportations and revocation of citizenship are tactics used to silence dissent in the country. Despite boasts by UAE leaders of the high living standards of citizens, “for the time being…activists and government critics do not seem to enjoy the happiness, well-being and safety the Emirates offer,” writes Global Voices’ Afef Abrougui.

New research shines light on political censorship in Bahrain

Bahrain is using an Internet filtering software called Netsweeper to censor political content, including pages relating to human rights, opposition politics, Shiite websites, local and regional news sources and content critical of religion, according to new research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. Citizen Lab researchers found that the software was being used on nine Bahrain-based ISPs during the summer of 2016.  The report concludes: “The sale of technology used to censor political speech and other forms of legitimate expression, to a state with a highly problematic human rights record, raises serious questions about the corporate social responsibility practices of Netsweeper.”

Russians contemplate life without Internet porn

Russian authorities blocked two major porn sites this week, including PornHub and YouPorn, by adding the sites to the country’s blacklist. Russian censors have targeted porn streaming services in the past, but previously limited bans to Russian localized versions. This is the first time ISPs have been asked to ban the full global versions of the sites. Led by a group of journalists, Russian Internet users have responded to the bans with an online flashmob, where people film themselves watching pornographic videos and narrating what they see.

More than anyone else, the US is knocking on Twitter’s door

Twitter’s latest transparency report shows that the US government made more requests for users’ personal data than any other government — and that overall the number of government requests rose 2.1 percent, affecting 8 percent more user accounts. In this report, Twitter also revealed more detailed information on who is making the requests from the US. The company said the FBI, Secret Service and the New York County District Attorney’s Office were the top requesters for account information.

Latin American indigenous language activists promote new emojis

Calls for more emoji diversity have expanded beyond skin color to include more culturally diverse representations, writes GV’s Eddie Avila. In addition to a recent petition to include a hijab emoji, indigenous language activists in Mexico and Chile have begun to create their own emoji sets reflecting traditional dress and linguistic expressions in languages including Huastec, spoken mostly in central Mexico, and Mapudungun, spoken by the Mapuche of Chile.

Happy Software Freedom Day!

September 17 marked Software Freedom Day, a global celebration of the use of free and open source software. To mark the occasion, free and open source software enthusiasts gathered together in cities around the world to hold hackathons, run free software installation camps, and educate people about its use.

New Research

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email


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

by Netizen Report Team at September 22, 2016 06:49 PM

Development Seed
OpenAerialMap Improved

It’s been more than a year since we first launched OpenAerialMap, and ever since, we’ve continued to invest in the site and make improvements. We truly believe that this service helps users to share, find and use aerial imagery in as simple and efficient of a way as possible. Below I’ve outlined a few of the ways we’ve improved the site to make for a seamless experience.

Some of the latest changes include:

  • A brand new homepage that introduces users to the project.
  • Improvements to the upload form by adding integration with Dropbox, and Google Drive (not yet deployed, but expect to see this soon). This aims to lower the contribution barrier.
  • Added a feedback form to the browser (allows users to easily report problems with the imagery).
  • Added options for imagery preview, including TMS.
  • Under the hood improvements.

I’ll be at State of the Map in Brussels this week to talk about the OAM project, specifically these improvements and the changes to come. If you’re there be sure to come listen – you can find me in Auditorium C, Friday at 12:30pm.

by Development Seed at September 22, 2016 12:00 AM

September 21, 2016

Joi Ito
Conversation with Isha Datar from New Harvest

This year, the Shuttleworth Foundation asked me to be the honorary steward of the September 2016 fellowship intake. This meant that I would help review and recommend the people who would receive the Shuttleworth Fellowship which funds the fellow's salary as well as their project up to $250,000. It's one of the most interesting and successful fellowship programs that I know for funding unique, provocative and unconventional individuals and their ideas. I'm a huge fan.

We saw some great applications and I was really happy with the three fellows selected for the round that I worked on, Achal, Isha and Ugo. Through the process I got to know their work quite well and I was excited to get a chance to meet Isha when I was in New York last week.

Isha Datar works on cellular agriculture research, the science of growing animal projects in cell cultures instead of farmed herds. It's a very new field with a lot of challenges including questions about how to make non-animal based nutrient systems, how to make it taste good, how to make it energy efficient, how to scale it, etc. At her non-profit organization New Harvest, Isha is working on the core research as well as funding and coordinating research across the world. What's exciting and important to me is that she's decided to do this in an open source and collaborative non-profit way because she and her colleagues believe that the field is still very early and that it would be advanced most effectively through this non-profit structure.

by Joi at September 21, 2016 11:28 AM

September 20, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
He Supported Bombing Syria a Little Too Eagerly, Now RuNet Pioneer Faces Prison
Anton Nessik. Source: Valerij Ledenev, Flickr, CC 2.0

Anton Nossik. Source: Valerij Ledenev, Flickr, CC 2.0

On Monday, a Russian state prosecutor called for prominent blogger and oppositionist Anton Nossik to be sentenced to two years in a penal colony for publishing “extremist statements” online. Nossik, one of the “founding fathers” of the Russian internet, was charged in February for publishing a blog post on his Live Journal account entitled “Wipe Syria from the Face of the Earth.”

Prosecutors allege that Nossik violated Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, “Incitement of Hatred or Enmity, as well as Abasement of Human Dignity,” which carries with it a maximum penalty of 4 years in prison.

The offending post, which was published on October 1, 2015, just weeks before Russia launched its bombing campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, remains active on Nossik's Live Journal account. The blogger, it appears, ran afoul of the Kremlin by expressing open and vehement opposition to the Assad regime. In the post, Nossik, an Israeli citizen, calls for the bombing of territory controlled by the Syrian government, which he previously compared to Nazi Germany:

За последние 70 лет Ближний Восток не видел от Сирии ничего, кроме агрессии, войн, людоедства, разрухи и горя. До 2011 года они весь этот ужас экспортировали в сопредельные государства, с 2011 года сами жнут ими же посеянную бурю. Так им и надо, и ни разу не жалко. Осталось только все выходы заминировать, чтобы не экспортировали джихад в Европу.

For the last 70 years the Near East hasn't seen anything from Syria except aggression, war, cannibalism, ruin, and grief. Up until 2011, they exported all this horror to neighboring countries, but in 2011 they began to reap the seeds they sowed. It serves them right and I'm not sorry. All that's left is to destroy them, so that Jihad isn't exported to Europe.

Nossik maintains that he is innocent, but said on Monday he is prepared to serve a sentence in the hopes that his case will draw attention to the Russian government's practice of “convicting people for their thoughts.” Nossik posted about the prosecution's request on Facebook on Monday but did not offer any additional commentary.

Nossik seems to have gone too far in expressing his beliefs on Echo of Moscow, Russia's leading liberal radio station, on the same day he published his blog. He said his colleagues at Echo of Moscow told him that he had erred by “confusing the Internet with radio,” suggesting that restrictions on the freedom of speech are more stringent for radio than for the Internet.  Nossik defended himself by noting that he had joined the station's “Special Opinion” show, which, he argued, is intended for people with different points of view to “cross the line.”

The Chief Rabbi of Russia and a professor from Moscow State University spoke on Nossik's behalf at his trial.  Expert linguists from the Federal Security Service's (FSB) Institute of Criminology, meanwhile, testified that Nossik's post contained “extremist statements.”

Nossik is a member of Russia's opposition and has frequently spoken out about the Kremlin's crackdown on Internet freedom. One of Russia's first popular bloggers, he launched and, at one time two of the country's most popular websites.

Nossik's verdict is set to be announced on October 3.

by Advox at September 20, 2016 09:33 PM

The UAE Has Avoided an ‘Arab Spring’ by Systematically Repressing Critical Speech
Behind the UAE's glitzy skycrapers, lies a dark reality: gross human rights violations. Photo by L Constantino via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Behind the UAE's glitzy skycrapers, lies a dark reality of human rights violations. Photo by L Constantino via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Three years ago, the UAE government prosecuted en masse 94 government critics and activists who called for reform in the Emirates.

Since this time, there has been no Arab Spring-like uprising. No anti-government protests that have come close to shaking the ruling regime. Yet the state-sponsored repression of human rights advocates and journalists continues unabated.

Arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, deportations, and revocation of citizenships are among the tactics the UAE authorities regularly deploy to silence dissident voices and make sure that no such uprising takes place within its borders.

This week, 33-year-old Amina Abdouli is scheduled to appear before the Supreme Federal Court on charges related to her activities on Twitter. According to Amnesty International, she stands accused of:

…creating and running two Twitter accounts and publishing information with the aims of inciting hatred against the State and disturbing public order; mocking and damaging the reputation of State institutions; publishing false information about Saudi Arabia and making derogatory remarks about an Egyptian official with the aim of endangering the State’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt…

Building repression into the system

These practices have come in tandem with changes to the law that allow for broad, unchecked persecution of state critics in the online realm. The UAE government amended the country's 2006 cybercrime law in 2012 introducing harsh punishments for legitimate acts of free expression. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for those who publish online news, cartoons and pictures that “may endanger the national security and the higher interests of the State or afflicts its public order” (article 28), and content deemed “damaging” to the “the reputation, prestige or stature of the State or any of its institutions or its president, vice-president, any of the rulers of the Emirates, their crown princes, or the deputy rulers of the Emirates, the State flag, the national peace, its logo, national anthem or any of its symbols” (article 29).

Those making calls to “overthrow, change the ruling system of the State, or seize it or to disrupt the provisions of the constitution or the laws applicable in the country or to oppose the basic principles which constitutes the foundations of the ruling system of the state” risk life imprisonment under article 30 of the law.

The use of VPNs to bypass government restrictions and engage in activities not allowed under the country's cybercrime law, is a crime punishable by imprisonment and up to $545,000.

These policies come alongside a variety of regulatory reforms affecting private online companies whose services include messaging and posting of unique content, making it easier for officials to prosecute individuals for their online activities, and to limit residents’ abilities to use these platforms in a private fashion.

The #UAE94 

On 2 July 2013, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi convicted 69 of the defendants and sentenced them to between seven and 15 years in jail. Verdicts issued by the State Security Chamber cannot be appealed under UAE law.

The International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE explains the trial in the video below:

The International Commission of Jurists and other human rights groups slammed the trial for failing “to meet internationally recognised standards of fairness.”

Targeting families

Some of the most striking effects of this crackdown have played out among families. Relatives of government critics routinely suffer the consequences of their family members’ online activities.

Amina Abdouli is not the only person in her family going on trial this week. Her brother Mosaab Abdouli will also stand trial for allegedly joining the armed rebel group Ahrar al-Sham in Syria, a charge he previously denied. The father of Amina and Mosaab, Mohammed al-ABdouli, was the head of the banned Emirati Umma Party and was arrested in 2005 and remained in prison for two years without trial.

In 2013, he died fighting with the Ahrar al-Sham armed group in Syria. On 30 May 2016, their 18-year-old sister Moza ‘Abdouli, was acquitted from the charges of “insulting the UAE, its leaders, and its institutions” over tweets she posted in March 2015, when she was still 15 and mourning the death of her father.

The case of al-Abdouli family is not uncommon. Last year, three sisters were forcibly disappeared by the authorities, and spent three months in secret detention for campaigning on Twitter in support of their jailed brother, a prisoner of conscience convicted in the UAE94 trial.

Osama al-Najjar is currently serving a three-year jail term for tweeting about the ill-treatment of his jailed father, also convicted in the UAE94 mass trial. According to Amnesty International, al-Najjar was convicted of a number of charges including “instigating hatred against” the state, “designing and running a website [with] satirical and defaming ideas and information” deemed harmful to UAE institutions. His conviction, which was handed down by the State Security Chamber at the Federal Supreme Court in November 2014, cannot be appealed.

No exceptions for foreigners

Relying heavily on a foreign labor force to maintain and drive its economic growth, the UAE population is made up of 81% foreigners. Members of this large expat community, which is dominated by workers from South East-Asia but also includes European, Australian, American, and Arab nationalities, often fall foul of the country's repressive policies and laws.

Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar has been detained for nine months without trial. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities questioned him about a July 2014 Facebook message that he posted before he moved to the UAE to work as a culture reporter for the local newspaper Dar. In the post, al-Najjar reportedly criticized Israeli actions in the Palestinian region of Gaza, and Egyptian authorities’ destruction of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

And it is not only activists and government critics who need to worry about what they post and say on the internet, as the mere acts of sharing a link or swearing on WhatsApp could land users into legal trouble. On 28 July, authorities in Dubai arrested Scott Richards, a British-Australian national, for sharing a link on Facebook to a charity raising money for refugees in Afghanistan. He risks a year in jail and a fine of 100,000 Emirati dirhams (USD $18,000), under local laws that prohibit fundraising and donating to foreign charities without the authorities’ prior written approval. Last year, an Australian woman was fined and deported for posting on Facebook a photo showing a car parked across two parking spots for disabled drivers outside her flat.

These incidents prompted the UK to update its travel guidance recently, warning its nationals not to post materials critical of individuals, companies and the government, while in the UAE.

UAE leaders often boast about the high living standards their citizens and expat residents enjoy. The country ranks 30th worldwide in the 2015 prosperity index, which ranks countries in terms of prosperity based on income and well-being. The government even has a minister for happiness, and according to a 2016 poll, young people in the Arab region chose the UAE as the “best country” to live and work in for its safety, stability and the economic opportunities it offers. For the time being, however, activists and government critics do not seem to enjoy the happiness, well-being and safety the Emirates offer.

by Afef Abrougui at September 20, 2016 10:14 AM

September 19, 2016

Joi Ito
The "there goes the neighborhood" Law

There seems to be some sort of general rule that technologies and systems like conversations on the Internet, the US democracy (and its capture by powerful financial interests), the Arab Spring movement and many other things that were wonderfully optimistic and positive at the beginning seem to begin to regress and fail as they scale or age. Most of these systems seem to evolve into systems that are resistant to redesign and overthrow as they adapt like some sophisticated virus or cancer. It's related to but harder to fix than the tragedy of the commons.

I want to write a longer post trying to understand this trend/effect, but I was curious about whether there was some work already in understanding this effect and whether there was already a name for this idea. If not, what we should call it, assuming people agree that it's a "thing"?

by Joi at September 19, 2016 12:23 PM

Ethan Zuckerman
Going Solo – On hating and accepting change

I have not been writing much about my divorce on this blog – I’ve kept most of that discussion on Facebook. I thought this post, wrestling not only with the divorce, but unwanted change more generally, might be helpful for a broader audience.

I have been coming to grips with the uncomfortable realization that I am a conservative.

Not a political conservative – if anything, this election is hardening my identity as a progressive insurrectionist. Not a social conservative – that the world around me is more colorful, diverse and fluid by the day is a major source of joy. Personally conservative.

I don’t like change. I’d go as far as to say that I hate it.

I live in the same house I bought almost twenty years ago. It’s painted the same color it was then. It’s in, more or less, the only town I’ve lived in as an adult, the town I moved to for college twenty seven years ago. I’ve had the same damned non-hairstyle since I was sixteen.

Given my lived preferences, it appears that I would be happiest if everything in my immediate personal life could stay the same forever.

That, of course, isn’t an option.


Earlier today, my wife of seventeen years and I divorced in a ceremony she designed. It began with a blessing over wine in the battered, tarnished cup someone had given us at our wedding, engraved with the date. My beloved ex took the wine blessed in that cup, poured it into two red plastic Solo cups, and we each drank from our own. As the wine moved from a beloved relic into the table settings for a game of beer pong, I couldn’t help seeing this as a downgrade of a life together into two uncertain, lesser futures.

Which is, of course, wrong. Our lives are both already changing in ways that are healthy, unexpected and often delightful. I just need to get over hating the process.

What I’m learning – slowly, awkwardly, painfully – is that the changes I fear and dread have often already happened. By the time Rachel was ready to tell me she needed to end our relationship, it had changed a long time ago. We had stopped being the center of each other’s personal universes, had disengaged from the others passion and work, had begun sharing and confiding in other friends. My instinct was to fight these changes, to try and bring things back to the comfortable stability we had once enjoyed. I am grateful that Rachel fought to embrace the change, to step into the unknown, believing that things could be different and better.

My reaction to the end of my marriage with Rachel was to frantically reach out to old friends and demand they reassure me that they still loved me and that our relationship would never change. Some did. Some didn’t. In a few cases, friends took the opportunity to point out that we weren’t as close as we had been, that our friendship had already changed, or even ended, sometimes years before. They are right, too, and the onus is on me to discover what those friendships might be now, and what new spaces may have opened in my life as other friends have departed.

The problem with hating change is that it doesn’t stop it from happening. It just assures that change will happen to you, rather than allowing you to choose to make a change.

I am slowly learning to see the upside of my old nemesis. Some of what’s happened to me in the past year has been unbelievably wonderful. Those marvelous parts happened when, faced with a change that was already underway, I made a choice and made a change. My challenge now is to overcome my instinctive fear, this desire for everything to remain static and comfortable – despite its imperfections – and learn to love the changes. They’re coming anyway.

by Ethan at September 19, 2016 12:26 AM

September 18, 2016

Joi Ito
Neha Narula, Research Director of MIT Digital Currency Initiative

Neha Narula wrote a post on Medium last Monday about the MIT Digital Currency Initiative at the Media Lab (DCI) and her new role as the Research Director. Also on Monday, TED posted her talk on the future of money, which I think is one of clearest "what is Bitcoin" explanations I've seen. I saw her a few days later and did a Facebook Live conversation with her which I've uploaded to YouTube, SoundCloud and iTunes.

Neha has been working as a member of the DCI for awhile now, but in this new role, she will drive the technical research agenda of the DCI and help coordinate research inside of MIT as well as in other academic institutions and in the broader community. She comes with a solid technical background with a PhD from MIT in distributed systems and previously as a software engineer at Google. Neha and the DCI have already been actively engaged in research, development and teaching in digital currencies, blockchain and related fields, but with Neha's leadership, I'm hoping that we can continue to ramp these efforts up as well as increase collaboration and engagement.

Neha lead the creation of a website for the DCI where you can learn about some of the projects and people involved. Also, as I wrote in a Medium post on September 6, Brian Forde, the director of the DCI will be transitioning out of that role.

by Joi at September 18, 2016 08:05 PM

September 17, 2016

Links for 2016-09-16 []
  • The Typekit Blog | Variable fonts, a new kind of font for flexible design
    Just minutes ago, at the ATypI conference in Warsaw, the world was introduced to a new kind of font: a variable font. Jointly developed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Adobe, a variable font is, as John Hudson put it, “a single font file that behaves like multiple fonts”. Imagine a single font file

September 17, 2016 07:00 AM

September 16, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
That Time Russia Banned Online Porn (Again)
Photo: Pixabay.

Photo: Pixabay.

The two pornographic metropolises of the Internet, PornHub and YouPorn, were banned in Russia this week.

This wasn't the first time the Russian authorities targeted porn-streaming services: last year, state censors added the website’s Russian-localized version,, to its blacklist. Officials later unbanned it.

At the time, the decision to block one of the most popular sites online provoked a flurry of jokes on social media, but genuine concern appeared to be minimal, as the site’s English-language version never went offline in Russia, and the drive for adult content was sufficient motivation to overcome the linguistic barrier.

But this time, Pornub has been blocked for real. Russian ISPs are required to comply with the state’s blacklist within 24 hours.

On the legal side, the decisions to block PornHub and YouPorn were made in Voronezh and Vladivostok, respectively. Both courts’ verdicts say PornHub and YouPorn “contain information that is forbidden to disseminate” in Russia.

The information in question apparently includes child pornography or anything “justifying the molestation of children.”

Russia’s definition of child pornography has always been strict. Videos where actors merely pretend to be underage, dressing in school uniforms and so on, can qualify, and judges have even said certain forms of illustrated and animated porn, such as Hentai, amount to child pornography.

When they searched for “hentai” on PornHub, Russian authorities identified more than 16,000 pieces of content that justified blocking the entire website.

The news site Meduza spoke to Vladimir Panasenko, the judge in Voronezh who says he doesn't remember the details of the case in which he banned PornHub. In the interview, he said he assumed that it “had something to do with children, maybe. There were no age restrictions [on the website].”

On social media, Russians were eager to discuss the consequences of life without two of the Internet’s biggest repositories of pornography.

Some people readily admitted their beliefs that marriage and procreation are the decent alternatives to watching porn and masturbating at home—a notion that surely brings a satisfied smile to the faces of conservative public figures like Yelena Mizulina, Vitaliy Milonov, and Anna Kuznetsova, whose passion for “traditional values” is itself almost primal.

One common thread in jokes about the censorship decision riffs on the concept of “import substitution” and protectionism.

Dmitry Medvedev requires the creation of a domestic equivalent to the foreign website PornHub.

By blocking PornHub and YouPorn, the authorities are supporting domestic producers.

The journalist Sergey Erzhenkov shared a personal aside:

Моя репортерская мечта – отыскать актеров из первого советского порно под названием “Ребята из Чертаново” (1990 г.). Работая на НТВ, я приложил много усилий к тому, чтобы их найти. Но единственное, что мне удалось узнать, – ребята вовсе не чертановские, как следует из названия, а выхинские. И сейчас им, по моим прикидкам, чуть за 50. То есть импортозамещать еще могут.

My reporter's dream is to find the performers from the first Soviet porn movie “Guys from Chertanovo” (1990). While working for NTV, I've made a lot of efforts to find them. The only thing I learned is that the title was misleading, and the guys were actually from Vykhino. They should be, according to my guesstimate, just over 50 now, so they are capable of import substitution.

Many online pointed out that Russia already has a thriving rival to big porn sites like PornHub: the social network Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook equivalent, which hosts enormous amounts of pornography uploaded by ordinary users. Some say that the lion’s share of what exists on PornHub and YouPorn can also be found on Vkontakte.

A quick tip for those desperate souls looking for “lesbian orgy” or “naughty cop” on Vkontakte: you can't find these videos using the website’s search function; all the adult content is tucked away and uploaded to closed groups.

And there are several popular conspiracy theories now making the rounds, offering explanations about the truth behind the porn ban.

Sure enough, they blocked PornHub in Russia because of the site’s stats show that the most popular genre among Russians is anal.

Others on Twitter mixed in a little election humor, in light of Russia’s parliamentary elections this Sunday, September 18.

The word is that PornHub will only be available at the polling stations.

Now, with PornHub blocked, many people will have time to vote.

The good people at PornHub, known for their edgy presence on social media, tried their best to save the day. First they reached out to Russian censors. (The response was an awkwardly unfunny insinuation that masturbation threatens Russia’s demography.)

PornHub then appealed to Barack Obama with this bombshell:

The White House has yet to respond.

by Advox at September 16, 2016 02:34 PM

September 15, 2016

Joi Ito
Credit for Help on Blog Posts

Copyright xkcd CC BY-NC

Back when I first started blogging, the standard post took about 5 min and was usually written in a hurry after I thought of something to say in the shower. If it had mistakes, I'd add/edit/reblog any fixes.

As my post have gotten longer and the institutions affected by my posts have gotten bigger, fussier and more necessary to protect - I've started becoming a bit more careful about what I say and how I say it.

Instead of blog first, think later - agile blogging - I now have a process that feel a bit more like blogging by committee. (Actually, it's not as bad as it sounds. You, the reader are benefiting from better thought through blog posts because of this process.)

When I have an idea, I usually hammer out a quick draft, stick it in a Google Doc and then invite in anyone that might be able to help including experts, my team working on the particular topic and editors and communications people. It's a different bunch of people depending on the post, but almost everything I've posted recently is a result of a group effort.

Jeremy Rubin, a recent MIT grad who co-founded the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT mentioned that maybe I should be giving people credit for helping - not that he wouldn't help if he didn't get credit, but he thought that as a general rule, it would be a good idea. I agreed, but I wasn't sure exactly how to do it elegantly. (See what I did here?)

I'm going to start adding contributors at the bottom of blog posts as sort of a "credits" section, but if anyone has any good examples or thoughts on how to give people credit for helping edit and contributing ideas to a post or an informal paper like my posts on my blog and pubpub, I'd really like to see them.

by Joi at September 15, 2016 05:50 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: In Cuba, Text Messages With Controversial Content Are Disappearing
“The Internet is shit! Let's see… whoever wants Internet, raise your hand.” Cartoon by Lázaro Saavedra, reproduced with permission.

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

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

Journalists in Cuba have evidence that the Cuban government is monitoring and selectively blocking mobile SMS messages based on keywords such as “human rights”, “hunger strike”, “plebiscite” and “state security”. According to a report by journalists Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, who run the Havana-based media outlet 14ymedio, text messages containing a range of sensitive keywords along with the names of various high-profile anti-Castro activists, are not reaching their destinations. However, the messages still appear as ‘sent’ on the sender’s telephone.

According to technologist and opposition blogger Eliécer Avila, at least 30 keywords have been identified as triggers for the blocking mechanism. It is not clear how long this has been in place. The journalists have not yet shared a full list of terms tested, nor did they indicate whether they believe the blocking targets specific users. Sánchez, Escobar and Avila are all very high-profile opposition voices.

The discovery comes at a moment in which Cuban bloggers and independent journalists are facing increasing scrutiny and, in some cases, public condemnation, by leading government and Cuban communist party officials. Diario de Cuba writer Maykel González Vivero, who is also a vocal advocate for LGBT rights on the island, was fired from his job with state radio station Radio Sagua two weeks ago, for collaborating with “private media”. In late August, the well-established Uruguayan blogger and former BBC journalist Fernando Ravsberg, who has lived in Cuba since the mid-1990s and has a family there, was publicly condemned on television by the vice president of Cuba’s Press Workers’ Union, charged with offending the sentiments of “decent Cubans.”

Russian authorities jail gamer for offending religious people, Pokemon-style

Ruslan Sokolovsky was jailed in early September for playing Pokemon Go inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral and posting a video of this on YouTube. Police are investigating the 21-year-old video blogger for committing extremism, offending religious people and “violating the right to religion in a house of worship.” If convicted on those charges, Sokolovsky could go to prison for up to five years. The video (now with English subtitles) has garnered more than 1.3 million views on YouTube.

On September 7, Sokolovsky complained that a prison psychiatrist had threatened his life, warning that he could be institutionalized “where they don't let the lawyers in.” Investigators have also revealed that they discovered a camera-pen at his home—technology that is illegal in Russia. The media is describing the device as a “spy pen,” complementing allegations by pro-government bloggers that Sokolovsky's atheist activism online and in the media is part of a larger, coordinated campaign by nefarious forces designed to weaken Russia's traditional values. He has since been released and placed under house arrest.

Algerian court upholds activist conviction over Charlie Hebdo link

An Algerian appeals court upheld the conviction of activist Slimane Bouhafs, decreasing his jail sentence from five to three years. Bouhafs originally was sentenced to five years in jail and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars for “offending the Prophet” and “denigrating the creed and precepts of Islam” for linking to a cartoon by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting the Prophet Muhammad crying.  

Web journalist arrested in Venezuela

Chilean-Venezuelan journalist and lawyer Braulio Jatar is being held by Venezuelan authorities on charges of money laundering. Jatar, who is the director of the investigative news site Reporte Confidencial, was detained during a protest in the locality of Villa Rosa that forced President Nicolas Maduro to leave the city. Jatar’s supporters believe his coverage of the protest are the real reason he is in custody.

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle

Turkish journalist Özgür Öğret has been working with the Committee to Protect Journalists to produce a weekly report called the “Turkey Crackdown Chronicle,” describing ongoing government threats against digital and traditional journalists reporting on politics, violence and corruption in Turkey. Read this week’s installment here.

Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ does not include Kashmir

The Indian government, which champions internet access as a basic human right, is blocking mobile internet in Kashmir. The government shut down mobile internet about two months ago, when protests erupted following the killing of a separatist militant leader by the Indian military in early July. The shutdown of the mobile internet network leaves most Kashmiris, who rely on mobile internet to access the web, “anxious and isolated”, writes journalist Hasit Shah: “It is difficult for journalists to report on what is happening. Vital information is missing. Kashmiris in India have been transported back to a pre-digital era.”

Saudi Arabia bans LINE messaging app

The Saudi government added LINE to the long list of VoIP services and messaging apps blocked in the country, which includes Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Skype. Responding to the block, Saudi users took to Twitter to protest the government’s strict Internet censorship policies, asking “what’s the point of having Internet?”

Surprise, surprise: New Snowden leaks reveal more mind-blowing surveillance tools

The Intercept released new documents from the Snowden leaks that reveal how the NSA aided “‘a significant number of capture-kill operations’ across the Middle East and North Africa, fueled by powerful eavesdropping technology that can harvest data from more than 300 million emails and phone calls a day.”

New Research


Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email


Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, James Losey and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at September 15, 2016 04:24 PM

Ghanaian President Vows Not to Shut Down Social Media During Elections
Ballot boxes. Photo by Sheila Rouge, labeled for reuse.

Ballot boxes. Photo by Sheila Rouge, labeled for reuse.

There has been much debate among major stakeholders as to whether social media should be banned during the upcoming elections in Ghana. Inspector General of Police (IGP) John Kudalor hinted in May 2016 that Ghanaian authorities might consider shutting down social media platforms during December 7 elections to “maintain peace”. The IGP argued that the intention to shut down social media platforms during elections is based on the fact that some people abuse the space during voting. However, Ghanaian president John Mahama declared on the 14 August that social media will not be shutdown during the upcoming elections that “the government has no intention to shut down social media on election day.”

Various African countries have developed a routine of blocking social media platforms before, during and after elections citing “security concerns”. During the recent elections held in Uganda, the government ordered telecommunication companies to block access to popular social media platforms. Social media platforms were also blocked ahead of Ugandan President Museveni's inauguration. Uganda and Nigeria have recently indicated their intentions to impose stricter controls over social media.

Most recently, the government of Gabon blocked access to the Internet shortly after protesters began contesting results of recent presidential elections in which incumbent President Ali Bongo appears to have won by a narrow margin. The shutdown persisted for five days.

Following the remarks made by the Inspector General of Police, the Centre for Constitutional Order (CENCORD) brought together participants from the Ghana Police Service, security experts, representatives of political parties and a section of the public to discuss the theme “Banning Social Media in General Election 2016: Security Implication versus Legal Justification.”

An article published after the forum indicated that the 2016 Peace Ambassador and Security Analyst Irbard Ibrahim said that “misuse of social media to share false information could disrupt peace during elections if not properly guarded.” Richmond Ofosuhene was in agreement with the comments made by security experts:

However, the executive director of the civic technology organization PenPlusByte, Kwame Ahiabenu, was a of a different opinion and was not in support of the ban of social media during elections. He pointed out:

Social media in itself is not a threat to national security. Rather, it is the users of such media, and so if there is any potential threat, it is the people and so what we need to do is to do proper policing, not a shutdown of the social media platforms.

The statement made by the president put to rest speculations about the banning social media during elections. The statement has been received positively by social media enthusiasts and advocates. Ahiabenu shared his view, saying:

The president’s statement is commendable because the ban posed “a threat to the electoral dignity the country has attained,” adding that a shutdown would have put in question “our democracy and the rule of law.” Instead, he noted, “the presidency, as the highest political office in the country, has reassured us that there would be no cuts to online communication in December.”

In an article published by GhanaWeb, IMANI Ghana think tank president Franklin Cudjoe commended the President for stating that there will be no shutdown of social media during the upcoming elections. He said:

Thankfully this has been laid to be rest by the President and I think even though he deserves commendation, I think this election should not be allowed to have any tense moments that could be exploited by provocateurs. The police should instead “begin to use the medium to educate people on social media and they can even do it on WhatsApp and all the other social media platforms.” It is not a question of having an advantage or disadvantage. The Police “should enlist professionals who could teach them how to use Social Media for positive results. I think that is the way to go.”

However, Spy News Agency (@SpyNewsAgency1), an online news agency commented that a section of Ghanaians supported the ban of social media use during elections:

Regardless of how the nation reacted negatively to the ban of social media during the election period, some journalists such as Jojo Bruce-Quansah (@BruceJojo) tweeted in support of the ban saying:

by Kofi Yeboah at September 15, 2016 03:43 PM

September 14, 2016

Joi Ito
Conversation with Sultan Al-Qassemi

Sultan is the most interesting person I know in the United Arab Emirates. I met him in 2010 or so, soon after I had moved to Dubai. He had just been asked to "take a break" from his job as a journalist at The National, the main national newspaper, for being controversial. I helped him get started on Twitter and he taught me about the culture and politics of region.

He is now a Director's Fellow at the Media Lab and a good friend and advisor.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with him and get an update and some overviews about the region - Arab Spring, arts, politics, media, culture.

I streamed it with my Mevo to Facebook Live and have posted a better quality video on YouTube and the audio on SoundCloud and iTunes.

by Joi at September 14, 2016 07:32 PM

What to Know Before You Host a Drupal 8 Site

We’ve really been enjoying working with Drupal 8 so far, and as Peter wrote about previously, there are some big improvements that make the investment worthwhile. But your beautiful design and carefully crafted content doesn’t mean a thing if your website doesn’t perform well — especially when we know that improving page load times by just a second has a meaningful impact on bounce rates and attention from visitors.

So while hosting a Drupal 8 site is not entirely different than Drupal 7, there are a few differences and we thought it would be helpful to share a few of the lessons we’ve learned about hosting Drupal 8 websites so far.

Be prepared to update Drupal 8’s core more frequently

The reality for any major software release is that not everything gets done in version 1.0. Or, in this case, 8.0. There are bugs to fix, occasional features to add, compatibility with other systems, etc. That’s why after any major software release you can expect updates—especially on the bug front—to come more frequently than for software that’s matured over years.

These issues are exacerbated on a system like Drupal 8 where the architecture has been rebuilt and there exists a large number of modules provided by such a large community. Although we expect the pace of updates will gradually slow down to where Drupal 7 is today, you should expect that Drupal 8 core will receive frequent updates at least over the next year. If you do your own updates or pay hourly for the service, you should expect to budget a little more, either in time or money, to perform this maintenance.

Note: If you host your site with Echo, have no fear. At Echo, we offer concierge hosting which, in addition to standard hosting services like backups and monitoring, includes security updates to Drupal core as well as your modules.

Look beyond the basic system requirements

As with any piece of software, Drupal 8 has some basic system requirements. But, if you want to make sure you’ve set your site up to run as smoothly as possible and to cause as few issues as possible when it comes to fixing things, we have a little advice: use PHP 5.6.

There are a few reasons. First, PHP 5.5 has already reached its end of life. Then, there’s the boost to performance and stability your Drupal 8 site will have. Lastly, paired with the requirement to use DRUSH 8, when managing a Drupal 8 site, PHP 5.6 provides the best cross support between the two.

What’s next?

As with the versions before it, Drupal 8 will continue to evolve over the coming years, and as it does we’ll be here to guide you through it. If you have any questions about Drupal 8, get in touch and we may just cover it here.

by Olumide Adebo at September 14, 2016 03:55 PM

Joi Ito
Conversation with Martin Nowak

Martin Nowak runs the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard. At a recent meeting at his Lab, I heard him describe the history of life on earth in fascinating way using evolutionary dynamics. At another meeting over dinner, Danny Hillis and he disagreed on whether you could model the universe on a Turing machine - in other words, can we simulate our "run" our brains or the universe digitally.

I decided to ask Martin over to my house to see if I could extract these two stories. I streamed the conversation on Facebook Live and tried to clean it up a bit and posted it on YouTube.

by Joi at September 14, 2016 02:44 AM

Conversation with Daiko Matsuyama and The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi

Daiko Matsuyama is the Deputy Head Priest of the Taizoin Zen Buddhist Temple. Tenzin Priyadarshi is the president and CEO of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT and Director of the Ethics Initiative at the MIT Media Lab.

The three of us are all friends but had never had met together so we decided to try a 3-way Skype streamed on Facebook Live to talk about Daiko's new book he was asking me to blurb. Unfortunately, the book is only in Japanese so far.

We talked about meditation, Zen, the mindfulness movement and Buddhism. The original discussion was on Facebook Live, but I tried to clean it up and posted that on YouTube.

by Joi at September 14, 2016 02:43 AM

Conversation with Julia Reda, MEP and Pirate Party of Germany

I learned about Julia Reda reading Kaz Taira's blog post about her visit to Japan for a Movements for Internet Active Users (MIAU) meeting.

Julia Reda is a Member of the European Parliament representing Germany, and she also serves as a Vice-President of the Greens/EFA group, president of the Young Pirates of Europe and a member of the Pirate Party of Germany.

She is was the rapporteur of the Parliament's review of 2001's Copyright Directive.

We set a Skype call and some of the EU's secret conversations about copyright leaked just as the call was starting so we used this as an opportunity to talk about some of the crazy copyright laws being proposed and passed in Europe right now.

I streamed the video on Facebook Live and posted a cleaner version on YouTube.

by Joi at September 14, 2016 02:42 AM

Conversation with Bob Langer

Bob is the most cited engineer in the history of the world. He is an MIT Institute Professor (there are usually only 12). He is also (lucky for me), a friend and a great mentor of mine since I met him in 2013 at my first Red Sox game with David Lucchino who introduced us and invited us to the game.

Bob is a great example and mentor for so many people. I recently got a chance to catch up with him and hear about his story and talk about things like peer review and the future of science. I streamed it using my Mevo to Facebook Live and then posted a cleaner video to YouTube and audio to SoundCloud and iTunes.

by Joi at September 14, 2016 02:40 AM

Conversation with Danny Hillis

Danny Hillis is the inventor of the Connection Machine, Co-Founder of the Long Now Foundation and visiting professor at the Media Lab. We were at a dinner recently where Danny asserted that the world could be simulated by a computer. I asked him to come to my office so I could extract this idea from him into a video.

We talked about the ability to simulate the universe digitally which obviously leads into the future of artificial intelligence, quantum physics, "why are we here" and lots of other interesting questions.

Apologies for the crappy sound and video. My default setup didn't work on the network so I had to use the camera on my Laptop.

I streamed it on Facebook Live and have posted an edited video on YouTube and audio on SoundCloud and iTunes.

by Joi at September 14, 2016 02:40 AM

Conversation with Seth Godin

Seth Godin has taught me so much about communications, leadership, publishing and life that I thought that it was important to stream my conversation with Seth. As usual, it was a great conversation.

Seth is on the Media Lab Advisory Council.

I streamed it to Facebook Live and posted the video to YouTube and audio to SoundCloud and iTunes.

by Joi at September 14, 2016 02:38 AM

Conversation with Adafruit

I recently visited and had a conversation with Limor "Lady Ada" Fried and Phil Torrone of Adafruit. I first met them about ten years ago at SxSW.

Limor is an MIT grad that we're super-proud of and Phil is an amazing pioneer in communications, hacking and many other things. Phil and Limor are two of my most favorite people and I aways get giddy just getting a chance to hang out with them. We discussed making, electronics, business, manufacturing, hacking, live video and more.

They've been doing live video daily for the last 10 years or so and are real pioneers in this medium as well. We used their setup to stream the video to Facebook Live and Periscope and posted the recordings on YouTube and the audio on SoundCloud and iTunes.

by Joi at September 14, 2016 02:38 AM

September 13, 2016

Network-Centric Advocacy
Movements Work to Control the Field.

There is a distinct change in lacrosse played at the beginner level versus the college level. After back-to-back games watching my daughter (9) play and then University of Maryland (Go Terps! #1 Women’s Lacrosse in the country), it was easy to see that even with the same rules and equipment,  players at the different levels not only had improved skills but fundamentally different strategies.

My daughter's team worked hard to get the ball to the stars, moving the team into a set formation passing the ball along the chain to score. There would be variations in the plays but the ball moved toward a few players until one of most productive shooters could score.  At the elite college level, the game was about creating space, moving players out along the edge to draw out defensive responses and create gaps for action.

At this more advanced level, all players are a threat and the focus seemed to shift toward managing the field for the players, creating space that opened opportunities to score. The work focused on pulling a defense apart, thinning the density of the defense so that many players could flip the ball into net. The team focus was less about the players and more on creating spatial control and the field awareness needed to win at the highest levels of the sport. These dynamics are similar to soccer, the board game GO, and social movements.

Unfortunately, many of our supporters and reporters focus on the star players rather than the effort it creates to control the field. The goal is to dig into the ways we can foster winning social movements.  Movements control the field. 

Being labeled a “movement” is a reflection of evolutionary status. One person or organization does not qualify as a movement, yet there is no set size of a movement. Movements are messy, complex and organic. The movement label is shorthand, an inclusive term of many independent leaders and supporters, their support structures, all that they can tap into, as well as their capacity to disagree as often as they align on work.

Movements are a reflection of self-directed, adaptive, resilient, self-sacrificing, supported and persistent initiatives to work on complex problems. There are no movement structures, but instead a movement is a mass migration of people, organizations, businesses and communities unified in common story, driving to shift culture, policy, behavior and norms. Successful movements build and transform the landscape as they progress providing a base for further progress. A quick scan of the first few pages of google news for” movements” produces a snapshot of the current movements that come to mind, including the movement against fracking, the climate change movement, the tea party movement, Occupy, #blacklivesmatter, the anti-austerity movement, the dump-Trump movement, the maker-movement, the LGBTQ movement--the list goes on.   

A key evolution point in a movement's trajectory is the transition away from any single point of failure, to be loosely structured and resilient enough to absorb setbacks. The agility and adaptive characteristics of movements are fueled not only by personal stakes, individualism, driven leadership, passion and local control, but also by unpredictable solidarity and a distributed organizing approach that resists centralization. The difference between an organization, coalition, centralized campaign and a genuine movement is the way each fuels smart local initiatives and the ways leaders align power.  

Building a movement is actually more aptly perceived as unleashing a movement, creating new spaces that help the movement surge in wider, expansive and still supportive directions. As a movement gains organizing momentum, strategies shift to broadly unfold and push a wide set of actions that draw opposition thin rather than clustering and making defense easy.  This distributed layout requires a shift in thinking and strategy.

by Marty at September 13, 2016 02:41 AM

September 11, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
Massive National Prison Strike! Maybe. We don’t know. That’s a problem.

Yesterday, prisoners around the US began a strike protesting unpaid, underpaid and forced labor. Maybe. We think.

Led by prisoners in Alabama and Texas, incarcerated activists planned a nationwide labor strike yesterday, with prisoners refusing to report for jobs essential to run the prison, as well as for jobs for companies who contract jobs to prison labor. Scheduled for the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising, organizers announced that this would be the largest prison protest in US history.

Was it? I don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone does.

Image from Sofie Louise Dam’s brilliant cartoon briefing on the strikes

It’s hard to tell what’s going on inside US prisons. While prisoners can reach out to reporters using the same channels they can use to contact friends or family members, journalists have very limited rights of access to prisons, and it would be challenging for an intrepid reporter to identify and contact inmates in prisons across a state, for instance, to determine where protests took place. Wardens have a great deal of discretion about answering reporters’ inquiries and can choose not to comment citing security concerns. Reporters who want to know what’s going on inside a prison sometimes resort to extraordinary measures, like becoming a prison guard to gain access. (Shane Bauer’s article on private prison company CCA is excellent, but the technique he used was not a new one – Ted Conover’s 2000 book Newjack is a masterpiece of the genre.)

Because it’s so hard to report from prison – and, frankly, because news consumers haven’t demonstrated much demand for stories about prison conditions – very few media outlets have dedicated prison reporters. One expert estimates that there are fewer than half a dozen dedicated prisons reporters across the US, an insane number given that 2.4m Americans are incarcerated, roughly 1% of the nation’s population.

So what happened yesterday?

Prisoners associated with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), in cooperation with the End Prison Slavery in Texas movement, the Free Alabama Movement and others announced a coordinated strike on September 9th. While different movements have different demands, a common thread is opposition to unpaid and underpaid labor. Nearly 900,000 inmates work within US prisons. Some produce goods for sale by corporations, a process called “insourcing”, but most work in the prison laundry, kitchens and janitorial services, keeping prisons running. Alex Friedmann, managing editor of the indispensable Prison Legal News observes that, “If our criminal-justice system had to pay a fair wage for labor that inmates provide, it would collapse.”

In most states and in federal prisons, inmates are paid a small fraction of the minimum wage for their work. In Texas and Arkansas, they are not paid at all. Activists point out that forced labor for unfair or no wages is tantamount to slavery. And while good students of American history know that the 13th amendment abolished slavery, not everyone knows that slavery continued to be permitted “a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”. In her brilliant book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander points out that after slavery was abolished, southern states began aggressively arresting and imprisoning African Americans, then leasing convicts as hired labor to the plantation owners who previously kept slaves. Since the start of the war on drugs, the US prison population has quadrupled, and African-Americans have been disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes. Much as Jim Crow and convict leasing reproduced much of the control structures of slavery, the war on drugs, Alexander and others argue, is producing a system that looks like contemporary slavery.

Organizers called on inmates to refuse to report to work, hoping to paralyze prison operations and force guards to take on essential jobs. It’s unclear how many inmates were willing to risk punishment and retribution by participating. Some facilities may have preemptively locked down their facilities to prevent strikes from occurring. Holmes Correctional facility in Florida announced a lockdown after a reported riot the day before the general strike. Subsequently, two other Florida facilities have been in lockdown starting during the strike, and others report “disturbances”. The spokesperson for the Florida prison system reported that Friday’s disruptions included everything from a few inmates failing to report for work to “major” revolts.

Ar Holman Prison in Alabama, where some of the movement organizers are based, prison authorities report that 45 prisoners refused to work on Friday. IWOC, the organizers of the strike, report that South Carolina prisoners have issued a list of demands before they return to work and that as many as 30 prisoners are striking. Perry Correctional Institution in Greenville, SC is reported to be on lockdown in response to the protests. Some of the news reported on the IWOC feed is less optimistic – they report the few prisoners who’ve decided to strike in North Carolina are outnumbered by those who did not participate.

And that’s basically what we know.

It’s possible that the protests have been disappointingly small. It’s exceedingly hard to organize a nationwide movement given the barriers to communication prisoners face. Wired published an intriguing article on the role of social media in organizing the strike, but no one should conclude that inmates with smuggled mobile phones have the level of internet access protesters in Tahrir had, for example. (Still, the Free Alabama Movement manages to maintain a YouTube presence with videos filmed from inside prison.) It’s also possible that the protests are more widespread that we know. That’s what IWOC organizers predicted, suggesting that it will be at least a week before we know what actually happened on the 9th. It’s likely that many protesters will be cut off from mail and phone, unable to report on what’s going on within their prisons.

I’ve been writing lately about situations in which readers can have power by calling attention to events in the world. This is one of those situations. If the prison strike becomes a nationwide story, it’s likely that some wardens will be more cautious than they otherwise would in taking punitive action against strike participants. And while it’s hard for anyone to report on conditions in prisons, large media organizations like the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR and others may be able to reach out to existing contacts and provide a more detailed view of events – and none of those three have done significant reporting on this strike thus far. Especially if you are a subscriber or supporter, this would be an excellent time to write a note to the public editor asking for close coverage to this topic.

Perhaps the call for the nation’s largest prison strike has failed. Or perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a long action that will change incarceration as we know it. It’s a problem that we don’t – and can’t – know. A nation that imprisons 1% of its population has an obligation to know what’s happening to those 2.4 million people, and right now, we don’t know.

Here are some of the resources I’m leaning on to follow the strike. Isabelle Nastasia is keeping a list of reports on strike actions at Mask Magazine. IWOC’s Facebook page is sharing reports as they come in from individual prisons.

There’s been some exemplary work done reporting on the strike ahead of time. The American Prospect published my single favorite text piece… though it’s from 2014… and The Nib features Sofie Louise Dam’s graphic briefing on the strike, which is a must-read.

by Ethan at September 11, 2016 03:07 AM

September 10, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Kashmir: Where ‘Digital India’ Ends
Indian Army on duty in Jammu and Kashmir. Image from Flickr by Kris Liao. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Indian Army on duty in Jammu and Kashmir. Image from Flickr by Kris Liao. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was written by Hasit Shah and originally published on Slate's Future Tense blog. It is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

There has been no mobile internet in Indian-administered Kashmir for nearly two months. What would be a disaster for most Americans has become the mundane reality for millions of Kashmiris.

The Indian government closed off mobile web access in response to violent protests that followed the death of a local militant commander in a gun battle with the Indian military in early July. Dozens of people have been killed. The forced absence of online social networks, alongside the usual curfews, has made it more difficult for people to spread information and organize protests. Newspapers in Kashmir are calling it an “e-curfew.”

From the government’s point of view, this helps prevent what it often calls “anti-national activity.” It is not always clear what that means. Kashmir is not the only place where the Indian government has employed this tactic. Last year I was in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s prosperous home state, when there were protests over jobs—accompanied once again by violence—and there, mobile internet was shut down for a week.

These regular, deliberate restrictions on internet access contrast sharply with India’s otherwise forward-thinking technology polices. “Digital India” is the government’s most visible, outward-looking public initiative. Modi, a tech-savvy nationalist from the right-wing Bharata Janatiya Party, has traveled the world to sell the idea of India as an emerging digital economy, making deals with the likes of Google and (less successfully) Facebook. At home, he has repeatedly echoed the UN’s view that internet access is a basic human right, alongside other amenities like electricity and sanitation.

The government has an ambitious, complicated plan to connect a country in which only about a fifth of the population had access to the internet before the BJP came to power in 2014. In addition to dramatically increasing the number and quality of internet connections, it aims for improved access to government services and encourages local digital entrepreneurship and innovation. Modi is even featured in advertisements for Reliance Jio, a recently launched range of fast, cheap mobile internet services from India’s biggest conglomerate.

Protest in Kashmir. Image by Flickr user Kashmiridibber, CC BY-NC-ND

Protest in Kashmir. Image by Flickr user Kashmiridibber, CC BY-NC-ND

The violence between India’s security forces and generations of mainly young men in Indian-administered Kashmir has been ebbing and flowing for nearly seven decades. It is a beautiful, mountainous, strategically important, and perennially contested region in which many people have never truly felt Indian. Some Kashmiris would prefer to join Pakistan, a country that already controls a large chunk of Kashmir across a disputed, battle-scarred “line of control” (a tiny, eastern corner is claimed by China). Others would choose independence. Neither option is remotely acceptable to the Indian government or to most Indians, and there is always a heavy military presence in the region. The politics are complex, the violence endemic.

In 2008, I produced reports for the BBC from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir (the Indian state comprises two regions joined together—Jammu is mostly Hindu, Kashmir is Muslim), during one of its periodic violent surges. The serenity of the stunning Dal Lake, whose houseboats are popular with honeymooners in quiet moments, was broken by large political rallies, increased military activity, stone-throwing youths, and inevitable deaths in the city. Although there was a curfew, there was no need to shut off the internet, as very few people had any kind of access in those days.

Internet-enabled mobile devices are now available for less than $20 in India, and sales are booming. Data is becoming cheaper and connectivity is getting better. There are millions of new internet users every month, almost all on mobile. Everyone communicates using WhatsApp, which is much more than a messaging service; it’s a proper social network that functions well even with low-quality devices. Facebook doesn’t always work. WhatsApp is far more effective than the old text messaging for exchanging information and organizing group activities, “anti-national” or otherwise.

The internet is not completely absent in Kashmir right now, but it might as well be. The state-run telecommunications company BSNL maintains its internet availability and phone connections, but few use the service. Broadband internet has now been restored, but most people still don’t have this kind of connection in their homes—luxury hotels and other commercial locations usually have Wi-Fi, and some people have found ways to tap into these sources, often gathering to use their smartphones and stolen Wi-Fi passwords in alleyways near these buildings.

For most people, there is no internet. Families cannot stay in touch easily. Schools have been closed because of the violence, and students can’t use web resources to try and keep up. There is no digital entrepreneurship or innovation. It is difficult for journalists to report on what is happening. Vital information is missing. Kashmiris in India have been transported back to a pre-digital era. They are anxious and isolated.

The United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the deliberate removal of internet services in June, just a few weeks before the violence erupted. At best, internet shutdowns are a blunt instrument of crowd control. It is not clear that they prevent violence and improve public safety. There is always a way for determined people to communicate and organize—protests in Kashmir and elsewhere existed long before messaging apps.

Modi has made it clear that internet access is as important as clean water or nightly shelter, so the removal of such a basic amenity—even in a precarious law-and-order situation—is contrary to the government’s own stated development goals and its proud status as the world’s largest democracy. Two months without internet is a long time. For Kashmiris, rather than a security measure, it feels more like collective punishment.

Hasit Shah is a journalist based at Harvard University’s South Asia Institute, where he researches the emergence of digital media in India.

by Guest Contributor at September 10, 2016 05:08 PM

September 08, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Maldives Authorities Target Journalists After Al Jazeera Exposes $1.5 Billion Corruption Scandal
Malé , capital of Maldives. Photo by Shahee Ilyas via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Malé, capital of Maldives. The Indian Ocean island nation, the smallest in Asia, comprises 26 atolls. Tourism accounts for over 1/5 of the country's GDP, so the revelation of a land lease deal involving hotels and casinos has serious implications for the country. Photo by Shahee Ilyas via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Police in the Maldives raided the offices of the online news outlet Maldives Independent just hours after the September 7 airing of “Stealing Paradise“, an investigative exposé by Al Jazeera that reveals instances of corruption by President Abdulla Yameen and his government.

The documentary, which based its reporting on documents obtained in a “major data leak”, shows how President Yameen and his associates embezzled millions of dollars, bribed judges and other high-level officials, and used influence to remove government workers who stood in their way. It includes secretly filmed confessions by associates of Yameen's jailed former vice president, Ahmed Adeeb.

Also featured are interviews with Zaheena Rasheed, editor of the Maldives Independent, and with leading opposition figures and former members of watchdog organizations involved in the investigation, including Global Witness.

News offices raided, journalists threatened

Police came to the offices of the Independent and presented a search warrant, alleging a conspiracy by the news outlet “to overthrow the elected government, getting external help to overthrow the elected government, trying to create hatred between the public and the state institutions, and planning to create discord and unrest in Malé [Maldives’ capital].”

In an interview with The Guardian, Rasheed said:

“We’ve had one of our journalists disappear, a machete attack on our door, and our security cameras vandalised, so we’ve had to relocate once before. It’s not a safe place for journalists at all.”

Screenshot from the video

Zaheena Rasheed. Screenshot from the video

The publication also has been targeted by pro-government media “for its involvement” in the making of the documentary.

Fearing a backlash, Rasheed reportedly left the country before the documentary aired. Former Maldives auditor-general Niyaz Ibrahim, also featured in the documentary, is also reported to have left the country. Ibrahim was removed from his position in 2014 for publishing a report exposing financial irregularities under the Yameen regime.

The producer of the documentary, Will Jordan, was the editor of Minivan News in 2007, before it was re-branded as Maldives Independent in 2015. In recent weeks, Jordan has received hate-filled tweets and at least one death threat, which remains public on Twitter, despite the company's policy against direct threats of violence:

Documentary exposes embezzlement, bribery, theft

The Al Jazeera documentary provides a timeline of corruption in the upper echelons of the Maldives government. It describes how President Yameen rose to power and shelved corruption proceedings against him by bribing judges. His deputy, Vice President Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor, whom he later had arrested, was at the centre of many wrongdoings including bribery, theft, and a US 1.5 billion dollar money-laundering plot.

Click on the image to play the documentary.

Click on the image to play the documentary.

According to Adeeb's driver, who offered testimony in the documentary, the vice president once sent President Yameen $1 million in cash in a bag, “so much that it was difficult to carry.”

The documentary also exposes 59 corrupt land lease deals in which the vice president engineered agreements with major casinos and hotel companies that leased entire islands for amounts reaching into the millions. The Maldives treasury saw only a small proportion of these revenues, while the rest — about USD $80 million worth — was distributed to corporations owned by the vice president's relatives and friends. In a country whose economy is driven largely by tourism (revenues accounted for 28% of GDP in 2015), such a revelation is important news.

Al Jazeera drew on evidence gathered from three mobile phones Adeeb gave to a friend before he was arrested on 24 October 2015 on charges of attempting to assassinate the president. Adeeb, who also previously served as the Minister of Tourism, has called the trials against him as a “big joke”.

The documentary also shows that Adeeb abused his power as vice president to silence the media and to rack up charges against the former president Mohamed Nasheed by bribing judges and other influential persons.

Government invokes draconian defamation law

The Maldives government has dismissed the documentary as defamatory and biased, accusing the Qatari broadcaster of advancing the opposition’s agenda of ousting President Yameen.

Threats were rolling in long before the documentary aired. A ruling party member of parliament threatened to sue Al Jazeera if they aired the documentary:

Al Jazeera rescheduled the airing of the documentary after the threat was issued.

Maldives state broadcaster Public Service Media accused Al Jazeera journalists of conspiring to damage the Maldivian economy with the documentary. Their statement read:

The ‘Stealing Paradise’ documentary was made in collaboration with the opposition by “a foreigner and non-Muslim called Will Jordan with the purpose of spreading falsehoods about the Maldives and causing loss of investor confidence”.

Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik, parliamentary group leader for the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, vowed on state media on 30 August 2016 that the Maldives’ far-reaching defamation law would be used against anyone involved in producing or broadcasting the Al-Jazeera documentary.

The controversial defamation law, which criminalizes defamatory speech, remarks, writings and actions and empowers the state authority to shut down media, was passed only a month ago. The law introduced fines of up to MVR 2 million (US $130,000) or up to six months of imprisonment for slander, remarks or content that threatens national security or breaches social norms. It can also force individual journalists to reveal sources of information. If found guilty under the law's provisions, journalists can face fines up to MVR 150,000 (US $9,727), and a decision can only be appealed once the fine has been paid.

Government supporters slammed the documentary on social media, using the play on words #HealingParadise, and local media have launched an offensive. The official Twitter account of the chief of staff for the president's palace tweeted:

The documentary's airing is also reported to have instigated actions against government critics:

On Twitter, @ibramandhu wondered why officials seemed quieter about the documentary after it aired, implying that they did not wish to draw public attention to the film:

Maldivian journalist Yameen Rasheed, who writes for local news site The Daily Panic, saw the documentary as further proof that government authorities were responsible for the 2014 disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a blogger and journalist with the Maldives Independent (known then as Minivan News). Rasheed tweeted:

by Rezwan at September 08, 2016 09:28 PM

Algerian Court Upholds Conviction of Activist Jailed for Insulting Islam on Facebook
49 year-old Slimane Bouhafs blogs in support of religious minorities in Algeria.

49 year-old Slimane Bouhafs blogs in support of religious minorities in Algeria.

On 6 September, an appeal court in the eastern Algerian city of Setif confirmed the conviction of activist Slimane Bouhafs for insulting Islam and prophet Muhammad on Facebook, while decreasing his jail sentence from five to three years.

On 7 August, a primary court sentenced him to five years in jail and a fine of 100,000 Algerian dinars (approximately US $900) for “offending the Prophet” and “denigrating the creed and precepts of Islam” under article 144 bis 2 of Algeria’s Penal Code. On appeal, the court of Appeals of Setif maintained his conviction, reduced his jail sentence to three years and dropped the fine.

Bouhafs, a Christian convert, and activist with the St. Augustine Coordination of Christians in Algeria which supports the rights of religious minorities in the country, regularly posts about the situation of Algeria's Christian minority on Facebook, his Google+ profile and personal blog. According to Amnesty International, he is also a supporter of the Movement for Self-Determination of Kabylia (MAK), an autonomous political group seeking autonomy for the region of Kabylia.

He was arrested on 31 July, over Facebook posts he published between May and June 2016. One of the posts reportedly cited as evidence against him was published on 21 June. In the post, Bouhafs shared a cartoon by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo showing Prophet Muhammad crying with the following comment:

Muhammad cries because he lost in advance in Kabylia, but also in all of Algeria. His lie will disappear because the light of Christ is here, because he is peace, truth and the true path

The link to the Facebook post for which Bouhfsa reportedly went to jail currently shows no Charlie Hebdo cartoon. However, the same post along with the cartoon still appears on his blog.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both slammed Bouhafs’ arrest and conviction. The Algerian League for Human Rights (which appointed its lawyers to defend Bouhafs’ appeal) condemned the sentence for violating the Algerian constitution and international human rights standards, and called on the authorities to amend article 144 of the Penal Code which criminalizes insults to religion and state symbols. Algerian authorities repeatedly use this article to silence those who criticize the state or religion. Journalist Mohamed Tamalt is currently serving two years in jail for criticizing the country's president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a poem he published on Facebook.

by Afef Abrougui at September 08, 2016 07:22 PM

Detention of News Site Director Raises Concerns for Venezuela's Freedom of Speech
Image used by the campaign demanding Braulio Jatar's freedom on Twitter, widely difussed online.

“Free Braulio Jatar. Informing is not a crime” Image used by the campaign demanding Jatar's freedom on Twitter, widely shared online.

After fears of a forced disappearance that quickly flooded citizen media in Venezuela, news surfaced that Chilean-Venezuelan journalist and lawyer Braulio Jatar, director of the website “Reporte Confidencial“, is in custody of the national intelligence agency (SEBIN) on charges of money laundering.

According to family and co-workers, the whereabouts of Jatar were unknown for hours and he was unable to communicate and his home was searched. His sister also said through Twitter that Jatar was denied medication for a chronic condition.

The government is responsible for my brother's life. [A video discussing] the health of Chilean-Venezuelan journalist #BraulioJatar

Jatar was detained along with over 30 other people — who were later freed — during a protest in the locality of Villa Rosa, in the island region of Nueva Esparta, in northeastern Venezuela. The Villa Rosa hashtag went viral on September 2nd and 3rd on Venezuelan social media when residents protested the presence of the president Nicolás Maduro.

According to social media users and videos shared online, when Maduro arrived in Villa Rosa, residents took to the streets, banging pots and pans (a form of protest called a “cacerolazo,” referring to the “cacerola” or casserole dish) and ultimately forcing him to leave the city.

The incident came in the wake of demonstrations in Venezuela’s capital, in which thousands of people campaigned for a referendum to recall Maduro.

Jatar's supporters believe that his news website's coverage of the protest in Villa Rosa is the real reason he’s in custody.

For the president of the National Association of Journalists, Tinedo Guía, the arrest is meant to silence Jatar’s Reporte Confidencial. In a story on Reporte Confidencial, Jara’s lawyer explained that the legal process had many irregularities and false accusations:

Denunció que el procedimiento de detención fue irregular, así como los hechos sucedidos seguidamente, al ser trasladado a la sede del Sebín donde fue entrevistado y formado el expediente a espalda de los que se establece probatoriamente en las actas del proceso, señalando la asistencia de testigos que en efecto no estuvieron, y eso vamos a acreditar que no ocurrió, así como se acreditó la existencia de un supuesto maletín con dinero, lo cual tambien es falso.

[Jatar’s lawyer] reported that the arresting procedures were irregular, as were the incidents that took place afterwards. [Jatar] was transferred to the SEBIN [the intelligence agency’s headquarters] where he was interviewed and where his file was opened, ignoring due process provisions. They indicated the presence of two witnesses that were not there, and they noted the existence of an alleged briefcase with money, which is also false.

Concerns from Chile’s government and human rights organizations

The Victim’s Families Committee (CoFaVic), a group devoted to human rights protection, based in Caracas and created in the aftermath of the series riots known as El Caracazo, also urged the government to correct the irregularities that took place during Jatar’s arrest. For the organization, the uncertainty and the silence of the days before the intelligence agency acknowledged having arrested Jatar and other political prisoners can be seen as crimes against humanity, even if the people in question are still alive.

Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Heraldo Muñoz, expressed concern for Jatar’s safety and assured being very attentive to anything that could happen to Jatar in Venezuela.

At the same time, a group Chilean politicians signed a petition letter demanding the Venezuelan government free Braulio Jatar. According to the Chilean media site The Clinic, the ex-minister of Public Works Sergio Bitar said:

Estoy seguro que el 99% de los chilenos tienen la misma posición. Un gran grupo de los firmantes hemos sido exiliados durante la dictadura de Augusto Pinochet y Venezuela nos acogió con su democracia […] Queremos agradecer esa democracia defendiendo los mismo derechos que los venezolanos nos ayudaron a defender…

I’m sure that 99% of Chilean people have the same position we do. Many of those who signed [the letter addressed to Maduro] were exiled during Pinochet’s dictatorship, and Venezuela received us in their democracy […] We want to thank that democracy defending the same rights that the Venezuelans helped us to defend…

Online, the hashtags #LiberenaBraulioYa [Free Braulio Now] and #BraulioJatar have been very active on Twitter since the moment of the arrest and are bringing greater visibility to the deterioration of freedom of speech in the country:

Braulio Jatar's case is the best example of Venezuela's freedom of the press being “conditional”.

Jatar may join the growing list of political prisoners and politically motivated judicial processes under Nicolas Maduro's presidency. According to Amnesty International annual report, Venezuela's human rights defenders and journalists face attacks and intimidations, and “political opponents of the government faced unfair trials and imprisonment.”

by Laura Vidal at September 08, 2016 07:08 PM

Russia's Pokemon-Go-Playing Atheist Outlaw Has Some Powerful Enemies
The Pokegarden of Earthly Delights. By Hieronymus Bosch. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

The Pokegarden of Earthly Delights. By Hieronymus Bosch. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Russia recently arrested a video blogger for filming himself playing a game inside a cathedral and adding “ironic” and “obscene” narration in post-production. The blogger, a 21-year-old man in Yekaterinburg named Ruslan Sokolovsky, made himself the country's most controversial atheist when he released a video on August 11 showing him flaunting a ban reported in the Russian news against playing Pokemon Go in churches. (At the time of this writing, the video—see below—has nearly 1.2 million views on YouTube, and now boasts English-language subtitles.)

Investigators in Yekaterinburg have been unusually eager to explain their case against Sokolovsky. Earlier this week, days after the blogger was locked up in jail, a spokesperson for the regional investigative committee shared an official press release on Facebook. “This is the biggest press release I've ever seen from this department,” the spokesperson wrote. The statement said Sokolovsky had been denied bail because police discovered illegal drugs at his home, when he was detained, and that he was living in Yekaterinburg without formal registration—a violation of Russia's unforgiving regulations on the freedom of movement.

Curiously, the Investigative Committee's press release corroborated rumors already spreading online, thanks to a network of pro-government bloggers made up of people like Sergei Kolyasnikov, another Yekaterinburg-based blogger, who has viciously attacked Sokolovsky in a series of posts detailing his background and anti-religious activism. On Facebook, Kolyasnikov describes himself as a “political observer” and a publicist. In the blogosphere, he has been uniquely informed about several details of the Sokolovsky investigation, before police ever released the information to the public.

Ruslan Sokolovsky. Photo: Vkontakte

Kolyasnikov wrote about Sokolovsky's drug possession before the police revealed the discovery. He also wrote that Ruslan Sokolovsky was born under a different surname—a fact verified by a Dmitry Kalinin, a member of Russia's Social Monitoring Commission. Kalinin says he learned about Sokolovsky's original surname from his court documents and speaking to his mother. It is unclear how Kolyasnikov discovered this information.

Dmitry Kolezev, a columnist at Yekaterinburg's leading independent news website,, echoed Kalinin's suspicions in a post on Facebook on September 5:

Чем дальше развивается ситуация с Соколовским (все эти сливы от силовиков через блогеров и СМИ: он был наркоман! растлитель! он работает на иностранные разведки!), тем понятнее, что парень обидел не каких-то там православных, а куда более серьезных людей в погонах. Или, может быть, люди в погонах увидели в его деле замечательную возможность наказать опасного экстремиста, ведь это почти то же самое, что обезвредить террориста, не правда ли. (И поэтому ходатайство от Кирилла об освобождении Соколовского, если он поступит, будет им неудобно).

The further the situation with Sokolovsky develops (all these leaks from security officials through bloggers and the media: he's a junkie! a child molester! he works for foreign intelligence agencies!), the clearer it becomes that it wasn't some Orthodox figures this guy offended, but certain high-ranking people in uniform. Or, maybe, the men in uniform saw his case as a great chance to punish a dangerous extremist, which is almost as good as neutralizing a terrorist these days. (And therefore a petition from [Metropolitan] Kirill about freeing Sokolovsky, if it comes, will put them in an awkward spot.)

Luckily for Yekaterinburg's men in uniform, the Orthodox Church has backed away from early signals that it might lobby for Sokolovsky's release on bail. After Metropolitan Kirill made sympathetic comments to the media on September 3, the Orthodox Church's Diocesan Council specified that any help is dependent on the blogger admitting his mistake, which Sokolovsky has expressly refused to do. Out of respect for that decision, the church says it won't “force Christian forgiveness” or “Christian love,” explaining that Sokolovsky hasn't asked for the former and rejects the latter.

On September 7, Sokolovsky complained that a prison psychiatrist threatened his life in jail, warning that he could be institutionalized “where they don't let the lawyers in.” Investigators have also revealed that they discovered a camera-pen at his home—technology that is illegal in Russia. The media is describing the device as a “spy pen,” complementing allegations by pro-government bloggers that Sokolovsky's atheist activism online and in the media is part of a larger, coordinated campaign by nefarious forces, designed to weaken Russia's traditional values.

Update: Over the objections of prosecutors and investigators, a judge agreed to release Sokolovsky from jail on Thursday, September 8, placing under house arrest at his attorney's apartment in Yekaterinburg. Sokolovsky is prohibited from using the Internet and telephone for at least the next two months.

by Kevin Rothrock at September 08, 2016 03:13 PM

Netizen Report: With Gabon's Internet Shutdown, Activists Confront Challenges of Circumventing Censorship
Citizens gathered in Libreville, Gabon on August 28, 2016 to demonstrate before results were announced. Photo by Peter Penar (@PPenar) via Twitter.

Citizens gathered in Libreville, Gabon on August 28, 2016 to demonstrate before results were announced. Photo by Peter Penar (@PPenar) via Twitter.

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

The government of Gabon blocked access to the Internet shortly after protesters began contesting results of recent presidential elections in which incumbent President Ali Bongo appears to have won by a narrow margin. Hundreds of people were also detained during demonstrations over the election results, following allegations of election fraud by the opposition party. The shutdown followed reports of throttled bandwidth and limited access over the weekend, and persisted for five days.

Julie Owono, Global Voices contributor and head of the African Desk at Internet Without Borders, explained on September 3 what was being censored and how information is still being transmitted:

Internet outages were observed on the 29th and 30th of August and the 1st of September. We have been in contact with civil society organizations to train them in using tools to circumvent internet censorship. We are working with many international organizations that have implemented simple tutorials to develop these tools. So the internet still works. Unfortunately, not all Gabonese people can use them [the tools]. So far, only users who have in-depth technical knowledge can use them and therefore they are the catalysts for all content coming out of Gabon. So today, it is with some of these accounts that we are in communication.

North African bloggers’ lives are on the line over political speech

Jailed Algerian columnist and blogger Mohamed Tamalt has entered a coma after two months on hunger strike. Tamalt began his strike in late June to protest his arrest and imprisonment by Algerian authorities. He is serving two years in prison for allegedly insulting the country’s president in his reporting, which centers on issues of corruption and the role of the army in political life.

A Mauritanian blogger is facing a death sentence for writing a blog post critiquing the use of Islam to justify a caste system. His sentence was confirmed by a Court of Appeals in April upon re-examining the case, but human rights campaigners are hopeful the Supreme Court will issue a more lenient sentence.

Bhutan makes headlines in Facebook defamation case

For the first time, a Bhutanese journalist is facing defamation charges over a Facebook post. The post in question was about a property dispute between a Bhutanese family and businessman Ap Sonam Phuntsho, which Phuntsho claims caused “irreparable damage” to his reputation.

Protecting children and censoring the Internet in Paraguay

Paraguay recently enacted a new law that digital rights advocates warn will curb the free expression rights of much of the population. Intended to protect children from harmful content online, the “Law on Protection of Children and Adolescents from Harmful Content on the Internet” provides for online filtering mechanisms to prevent certain content from being accessed by minors. Netizens opposing the law are using the hashtag #CensuraEnInternetPY, which translates to “Censorship On The Internet PY.”

Burundian journalist still missing seven weeks after disappearance

Burundian journalist Jean Bigirimana has been missing for over seven weeks, though he is believed to be in government custody. Bigirimana writes for the independent news site Iwacu, which is one of only a few free media outlets in Burundi’s tightly controlled media environment. Among other things, Bigirimana wrote about the lives of exiled Burundian journalists living in neighboring Rwanda, which has tense relations with Burundi. Both Iwacu and Bigirimana’s wife are working to raise awareness of his disappearance and advocate his release.

Online in Iran: Spearphishing, talking with Orange and unveiling a national intranet

Iran “unveiled” its national intranet, a project that has prompted fears that the government may soon have an even tighter grip over the highly controlled space. The complete “National Information Network” has been part of Iran’s communication infrastructure since at least 2006, so what was unveiled is not necessarily anything new. Iranian technologist Mehdi Yahyanejad explained to Global Voices that the network has much faster speeds than the global Internet in Iran, and that this might be part of a strategy to encourage more Iranians to host their sites on the national network. He said:

Overall, it seems the plan is to encourage Iranian websites to relocate their hosting to Iran by discriminatory pricing of the bandwidth for domestic versus international Internet connections. Hosting most of such websites inside the country makes it easier for the Iranian government to shutdown Internet if needed.

Security researchers Claudio Guarnieri and Collin Anderson uncovered a campaign to compromise the communications devices of Iranians using a technique known as “spearphishing” along with remote access tools, which allow attackers to break into and use a person’s computer or mobile phone from afar. One of the techniques involves an adversary posing as a human rights organization (such as United for Iran) or US immigration services and sending email messages containing embedded malware. Another attack compromised over a dozen accounts on the widely used messaging service Telegram and identified the phone numbers of 15 million Iranian users, the largest known breach of the messaging service.

The French telecommunications company Orange may soon purchase stock in cellular operations in Iran. The Wall Street Journal said this would be the first western company to do so since sanctions were lifted, though it should be noted that South Africa’s MTN at one time owned 49% of Iran’s third largest mobile carrier MTN Irancell. There is still little publicly known about Orange’s talks with the Telecommunications Company of Iran, which is owned in part by the Revolutionary Guards, a body responsible for the surveillance and imprisonment of many activists, journalists, and political prisoners. The Telecommunications Company of Iran is also designated as a terrorist organisation by the US government.

US trade authority goes after WhatsApp over data-sharing practices

The United States Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Facebook’s plans to harvest phone numbers from its WhatsApp messaging services. The complaint accuses Facebook of engaging in “unfair or deceptive acts and practices” — WhatsApp committed to its users not to provide user data to Facebook when it was acquired by the social network, with WhatsApp founder Jan Koum assuring users that “privacy is coded into our DNA.” While the FTC investigation continues, users have until September 25 to opt out of the data-sharing agreement. A step-by-step guide to doing so is available here.

Will news publishers cash in on the EU’s new copyright rules?

Under proposed new changes to the European Union’s copyright rules, national laws soon may be passed requiring news publishers to claim payments from news aggregators like Google News for listing snippets of articles on their websites. Spain has already passed such a law, leading Google to shut down its news service in the country. The European Commission will submit its proposals to update the copyright rules in September. Member of the European Parliament Julia Reda called the leaked draft of the proposal “another ACTA,” critiquing the proposed changes for putting corporate interests over those of creators, entrepreneurs and users.

Meet the EU’s new net neutrality guidelines

The Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communication finally published its revised guidelines that implement net neutrality in the European Union, concluding a three-year process of policy reform preventing discriminatory treatment of Internet traffic.

New Research


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by Netizen Report Team at September 08, 2016 02:53 PM

Development Seed
Preview The Washington Post's election maps

This week we finally got the chance to show some of the tools that The Washington Post will use to cover election results in November, live on The Post’s website.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post and SurveyMonkey released a comprehensive presidential poll of all 50 states. Alongside this ambitious polling effort, The Post also rolled out preview pages detailing the Presidential, Senate, House, and Gubernatorial races across all 50 states and Washington DC. These pages show the current state of the race and offer predictions and historic results.


The maps on these pages lean on much of the technology and workflows that we are developing for Election Day. To render maps, we make heavy use of Mapbox GL JS, an open-source mapping library that uses your graphics processor to draw fast, highly detailed maps—borrowing from technologies that render detailed video game universes.

This framework provides cutting-edge hardware acceleration to draw beautiful maps that effortlessly accommodate highly interactive input from Washington Post readers. However, making WebGL maps work for live reporting an election on a major national news site presented a number of interesting challenges:

  • Albers US projection To make the coverage work with US-centric elections, we employed a method called* “Lying to Leaflet,” inserting the more appropriate Albers USA projection, in place of the default Web Mercator. You can use this method to show other projections, for example the polar projection to map artic ice.
  • Dynamic sources Although not required for preview pages, the real-time election data on Election Day will require us to join data to vector tiles “on the fly” before feeding these to Mapbox GL to render. We are doing this for preview pages today in order to test and optimize our data pipeline in advance of November.
  • Reactive updates We employ a reactive programming design pattern to build the code around Mapbox GL. This allows us to keep program state in one central location and only respond to necessary changes, including using a “style diff” to update the maps. A recent Mapbox blog post further describes this approach.
  • Shared rendering resources The Post’s expansive coverage requires us to load several maps concurrently on the same webpage, in main views and in small multiples. By using a shared pool of web workers, we minimized the overhead for faster loading.
  • Independent components with a central driver At the same time, we often need maps to behave independently. Components must be maximally flexible, embeddable on pages we don’t control, and usable in a number of configurations. To do this, we created a central, application-wide, reducer-based store. This allows the Post to create pages with an arbitrary number of components without too much orchestration.
  • Image-based fallbacks Though WebGL support is already high and climbing, a small percentage of users on older browsers don’t have access. To serve these users, we are building a workflow that generates static images directly from our Mapbox GL pipeline. This ensures that all users can see the most recent data no matter their browser.

As this election season progresses, The Post will provide contextual, historical, and demographic data while updating its predictions. In parallel, we will refine and test our approach to make sure it provides powerful data on what will certainly be an interesting election.

demographic-maps Small multiples in a box.

*h/t Seth Fitzsimmons of Stamen Design.

by Development Seed at September 08, 2016 12:00 AM

September 07, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Angered by Mobile App Censorship, Saudis Ask: ‘What's the Point of Having Internet?’
Saudi Arabia already blocks several other massaging and calling apps including Whatsapp and Viber. Cartoon by Hussam Al-Zahrani

Saudi Arabia already blocks several other massaging and calling apps including Whatsapp and Viber. Cartoon by Hussam Al-Zahrani

Residents of Saudi Arabia can no longer make calls using the messaging and voice calling app LINE. Authorities blocked LINE's calling feature over the weekend of September 3, adding it to the long list of VoIP services and messaging apps entirely or partially blocked in Saudi Arabia.

The blocking of LINE angered Saudi users who took to Twitter to protest the conservative kingdom's Internet censorship policies. The sudden absence of LINE's calling features, alongside blocked services like Skype and Facetime, prompted user Abdelaziz Abdallah to ask:

in addition to the slow internet, and the price of calls, all applications are blocked. What's the point of having the internet?

Apps blocked in the country include Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Skype as seen in the graphic below, which was posted by user Mohammed Alarfaj on Twitter:

Apps blocked in Saudi Arabia. Viber and Facetime are blocked entirely, while Snapchat, Telegram, and Skype are partially blocked. Only calls are blocked on Whatsapp, Line, Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger. Source: @iM7M7 on Twitter

Apps blocked in Saudi Arabia. Viber and Facetime are blocked entirely, while Snapchat, Telegram, and Skype are partially blocked. Only calls are blocked on Whatsapp, Line, Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger. Source: @iM7M7 on Twitter

The graphic explains that these applications and services were either blocked by the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), the telecom industry regulator in Saudi Arabia, or the telecom service providers operating in the country, without any official announcement. On its website and different social media platforms, the CITC has so far not posted any statement or announcement related to the blocking of LINE, which is operated as a subsidiary of South Korean tech giant Naver.

Using the Arabic language hashtags “enough blocking, telecommunication commission” (), “blocking of line calls” (), and “we demand the improvement of the Internet [service] in Saudi [Arabia]” ( ), Saudis slammed the telecommunication industry regulator, the government, and operators for not prioritizing customers’ rights and consumer interests.

what the telecom companies are doing is a bullying of the people, since they are the only companies in Saudi Arabia and the people need them

Blocking Line calls is a cheap strategy to increase the profits of the telecom companies in the kingdom. In a few days, there will be a solution with other packages competing with Line

Addressing the CITC, the telecom industry regulator in Saudi Arabia, user Badr Al-Atibi tweeted:

you only care about the interests of telecommunication companies, the citizen is your last concern. Most people talk to their expat relatives and children using these applications

Abeer AlMutairi expressed concern that Saudis will eventually be left with one texting option, SMSing:

Due to blocking, I expect in the end only SMS will remain. Blocking should not take place without any convincing reasons. The world is progressing, and we are going backwards.

Tasked with regulating the communications and information technology sector with the aim of achieving “a highly competitive environment for the provision of superior services to end-users and an attractive ecosystem for investors”, the CITC is responsible for censoring thousands of websites, and sending content removal requests to social media platforms.

Saudi Arabia is not the only country in the Arab region to block VoIP services. In the United Arab Emirates, providing such services remains the prerogative of the country's only two operators and service providers, Etisalat and Du. The UAE government owns a majority of shares of both companies. Earlier this year, Morocco, which has for so long been praised for liberalizing its telecommunications sector, banned VoIP services over mobile and wifi networks, under the pretext that Article 2 of the telecom law (law n°24-96) only allows for licensed operators to provide phone call services.

by Afef Abrougui at September 07, 2016 09:07 PM

Hackers Exploit Android Flaw to Target Iranian Activists

Suspected state-sponsored hackers have intensified their attempts to break into the online accounts of Iranian rights activists in recent weeks by exploiting security vulnerabilities in Android smartphones. Photo from ICHRI.

A version of this article was originally published on the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Suspected state-sponsored hackers have intensified their attempts to break into the online accounts of Iranian rights activists in recent weeks by exploiting security vulnerabilities in Android smartphones, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned.

On August 11, 2016 an unknown person sent a message on Facebook to a prominent Iranian political activist living in Paris and introduced himself as a former student. The hacker said he had created political stickers with the activist’s photo on them. He then sent a file, with an APK suffix, to the activist claiming that the file contained the stickers.

But the file actually contained malware. Soon after the activist opened the file, the hacker was able to take over the activist’s Facebook page and sent similar messages to the activist’s friends, some of whom worked at Radio Farda, Deutsche Welle and the BBC. One of the friends fell for the trap and lost access to his Gmail account for several hours.

Files with the APK extension are applications that can be installed on smartphones with Android operating systems. Users should only open these files after downloading them from reputable sources, such as Google Play. Unlike Apple’s iOS operating system, Android apps can be independently developed and installed. This has many benefits for independent developers, but it also makes it easy for hackers to prey on unsuspecting users and spy on them.

The file that was used to hack into the Paris-based activist’s account was created by DroidJack, an Android “Remote Administration Tool” that allows hackers to breach the security of a computer system.

List of locations accessed by hackers on a victim’s Android smartphone.

List of locations accessed by hackers on a victim’s Android smartphone.

Investigations by the Campaign show that trojan malware created by hackers can gain remote access to a wide range of content on Android smartphones including messages, photos, audio files, apps, GPS locators, and contact lists. The hackers can monitor conversations and operations on the device without the owner’s knowledge. The hacker can even make phone calls and send messages from the victim's device.

The hacking victim’s photo was placed in the malware file to trick him into downloading it.

The hacking victim’s photo was placed in the malware file to trick him into downloading it.

Hackers have also sent messages on Facebook to Iranian journalists living abroad and asked them to click on false links on Google Drive to “receive important urgent news.” These links have led to malware with similar capabilities.

Message sent to journalists from a hacked account.

Receiver: Hi XXXX dear

Receiver: This is my address

Hacked Account: [link]

Hacked Account: [link]

Hacked Account: It seems the documents are real on this drive

Receiver: XXXX, the files you have sent are locked and they need a password to be accessed

Messages sent to journalists from a hacked account.

The journalist whose Gmail account was hacked described the process as follows:

1. Hacker directs unsuspecting victim to false Google account sign-in page.
2. Victim enters username and password.
3. Hacker records victim’s username and password and submits an access request to Google.
4. Google sends a text message to the victim to complete the two-step verification process.
5. Victim inputs the verification code in the false Google sign-in page.
6. Hacker copies the verification code, which is valid for only 30 seconds, and signs into the victim’s account.

Tech Tips from Global Voices Advox

These kinds of problems don't discriminate. Regardless of where they live or what they do, users should always be cautious when they receive messages from unfamiliar sources, especially if those messages contain a link or an attachment. There are various services and experts online who can help with these challenges, but for non-expert users, Google has some simple ways to check these things and make sure they're safe.

How to test a link

  1. View the link in plain text. If you are using HTML email (such as Gmail on a web browser), press and hold down the “control” key and click the link.
  2. Select “Copy link address”
  3. Copy and paste it into Google's Safe Browsing Site Status tool and see what it says.

How to test an attachment

Google Docs Viewer has a (slightly hidden) feature that makes it easy to view any online document via Google's processed HTML view.

  1. Paste this URL in a new tab:
  2. Paste the address of the document you want to view online.
  3. The document will appear in your browser, through the doc viewer. You can read its contents without actually downloading the file or putting your computer at risk.

by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran at September 07, 2016 03:27 PM

September 06, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Russia's Pokemon Gulag
Ruslan Sokolovsky outside the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg. Image: YouTube. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Ruslan Sokolovsky outside the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg. Image: YouTube. Edited by Kevin Rothrock.

If you’re interested in the Russian Internet enough to have made it to RuNet Echo, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard of Ruslan Sokolovsky, the young video-blogger from Yekaterinburg who’s been jailed for at least the next two months, while police investigate him for committing extremism and offending religious people. Sokolovksy’s alleged crime—the stunt that has people comparing him to Pussy Riot—was playing Pokemon Go inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral. If convicted of the charges, he could go to prison for up to five years.

On September 3, the day Sokolovsky was taken into custody, the Sverdlovsk region’s Investigative Committee released a press statement, explaining that “a local 21-year-old man” has been charged with violating two different articles of Russia’s criminal code. The statement doesn’t name Sokolovsky (whose age has been reported as 22 by most media outlets), but it’s clearly about him. The Investigative Committee doesn’t mention Pokemon Go, but its press release does specify that the suspect “uploaded several video files” to YouTube that expert analysis subsequently classified as “incitements of hatred or hostility.” The statement also vaguely describes Sokolovsky’s gaming stunt, saying he “violated the right to religion in a house of worship” (though it’s unclear how he managed this, walking around with his mobile phone out).

Following appeals by Yekaterinburg’s mayor, Evgeny Roizman, and the region’s leading independent news website,, local Orthodox church officials say they will ask the court to show leniency and release Sokolovsky on bail. “Metropolit of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye” Kirill told that he’s issued instructions to see how the church can help get Sokolovsky out of jail, saying he would like to involve the young man in charity work alongside Orthodox clerics. “Maybe this would help him see life differently,” Kirill explained.

Within hours, speaking through a member of a local public monitoring committee, Sokolovsky expressed his willingness to take such a deal, saying he still doesn’t believe that he committed any acts of extremism or offended anyone’s beliefs, but that he’s happy to enter into a dialogue with the Orthodox Church.

Who Is Ruslan Sokolovsky?

The man known today as Ruslan Gennadevich Sokolovsky was apparently born Ruslan Gofiulovich Saibabtalov. This revelation comes courtesy of Sergei Kolyasnikov, another Yekaterinburg-based blogger, who has viciously attacked Sokolovsky/Saibabtalov in a series of posts detailing his background and anti-religious activism.

Kolyasnikov offers the fact that Sokolovsky changed his name as evidence of something unspecified but sinister. Kolyasnikov highlights with suspicion that Sokolovsky’s atheist satirical magazine—self-titled and modeled directly on Charlie Hebdo—seems to enjoy impressive funding. In the magazine’s first edition, for instance, Sokolovsky wrote that advance sales were enough to hire four cartoonists, a printer, a logistics manager, and a publishing agency. Kolyasnikov suggests that there are larger forces at work, sustaining the magazine and Sokolovsky’s activism, more generally. The next bit of leaked information, he believes, supports this theory.

On September 4, Alexey Stolyarov (the infamous prankster “Lexus,” whose politics are generally patriotic and conservative) published a screenshot of an email inbox, claiming that “unknown persons” hacked Sokolovsky’s email before he was arrested. The image shows several identical messages that the blogger apparently sent to different foreign embassies, describing his perilous situation and asking for political asylum.

Allegedly hacked emails written by Ruslan Sokolovksy. Image: Facebook

“He specifically breaks the law, so that later, sitting at home, he can search for somebody to harbor him, so he can piss off from crappy Rasha,” Stolyarov wrote on Facebook, asking his subscribers to share the image.

In an overt effort to discredit him, Kolyasnikov also claims (without any proof) that Sokolovsky was detained after a late night of heavy drinking and taking ecstasy. Kolyasnikov also says he shared the drugs with a girl—a minor—who was found in his bed, when police raided his apartment to seize his blogging equipment. (Sokolovsky allegedly slept with many of his underage fans.) Kolyasnikov also contradicted widely reported information that Sokolovsky lives with his disabled mother, saying she actually lives in the city of Kurgan—almost 300 miles southeast of Yekaterinburg.

Who Actually Knows Ruslan Sokolovsky?

Dmitry Kalinin, a member of Russia's Social Monitoring Commission and now apparently one of Sokolovsky’s confidants, has verified some of Kolyasnikov’s allegations, revealing that Ruslan did indeed change his name at the age of 18, and that his mother does in fact live in Shadrinsk in the Kurgan region (“they talk a lot,” he explains). 

Kalinin also writes that the “streamer” video-blogger “Diana Elias” has sent money to Sokolovsky’s mother, to help her with living expenses and also with lawyers’ fees for her son.

Diana Elias and Ruslan Sokolovsky: engaged to be wed. Image: Vkontakte

“Diana Elias” (presumably a stage name) is another young video blogger from Russia’s regions. Listed as “engaged” to Sokolovsky on Vkontakte, she claims to be 16 years old on Instagram (though earlier this year she said was born in August 2002, which would make her just 14 today). (To make matters more complicated, she says she’s 15 on the “streamer” website Twitch.) The romance between “Diana” and Ruslan appears to be something entirely virtual: she is based in the Siberian city of Kemerovo (more than 1,000 miles east of Yekaterinburg), and she hasn’t published a single photo of herself with Sokolovsky. (She also describes herself as Russian Orthodox, photographs herself attending church, and writes, “I only like Orthodox guys!”) (That said, she’s also perfectly open to mocking Patriarch Kirill on Vkontakte.)

Whatever the nature of her relationship with the RuNet’s now most-famous atheist, Diana Elias’ efforts to raise money for Sokolovsky’s legal defense are quite real. This past weekend, she raised at least 48,000 rubles ($735) for a lawyer in a video-streaming marathon. The fundraising drive even attracted a Skype call from Evgeny Volnov—another popular video blogger, who shares the same advertising manager as Sokolovsky. (While sympathetic to Sokolovsky's crusade against the Orthodox Church, Volnov, who’s known for pranks and “bro” humor, spent most of his call trying to persuade Elias to undress for better donations.)

That Sokolovsky has an advertising manager, incidentally, should come as no surprise: the blogger gained a reputation for jilting customers who buy ad space on his video blog, taking their money and never airing their content. These incidents led to several angry videos, where abandoned clients monologue into cameras about being ripped off. Fellow video bloggers subsequently filmed their own videos about the scandal, making for the “talk of the town” in Russia’s “streamer” world earlier this spring.

Who Really Cares About Ruslan Sokolovsky?

The “Sokolovsky!” YouTube channel currently has almost 300,000 subscribers, and the video of him playing Pokemon Go inside the Church of All Saints is nearing a million views. “You might say that Sokolovsky is more popular than the vast majority of the media outlets in Yekaterinburg,” writes Dmitry Kolezev, a columnist at

Sokolovsky’s popularity and polish are precisely what inspire so much support and suspicion online. Fans apparently love his gimmicks and graphics, while critics view his actions as too sophisticated for a man just barely out of his teens. It’s a familiar debate, where little is believed to be what it seems, and we see it in Russia nearly every time something emerges that is ostensibly a reflection of what interests ordinary people.

by Kevin Rothrock at September 06, 2016 06:49 PM

Cuban Journalist and LGBT Activist Sacked for Working With Non-State Media
Cuban LGBT rights advocates at a gay pride march in Sagua la Grande. Maykel Gonzalez is second from left. Photo via Maykel Gonzalez/el Nictalope.

Cuban LGBT rights advocates at a gay pride march in Sagua la Grande. Maykel Gonzalez is second from left. Photo via Maykel Gonzalez/el Nictalope.

Cuban radio journalist and blogger Maykel González Vivero gave his final show on Radio Sagua on September 3, 2016, after the station terminated his contract due to González’ “collaboration with private media.”

Alongside his work narrating the program, “Por la Villa de Undoso,” which explored local history in the city of Sagua la Grande, the 32-year-old is an openly gay blogger, collaborator with other media and literary groups in Cuba, and an active member of the independent LGBT rights advocacy group Proyecto Arcoiris.

González reported via multiple media outlets that Radio Sagua station director Carlos Orlando Manrique explicitly condemned his work with independent Cuban news sites including Diario de Cuba. Diario de Cuba is openly critical of the Castro government and has contributors in both Cuba and the US. The website was recently blocked on the island, according to CubaNet (another site that has been blocked) and Global Voices’ contacts in the country.

In a public testimonial on Facebook, González described his experience at Radio Sagua. His troubles began in 2012, when he criticized the work of Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, who heads Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education and is a member of the National Assembly. González joined other independent advocates in critiquing Castro’s approach to LGBT rights advocacy, arguing that her efforts had fallen short on key issues of public import, mainly same-sex marriage and domestic partnership. He wrote:

Un policía me hizo ir a una oficina en el Comité Municipal del Partido. Feo que era, sucio, se veía cansado. Ese fue mi estreno con ellos, los invisibles. Me dijo entonces algo que se cumplió. “Si yo quiero -se jactó- puedo declararte contrarrevolucionari­o.”

A police officer made me go to an office at the Municipal Committee for the [Communist] Party….Ugly, dirty, he looked tired. This was my debut with them, the invisible ones. He then told me something that later would happen. “If I want,” he bragged, “I can call you a counterrevolutionary.”

González says he suspects that his critiques of senior Communist party member Marino Murillo, who served multiple terms as Cuba’s Minister of Planning and Economy between 2009 and 2016, didn’t help him either. He was re-assigned to different jobs within state media institutions multiple times after 2012, and then began pursuing work outside of state institutions. At one point, a state security officer told him:

No importa donde publiques, aunque sea tu blog. Siempre te vamos a revisar.

It doesn’t matter where you publish, even if it’s just on your blog. We will always be reading what you write.

In recent years, González has traveled to Europe twice. In 2014, he spoke on LGBT rights issues in Cuba at the UN in Geneva. Things grew worse for González after he attended the Stockholm Internet Forum in 2015.

El año pasado, los suecos me invitaron al Fórum de internet de Estocolmo. Cuando volví, todo era insostenible en la emisora. Antes de irme a Escandinavia la subdirectora me dijo: “Tú no vuelves”, como insinuándome que no volviera. Dejé el periodismo oficial, me fui a trabajar como burócrata en una oficina de Patrimonio, y me dediqué a escribir reportajes, notas, cualquier cosa, para la prensa emergente.

Y ya ves. Mañana saldrá mi último programa, el último conducido por mí, en una emisión que dará que hablar: va sobre el centralismo que coloca en la periferia a ciudades cubanas antaño muy prósperas, específicamente analizo el caso de Sagua la Grande, desde una perspectiva histórica.

Mi comentario literario (es ingenuo pensar que la crítica litearia es inofensiva, aunque no creo a los censores tan sagaces) ya no saldrá en septiembre en la revista cultural radial Por la Villa del Undoso.

Koniec para mí.

Se tardaron bastante.

Last year, the Swedes invited me to the Stockholm Internet Forum. When I got back, things were unbearable at the station. Before I went to Scandinavia, the sub director said to me: “you won’t return,” as if to insinuate that I wouldn’t come back. I stopped working for state media outlets and instead went to work as a bureaucrat in a state office of Cultural Heritage, and I dedicated my time to writing reports, short articles, whatever I could, for the new media outlets.

And now you see what’s happened. Tomorrow my last program will air, the last one directed by me, in a show about the centralized nature of small, outlying cities in Cuba that were once very prosperous, specifically Sagua la Grande, from a historical perspective.

My literary commentary (its naive to think that literary criticism is inoffensive, even though I don’t think the censors are that sagacious) will no longer appear in the culture magazine Por la Villa del Undoso.

Cognac for me.

It took them long enough.

While González’ personal account of his experience is unique, the hard facts of it are not. Journalists who were once employed by Cuban state media outlets represent a significant proportion of Cuba's blogging communities, both on the island and abroad. Between the recent firings of journalists such as González and Jose Ramírez Pantoja, among others, and the official condemnation of Uruguayan blogger and former BBC columnist Fernando Ravsberg, who has worked as a journalist in Cuba since the 1990s, it appears that more may soon be joining their ranks.

by Ellery Roberts Biddle at September 06, 2016 06:06 PM

September 05, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Indians Ask: Is Visiting a Torrent Site Really A Crime?
Screenshot of a Bittorent client. Image by Carl Sagan via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Screenshot of a Bittorent client. Image by Carl Sagan via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

India has banned various large-scale torrent sites for a long time — this is old news. But under a new federal policy in India, one can be jailed for three years and fined 300,000 Indian Rupees (~US $4464) for downloading content on any of these blocked websites.

Netizens who regularly use these and similar services have become anxious about what the rule may mean for them. Last week, a new legal notice concerning copyright violations sparked widespread rumors that users could be penalized for simply viewing torrent sites.

The notice now appears when one visits any of the banned websites. It reads:

This URL has been blocked under the instructions of the Competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL is punishable as an offence under the laws of India, including but not limited to under Sections 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957 which prescribe imprisonment for 3 years and also fine of upto Rs. 3,00,000/-. Any person aggrieved by any such blocking of this URL may contact at who will, within 48 hours, provide you the details of relevant proceedings under which you can approach the relevant High Court or Authority for redressal of your grievance.

Soon after news of the notice began to circulate, the Chennai High Court – one of the oldest courts in India — issued a John Doe order to block as many as 830 websites, including several torrent websites such as,, and

What is a torrent?

torrent is part of a system that enables peer-to-peer file sharing (“P2P”) that is used to distribute data and electronic files over the Internet. Known as BitTorrent, this file distribution system is one of the most common technical protocols for transferring large files, such as digital audio files containing TV shows or video clips or digital audio files containing songs.

Within this system, files labeled with the .torrent extension contain meta data about files — e.g. file names, their sizes, folder structure and cryptographic hash value for integrity verification. They do not contain the content to be distributed, but without them, the system does not work. (via Wikipedia)

Indian tech news portal Medianama published a blog post arguing that it is the downloading of pirated content from certain banned websites and not accessing those website that should lead to the legal issues. The problem, it seems, lies in the poor wording of the notice. Medianama described this as “bizarre by any rational standard” and noted that, taken literally, it does not comply with the Indian Copyright Act.

Digital piracy legislation in India has been modified quite a lot in the recent times in general and over last five years in particular (Sections 63, 63A and 65 of the Indian Copyright Act of 1957 in particular.) But it has not been implemented with such force in the past.

This is not the first time India has put a blanket ban on such sites. In December 2014, 32 websites — including including code repository Github, video streaming sites Vimeo and Dailymotion, online archive Internet Archive, free software hosting site Sourceforge — were banned in India. They were later unblocked after agreeing to remove some ISIS-related content.

As they have in the past, tech-savvy netizens began suggesting hacks to mask or fake one's IP address. Sumiteshwar Choudhary, a practicing criminal and matrimony lawyer, described on Quora how the law had existed for quite some time but the government had never fully enforced it:

[..] The only reason that India has not been able to successfully ban these services is because the servers rest outside India and we don’t have any law to extend our jurisdiction to that extent today. As an end user if you download a pirated version of things you are not entitled to, you can be booked criminally under this Act and can face prison for up to 2 years…

Twitter user Prisma Mama Thakur criticized the ban, arguing that it should be a low priority in a moment when India has many other important problems to solve:

by Subhashish Panigrahi at September 05, 2016 05:25 PM

Bahraini Court Refuses to Release Rights Activist Nabeel Rajab, Delays Verdict
Prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to stand trial on March 15. Photograph by Majeed Tareef. Copyright: Demotix

Prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to stand trial on October 6. Photograph by Majeed Tareef. Copyright: Demotix

Bahrain's High Criminal Court today delayed a verdict in the government's case against human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

The director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab has been jailed several times since 2012 for his activism and human rights work.

Rajab was arrested yet again on 13 June 2016 for criticizing Bahrain's participation in the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and for speaking out about torture in Bahrain's infamous Jaw prison on Twitter. The court postponed the verdict until 6 October and refused to release Najab in the interim.

If convicted, Rajab could face up to 15 years in prison under Bahrain's penal code which prescribes a 10-year jail term for anyone who “deliberately announces in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumors,” and two years for “offending a foreign country.” His tweets about Jaw prison could bring him an additional three years in jail for “offending national institutions.”

Ali Abdulemam (center) walks in a protest march with Nabeel Rajab (left) and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Photo by Mohamed CJ via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Left to right: Nabeel Rajab walks in a 2012 protest march with Ali Abdulemam (currently in exile) and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is also in prison for his political activism. Photo by Mohamed CJ via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In court, Rajab argued that his re-arrest was motivated by his involvement in lobbying US officials on the human rights situation in Bahrain and the Arabian Gulf region, not the charges that were filed against him.

Rajab originally was arrested on these charges in April 2015 before he was released in July of the same year. Yet prosecutors never closed the case and thus ordered his re-arrest on 13 June 2016.

Rights activist Nabeel Rajeb in court: my arrest took place because they [the authorities] got upset by my meeting with the US Secretary of State, as I was called for investigation afterwards

Nabeel Rajab in court: this case is vengeful and my arrest came after I refused to remove my name from a letter addressed by activists from the Gulf [region] to Obama while he was on a visit to Saudi Arabia

On Monday, authorities further charged him with “undermining the prestige” of the ruling regime over a letter he wrote in prison, in which he described how he was punished for denouncing Bahrain's role in the war in Yemen and critiqued the United States’ inconsistency in responding to human rights violations in Bahrain. The letter was published on 3 September in the New York Times.

From the beginning, I was against the war. The civilian death toll was immediate and catastrophic, and I spoke out against the unfolding humanitarian crisis, calling for peace. Now, I am paying the price.

- Nabeel Rajab, “Letter from a Bahraini Jail,” via the New York Times

Human rights activists and groups in the region and across the world are campaigning for Rajab's freedom. On the occasion of his 52nd birthday on 1 September 2016, protesters gathered outside the Bahraini embassies in the UK and the US demanding his release.

Scottish National Party MP Margaret Ferrier tweeted her support:

Bahraini activist and co-director for the Gulf Center for Human Rights Maryam Alkhawaja tweeted:

Nabeel Rajab also was named “prisoner of the month” for September 2016, by the “Their Freedom, Their Right” campaign. Led by the Lebanese free-speech civil society group Maharat Foundation and the Egypt-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the campaign calls for the release of one prisoner of conscience in the Arab region each month.

On Twitter, Maharat Foundation urged its Twitter followers to join the campaign to free Rajab:

You can support activist Nabeel Rajab by posting information and photos about him on Facebook and Twitter using the hash tag “their freedom, their right”.

Rajab is not the only one paying the price for his activism and political views in Bahrain. In the island kingdom of 1.2 million people, there are more than 4,000 political prisoners according to 2015 estimates from human rights groups.

by Afef Abrougui at September 05, 2016 03:59 PM

September 02, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Campaign: Anonymity Defends Us — So Let's Defend Anonymity
Why do we need anonymity? Image used with permission of Derechos Digitales.

Why do we need anonymity? Image used with permission of Derechos Digitales.

This post was written by Derechos Digitales and Global Voices’ Advox and Latin America editors.

The right to anonymity is at risk now more than ever.

As we live more and more of our lives on  the Internet and we interact more and more with digital technology, it becomes easier to identify us and collect information about our habits, preferences, opinions, and even about our bodies.

At the same time, a discourse that puts security and anonymity in opposition to one another has forcefully permeated mainstream political narratives, drawing strong associations between anonymity and criminality — it has been portrayed as an enabler of delinquency, terrorism, drug trafficking, child pornography and other extremely serious social ill. And there have been numerous legal attempts to limit our right to reserve our identity.

In parallel, governments acquire technology capable of spying on citizens more and more frequently, routinely using technical surveillance mechanisms to go beyond the rights authorized by constitutional laws. They argue these activities are necessary to protecting national security.

Anonymity is exceedingly important because it guarantees liberties such as freedom of expression, the right to assemble, the right to social protest, and the right to seek information and help, among others.

Anonymity protects us all. When we are suffering from a medical condition and we want to seek support and advice from other patients without informing our family, employers, or insurance company for economic or work-related reasons or simply because we feel ashamed; when we suffer harassment or violence in the workplace, school, neighborhood, or even in our own home; when we want to report something to the press or the police, but we believe it might be dangerous; or when we want to demand our rights, but we fear retaliation. There are many day-to-day situations where anonymity can help us to make up for power imbalances and exercise our rights.

Anonymity defends us. Let’s defend anonymity.

Spread the word online with this video from Chilean NGO Derechos Digitales:

Defending Anonymity is a campaign led by Derechos Digitales in association with Global Voices.

by Advox Partners at September 02, 2016 04:25 PM

After Two Months on Hunger Strike, Jailed Algerian Journalist Enters Coma
Mohamed Tamalt. Image from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (CC BY-NC-ND)

Mohamed Tamalt. Image from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Algerian columnist and blogger Mohamed Tamalt, who is serving two years in prison for insulting the country's president, has gone into a coma. Tamalt has reportedly been on hunger strike since 27 June in protest at his arrest and imprisonment by Algerian authorities.

On 30 August, Sirine Rached, a North Africa researcher with Amnesty international, quoted local news site El Watan:

Journalist Mohamed Tamalt, sentenced to two years in jail for criticizing the authorities, is in coma

On 11 July, a court in the capital Algiers sentenced Tamalt to two years in jail and a fine of 200,000 Algerian dinars (about US $1,800) for offending President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and public institutions under articles 144, 144 bis and 146 of the Penal Code over his online publications, including a poem and a video posted on Facebook containing comments that were deemed disparaging towards Bouteflika and Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.

Tamalt was imprisoned over his online publications including a poem deemed insulting to the President. Source: Tamalt's Facebook page

Tamalt was imprisoned over his online publications including the above poem, which was deemed insulting to the President. Source: Tamalt's Facebook page

On social media and his online magazine Arab Context, Tamalt comments on current affairs in Algeria, including the role of the army in political life, alleged corruption among government officials and army generals, and the extravagant lifestyles of Algeria's rulers and their families. Tamalt, who also has British nationality, has been mostly living in the UK since 2002 after leaving Algeria because of reported threats related to his work as a journalist. A court of appeal confirmed his sentence on 9 August. According to Amnesty International, his lawyers filed another appeal to the Cassation Court, the highest court in Algeria.

In recent months, Algerian authorities have handed down several sentences against users for expressing themselves online. In late May, labor rights activist Belkacem Khencha was sentenced to six months in jail for posting a video on Facebook slamming the imprisonment of a colleague, while in March human rights activist Zoulikha Belarbi was ordered to pay 100,000 Algerian dinars (around US $1,000) for posting a satirical photo of the president on Facebook.

Hunger strikes of this length regularly end with a person's death. The graphic below, created by Visualizing Impact, outlines the experience of a person on hunger strike over time, drawing on research from Forensic Science International, the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British Medical Journal.


by Afef Abrougui at September 02, 2016 04:02 PM

Iran Declares ‘Unveiling’ of its National Intranet

We spoke to multiple Iranian Internet users following the governments grand “unveiling” of the National Information Network. They either didn't know what the Network was, or thought it was a joke not to be taken seriously. Photo of street scene in Tajrish Tehran by Kamyar Adl via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Drumroll please: Iran's “National Information Network” is finally complete. On August 28, 2016 Iranian government agencies responsible for Internet policy ‘unveiled’ Iran's intranet or Shoma, as it is called in Persian.

Since at least 2006 the NIN has been part of Iran's highly controlled networked communication infrastructure, offering Iranians access to websites for key public services such as healthcare, utilities and education. So what officials “unveiled” last week is really nothing new. But the motivations behind the network — and the ways that the government is urging Iranians to use it — may be shifting.

Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani has described the Network as “one of the key components of the country’s independence,” framing it as integral to Iran's cybersecurity. In Iran's 2011-2016 development plan, the project was defined as follows:

شبکه ملی اطلاعات (IP) کشور، شبکه‌ای مبتنی بر قـرارداد اینترنت به ‌همراه سوئیچها و مسیریابها و مراکز داده‌ای است به صورتی که درخواستهای دسترسی داخلی و أخذ اطلاعاتی که در مراکز داده داخلی نگهداری می‌شوند به هیچ‌وجه از طریق خارج کشور مسیریابی نشود و امکان ایجاد شبکه‌های اینترانت و خصوصی و امن داخلی در آن فراهم شود.

The country’s National Information Network should be an IP-based Internet supported by data centres that are completely undetectable and impenetrable by foreign sources and allow the creation of private, secure Intranet networks.

Officials have emphasized how the network may help guard against massive breaches of national Internet security such as malicious Israeli-American cyberweapon Stuxnet directed at Iran's nuclear facilities.

At the unveiling, deputy ICT Minister Nasrallah Jahangard further elaborated on the need to counter cyberattacks:

Generally, all networks around the world are exposed to hacking attempts. Not being an exception, Iran’s network was target to a heavy hacking attempt about two weeks ago, limiting the international interactions of two or three of our internet providers.

It is unclear which incident Jahangard is referring to, however Iran's Supreme Council of Cyberspace announced at the beginning of August that it was looking into the possibility of cyberattacks being the root of the cause of a series of fires and explosions in Iran's oil and gas facilities.

Another key feature of the network is its speed. Tasnim News, an agency closely aligned with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, described the NIN as “a new internet system with higher security which will be up to 60 times faster than the best speeds currently available.” Although Iran remains one of the countries in the Middle East with the highest proportions of Internet users, recent figures indicate that Iran's bandwidth currently sits on average at 70.5 gigabytes per second. The NIN meanwhile boasts an average speed of 4000 gigabytes per second.

Iranian technologist and scholar Mehdi Yahyanejad told Global Voices:

Overall, it seems the plan is to encourage Iranian websites to relocate their hosting to Iran by discriminatory pricing of the bandwidth for domestic versus international Internet connections. Hosting most of such websites inside the country makes it easier for the Iranian government to shutdown Internet if needed.

Indeed, public documents describing the NIN boast “an economy for local content.” The clear advantage, according to the government, is that connecting to these services over NIN will be both faster and more secure. These are the key selling points the government is highlighting to get Iranians to use the network, and to host their websites there.

Officials also have promised domestic video services with affordable prices for end users, as well as an “economy of datacentres.”

The government has long touted the hosting of data centres inside of Iran, a feature that could ensure that the data and traffic of Iranian users would never leave the country. This emphasis on national datacentres was seen last May when Iran's preeminent Internet policy body, the Supreme Council for Cyberspace, gave an ultimatum to foreign messaging applications including Telegram, Instagram and WhatsApp, requiring that they either begin hosting Iranian users’ data inside the country (within a year's time), or be subject to censorship. It is unclear which companies will comply, or whether Iran will follow through with the censorship. In July 2016, authorities used the foreign data centre argument as a reason to filter the Pokémon Go application.

The London-based research and design group Small Media sketched out the relationship between users and platforms that could only be available through the NIN, and the platforms that could be available through regular Internet connections, based on statements by the Information Technology Organisation of Iran (a branch of the Ministry of ICT).

Small Media visualized the structure of the Internet connections between users, business, organisations and the government once the National Information Network, or Shoma is established.

Small Media visualized the structure of the Internet connections between users, business, organisations and the government once the National Information Network, or Shoma is established.

Public documentation suggests that e-government services such as those related to health, taxes, and public services will be only available through the Network. Financial, banking and stock market systems however will be available both through the Network and the regular global Internet.

If person is abroad while trying to access website only available on NIN, the only way around this will be through a Virtual Private Network.

How will the NIN affect access to information?

Authorities have explicitly stated that the network will not interfere with Iranians’ access to the global Internet. Yet advocates for digital rights in Iran remain cautious, with some worrying that it is part of an effort to further control an Internet space already rife with censorship and surveillance.

According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, NIN fits into a hardline narrative that paints Iran's Internet space as one that must be re-claimed from the West.

National Internet’s development and implementation continues, reflecting a worldview, dominant among hardline authorities who maintain significant power bases in the intelligence, judicial and security apparatuses, in which any non-state-controlled source of information is seen as suspect, if not treasonous.

The following YouTube video from the now inactive “Weapons of Mouse Destruction” Internet Freedom-art project includes a description of the NIN (beginning at 3:20), in which the group lumps NIN in with Iran's various other Internet rights violations, including censorship and the arrests of netizens.

Just after the August 28 launch, BBC Persian technology journalist Nima Akbarpour asked his 107k Twitter followers if they were worried about this “unveiling.” The responses showed an overwhelming majority — 70% of 844 voters — were worried, while 30% indicated they were unconcerned.

#survey: Concerns about the unveiling of the launch of the National Information Network… #retweet please. For more information:

Officials have assured Iranians that the project would not impact their access to regular Internet, insisting that the NIN and the world wide web would remain two separate networks. Actions such as the purchasing of over a million IP addresses as well as the infrastructure of significant data-links to Europe indicate an intention to stay within the global Internet.

Global Voices approached two Iranian Internet users (who wish to remain anonymous) inside the country to ask them their thoughts about NIN. The first user explained he had never heard about this network. As we chatted on Whats App, he explained: “by the way, I'm sitting with some other friends. I just mentioned this Network and they have also never heard of it.”

The second user we approached explained she had only heard of it, but never used it or knew of anyone who had used it. She explained that it was an ongoing joke.

It's been a joke -a national Internet for the Iranian people that none of the actual people have had access to. I don't think this is anything significant, because I think if it was there would have been more advertisement and information about it for everyday users.

After the publication of this article one Iranian user explained through a Tweet that the Network has been known to be used for stores and banks, and not for everyday users.

by Mahsa Alimardani at September 02, 2016 01:23 PM

‘Spy’ Trial Against Macedonian Journalist Is Postponed Amid Calls for His Release
The Macedonian Association of Journalist organized a protest in front of the Criminal Court to demand the immediate release of journalist Zoran Bozinovski (Photo:

The Macedonian Association of Journalists organized a protest in front of the Criminal Court to demand the immediate release of journalist Zoran Bozinovski. Photo:, used with permission.

Macedonia's Criminal Court postponed the first hearing in the trial of journalist Zoran Božinovski several hours after his industry colleagues from the Macedonian Association of Journalists protested for his release in front of the court.

Božinovski is charged with criminal conspiracy, espionage and blackmail. He is one of 18 defendants in a case code-named “Spy,” which accuses a group of people — including former intelligence and police officers, the former director of the Office for Combating Money Laundering, and the former head of cabinet of the president of the Parliament — of spying on behalf of Greece and Hungary. Three years ago, he was arrested in Serbia where he had sought political asylum, and in April 2016 he was extradited to Macedonia.

Božinovski's supporters claim the case against him is retaliation for his work with the web portal, which in the past has published leaked information implicating Macedonian politicians in corruption.

Macedonian Association of Journalists President Naser Selmani said they had organized their protest to show solidarity with Božinovski:

„Ги потсетуваме судиите дека Македонија е втора земја во Европа, во која има новинар во затвор. Прво беше осуден Томислав Кежаровски, а сега и Божиновски. Гласно прашуваме кој ќе биде следниот. Во земјата каде што новинарите се затвораат, таму е заробена и слободата на говорот и слободата на медиумите. Таквите судски постапки имаат цел да ги казнуваат непослушните новинари и да ги застрашуваат и дисциплинираат другите“, рече Селмани.

We remind the judges that in Europe, only Macedonia and one other country have reporters in jail. First, Tomislav Kežarovski was sentenced and now Božinovski. We now wonder who will be next. In a country where journalists are jailed, freedom of speech and freedom of the media are under assault. Such cases are intended to punish the disobedient journalists and intimidate and discipline the others.”

Tomislav Kežarovski was sentenced for four and a half years in prison in 2013 for allegedly publishing the name of a protected witness in a 2005 murder case. After wave of protests and support from journalists’ associations and other international organizations, Kežarovski was released at the beginning of 2015. He spent seven months in prison and the rest of the sentence in house arrest.

In similar manner, the Association demanded that Božinovski be immediately released from detention on bail, referring to recent examples when some former officials were allowed to wait for their trial from home instead of prison. They also insisted that the regular Prosecutor's Office hand Božinovski's case over to the independent Special Prosecutor's Office, arguing that not doing is a sign that the charges against him are revenge for publishing evidence of abuses of power.

Still image of Zoran Bozinovski from an interview with Croatian Nova TV.

Still image of Zoran Bozinovski from an interview with Croatian Nova TV.

Božinovski's trial is separate from the others’ accused in the ‘Spy’ case. The 17 other defendants were found guilty in 2014 and sentenced from one to 15 years in prison, but their convictions are now being disputed in the Court of Appeals. After the Special Prosecutor's Office was formed as part of a deal to end ongoing political crisis in the country, the office demanded to take over their case, which the Court of Appeals allowed.

Several hours after the Association's protest, the Criminal Court postponed the beginning of the trial, according to local Nova TV. The channel quoted judge Aleksandra Krstic explaining that although she requested the Court of Appeals to submit all evidence related to the case, they still hadn't done so.

The ‘Spy’ case

The case began in 2012 when authorities accused a group of people, including government critics and whistle-blowers, of spying on behalf of Greece and Hungary. Both countries are members of the European Union, while Macedonia is not; it has been a candidate for membership since 2005, but talks haven't gone far due in part to objections from Greece over a long-standing dispute about Macedonia's name and Macedonia's lack of progress in stamping out corruption and election fraud.

Macedonia did not issue any diplomatic notes to these countries condemning them of spying, however. In fact, three months later, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov praised Hungarian President Viktor Orbán as being “a great friend and supporter” of Macedonia.

By October 2014, the justice system had convicted 17 of those accused. Božinovski, however, had emigrated to Serbia fearing for his safety some time before. Serbian authorities arrested him in 2013 on the basis of an international warrant, and after nearly a year in jail waiting he was brought back to Macedonia.

Human rights groups and free speech advocates condemned his extradition and warned that Božinovski could be vulnerable to torture once back in Macedonia.

The anti-torture committee of the Council of Europe published a report in March 2016 expressing deep concerns about Macedonia's penal system due to “numerous consistent allegations of ill-treatment of detainees by custodial staff.”

And leaked wiretaps published by Macedonia's political opposition in 2015 revealed a conversation between Martin Protuger, the right-hand man of Macedonia's then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, and the then-Minister of Interior Gordana Jankuloska in which the two discuss how to torture Božinovski once he's within their power. Protuger requests to pay him a visit “with the CCTV camera turned off in that time.” They also discuss arranging his rape by other inmates as something “that goes without saying.”

The wiretaps captured Macedonia's elite talking about a wide variety of other misdeeds and sparked a political crisis in the country. An EU and US-brokered agreement tried to stalemate, stipulating among other things that an independent Special Prosecutor's Office be formed to investigate the revelations contained in the leaked conversations. President Ivanov, however, announced on April 12, 2016, that he was granting a pardon to more than 50 top politicians and their associates who were under investigation.

by Goran Rizaov at September 02, 2016 01:02 PM

September 01, 2016

August 31, 2016

Joi Ito
Society in the Loop Artificial Intelligence

Black and White Gavel in Courtroom - Law Books
Photo by wp paarz via Flickr - CC BY-SA

Iyad Rahwan was the first person I heard use the term society-in-the-loop machine learning. He was describing his work which was just published in Science, on polling the public through an online test to find out how they felt about various decisions people would want a self-driving car to make - a modern version of what philosophers call "The Trolley Problem." The idea was that by understanding the priorities and values of the public, we could train machines to behave in ways that the society would consider ethical. We might also make a system to allow people to interact with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and test the ethics by asking questions or watching it behave.

Society-in-the-loop is a scaled up version of human-in-the-loop machine learning - something that Karthik Dinakar at the Media Lab has been working on and is emerging as an important part of AI research.

Typically, machines are "trained" by AI engineers using huge amounts of data. The engineers tweak what data is used, how it's weighted, the type of learning algorithm used and a variety of parameters to try to create a model that is accurate and efficient and making the right decisions and providing accurate insights. One of the problems is that because AI, or more specifically, machine learning is still very difficult to do, the people who are training the machines are usually not domain experts. The training is done by machine learning experts and the completed model after the machine is trained is often tested by experts. A significant problem is that any biases or errors in the data will create models that reflect those biases and errors. An example of this would be data from regions that allow stop and frisk - obviously targeted communities will appear to have more crime.

Human-in-the-loop machine learning is work that is trying to create systems to either allow domain experts to do the training or at least be involved in the training by creating machines that learn through interactions with experts. At the heart of human-in-the-loop computation is the idea of building models not just from data, but also from the human perspective of the data. Karthik calls this process 'lensing', of extracting the human perspective or lens of a domain expert and fit it to algorithms that learn from both the data and the extracted lens, all during training time. We believe this has implications for making tools for probabilistic programming and for the democratization of machine learning.

At a recent meeting with philosophers, clergy and AI and technology experts, we discussed the possibility of machines taking over the job of judges. We have evidence that machines can make very accurate assessments of things that involve data and it's quite reasonable to assume that decisions that judges make such as bail amounts or parole could be done much more accurately by machines than by humans. In addition, there is research that shows expert humans are not very good set setting bail or granting parole appropriately. Whether you get a hearing by the parole board before or after their lunch has a significant effect on the outcome, for instance. (There has been some critiques of the study cited in this article, and the authors of the paper of responded to them.)

In the discussion, some of us proposed the idea of replacing judges for certain kinds of decisions, bail and parole as examples, with machines. The philosopher and several clergy explained that while it might feel right from a utilitarian perspective, that for society, it was important that the judges were human - it was even more important than getting the "correct" answer. Putting aside the argument about whether we should be solving for utility or not, having the buy-in of the public would be important for the acceptance of any machine learning system and it would be essential to address this perspective.

There are two ways that we could address this concern. One way would be to put a "human in the loop" and use machines to assist or extend the capacity of the human judges. It is possible that this would work. On the other hand, experiences in several other fields such as medicine or flying airplanes have shown evidence that humans may overrule machines with the wrong decision enough that it would make sense to prevent humans from overruling machines in some cases. It's also possible that a human would become complacent or conditioned to trust the results and just let the machine run the system.

The second way would be for the machine to be trained by the public - society in the loop - in a way that the people felt that that the machine reliability represented fairly their, mostly likely, diverse set of values. This isn't unprecedented - in many ways, the ideal government would be one where the people felt sufficiently informed and engaged that they would allow the government to exercise power and believe that it represented them and that they were also ultimately responsible for the actions of the government. Maybe there is way to design a machine that could garner the support and the proxy of the public by being able to be trained by the public and being transparent enough that the public could trust it. Governments deal with competing and conflicting interests as will machines. There are obvious complex obstacles including the fact that unlike traditional software, where the code is like a series of rules, a machine learning model is more like a brain - it's impossible to look at the bits and understand exactly what it does or would do. There would need to be a way for the public to test and audit the values and behavior of the machines.

If we were able to figure out how to take the input from and then gain the buy-in of the public as the ultimate creator and controller of this machine, it might solve the other side of this judicial problem - the case of a machine made by humans that commits a crime. If, for instance, the public felt that they had sufficient input into and control over the behavior of a self-driving car, could the public also feel that the public, or the government representing the public, was responsible for the behavior and the potential damage caused by a self-driving car, and help us get around the product liability problem that any company developing self-driving cars will face?

How machines will take input from and be audited and controlled by the public, may be one of the most important areas that need to be developed in order to deploy artificial intelligence in decision making that might save lives and advance justice. This will most likely require making the tools of machine learning available to everyone, have a very open and inclusive dialog and redistribute the power that will come from advances in artificial intelligence, not just figure out ways to train it to appear ethical.

by Joi at August 31, 2016 07:06 AM

August 30, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Journalist Jean Bigirimana is Still Missing as Burundi's Political Crisis Continues

Iwacu front page (n°385, 29/07/2016) asking “Where is Jean?”

Burundian journalist Jean Bigirimana has been missing since 22 July 2016. Multiple sources have told his employer, independent newspaper Iwacu, that he is in government custody. Authorities are denying these claims.

Iwacu, which represents a small beacon in Burundi's notoriously difficult media environment, last week changed their website design to one that is entirely black and white, in homage to their missing colleague.

#Burundi yet another Black Monday. Dark days, gloomy weeks, a sombre month for the family of the journalist Jean Bigirimana.

Burundi has been engulfed in political crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza's run for a third term last year, which sparked protests and citizen campaigns arguing that his candidacy undermined the Arusha Accords and Burundi's constitution. Witnesses, victims, local activists and human rights organizations have all documented cases of arbitrary detention, systematic torture, and killings, targeting activists, journalists and Nkurunziza's opponents, though government officials have denied this.

The country's once lively media landscape has suffered from the militarized response to third-term opposition, especially outside the capital Bujumbura. Burundian and international journalists have faced accusations of anti-government bias or encouraging insurrection and been targeted with violence. Iwacu director Antoine Kaburahe himself currently lives in exile in Belgium.

Before coming to Iwacu, Jean worked with Rema FM radio station. Iwacu reports that in his travels to Rwanda, the 37-year-old reporter had written about the lives of exiled Burundian journalists living in the neighboring country. Rwanda and Burundi have a long history of political and diplomatic tensions.

On July 22, 2016, Jean left home after receiving a call from the national intelligence service. He has not been seen or heard from since. His wife, Godeberthe, made an emotional appeal for his freedom, and media outlets have tried to investigate and publicize the case, sharing images widely online.

#Burundi moving images from the homage to the journalist Jean @iwacuinfo

Iwacu has vowed to continue searching for Jean. Iwacu journalists undertook their own investigations which they published online, and hope to take the case to court, though this may prove difficult given the crisis and the many other uninvestigated deaths and disappearances. Burundian rights organization APRODH recently reported that police and military sources, unhappy with the current situation, have identified 14 mass graves, likely containing some of the disappeared.

During their enquiries, two tortured bodies were found and eventually collected by police. When Jean’s wife was brought to identify the bodies she said neither was him, although they were then reportedly buried without being identified.

Police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye confirmed that neither of the two was Jean:

#Burundi Investigation/ Case Jean BIGIRIMANA (journalist/IWACU): The 2 bodies identified : Not Jean. Muramvya Prosecutor to follow up

The news raised concerns among citizens not only about Jean, but about other possibly undiscovered bodies. Twitter user Thierry Uwamahoro asked:

Eleven days after Jean's disappearance, Iwacu criticized the police for their “deafening silence” and for the apparent lack of an investigation. Iwacu attempted to follow a lead of Abel Ahishakiye, someone Jean contacted by phone before disappearing, but he too then apparently disappeared.

In early August, colleagues of Jean's received a tip indicating that he had been secretly detained in Muramvya province. Police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye denied that the journalist had been arrested, and on 5 August Burundi's independent human rights commission (Commission Nationale Indépendante des Droits de l'Homme) stated it found no evidence that Jean was in the custody of the SNR.

Other reporters have recently been similarly targeted. Oximity journalist Julien Barinzigo was arrested on 17 June and released on 05 August with restrictions. Gisa Steve Irakoze of Radio Buja FM was arrested by SNR in early August, before being released on 25 August.

Some have not returned. Rights activist Marie-Claudette Kwizera, with rights organization Ligue Iteka, has not been seen since December 2015 after reportedly being arrested by security agents. APRODH’s president Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa is in exile after surviving an assassination attempt last year, and family members were then murdered.

The risks of attack even follow reporters into exile. Boaz Ntaconayigize, a journalist with Bonesha, in exile in Kampala, was stabbed on 31 July. He said that security agents had come from Bujumbura to infiltrate the refugee community and track journalists and activists. Boaz was also later questioned by Ugandan police.

As many have disappeared or been found dead after being detained, officials’ denial of Jean's detention has left his friends and colleagues fearful that authorities may be concealing information on his whereabouts or death. On 25 August Iwacu’s editors published a “Letter to Jean” expressing their hopes of finding him and their fears of the worst.

Cher Jean nous sommes tellement impuissants face à ceux qui ont fait de la mort leur spécialité.
Aujourd’hui nous n’avons que des mots.
Mais les mots sont plus forts que la mort.
Jean, ils ne gagneront pas !

Dear Jean we are so powerless against those who have made death their speciality.
Today we have only words.
But words are stronger than death.
Jean, they will not win!

by Advox at August 30, 2016 04:00 PM

August 29, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Death Penalty Still Looms for Mauritanian Blogger Who Spoke Out Against Caste-Based Discrimination
Source site d', Divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée, qui affirme

“No to slavery” – from the website of Moroccan legal expert Ibn Kafra where he states: “Where Mauritania may have suffered injustice throughout history it also exemplifies resistance and human dignity”

A Mauritanian blogger has been sentenced to death by Nouadhibou Criminal Court after writing a blog post criticising the use of Islam to justify a caste system that dates back to the Middle Ages.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould M'kheitir, whose father is prefect for Nouadhibou, the economic capital in the south of the country, is a 29-year-old trained accountant. They are part of a caste group known as les forgerons (the “forger cast”), one that was originally made up of blacksmiths.

He has appealed the conviction, which dates back to 2014. Writing for the website Chezvlane on 25 December 2014, he said:

Ceux qui osent inventer de faux hadiths et les attribuent au prophète (paix et salut d’Allah sur lui), aucune morale ni religion ne peut l’empêcher d’interpréter à leur guise un article écrit par un simple jeune, novice de surcroît. Ils ne ménageront aucun effort afin de mobiliser la passion du musulman commun au service de leurs intérêts. C’est ainsi qu’ils ont prétendu que les forgerons ont Blasphémé à l’encontre du prophète (paix et salut d’Allah sur lui)  à travers un article écrit par un des leurs, tout comme ils avaient prétendu que celui qui avait fait tomber les dents du prophète lors de la bataille du mont Ouhoud était un forgeron.

C’est dans ce cadre que je voudrais confirmer ici ce qui suit :

1. Je n’ai pas, consciemment ou inconsciemment, blasphémé à l’encontre du prophète (Paix et Salut d’Allah sur lui) et je ne le ferai jamais. Je ne crois d’ailleurs pas qu’il y ait dans ce monde plus respectueux envers lui (paix et salut d’Allah sur lui) que moi.

2. Tous les faits et récits que j’ai cité dans mon précédent article revêtent un caractère historique et véridique. Ces récits ont naturellement leurs interprétations littérales et superficielles et leurs sens visés et profonds.

For those who dare to invent fake hadith and attribute them to the Prophet (peace be upon him), no morals and no religion can stop them from interpreting an article written by a simple normal young man — a layman at that. They won't spare any effort in stirring up collective Muslim discontent to serve their interests. That's how they claimed that the forgerons blasphemed against the Prophet (PBUH) in an article one of them wrote. It was just like when they claimed that it was a forgeron who was responsible for the Prophet's teeth falling out during the Battle of Mount Uhud.

Bearing that in mind, I'd like to confirm here the following:

1. I have not, consciously or unconsciously, blasphemed against the Prophet (PBUH) and I will never do so. In actual fact, I don't believe there's anyone in the world who shows him greater respect than myself (PBUH).

2. All the facts and accounts I cited in my previous article were historically accurate. These accounts can of course be interpreted literally and superficially or looked at more closely and deeply.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, publié sur ODH Mauritanie

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, published on ODH Mauritanie

On 21 April 2016, the Court of Appeal in Nouadhibou confirmed his sentence to death after re-examining the case. The accused is no longer considered to be an apostate but simply a non-believer.

Following this re-examination of the accusations against him, human rights campaigners in Mauritania remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will dismiss the death sentence and announce a more lenient sentence.

The Senegalese website Setal recalled the turn of events:

Ce jeudi, la cour d'appel n'a pas suivi l'accusation qui demandait la confirmation de la peine. Les avocats s'en félicitent même si évidemment pour eux cela ne suffit pas. Cela fait maintenant deux ans et trois mois que Mohamed Cheikh ould Mkheitir a été arrêté pour un simple article posté sur internet. Cet article a été jugé blasphématoire envers le prophète et l'islam, il a choqué la partie la plus conservatrice de l'opinion mauritanienne qui a salué à l'époque sa condamnation à mort.

This Thursday, the Court of Appeal did not follow the accusation which called for his death sentence to be upheld. Lawyers are happy with the turn of events, even if for them it's clearly not enough. It's been two years and three months since Mohamed Cheikh ould Mkheitir was arrested for a simple article posted on the Internet. This article was judged as being blasphemous towards the Prophet and Islam. This shocked the most conservative section of Mauritanian society who at the time called for him to be sentenced to death.

This is the most severe sentence possible for the blogger — a severe sentence that many believe was issued due mostly to internal political strife. In a 26 April 2016 post on the Amnesty International website, human rights journalist and campaigner Sabine Cessout quoted a colleague (who remains anonymous) who commented on the case:

 toute l’affaire relève « de la politique intérieure, avec un tribunal qui veut donner des gages aux salafistes – une tendance en plein essor dans notre pays, comme dans tout le monde arabo-musulman ».

The whole affair reveals “the internal politics…with a tribunal which wants to fund Salafis, a spiraling trend in our country, as throughout the whole Arab-Muslim world”

International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) quoted Fatimata Mbaye, President of l'Association Mauritanienne des Droits Humains (AMDH) (The Mauritanian Association for Human Rights), former vice-president of the IFHR and advocate for anti-slavery campaigners speaking on the issue:

Cette condamnation, la première pour “apostasie” en Mauritanie depuis l’indépendance, constitue un recul de la tolérance et démontre à quel point les questions de caste, de religion, d’esclavage et donc de démocratie sont tabous en Mauritanie. Nous observons un durcissement du pouvoir et de la société contre toutes les voix contestataires sur ces sujets.

This sentence — the first for “apostasy” in Mauritania since Independence — signifies a step backwards in terms of tolerance and shows just how much issues of cast, religion, slavery and therefore democracy are taboos in Mauritania. We're noticing society and politics is becoming less tolerant towards voices of dissent on these issues.

After the post was published, religious extremists sparked public calls for the blogger to be hanged. The Senegalese website Leral described the public sentiment which had been stirred up in Mauritania against the accused:

Des milliers de mauritaniens dont certains ont lu, d'autres pas du tout, l'article incriminé avaient battu le pavé, à Nouakchott, Nouadhibou et ailleurs pour exiger sa pendaison pure et simple, il y a un an de cela…. [Le] président de la République, devant la foule de manifestants amassée devant le portail de son palais avait déclaré : ” Je vous remercie de tout cœur pour votre présence massive en ce lieu pour condamner le crime commis par un individu contre l'Islam, la religion de notre peuple, de notre pays, la République Islamique de Mauritanie, comme j'ai eu à le préciser par le passé et le réaffirme aujourd'hui, n'est pas laïque et ne le sera jamais…. je vous assure en conséquence que le Gouvernement et moi-même ne ménagerons aucun effort pour protéger et défendre cette religion et ses symboles sacrés… ». Cette déclaration du président, celle des différents partis politiques conjugués avec les manifestations et fatwas ont eu raison de lui.

A year ago thousands of Mauritanians took the streets of Nouakchoutt, Naouadihbou and elsewhere demanding he be hung, plain and simple. Some of these had read the incriminating article — others had never even seen it. The Republican President, in front of a crowd of protesters which had grouped in front of the entrance to the palace, declared: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for gathering in such numbers here to condemn the crime committed by a individual who is against Islam, the religion of our people, our country, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which as I've said in the past and I'm reaffirming today, is not secular and never will be… I assure you that as a result, the Government and I myself will stop at nothing to protect and defend this religion and its sacred image…”. This declaration made by the President, those of other different political parties along with the protests and fatwas demonstrated their reasoning.

The 2006 of the Noble Peace Prize winner Aminetou Mint Noctar also drew outrage from extremists after she expressed support for the blogger, some of whom issued a fatwa against her. Noctar is also the 2010 winner of the medal of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour. According to the website Africa News, Noctar was the first Mauritanian woman to be nominated for the Noble Peace Prize for her commitment and work towards human rights.

On the website, Yehdhih Ould Dahi, head of the radical Islamist movement “Ahbab Errassoul” (Friends of the Prophet) condemned Noctar for defending the blogger:

Cette méchante qui défend Mkheitir et disant qu’il s’agit d’un prisonnier d’opinion, et qui a demandé sa libération pour qu’il soit rendu à sa femme, cette femme qui décrit les amis du Prophète comme des Boko Haram et des Takfiris seulement parce qu’ils demandent le respect de l’honneur du Prophète, qu’elle soit damnée par Allah, les anges et tous les gens. Aujourd’hui, je vous annonce avec la bénédiction d’Allah, son apostasie pour avoir minimisé l’outrage à l’honneur du Prophète. C’est une infidèle, dont il est légitime de s’emparer de son sang et de ses biens. Celui qui la tuera ou lui crèvera les yeux sera récompensé par Allah.

May this villain who's defending Mkheitir, saying that he's a prisoner of conscience and demanding he be released so he can go back home to his wife, be cursed by Allah, the Angels and all people. This woman compares the Friends of The Prophet to members of Boko Haram and Takfiris because they call for the Prophet to be respected and honoured. Today, with the blessing of Allah, I declare her to be an apostate for having tempered the outrage in defence of the honour of the Prophet. She's an infidel and it this therefore lawful to seize her family members and assets. Those who kill or poke out her eyes will be rewarded by Allah.

Amid the public vitriol around Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould M'kheitir's case, his life hangs in the balance. For now, he will continue to languish in prison.

by Advox at August 29, 2016 08:21 PM

August 27, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Lawsuit Over Facebook Post Raises Fears of Online Censorship in Bhutan
Dzongs are both administrative and monastic centers. So, they have courts in them. Image from Flickr by Friday. Pazro, Bhutan 2015. CC BY-NC 2.0

Dzongs are both administrative and monastic centers. So, they have courts in them. Image from Flickr by Hriday. Paro, Bhutan 2015. CC BY-NC 2.0

Bhutanese journalist Namgay Zam is facing defamation charges over a Facebook post, marking the first time that anyone in the Himalayan country has been taken to court over their social media activities. Official statements surrounding the case indicate that social media users in Bhutan may soon be restricted in what they can say online.

The suit against Zam revolves around a family that is fighting a property dispute against well-connected business man Ap Sonam Phuntsho, who is also father-in-law to the Chief Justice of Bhutan.

In an online appeal posted by Namgay on Facebook, Dr. Sacha Wangmo explains how Phuntsho attempted to seize her family's home when an estranged family member could not repay Phuntsho a debt of Nu 0.7 million. Wangmo says that Phuntsho forged documents to show that they sold their house to repay debts to him, something to which the family says they never agreed. The documents also indicated that their debts had compounded, rising from Nu 0.7 million to Nu 3 million.

The dispute led to a series of court battles, during which Wangmo’s sister disappeared.

Dr. Sacha approached media houses and they had not been keen on doing her story. She wrote the appeal for Namgay for sharing, where she also accused Phuntsho of using his power and influence to tilt the verdict in his favor. The Facebook post garnered plenty of attention online, and caused an uproar among Bhutanese Facebook users. And it did not help the case, which was being reviewed by Bhutan's Supreme Court after Dr Sacha's mother had appealed to the King.

This triggered Phuntsho's response. He quickly filed a defamation case against Wangmo and Zam, who is a former television journalist and Humphrey fellow at Arizona State University in the US. Arguing that the post had caused “irreparable damage” to his reputation, as many people in Bhutan and across the world had seen it. The businessman claimed Nu 2.59 million (USD $38,500) as compensation, before a packed court:

Should the two of them fail to prove the allegations that went viral in Namgay Zam’s Facebook post, I’m claiming 10 percent of the amount the case was worth.

Sonam Phuntsho, in his lawsuit, pleaded to the court that Namgay Zam and Shacha Wangmo should prove the 25 accusations made against him on social media.

Namgay Zam told the court that she had not violated any laws and the constitution gives her the freedom to disseminate information.

Social media users in Bhutan have been following the case closely and voicing their opinions on the issue. On Facebook, the story has caused new allegations of fraud and other violations of the law against Puntsho to emerge.

Phuntsho Dorji wrote on Facebook:

Respected PM, you are right. Others right should be protected. We should not defame others. But maybe you should know that many people share over social media their grievances when justice is not served. For example, there are lots of posts against Ap SP and how he tortured his victims. Does that ever give a click in your mind that Ap SP and his relatives could be misusing their power? It is possible but won't you doubt a bit when Ap SP wins all the cases filed against him? When many citizens are affected, doesn't that call for some kind of independent investigation? Can we apply here some common sense besides just law?

Wangchuk Dorji mentions that Namgay was wrongfully charged for defamation:

Her words are the introductory remarks on Dr. Sacha. Ms. Namgay clearly writes “This is Shacha Story today as written by herself.” And the rest were Dr. Sacha's word and story.
I don't read any defamatory remarks about Mr. SP from Ms. Namgay herself in her post. Now let's discuss about her “intention”. I can only sense an “intention” to share someone's story, & not to defame someone.

Many users commented on the use of defamation laws as a silencing tool. Dargo Tashi writes:

Defamation suits are one of the most common tactics that the powerful people use to protect their filthy truths from the public domains, the truths which are already quite hard to dig anyways.

Pema Wangmo lamented the court's lack of strong response to Phuntsho's presentation of false documents:

Dr. Sacha lost the case against Ap SP. But did Ap SP get punished for forgery? Didn't he forge documents and present it in District Court? Isn't that a serious crime in the court of law? Is this how the Supreme Court of Bhutan passes verdict?

An analysis by the English language Asia-Pacific news site The Diplomat stated that at the heart of the debate is how the elite in Bhutan and their close relatives are treated differently than common citizens.

The Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay has weighed on the issue saying that the defamation case “will be a landmark case we should be paying attention to.” He mentioned:

I think we can all agree that the laws of the land must prevail, that the Constitution gives us the right to freedom of expression but that right does not mean we undermine the right of others. So our job collectively is to enjoy our rights by protecting the rights of others and to make social media a safe, credible place where vibrant discussion takes place, and not the divisive debate that sometimes take place on social media and definitely not while using an anonymous account.

The Information and Communications Minister, DN Dhungyel indicated that legislators may soon introduce a policy that would restrict what can be shared in social media. In the meantime, supporters have posted a renewed petition advocating for Sacha's case.

As for Zam, hers remains the only case in Bhutan in which a journalist has been sued for a large sum over a social media posting. The ruling therefore is very important and will determine the future for journalists who are already very cautious – given the small and insular nature of Bhutanese society — and for citizens using social media.

by Global Voices at August 27, 2016 10:05 PM

August 26, 2016

3 Major Reasons Drupal 8 is Worth the Investment

Saying a modern nonprofit or business needs a website is like saying the tires on your car need air. Deny it and you’re going to have a bad time. Given the significant tasks required of your website, from fundraising and ecommerce to PR and campaigning, the tools you use to power it and the interface through which your team will interact with the site should be given important consideration.

Lucky for you, one of the most widely used content management systems (CMS), just got a major update. Drupal 8 brings too many new features to discuss fully here, but you’ll be happy to know the end product is one that’s worth the investment.

Here’s why:

One – The content authoring experience is more efficient

Drupal’s admin interface has evolved over the years, and we’re happy to see it continue here. For starters, the new interface is streamlined, mobile-friendly, and by emphasizing simplicity, it makes the process of creating content and managing your site more efficient. Then comes Quick Edit, a tool which allows you to edit content directly on the page, without having to switch to the admin panel. Lastly, some under-the-hood improvements to how Drupal 8 caches portions of your site, means that logged-in users — whether they login just to access a community or special resources, or it's your staff managing the site and adding content — will likely see a significant boost to performance. These improvements just underscore how the experience for content authors and editors means your team takes less time, and less clicks, to update content on Drupal 8.

Two – The improvements for developers means easier maintenance

A number of new features in Drupal 8 are developer focused. There’s Twig, a new templating engine, some commonly used modules are now included by default in Drupal 8, and there’s better support for things like accessibility and multilingual support. Unless you’re a developer, you’re not likely to ever see these changes first hand, but you will experience them.

These improvements for developers mean maintenance tasks will largely be much easier (and occasionally faster) for developers to complete. This saves you money on regular support, and allows you to devote that time and resources into other areas, like digital strategy or building new features.

Three – Migrating is easier than it's ever been

If you’ve been through a redesign of a website, you know that one of the most daunting tasks is getting all of the content you want to keep migrated and configured properly inside your new website. In this area, Drupal 8 has seen a major leap forward.

Drupal 8 can read the database from a Drupal 6 or 7 site, and pull in configurations and other settings in addition to the actual content. Practically speaking, this removes what was previously a major task for content migrations: writing all of the code that retrieves and assembles the existing site’s content. Now, Drupal 8 assembles it for you. In some cases, this could cut the time to do a content migration in half.

We’ve been enjoying building new projects in Drupal 8, some of which we will be able to share with you soon. Until then, if you have questions about Drupal 8 that you’d like us to touch upon, or if you’re wondering if Drupal 8 can work for you, get in touch.

by Peter Sax at August 26, 2016 03:42 PM

August 25, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Bangladesh and Ethiopia Flip the Switch on Internet as Political Tensions Rise
Protest in Ethiopia's Oromo region. Photo from Abdi Lemessa's Facebook page. Used with permission.

Protest in Ethiopia's Oromo region. Photo from Abdi Lemessa's Facebook page. Used with permission.

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

Bangladeshi Internet users have experienced several waves on service shutdowns and website blockages in what the Communication Regulatory Commission described as a government-enforced “drill.” Since early August, authorities have blocked 35 news websites, many of which represent critical positions within the country’s political climate.

Citizens are struggling to see how these shutdowns are likely to have a positive impact on public safety, says Global Voices’ Zara Rahman, in a country where freedom of expression is increasingly under threat.

The Internet was also reportedly shut down yet again in Ethiopia as violence marred protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. About 100 people were killed when security forces fired live bullets at demonstrators over the weekend of August 6. Tests by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) confirmed the Internet was likely blocked during that time, though it remains unclear whether this occurred in all regions or across all types of networks in the country.

In Oromia, the Internet has become an important tool for protesters to disseminate information about their movement, which opposes a plan to expand the capital Addis Ababa into the region’s farmlands, a move that would likely displace thousands of local farmers. Coverage from the country’s mostly state-owned media has pushed misinformation or ignored the situation altogether. In an effort to control the dissent, state-owned telecommunication monopoly EthioTelcom has blocked social media platforms including Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger in Oromia in the past.

In Colombia, sharing just might be a crime

Colombian graduate student Diego Gomez, who is battling criminal charges that he violated copyright by sharing a thesis on the Internet, is likely to receive a verdict in the coming days.  In an effort to support Gomez’s case, Colombian digital rights NGO Fundacion Karisma launched the Twitter hashtag #CompartirNoEsDelito, which translates to “sharing is not a crime.” The copying and distribution of copyrighted works without permission in Colombia can carry a sentence of up to eight years in prison.

Peru buys millions of dollars worth of surveillance equipment

Peru purchased USD $22 million in technical surveillance equipment to spy on its citizens’ communications, according to the Associated Press. Government documents indicate that the “Pisco Project” (a name that refers to the popular Peruvian liquor) allows the government to intercept phone calls, text messages, emails, chats and Internet browser history. It can track up to 5,000 people and record up to 300 simultaneous conversations.

The National Intelligence Service of Peru also authorized a payment for Skylock, a tool that allows law enforcement officials to find and track any phone inside the country. Payments for these technical tools were made to the American-Israeli company Verint, which is also present in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

Criminal charges and social media in Iran

The wife of prominent labor activist Najibeh Salehzadeh is awaiting a verdict in the Iranian state's case against her, in which she is accused of “insulting” Iran's Supreme Leader and compromising national security through a post on Facebook in early June. Salehzadeh has denied the charges and says she does not even have an account on the social media site, which is banned in Iran. Human rights activists believe the case was fabricated in an effort to intimidate her husband, Mahmoud Salehi, a prominent labor activist who has been arrested and imprisoned on a number of occasions in Iran for engaging in peaceful protest activities.

According to an announcement by Gerdab, the cyber division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, it has summoned, detained, or warned over 450 administrators of social media groups in recent weeks. This is part of an ongoing crackdown that started in March 2015 that the Gerdab called “Ankaboot” (“Spider” in Persian) to implement broad-scale social media monitoring to curb immoral activity.

Journalists face legal challenges over child trafficking exposé in India

Indian journalists who dug up evidence that the right-wing Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS) allegedly trafficked children have themselves become the target of a police investigation and online abuse. The investigative piece published by Outlook news site, titled Operation #BabyLift, reports that RSS broke Indian and international laws by trafficking 31 tribal girls between the ages of 3 and 11 in order to “Hinduise” them.

An assistant solicitor general and a spokesman for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is a political offshoot of the RSS, had earlier lodged a criminal complaint against Outlook editor Krishna Prasad, as well as journalist Neha Dixit and Outlook publisher Indranil Roy, for inciting hate against different ethnic groups. Prasad has since been fired. Journalists and free speech advocates fear this case and others like it will lead to increased self-censorship in India.

Pakistani legislators approve cybercrime bill

Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a new controversial cybercrime bill, which will soon be signed into law by President Mamnoon Hussain. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 has been criticized for restricting freedom of expression and access to information, and is likely to be misused by authorities, according to National Assembly member Naveed Qamar.

Security through opacity? Paraguay promotes censorship to protect kids

A draft law under consideration in Paraguay, titled “On protection of kids and teenaagers from dangerous internet content,” seeks to install filters that would block content considered “dangerous” to young people on publicly accessible internet networks. This could result in increased censorship and make it difficult for adults to access age-appropriate material, and has been widely criticised for its potential impact on freedom of expression in Paraguay. The bill has passed Paraguay’s congress and now awaits a signature by the president, though under Paraguayan law he still has the opportunity to veto the bill.

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by Netizen Report Team at August 25, 2016 08:03 PM

Wife of Persecuted Labour Activist Goes to Trial Over Facebook Post
The wife of a prominent labor activist has been charged with posting “insulting” content on Facebook even though she insists she is not a member of the social media site, which is banned in Iran. Image from ICHRI and used with permission.

The wife of a prominent labor activist has been charged with posting “insulting” content on Facebook. She says she does not use Facebook, which is banned in Iran. Image from ICHRI and used with permission.

A version of this article was originally published in two parts on the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. You can find them here and here

The wife of prominent labor activist Mahmoud Salehi was charged with posting “insulting” content on Facebook in early June. Yet she insists she does not the social media site, which is banned in Iran.

In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Najibeh Salehzadeh explained:

They told me that during a trip to France I had posted material on Facebook against the Islamic Republic and the supreme leader but I don’t have Facebook and I traveled to France to accompany my husband, who had been invited by a large labor organization in Europe.

Salehzadeh told the Campaign she was summoned to Branch 2 of the Prosecutor’s Office in Saqqez, a city in Iran’s Kurdistan Province, on June 6, 2016 and charged with “propaganda against the state” and “insulting the supreme leader.” Her trial is now awaiting verdict after appearing at Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in the city of Saqqez in Iran’s Kurdistan Province.

According to the indictment, a woman named “Sanaz” had posted two items on Facebook with Salehzadeh’s mobile phone number printed on the bottom of at least one of the postings, yet prosecutors have never shown Salehzadeh the “evidence.” The alleged postings were identified by Iran’s Cyber Crimes Police Force (FATA), which then opened the case against Salehzadeh.

“I said in court that it does not make sense for me to use a false name on Facebook and then give out my real phone number to the public,” she said.

Salehzadeh told the Campaign that many people came to know her cell phone number in 2007 when her husband was first detained and she gave interviews regarding his situation.

Salehzadeh’s husband, Mahmoud Salehi, is a prominent labor activist who has been arrested and imprisoned on a number of occasions in Iran for engaging in peaceful protest activities. On September 28, 2015 he was sentenced to nine years in prison for “participation in opposition assemblies and propaganda against the state.” He is currently free on bail and seeking medical treatment for kidney disease.

In a post on Facebook, Salehi insisted on staying away from Iranian politics.

The honorable case judge has said that my wife and I had spread propaganda against the Islamic Republic [while we were ] in France. For your information, the video recording of my speech to the representatives of 50 labor unions in France is available, and the honorable judge… can see clearly that the conference had nothing to do with the Islamic Republic or anyone’s sacred beliefs.

Independent unions are not allowed to function in Iran, workers are routinely fired and risk arrest for striking, and labor leaders are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.

by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran at August 25, 2016 05:51 PM

WikiLeaks: From Collateral Murder to Collateral Recklessness
Wikileaks Van on Capitol Hill

Image by WikiLeaks Mobile Information Collection Unit via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

When pro-transparency website WikiLeaks published over 61,000 documents from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they exposed communications and classified information providing valuable insight into the inner workings of Saudi foreign policy. They also published at least 124 private medical records and other information belonging to private citizens, according to an August 23 report by Associated Press.

Two of the medical reports named teenage rape victims. Another document exposed the identity of a Saudi citizen who was arrested for being gay, which AP called “an extraordinary move” for a country where gay people are routinely subject to social exclusion, imprisonment, torture and even death.

Many people immediately took to social media to voice their outrage. Joey Ayoub, Global Voices’ MENA Editor, wrote that for some people, the leaks could be a matter of life and death.

Historian and archeologist Sara E. Palmer called it doxxing, referring to the practice of publishing someone's personal information (such as address, phone number, state ID number) without their permission, often with a malicious intent.

WikiLeaks rose to fame in April 2010, when they released gun-sight footage of two US Apache helicopters in Baghdad from July 12, 2007 airstrike that killed around 12 people, including two Reuters journalists. The video was called “Collateral Murder“, and it instantly became front-page news, elevating WikiLeaks to international fame.

This penchant for exposing abuse of power, corruption and lack of transparency has earned WikiLeaks many supporters. In the past, representative of the organization emphasized their efforts to protect private citizens from undue harm that could result from such leaks.

“We have a harm minimization policy,” Assange said in a seminar in Oxford, in July 2010. “There are legitimate secrets. Your records with your doctor, that's a legitimate secret.”

But as the organization has faced increasing pressure, as well as increasing success, more examples have emerged demonstrating a disregard for the privacy of individuals who are not public figures.

On July 22, 2016, they published thousands emails from the servers of the Democratic National Committee in the US that revealed internal democratic party efforts to undermine the campaign of Bernie Sanders in favour of Hillary Clinton's campaign. However, they also included full names, addresses, phone numbers, passport details and social security numbers of a number of party donors. Two of the people named told AP that they were targeted by identity thieves in the aftermath of the leaks.

In another instance, WikiLeaks released hundreds of emails from Turkey's AKP party, the party of current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The emails were combed by Turkish journalists and activists, who found that they were largely devoid of any “newsworthy” information. Beyond this, Turkish new media scholar Zeynep Tufekci reported:

WikiLeaks also posted links on social media to its millions of followers via multiple channels to a set of leaked massive databases containing sensitive and private information of millions of ordinary people, including a special database of almost all adult women in Turkey.

It's also worth mentioning, as Global Voices Advox project reported last year, that at least some of WikiLeaks’ indiscriminate mass leaks have included malicious files that can put any viewer of the documents leaks at risk. Both the AKP leaks and the Hacking Team emails released in 2015 contained malicious software.

Human rights advocates have sought to hold WikiLeaks to account for these acts. Following the Afghan War Diary leak, Amnesty International and other human rights groups requested that WikiLeaks redact the names of Afghan civilians working as U.S. military informants from files they had released, in order to protect them from repercussions.

Assange's response to the human rights groups was, “I'm very busy and have no time to deal with people who prefer to do nothing but cover their asses.” As more and more people come under threat from Wikileaks’ policy of indiscriminate leaking, it remains unclear whether Assange could see the inherent hypocrisy in that statement. What is clear however, is that WikiLeaks no longer has the popular support it once had.

by Tara at August 25, 2016 01:24 PM

August 24, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Independent TV Station and Two Community Radio Stations Suspended Amid Disputed Elections in Zambia
Image of the press release from the Independent Broadcasting Authority announcing the suspension.

Image of the press release from the Independent Broadcasting Authority announcing the suspension.

Zambia's Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) has suspended the broadcasting licences of the country's biggest independent TV station as well as two radio stations for “unprofessional conduct posing a risk to national peace and stability” before, during and after the 2016 elections.

The broadcasting regulator justified its actions against Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Itezhi Tezhi Radio by pointing to section 29 (1)(j) of the IBA Amendment Act of 2010, which states that “the IBA board may cancel a broadcasting license if the cancellation of the license is necessary in the interest of public safety, security, peace, welfare or good order”.

Immediately after IBA issued a statement about the suspension, reports surfaced that officials from the Zambia Information and Communication Authority accompanied by police officers confiscated an analogue transmitter from Muvi TV.

Biased coverage by the country's public broadcaster, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, made Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Itezhi Tezhi Radio the main avenues for opposition politicians to communicate with voters.

Zambians voted in the general elections on August 11, 2016. The incumbent, Edgar Lungu, was announced the winner. However, the main opposition candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, has challenged the results in the Constitutional Court.

Media bodies such as Panos Institute Southern Africa, International Press Institute, MISA Zambia and the Media Liaison Committee have condemned the suspension.

As election day was approaching, The Post newspaper, Zambia's largest independent daily newspaper, saw their offices locked up and their printing equipment seized by the Zambia Revenue Authority because of outstanding taxes alleged to be at K68 million (US$6.1 million). The move was condemned by media organizations, activists and opposition politicians, who argued that the tax body was used to silence the paper during elections.

‘Close some, scare the rest’

On Twitter, Zambian human rights activist Laura Miti accused the government of trying to silence media coverage of Hichilema's petition against the election results:

Thandayo, a Zambian IT consultant, wondered about President-elect Edgar Lungu's motivations:

Some on Twitter defended Muvi TV, despite their personal distaste for the station's coverage.

Elias Munshya, a Zambian blogger and lawyer based in Canada, tweeted:

He added (GRZ stands for the “government of the Republic of Zambia”):

Twitter user Miles quipped:

‘Democracy isn't just voting’

@PackMuchi challenged the ruling party (PF) assertion that public broadcaster ZNBC is more professional than Muvi TV:

In an opinion piece on citizen media site Zambian Watchdog, David Kapoma made the case that Zambia “is slowly becoming a court room”:

We all must be careful when we speak out on issues of national interest. Those who transmit our views to the nation and the general public are the target at the moment. […]

We have since entered a different period in Zambia. Here it’s no mercy. You mess up with the authority, you face the consequences.

The controversial Zambian musician Pilato said the following on his Facebook page:

IBA may in their shallowest imagination think they are doing President Lungu a favor but in broader perspective they are killing his good name. Democracy isn't just voting, voting is just an event. President Lungu risks going down in history as being a low voltage dictator who shut down media institutions that chose to give platform to opposing views. IBA should be reminded that the same charges they laid against the private media institutions can also be laid against ZNBC and by every interpretation of the terms used, the public media institutions are guilty. With the closure of the key private media institutions, our country has become vulnerable to rumours, speculations and propaganda.

Chinganzule noted that the “crime” Muvi TV committed was to provide a counter-narrative to the ruling's party's election message:

Be honesty and real,what security breech has Muvi TV committed.All they have done is to counter the lope sided reporting of issues which is always inclined in favour of PF led tribalism campaign against [the opposition] UPND by state controlled media houses .People do you think all Zambians are gullible or blind to deduce the real situation here?

‘I thank the law for putting them in their rightful place’

Some Zambians, however, are in support of the IBA's decision.

Mpombo, for example, wanted the IBA to go further than simply suspending the stations:

But the IBA is also abrogating the same clause they’re quoting which says cancel not suspend Let them follow the act expenditiously if these idiots have abrogated it let their licences be cancelled go ahead & do it don’t apply the law half heartedly you may end up commiting a crime yourself the other word for cancel is ban or stop not suspend […].

Tonga said stations causing division in the country should be closed:


And Kazim thanked the IBA for the suspension:

This is a very welcome move by IBA I mean why should a few over zealous and overly ambitious idiots threaten the peace of our nation by airing some biased statements all for the sake of their personal gain.We are tired of this lunacy and I thank the law for putting them in their rightful place.

by Advox at August 24, 2016 03:02 PM

August 23, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
Supporting Feyisa Lilesa, a remarkable athlete and protester

At the end of the Rio Olympic men’s marathon, silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa did something extraordinary, important and dangerous. As he crossed the finish line, he crossed his wrists in front of his forehead in a gesture that’s halfway between “hands up, don’t shoot” and “X marks the spot.”

The gesture is sign of defiance that has become a symbol of Ethiopia’s Oromo rights movement. An unprecedented wave of protests in Ethiopia by Oromo and other ethnic rights groups is rocking Ethiopia, which is one of Africa’s most repressive states. By showing support for the protesters in his native Oromia, Lilesa has brought international attention to a movement that’s been violently suppressed by the government, with over 400 civilians killed.

He has also put himself and his family at risk. Defiance of the Ethiopian government can lead to imprisonment or to death. Ethiopian colleagues of mine at Global Voices served eighteen months in prison for the “crime” of learning about digital security, so they could continue to write online about events in their country. Fearing arrest or worse, Lilesa has decided to remain in Brazil, and may seek asylum there or in the US. A GoFundMe campaign has raised almost $100,000 to contribute to his legal and living expenses. But the real challenge may be reuniting Lilesa with his wife and children, who remain in Ethiopia.

The Olympics have an uneasy relationship with protest. While states threaten boycotts of each others’ games – and occasionally follow through on those threats – athletes who bring politics into the arena have been sharply sanctioned. When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute after winning gold and bronze in the 200 meters in 1968, both were suspended from the US Olympic team, expelled from the Olympic village and sent home. (Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist, who supported their gesture and wore a Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity, was not sanctioned, but was shunned by his country’s Olympic committee and never raced again.) While the Olympic movement does not appear to be taking action against Lilesa, unfortunately, that’s likely the least of his problems.

I wrote two weeks ago about my fears that attention to the Olympics and the endless US political campaign would distract people from these protests in Ethiopia. I argued that international attention may help protect the lives of Ethiopian activists, as the government will be forced to face the consequences of how they treat their dissenting citizens. Lilesa has helped ensure that the Olympics would include a healthy dose of Oromo rights. Now it’s time to do our part and ensure that Lilesa and his family don’t pay for his actions with their lives.

I gave to support Feyisa Lilesa’s relocation fund, and encourage you to do so as well. Here’s hoping he can return home someday soon to an Ethiopia that makes space for dissent. Unfortunately, that’s not the Ethiopia the world has now.

by Ethan at August 23, 2016 06:58 PM

August 22, 2016

Joi Ito
The Fintech Bubble

Leafy bubble
Photo by Martin Thomas via Flickr - CC-BY

In 2015, I wrote a blog post about how I thought that Bitcoin was similar in many ways to the Internet. The metaphor that I used was that Bitcoin was like email - the first killer app - and that the Bitcoin Blockchain was like The Internet - the infrastructure that was deployed to support it but that could be used for so many other things. I suggested that The Blockchain was to finance and law what the Internet was to media and advertising.

I still believe it is true, but the industry is out over its skis. Over a billion dollars have been invested in Bitcoin and Fintech startups, tracking and exceeding investment in Internet investments in 1996. Looking at many of the businesses, they look like startups during that period, but instead of, we have blockchain for X. I don't think today's blockchain is the Internet in 1996 - it's probably more like the Internet in 1990 or the late 80's - we haven't agreed on the IP protocol and there is no Cisco or PSINet. Many of the application layer companies are building on an infrastructure that isn't ready from a stability or a scalability perspective and they are either bad idea or good idea too early. Also, very few people actually understand the necessary combination of cryptography, security, finance and computer science to design these systems. Those that do are part of a very small community and there are not enough to go around to support the $1bn castle we are building on this immature infrastructure. Lastly, unlike content on the Internet, the assets that the blockchain will be moving around and the irreversibility of many of the elements do not lend the blockchain to the same level agile software development - throw stuff out and see what sticks - that we can do for web apps and services.

There are startups and academics working on these basic layers, but I wish there were more. I have a feeling that we might be in a bit of a bubble and that bubble might pop or have a correction, but in the long run, hopefully we'll figure out the infrastructure and will be able to build something decentralized and open. Maybe a bubble pop will get rid of some of the noise from the system and let us focus like the first dot-com bust did for the Internet. On the other hand, we could end up with a crappy architecture and a bunch of fintech apps that don't really do much more than make existing things more efficient. We are at an important moment where decisions will be made about whether everyone will trust a truly decentralized system and where irresponsible deployments could scare people away. I think that as a community we need to increase our collaboration and diligently eliminate bugs and bad designs without slowing down innovation and research.

Instead of building apps, we need to be building the infrastructure. It's unclear whether we will end up with some version of Bitcoin becoming "The Internet" or whether some other project like Ethereum becomes the single standard. It's also possible that we end up with a variety of different systems that somehow interoperate. The worst case would be that we focus so much on the applications that we ignore the infrastructure, miss out on the opportunity to build a truly decentralized system, and end up with a system that resembles mobile Internet instead of wired Internet - one controlled by monopolies that charge you by the megabyte and have impossibly expensive roaming fees versus the flat fee and reasonable cost of wired Internet in most places.

There are many pieces to the infrastructure that need to be designed and tested. There are many ideas for different consensus protocols - the way in which a particular blockchain makes their public ledger tamper proof and secure. Then there are arguments about how much scriptability should be built into the blockchain itself versus on a layer above it - there are good arguments on either side of the argument. There is also the issue of privacy and anonymity versus identity and regulatory controls.

It looks like the Bitcoin Core developer team is making headway on Segregated Witness which should address many concerns including some of the scaling issues that people have had. On the other hand, it looks like Ethereum which has less history but a powerful and easier to use scripting / programing system is getting a lot of traction and interest from people trying to design new uses for the blockchain. Other projects like Hyperledger are designing their own blockchain systems as well as code that is blockchain agnostic.

The Internet works because we have clear layers of open standards. TCP/IP, for instance, won over ATM - a competing standard in some ways - because it turned out that the end-to-end principle where the core of the network was super-simple and "dumb" allowed the edges of the network to be very innovative. It took awhile for the battle between the standards to play out to the point where TCP/IP was the clear winner. A lot of investment in ATM driven technology ended up being wasted. The problem with the blockchain is that we don't even know where the layers should be and how we will manage the process of agreeing on the standards.

The (Ethereum) Decentralized Autonomous Organization project or "The DAO" is one of the more concerning projects I see right now.* The idea is to create "entities" that are written in code on Ethereum. These entities can sell units similar to shares in a company and invest and spend the money and operate much like a fund or a corporation. Investors would look at the code and determine whether they thought the entity made sense and they would buy tokens hoping for a return. This sounds like something from a science fiction novel and we all dreamed about these sorts of things when, as cypherpunks in the early 90's, we dared to dream on mailing lists and hacker meetups. The problem is, The DAO has attracted over $150M in investors and is "real," but is built on top of Ethereum which hasn't been tested as much as Bitcoin and is still working out its consensus protocol even considering a completely new consensus protocol for their next version.

It appears that The DAO hasn't been fully described legally and may expose its investors to liabilities as partners in a partnership. Unlike contracts written by lawyers in English, if you screw up the code of a DAO, it's unclear how you could change it easily. Courts can deal with mistakes in contract language by trying to determine the intent, but in code enforced by distributed consensus rules, there is no such mechanism. Also, code can be attacked by malicious code and there is a risk that a bug could create vulnerabilities. Recently, Dino Mark, Vlad Zamfir, and Emin Gün Sirer - key developers and researchers - published "A Call for a Temporary Moratorium on The DAO" describing vulnerabilities in The DAO. I fear that The DAO also raises the red flags for a variety of regulators that we probably don't want at the table right now. The DAO could be the Mt. Gox for Ethereum - a project whose failure may cause many people to lose their money and cause the public and regulators to try to slam the brakes on blockchain development.

Regardless of whether I rain on the parade, I'm sure that startups and investors in this space will continue to barrel forward, but I believe that as many of us as possible should focus on the infrastructure and the opportunities at the lowest layers of this stack we are trying to build. I think that getting the consensus protocol right, trying to figure out how to keep things decentralized, how to deal with the privacy issues without causing over-regulation, how we might completely reinvent the nature of money and accounting - these are the things that are exciting and important to me.

I believe there are some exciting areas for businesses to begin working and exploring practical applications - securitization of things that currently have a market failure such as solar panels in developing countries, or applications where there are standardized systems because of the lack of trust creates a very inefficient market such as trade finance.

Central banks and governments have begun to exploring innovations as well. The Singapore government is considering issuing government bonds on a blockchain. Some papers have imagined central banks taking deposits and issuing digital cash directly to individuals. Some regulators have begun to plan sandboxes to allow people to innovate and test ideas in regulatory safety zones. It is ironically possible that some of the more interesting innovations may come from experiments by governments despite the initial design of Bitcoin having been to avoid governments. Having said that, it's quite likely that governments will be more likely to hinder rather than help the development of a robust decentralized architecture.

* Just a few days after this post, The DAO was "attacked" as I feared. Here's an interesting post by the alleged "attacker". Reddit quickly determined that the signature in that post wasn't valid. And another post by the alleged attacker that they're bribing the miners not to fork. Whether these are actually the attacker or epic trolls, very interesting arguments.

by Joi at August 22, 2016 08:08 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
In India, a Nationalistic ‘Witch Hunt’ Targets Journalists Who Exposed #BabyLift Trafficking Operation
Screenshot from Outlook Magazine

Screenshot from Outlook magazine

Journalistic exposé Operation #BabyLift, a groundbreaking investigative piece about child trafficking by the Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS) in India, was published by Outlook magazine on July 29, 2016. The 11,000-word article, which went viral, explores how Operation #BabyLift broke Indian and international laws by trafficking 31 girls — between three and 11 years of age — from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat in order to ‘Hinduise’ them.

What happened next was quite extraordinary. The journalists who broke the story have since become the target of an investigation, with an onslaught of vilification, defamation and threats being hurled against them.

A criminal complaint for inciting hate against different ethnic groups has been lodged against an independent Indian journalist, Neha Dixit, as well as Indranil Roy and Krishna Prasad, the publisher and editor of Outlook magazine. The complainants are Subhash Chandra Kayal, an assistant solicitor general of the government of India at the Gauhati High Court, and Bijon Mahajan, a spokesman for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is a political offshoot of the right-wing RSS.

Now, instead of a follow-up on the trafficking issue, Dixit and Outlook magazine are being trolled and their patriotism and journalistic ethics are being called into question. Neha Dixit has been intimidated online and there is a fake Facebook account in her name.

Journalist Neha Dixit's fake profile on Facebook

Journalist Neha Dixit's fake profile on Facebook

Pictures of Dixit's husband are also being shared; he is being labelled as a Naxalite, a member of a violent guerrilla group in India.

Free speech under Indian law

The complaint against Dixit and Outlook was lodged under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, whereby it is an offence to promote disharmony and enmity between different ethnic groups. This section has been used against renowned literary figures, artists and freethinkers such as Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses, which is banned in India; M.F. Hussain, a Muslim painter who liberally drew on Indian mythology and in 2006 was booked for her painting of a nude Hindu goddess; and Indologist Wendy Donegar for her critical historical work The Hindus: An Alternative History. In Donegar's case, Penguin had an out-of-court settlement, and the book, though not banned, was voluntarily recalled from India by the publisher.

The Delhi Union of Journalists and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have both condemned this “witch hunt” against the reporters. A group of like-minded journalists, activists and academics have also issued a statement to condemn the attacks on Dixit and Outlook magazine:

Journalists are particularly vulnerable, as their investigative reports that reveal RSS organizations’ strategies to attack minorities, Hinduise tribals and created hatred between communities, are themselves targeted as ‘inciting communal hatred’.

Rebuttal published, editor fired

The RSS issued a press release denying these accusations. It called the Outlook article “baseless” and said it was “defaming the organisation”. A rebuttal to Dixit's piece, also published in Outlook and entitled ‘Conjured Crime’, was written by Monika Arora, a supreme court advocate and a member of RSS:

None of these Indian and international guidelines are violated by RSS outfits. The parents have given their consent to the RSS outfits to take their children for education – then how on earth are the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 or other laws are applicable in this case?

A few days after publishing the rebuttal, the news magazine fired its editor, Krishna Prasad, sharing the news with employees through an email. Earlier, Prasad reacted to the First Information Report (FIR) lodged against him and told media watch website The Hoot:

Threats against journalists may be an occupational hazard but what we are seeing today is a more serious attempt to shoot the messenger. The country is fast hurtling down a fascist mode and this fiction of public narrative of demonizing journalists is dangerous for free speech.

There were instant reactions on Twitter:

‘This climate of impunity and fear will lead to greater self-censorship’

Veteran journalist Pamela Philipose — senior fellow with the Indian Council of Social Science Research, recently appointed public editor for news site The Wire and former director and editor-in-chief at the Women’s Feature Service — shared her perspective about the removal of Outlook's editor and the pressure on Indian media houses and journalists:

This climate of impunity and fear will lead to greater self-censorship on the part of individual journalists and enormous pressure being brought to bear on managements to clamp down on independent reportage. For instance, while it was claimed that the change of the editor-in-chief at Outlook was a decision that had already been taken, the timing of the announcement clearly indicates an anxiety on the part of the management to appease the powers-that-be.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International is also facing sedition charges in India over holding an event about Kashmir — territory in the north of the country where dozens have been killed by Indian security forces recently while protesting the death of a separatist leader. The group's India office, which is at present closed because of security concerns, was attacked by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) workers armed with petrol can bottles. ABVP is a nationalist student organisation affiliated with the RSS.

Kuldip Kumar, an Indian journalist, suggested that the country has “reached a stage where a Hindu’s nationalism is never in doubt even if he debunks the Constitution, glorifies Gandhi’s assassin and mourns India’s independence; but the nationalism of Muslims and Christians is always suspect”. In a recent article, he deconstructed the influence that the RSS is enjoying under the current BJP administration:

The RSS is enjoying political power and the BJP, its subsidiary, enjoys a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha [lower house of Indian parliament] – it is in power in as many as eight states. This power has rekindled the RSS’s dreams and aspirations, although even now it knows that refashioning India into a Hindu nation is not such an easy task.

The case of Indian secularism and free speech is not clear. According to its constitution, the country is a secular republic with freedom of expression, but the same constitution also prohibits anything that hurts religious or ethnic sensitivities. There are many journalists, artists and authors who are suffering for asking critical questions about free speech. Is the space for liberal free thinkers in India shrinking?

by Annie Zaman at August 22, 2016 12:33 PM

August 18, 2016

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