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February 27 2014

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February 14 2014

Venezuela: Protests Leave Three Dead as Threats to Media Escalate

Estudiante protestando el 12 de febrero, 2014. Foto de Carlos Becerra, copyright Demotix.

Student protesting on February 12th, 2014. Photo by Carlos Becerra, copyright Demotix.

[All links lead to Spanish language pages, unless otherwise noted]

Yesterday Venezuela saw a wave of protests [en] in the streets of its major cities. The citizens, mainly university students, took to the streets to demand that the authorities release a group of young people who had been arrested in previous demonstrations. They also demanded improvements in food supply (food shortages [en] are around 27%) and public safety.

The march, which aimed to reach the federal prosecutor's office, was organized mainly by opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The protest unfolded peacefully until the demonstrators neared the center of Caracas, where a group of riot police and members of armed security forces, hooded and on motorcycles, had taken control of the zone. The majority of the protesters left the area, but a small group remained and clashed with the security forces.

The confrontations in the center of Caracas resulted in two fatalities: a student and a member of a collective. Users uploaded videos of the moment when Bassil Alejandro Da Costa Frías was hit by a bullet and killed.

The protests spread to the east of the city, and during the night, another student was killed. The day ended with a toll of three deaths and dozens of people injured and arrested.

 

Jóvenes protestando en Caracas el 12 de febrero, 2014. Foto de Carlos Becerra, copyright Demotix.

Young people protesting in Caracas on February 12th, 2014. Photo by Carlos Becerra, copyright Demotix.

During the events, including the march and the ensuing violence, Venezuelan media continued to air their regular programming, after authorities threatened [en] to sanction any media that covered the protests. Those who sought information about what was happening had to tune in to the cable news channel NTN24.

In reaction to these events, Hilda Lugo Conde posted on Facebook:

Mientras se reportan heridos graves y hasta un muerto según la agencia Reuters en la marcha de hoy en Caracas, esto es lo que se ve en las pantallas de televisión de señal abierta en el país en este momento:
1- Venevisión: telenovela En nombre del amor
2- Globovisión: las películas más taquilleras en Estados Unidos este fin de semana según NTN24
3- Canal I: Mundo Fitness
4- VTV: Diosdado Cabello en la sesión especial de la Asamblea Nacional por los 200 años de la Batalla de la Victoria
5- Televen: telenovela Las Santísimas
6- La Tele: telenovela Cada quien a su santo
7- Tves: Pocoyo

Y la radio, también, en su mundo paralelo. Ese que impone la censura, la autocensura…

While the agency Reuters is reporting serious injuries and even a death during the march today in Caracas, this is what is being seen on open-signal television in the country right now:
1. Venevisión: Soap opera “En nombre del amor”
2- Globovisión: The highest-grossing movies in the United States this weekend, according to NTN24
3- Canal I: Mundo Fitness [Fitness World]
4- VTV: Diosdado Cabello in the special session of the National Assembly for the 200-year anniversary of La Batalla de La Victoria
5- Televen: Soap opera “Las Santísimas”
6- La Tele: Soap opera “Cada quien a su santo”
7- Tves: Pocoyo
And the radio, too, exists in a parallel universe. One that is under censorship, self-censorship…

In the afternoon, journalists of the news channel NTN24 condemned the fact that the government had pressured subscription television companies to remove NTN24 from their selection of channels. Minutes later, the complaint had become reality, and Venezuelans could see the channel only via internet.

Fran Monroy posted on Twitter:

At 6:17 PM Caracas time, the signal for NTN24 went dead on MovistarVe.

Rodrigo Blanco posted an alert about the situation:

To our friends outside of Venezuela: two students killed and information blackout by the government. Police are repressing.

Estudiantes protestando en Caracas. Foto de Juan Hernandez, copyright Demotix.

Students protesting in Caracas. Photo by Juan Hernandez, copyright Demotix.

 

Daniel Prat questioned the state of democracy in the country after what took place in the capital:

Don't protest, because I'll shoot you. Don't make demands, because I'll take you prisoner. Don't inform, because I'll take you off the air. Nice democracy, right?

However, Gabriel Lopez expressed his disagreement with the protests proposed by Leopoldo Lopez and marked by the hashtag #LaSalida:

“La salida” [The Exit] that some people are proposing is undemocratic. There are loopholes and ways to “exit” the government, including a recall referendum. Not by force.

The night ended with a national parade where President Nicolas Maduro celebrated Youth Day and the bicentennial of La Batalla de la Victoria.

Furthermore, a judge issued an arrest warrant for Leopoldo Lopez. This morning, the office of his party, Voluntad Popular, was searched.

The protests have not stopped.

The Facebook page Rebelión 2014 is collecting reports and photos (unverified) of the current protests.

February 13 2014

Web We Want Contest: Cartoonists Fight Back!

Anti-surveillance comic by Francisco

Anti-surveillance comic by Francisco “Fankiniano” Cardozo via Flickr (CC BY 4.0)

This post originally appeared on the World Wide Web Foundation blog.

A week ago, the Web We Want initiative challenged artists everywhere to produce cartoons on the topic of NSA surveillance, in support of #TheDayWeFightBack. We received more than 70 submissions from all over the world, and today we’re announcing the winners, as judged by the Web We Want team.  All submissions can be viewed on our Flickr photo stream here.

In first place, receiving a $1000 prize, is Francisco Javier “Frankiano” Cardozo Baudry. He is just 17 years old, a true digital native from Asunción, Paraguay. His contribution “Do Not Fear, I care about you” (above) shows how surveillance is invading each and every moment in the daily life of a young person these days. The PDF of this multi-frame cartoon can be downloaded here. We will ask him to make editable versions available so activists all over the world can easily translate, adapt and use his amazing material.

Anti-surveillance cartoon by Carlos Latuff via Flickr (CC BY 4.0)

Anti-surveillance cartoon by Carlos Latuff via Flickr (CC BY 4.0)

Second place goes to cartoonist Carlos Latuff from Brazil, who produced a piece (right) representing a single national leader monitoring the communications of the entire world. Third place goes to American cartoonist Jimmy Margulies, whose work highlighted wiretapping of foreign leaders.

A video (below) submitted by digital rights group Red PaTodos in Colombia deserves an honorary mention and we encourage them to upload it in a collaborative platform such as DotSub, including its script, so others can translate and add subtitles to it. It neatly explains current threats and challenges to online privacy.

The cartoons produced by activists and artists from different countries and contexts show a common pattern: They acknowledge the invasion of their private space, private life and daily activities by those in power. Intelligence agencies are pictured as dark forces by many of the authors and US President Obama is the main character in several submissions. The computer was not shown as the sole method of surveillance – there were also submissions related to telephone surveillance and CCTV cameras, parents spying on children, the military spying on users, physical surveillance and also the role of private corporations that use data collection and consumers habits as business models. One explained in simple terms what the NSA is currently doing, while others show how we interact and watch via our devices.

All the cartoons are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 License which will allow each and every activist, journalist, school teacher and creative around the world to use them, adapt them, modify them and remix them, keeping the content open.

The Web We Want promotes and defends the protection of personal user information and the right to communicate in private. Expect more soon!

 

Renata Avila is the campaign manager for the Web We Want.

February 12 2014

Venezuela: Authorities Threaten to Fine Media Outlets for Protest Coverage

[All links lead to Spanish-language sites unless otherwise noted.]

Yesterday, Venezuelan authorities threatened media outlets covering a spate of public protests over the controversial detention of a group of university students.

A poster depicting the conflict between free expression and media regulation in Venezuela, at a 2007 student demonstration. Photo by Luis Carlos Diaz via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A poster depicting the conflict between free expression and media regulation in Venezuela, at a 2007 student demonstration. Photo by Luis Carlos Diaz via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

William Castillo, head of the Venezuelan Telecommunications Commission, CONATEL, declared on Thursday, February 11 that “the media coverage of the regrettable acts of violence perpetrated in some parts of the country could be considered a violation of Article 27 of the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media [en] which clearly prohibits the dissemination of media containing hate speech and violence, [and those] calling to ignore the authorities and disturb public order.”

For weeks, demonstrations targeting issues ranging from political reform to poor conditions in university housing facilities have been under way in several cities. Protests intensified last week after several students were detained on accusations “association to commit a crime,” amongst other charges, during a demonstration in the city of San Cristóbal. The students remain behind bars. A series of photos from recent protests can be found on Últimas Noticias.

In the midst of a newsprint crisis that has caused nine newspapers to close and more than twenty to reduce their page counts, and while national television channels are submitted to strict content regulations, hardened even more in recent weeks by President Nicolas Maduro and his so-called “war on sensationalism”, digital media has proved vital in covering news that has is no longer covered by traditional media. Today, as opposition leaders summon rallies around the country, people are expected to turn to social media to learn about the development of the demonstrations, which likely will not be reported on any public or mainstream news platforms.

February 11 2014

February 11: Activists Say No to “Cyber Martial Law”, Digital Surveillance in Philippines

“Our fight against Cybercrime Law is not yet over. The Supreme Court still has not decided on its constitutionality or unconstitutionality and while we are waiting for a decision, we will continue fighting for our right to privacy and right to freedom of expression.”

Netizens and activist groups in the Philippines put out the statement of  on February 11 as part of the global action against mass surveillance. They added that the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or Republic Act 10175, whose constitutionality is being questioned in the Supreme Court, can be used as a tool to justify mass surveillance in society:

The Cybercrime Law, once declared to be implemented, will become a tool for the Philippine government’s mass surveillance. As defenders of Internet freedom, we will be one with the world in the global protest.

The law was questioned a month after its signing in 2012 by media groups and citizens alarmed by provisions in the bill that would seriously undermine human rights and media freedom in the country. They questioned the insertion of provisions on libel and the delegation of power to the government to take down websites and restrict access to computer data systems suspected of violating the law. The bill's restrictions on freedom of expression inspired netizens to give the bill the nickname “cyber martial law.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order which prevented the government from implementing the law. But the high court is expected to finally deliberate and decide on the petition before the end of February. This has emboldened netizen groups to launch a series of activities aimed at pressuring the court to junk the “draconian” law.

Below are some photos of the February 11 protest in front of the Supreme Court:

But supporters of the controversial law are urging the lifting of the restraining order so that it can be used to combat serious cybercrimes, especially child pornography.

A flurry of news stories about the proliferation of child pornography in the Philippines suddenly appeared in the face of the controversy. It is unclear whether or not this is by coincidence.

Police claimed that they can nab cyber child porn syndicates if the restraining order on the law is lifted. The president’s spokesman and some senators supported this position.

But the anti-cybercrime law is in fact not needed to arrest child pornography site operators — ample existing legislation can do the job. Authorities can invoke the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, and most importantly the Anti-Child Pornography Act to swiftly act against suspected criminals.

Apart from reminding Philippine officials that they can maximize the provisions of the anti-child porn law to combat online sexual content involving children, journalist Raïssa Robles warned against the dangers of the anti-cybercrime law

I cannot stress enough the dangers of the Cybercrime Law. Its atrocious lack of safeguards can easily enable rogue cops and government officials to commit crimes of extortion and blackmail using the digital highway.

Poverty eradication is the best solution to child pornography, according to the Manila Times:

…online child pornography is a byproduct of poverty. It is a problem that needs a total government approach. Our officials should find ways of helping the families that have been caught in the web of child pornography get out and rebuild their lives.

Instead of pushing for the implementation of a notorious law, the Philippine government should consider asking Congress to draft a new bill that would address growing cyber security threats without violating the human rights of individuals.

Brazilian Activists Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance

As the world comes together to take a stand against mass surveillance on February 11, 2014, Brazilian citizens, organizations and collectives are bringing momentum to #TheDayWeFightBack campaign.

Anti-surveillance collective Antivigilancia.tk (@antivigilancia on Twitter), one of the 15 Brazilian signatories of the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, has a website with complete information in Portuguese on how to participate in #TheDayWeFightBack, as well as several resources for the day of action, such as banners and memes.

Cartoon by Latuff with D'Incao (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

Cartoon by Latuff with D'Incao (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

Well-known Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff took on the challenge launched by Web We Want early in February to create original visual works on digital surveillance and the right to privacy.

Cartoon by Latuff with Operamundi (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

Cartoon by Latuff with Operamundi (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

On Twitter, many Brazilians are linking the day of action with the country's pioneer bill of rights for Internet users, the “Marco Civil da Internet” (Civil Framework for the Internet), which will be brought to the floor in a plenary session [pt] in the House of Representatives today. A group of civil society organizations is expected to meet the Minister of Justice [pt] to voice “serious concerns” regarding the latest modifications to the bill, especially with respect to “the right to the inviolability and secrecy of the flow and content of private communications, the right to privacy and freedom of expression.”

Cartoon by Latuff with Operamundi (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

Cartoon by Latuff with Operamundi (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

 All submissions to the Web We Want contest are available on Flickr.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Privacy vs. Free Speech? Questioning the Conflict

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

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

“Censorship doesn't matter, surveillance is the real problem.” This was the subject of a panel at the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting held in Amman, in January 2014 – it was one of the most exciting panels I have ever been on. I argued against this proposition, countering that censorship does matter and will continue to matter because it violates our fundamental right to free speech. But I also noted that surveillance violates another fundamental human right – the right to privacy.

Throughout my years as a journalist, media researcher and activist, I have seen many colleagues envision a dichotomy between privacy and free speech. But this can often lead to a dead end. These values can and should often co-exist without the need for one to cancel out the other. But occasionally these rights can come into conflict with one another.

Privacy and free speech are merely two of many other universal human rights, which also include the right to education, right to security, right to peace, right to religious practice, etc.

A typical example is the sensationalist news stories where paparazzi abuse their right to speech by publishing nude photos of politicians in their own bedrooms. In this case, the right of privacy is violated by the exercise of free speech. Similarly, it could be argued that the right of free speech has been trumped by the protection of privacy (and security) as demonstrated by the hiding of key information about the NSA surveillance program – information considered a state secret for its alleged role in protecting national security.

But most frequently I find that surveillance ends up becoming a form of censorship. When CCTV cameras are used to monitor user online activities at Internet cafes, users may censor themselves just to ensure they don’t get in trouble. This breach of their privacy stands in direct violation of their right to speak freely.

To me, nothing was more devastating than having the right to express my views taken away from me. It happened when my website YemenPortal.net was censored by the Yemeni authorities in 2008. It was an awful feeling of deprivation of one of my basic rights. I knew that I was only one of millions in Yemen and the Arab world whose right to free speech have been violated through censorship.

For those living in Western societies where free speech is protected with constitutional guarantees that largely prevent laws abridging free speech, censorship is not that common and so surveillance may be a priority. But for us in the Arab world, I believe we are still struggling to have our voices heard. I cannot accept the idea that the fight has now moved to the area of surveillance and away from free speech. While this may be the case where censorship is limited or non-existent, it is certainly not applicable to many countries living under authoritarian rule.

Privacy and free speech are merely two of many other universal human rights, which also include the right to education, right to security, right to peace, right to religious freedom. If we look back in history, we find that most of the time, the right to free speech preceded the right to privacy. As social animals, humans have depended on their need to communicate and open up to each other to survive and prosper. While the urge to communicate and exchange thoughts has been with us for an awfully long time, the need to have privacy is relatively new. But indeed, it has become increasingly accepted with the growth in populations.

It is unnatural for someone to prefer being in total privacy over being able to speak freely. The notion that free speech is not important as long as privacy is protected is unjustifiable.  After all, in a prison cell somewhere in a deserted area, I have all the privacy I need, but I cannot reach the world to say what I want. We were born free with a desire to speak out freely to express our grievances, needs and desires.

The importance of privacy for both Arab activists and citizens alike ought to be recognized. However, protecting privacy using a purely technologically-driven approach through the use of anonymizing tools such as Tor is not enough. Technology will not solve a problem so entrenched and complex such as surveillance and a technologically deterministic stance in that respect is not helpful – after all, in Arab countries (and many other parts of the world) surveillance is as prevalent in real life as it is online.

Protecting free speech and privacy requires more than microprocessors – it requires humans willing to rise up and change government policies, practices, misguided cultural beliefs, and other more deeply-rooted problems. One should take a more comprehensive approach where free speech and privacy –along with the other fundamental rights – need to be addressed, without comprising one for the other. I know that only by recognizing the complexity of the problem can we rise to the occasion and solve it.

 

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 10 2014

The Day We Fight Back, à la Française

banner-2b-fr

The Day We Fight Back banner, French translation. Graphic by Alec Perkins via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-4.0)

Since 2004, February 11 has been the worldwide “Day for a Safer Internet”, mainly focusing on safe web browsing for children and young people. A French website was set up for the occasion. But for online activists all over the world, the meaning of the day is about to change. This February 11, digital activists around the world will commemorate the life of Aaron Swartz and come together in a campaign against mass surveillance. This February 11 is “The Day We Fight Back“.

France is among those countries that have been more closely and overtly affected by mass Internet surveillance. After Edward Snowden's leaks became public, France's own practices of Internet surveillance soon appeared in plain sight. And in December 2013, the vote of the French Military Planning Act began to sound very much like a French version of the NSA – comprehensive description here [fr] – ringing alarms among activists in France and the world over [fr]. As explained by online NTIC magazine Numerama.com [fr]:

Depuis que la surveillance globale mise en œuvre par la NSA a été révélée par Edward Snowden, de multiples initiatives ont vu le jour pour s'y opposer. Cependant, aucune d'entre elles n'a eu pour l'instant un impact décisif. Certes, la bronca mondiale contre l'espionnage des communications a poussé Washington à initier une timide réforme de leurs pratiques, mais celles-ci n'ont pas été fondamentalement remises en cause.

Qu'à cela ne tienne. Puisque les précédentes approches n'ont pas abouti à un encadrement plus strict des activités des agences de renseignement, autant en essayer de nouvelles. C'est ainsi qu'est né le mouvement “The Day We Fight Back” (“le jour où nous contre-attaquons”), dont Presse-Citron vient de s'en faire l'écho. Il s'agit en fait de reproduire la même stratégie que celle qui a permis de faire reculer PIPA et SOPA.

Since the NSA-enforced global surveillance was disclosed by Edward Snowden, numerous initiatives emerged to confront it. However, none of them have had a significant impact thus far. Indeed, the global outcry against communications surveillance drove the US to initiate a feeble change of their practices, without wholly reconsidering them.

But never mind. As former approaches could not result in a more stringent control over intelligence agencies, let's try new ones. This is how the campaign “The Day We Fight Back” was launched, as echoed by Presse-Citron. The idea is to copy the same strategy as the one that helped defeat PIPA and SOPA.

La Quadrature du Net (@laquadrature on Twitter), the organization spearheading the fight for online freedoms in France, is leading the campaign. On January 31, 2014, they launched a crowdfunding campaign “to support the making of the upcoming animation movie about privacy, mass surveillance, and the urgency to rethink our relationship with technology.” The movie, entitled “Reclaim our privacy!” seeks donations [fr] via the crowdfunding website Ulule. La Quadrature du Net has also set up a NSA observer page, describing 71 programs, 35 “attack vectors” and 6 departments of the sprawling, opaque agency.

Change your profile photo, Share a photo on Facebook. Source: Presse-Citron

Change your profile photo, Share a photo on Facebook. Source: Presse-Citron

Framablog explains the actions [fr] planned on Feb. 11:

Le jour J, le collectif et les activistes qu’ils représentent téléphoneront et enverront des mails aux députés. Les propriétaires de sites web mettront en place des bannières pour encourager leurs visiteurs à combattre la surveillance et les employés d’entreprises technologiques demanderont que leur organisation fasse de même. Il sera demandé aux usagers d’Internet de créer des ”mèmes’’ et de changer leurs avatars sur les médias sociaux pour refléter leur demande.

On D-Day, the group and their activists will send phone calls and e-mails to MPs. The owners of websites will set up banners to encourage visitors to fight against surveillance, and the employees of tech businesses will ask their entity to do the same. Users will be invited to create memes and change their avatars on social medias to make their demand visible.

The call was passed on by activist Mohamed Sangare on his Mediapart blog.

Any individual concerned about mass government surveillance will be encouraged to call and email MPs and to sign the Thirteen Principles on Communications Surveillance, a set of principles for a privacy-protective digital world, developed by a coalition of activists and civil society experts on human rights law. A French translation of the principles can be found here.

February 11: The Internet Says No to Mass Surveillance

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

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

Nigeria's new cyber crime law may fight financial fraud — but it could also gag critics. Authorities in Argentina are collecting data that maps citizens' DNA, their iris information, and the way they walk. Activists in Tunisia fear that the country's new Technical Telecommunication Agency may ring in a new era of mass surveillance.

There's no question about it: Mass government surveillance is a global problem.

On February 11, individuals, civil society organizations, and thousands of websites will come together to take a stand against mass surveillance. Anyone, anywhere can participate — whether you're taking to the streets, or to the Web.

Mass surveillance programs violate our right to privacy and infringe on our rights to freedom of expression and association. They harm the freedom and openness of the global internet, and go against democratic values. The documents leaked by Edward Snowden last June exposed dozens of wide-ranging intelligence collection programs and sent shock waves around the globe. But while the Snowden leaks brought to light some of the most egregious violations of privacy by the US government, they also brought new energy to debates about surveillance and privacy happening all over the world, like the ones mentioned above.

Want to get involved? Here are some ways to do it:

JOIN THE ACTION

Groups in countries all over the world are staging protests, hosting hackathons, and pushing online campaigns. Find out what's happening near you:

Argentina • Australia • Austria • Brasil • Canada • Colombia • Deutschland • France

India • Mexico • Nederland • Peru • Polska • Србија • ประเทศไทย • Uganda

United Kingdom • United States

Don't see your country here? Use materials here and on partner sites to source your own campaign! Read Global Voices’ community posts about surveillance around the world on our surveillance page.

 

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT

Show solidarity with the February 11 campaign! Post a banner on your website. Share the message — or a super cool cartoon (like the ones seen here) — on social media.

The Day We Fight Back banner, by Alec Perkins via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-4.0)

The Day We Fight Back banner, by Alec Perkins via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-4.0)

Screen shot 2014-02-09 at 10.05.22 PM

Cartoon by Xpectro & Web We Want via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

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

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

SAY “YES” TO THE GLOBAL PRINCIPLES ON COMMUNICATIONS SURVEILLANCE

Sign on to the Thirteen Principles on International Communications Surveillance, developed by human rights experts from around the world. These Principles are the backbone of global civil society efforts to protect privacy rights for the digital citizen: A clear set of guidelines that establish the human rights obligations of governments when it comes to surveillance.

Read and sign the principles in any of the following languages:

Русский • Español • Hrvatski • Македонски • Shqip • Polski • Čeština • Svenska • Nederlands

Français • हिन्दी •  العربية • Italiano • Ελληνικά • Română • Slovenčina • Eesti • Slovenščina • Dansk

Magyar • Suomi • Deutsch • فارسی • Български • Latviešu • Lietuvių • Português • Quechua

繁體中文 • Tiếng Việt • 한국어 • Українська • ภาษาไทย • اردو

Show your support for the principles with a banner or badge.

February 08 2014

Some Kazakh Bloggers Dine With Mayor, Some Get Jail Terms

alm

Almaty Mayor and selected Kazakh bloggers, February 5, 2014. Image by @evlaman, used with permission.

A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced three bloggers to 10 days in jail on “minor hooliganism” charges. Nurali Aitelenov, Rinat Kibraev, and Dmitry Shchyolokov were detained by police outside a restaurant in Almaty, where the city's mayor, Akhmetzhan Esimov, was meeting with selected bloggers on February 5. The three young men were prevented from entering the restaurant because they had not been invited to the meeting. They were also not allowed to film the restaurant. Police detained the three bloggers after they unfolded posters saying ”Esimov Talks To Tamed Bloggers Only” and “Esimov! Come Out”.

‘Corrupt bloggers’

The meeting with the mayor has split the Kazakh blogger community. Those who had not received an invitation to the event accused the invited bloggers of being “venal” or “corrupt”. One of the detained individuals, Aitelenov, tweeted one day before the meeting:

Tomorrow at #Esimov's lunch… [Text under Esimov's photo reads, "Dear corrupt bloggers"].

Shortly before his detention, Aitelenov tweeted this image:

Rally against corrupt bloggers

Several social media users found it strange that the bloggers who had frequently criticized the Almaty mayor were dining with him at one of the city's most expensive restaurants, apparently at his expense.

I hope at least some of the bloggers attending a lunch meeting with Esimov have taken out their wallets and paid for their food?

Some netizens interpreted the meeting as a deliberate tactic by the mayor to divide the blogger community and improve his own image.

Brilliant move by the [mayor]: If bloggers don't come to the meeting, they don't want to hold a conversation. If they do come, they are corrupt.

Blogger Ernar Prediktor suggests [ru] that the Kazakh public views bloggers as “just and independent”. He argues that the meeting with “not the most prominent or popular” bloggers was part of the Almaty mayor's public relations campaign:

[P]ебята, вас просто поюзали. Использовали имидж блогера для достижения своих целей. Теперь на каждом углу будут говорить (писать), что аким такой распрекрасный и демократичный, без проблем встречается с представителями алматинцев, решает совместно проблемы и пр..

You have been used, guys. They have used the blogger's public image for their own benefit. Now they will claim everywhere that the mayor is good and democratic, that he easily meets with the representatives of the residents of Almaty and solves problems jointly with them, etc.

‘Useful’ meeting

But those who attended the meeting and some of their followers on social media sites thought the event was useful.

Judging by the bloggers’ meeting with Esimov, he has made a good impression and evoked their empathy.

Following the meeting, bloggers have also responded to criticisms.

If someone thinks that an opportunity to have at least some kind of a civilized conversation and discuss problems is a matter of who pays the bill at the restaurant, unfollow [me].

Only recently they all complained that they could not get hold of #Esimov; now those who are not at a meeting with him curse those who are there. Typical #Kazakhs.

Bloggers Samson keeps a record of online discussion related to the Almaty mayor's meeting with bloggers here [ru].

February 05 2014

Four Months in Jail and Counting for Algerian Blogger Who Criticized President

Algerian blogger Abdelghani Aloui has been in jail since September 25, 2013. His crime? Sharing images on Facebook that are caricatures of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.

Since his arrest, the 24-year-old has been detained in Serkadji prison of Algiers, the capital city of Algeria, a prison known for hosting terrorists and criminals. A trial has yet to take place for Abdelghani Aloui.

caricature aloui boutef

“Blogs: No Mocking Allowed” says this poster. The poster shows Aloui on the right and one of the photo he posted on the left. The poster was originally published on the weekly online El Watan Weekend following the activist arrest then republished by the blog “Chouf el Djazair”- Posted with the permission of Chouf el Djazair's author.

Like many other young people who make up the the majority of the Algerian society, Aloui believed or was made to believe that his country was different from Syria, Libya or other authoritarian countries. But after he exercised his right to express himself on social networks, he was arrested by Algerian police and was placed under custody warrant, a type of preventive detention that appears to have become indefinite in Aloui's case. Demands for his provisional release have been refused several times by the district attorney of Sidi M'hamed in Algiers, the latest being on October 9, 2013.

Aloui was first charged with insulting the president, a charge of glorifying terrorism was added later on. In this French-language video, one the Aloui's lawyers explains that he believes his client is innocent of the charges against him. The lawyer states that he took his case because he believes Aloui is being harassed because of a political agenda and not because he broke any laws:

Many people, from activists to netizens, embraced Aloui's case and asked for his release. An online petition [fr] condemning the abuse of authority regarding his arrest was even created. The text of the petition read:

Ces graves dérives autoritaires qui portent atteinte aux acquis démocratiques des Algériens doivent sans cesse être dénoncées et combattues, afin que les citoyens algériens accèdent à une Algérie de droit, dans laquelle les libertés individuelles et collectives sont respectées

These dangerous authoritarian abuses that violate the democratic gains of all Algerians should always be denounced and fought so that Algerian citizens can fully live in an Algerian state where individual and collective freedoms are respected.

Philip Luther, the Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, links this case to the upcoming elections in Algeria:

The Algerian authorities appear to be trying to stifle criticism at a time of uncertainty ahead of presidential elections due next year.

Unfortunately, public mobilization around the case seems to be faltering. Many human rights activists in Algeria are afraid that Aloui's case will fade into oblivion. Indeed, the Algerian regime is orchestrating a campaign calling Aloui a dangerous terrorist supporting jihad, or the holy struggle against the enemies of Islam. To support this idea and assert Aloui's guilt, a video of him praising jihad was posted on YouTube:

Amine Sidhoum, Aloui's laywer, immediately slammed the video as a fake and denounced it as an alleged manipulation. The objective of the video, he said, is to discredit Aloui by portraying him as an Islamist. Sidhoum also raised doubts about the true identity of the user, who posted the video on Facebook under the name “Malik Liberter“, Aloui's nickname on YouTube. Sidhoum argues that someone used Aloui's YouTube nickname on Facebook to post videos that would implicate Aloui. Interviewed by Algerie Focus, Sidhoum noted:

On entend trois voix différentes sur cette vidéo et le décalage entre les lèvres d’Abdelghani et le son est flagrant. De plus, mon client a arrêté sa scolarité à la 9ème, à 15 ans, il ne maîtrise donc pas assez l’arabe classique pour tenir un tel discours sans note

We hear three different voices in this video and the mismatch between Abedelghani's lips and the actual sound is blatant. Moreover, my client stopped schooling at the age of 15. His command of classical Arabic is not good enough for him to hold such a speech without cue cards.

Algerian authorities are doing their best to make the public forget that Aloui was originally arrested for “insults against the President of the Republic,” which is far removed from conducting a terrorist act. To put things into historical perspective, in the 1990s Algeria suffered a violent civil war between Islamists and the state. Anyone contesting the legitimacy of the regime back then would automatically be labelled a terrorist.

After four months in jail, Aloui's future is gloomier than ever, especially if one considers that Article 87-bis of the Penal Code that deals with “the proponents of terrorism” remains vague and can often lead to dangerous interpretations. From Facebook to prison, the tragic fate of this Algerian cyber-activist proves that the so-called promise of ”democracy and freedom” waved by the Algerian regime might just be a front.

Viral Video of Deputy PM Triggers Cyber Assault in Serbia

Websites were blocked, servers attacked, and Twitter accounts hijacked in Serbia last weekend in a cyber assault on tech hobbyists and “geeks” in Belgrade. The reason? A viral video mocking Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s recent attempt to present himself as a “man of the people” on national news.

Media workers in the country have felt a steady wave of harassment and thug-like behavior by government officials and their aids since the country’s current ruling coalition took power in 2012. But recent events have led to increasingly aggressive actions by government officials, particularly Vucic, a fierce power broker known for using national media to promote his public image. With parliamentary elections fast approaching, he and other leading figures appear determined to preserve and promote their images in both traditional and online media.

Alek u Feketiću from Ivan Đokić on Vimeo.

In this particular incident, an unknown satirist layered humorous subtitles over the above video, in which Vucic “rescues” a child in a snowstorm. The full clip shows two aids arriving with the child and setting up the shot, making it clear that the scene was staged.

The video swiftly went viral. The original footage was taken by state-run public broadcasting service Radio Television Serbia (RTS). But it was Austria-based KVZ Music, an entirely different distribution company with offices in several countries including Serbia, and no apparent ties to RTS, which claimed that the video violated copyright restrictions. A request was filed, and the video was removed from YouTube.

But the video had already made the rounds and been re-loaded and copied onto various sites and blogs throughout the country. Soon, several sites that reproduced the video were blocked — and several others discovered their servers suddenly facing massive DDoS attacks, all of which seem to have originated from sources within the country.

Some administrators of these sites — many of which are blogs that offer independent news or commentary — soon found their Twitter accounts had been hacked, with passwords and associated email accounts changed. The account information was soon restored, but the message was clear: “Don’t mess with us.”

The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, the Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina, and SHARE Foundation issued a statement the following day, condemning the questionable removal of the videos and Internet censorship, claiming that the “remix culture”, or the practice of combining and editing video and other material to create new online content, represents a “pillar of Internet culture.”

Local media expert and NGO leader Danica Radisic, also an editor with Global Voices, described the attacks as “unprecedented and…almost unimaginable even during the ill-remembered Milosevic era.” Although many details remain unknown, Radisic suspects the attacks were perpetrated by “thugs” or entities working on behalf of the ruling coalition.

I simply don’t see who else would have the motive to spend the time, energy or power involved in these attacks. In fact, I don’t see how this could possibly be a smart move on part of the ruling coalition either, as I assume their goal is to win as many votes as possible in the upcoming early parliamentary elections on March 16th of this year.

January 28 2014

Arab Bloggers Demand Release of Rights Activists in Syria

The 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting participants support the release of Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights lawyer and the co-founder of Syria's Violations Documentation Center (SVDC) — a non-violent civil group documenting human rights abuses in Syria since March 2011. Ms. Zaitouneh, 36, who is a co-awardee of the European Union's Sakharov Prize for her human rights work was kidnapped on December 9, 2013 in the outskirts of Damascus along with Samira al-Khalil, Wael Hamada and Nazim al-Hamadi, also members of SVDC.

In the 33 months since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising, Razan Zaitouneh's work with her colleagues at SVDC became a vital source of information for the international community on the violations of human rights in the country. Now that the UN has made the unfortunate decision not to track the death toll in Syria, the work of SVDC has become more crucial than ever.

Razan and her colleagues worked in extremely difficult conditions, taking great risks in order to fulfill a vital task enriching our understanding of the plight of the Syrian people. So were many others, like our colleague blogger  Bassel Safadi – in detention since March 2012 – who worked on promoting freely available and open-source technology, and who is highly missed at the 4th Arab Bloggers Summit, which took place from January 20-23 in Amman, Jordan.

As a community, we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with activists promoting freedom and exposing human rights violations in service of our shared humanity.

We at AB14 demand that the UN and all countries involved in the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference establish verifiable mechanisms to protect and secure the release of opinion detainees and kidnappees in Syria.

January 20 2014

Ukraine Stifles Freedom of Speech, Peaceful Protest With New Law

An anonymous image circulated online. The inscription reads [ru]:

An anonymous image circulated online. The inscription reads [ru]: “Now EVERYTHING is prohibited”

This post is part of our Global Voices’ Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

On the 57th day of Ukraine's massive pro-European, anti-government protests, the country's parliament passed a law that limits freedom of assembly, restricts the country's media and clamps down on freedom of expression.

Law No. 3879 [uk] introduces a variety of legal changes “for protecting the security of citizens.” Members passed the legislation during the parliament's first session of the new year on January 16, 2014.

The law comes as thousands of protesters continue to fill a central square in Kiev. The Euromaidan protests, as they have been dubbed, began as peaceful pro-EU rallies but turned into a large-scale anti-government movement after police unleashed an aggressive crackdown against demonstrators – a handful of brutal beatings by police have been captured on film.

NGO Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group called the new law repressive, citing its key issues:

A draft law “passed” in full by the ruling majority in parliament on Jan 16 criminalizes libel, labels and restricts civic associations receiving foreign grants as “foreign agents” and imposes and substantially increases liability for any forms of protest. If the draft bill is signed by the parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Rybak and president, Viktor Yanukovych, it will set Ukraine’s democracy back by years.

Maksym Savanevsky of Watcher.com.ua noted that these and other measures, such as making it mandatory for citizens to show their passports to buy even a prepaid mobile SIM card, amount to a rise in censorship [uk] of journalists and Internet users’ expression, as well as increased control and surveillance over telecommunications systems and social media websites, under the guise of fighting extremism and violent uprisings:

Сьогодні більшість у Верховній Раді прийняла закон, яким фактично вводиться цензура в інтернеті.

Today the Verkhovna Rada [Parliament] majority adopted a law which basically introduces censorship on the Internet.

Lawyer Dmytro Nazarets posted a few express analysis posts [ru] mentioning a new requirement that all Internet news sites and news agencies are now obligated to register with the authorities:

Теперь уже новости на сайте не попишешь без надзора и регистрации

No more writing and posting news on your website without oversight and registration

Journalist Mustafa Nayyem pointed out [ru] on Facebook the viciousness with which the law’s authors dealt with social media:

Social media denounced by the explanatory note to the controversial draft law adopted by the Ukrainian parliament. The authors insist social media are used as a tool to spread these ideas and fuel hostility, where calls to violently change power and constitution are becoming more and more frequent.

Rachel Denber, the Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia division for Human Rights Watch, succinctly summed up numerous comparisons with Russia:

Budget vote brawl

The parliament also voted on the year's state budget on the same day. The budget has been highly controversial with the opposition criticizing [uk] it for multiple flaws, including a drastic increase in funding for law enforcement agencies at the expense of such items as healthcare. Opposition MPs had pledged to block parliament and prevent voting at all costs. At first, things seemed to progress according to their plan.

However, the opposition quickly lost control, with the pro-government majority voting in support of the budget and bypassing regular voting procedure.

Editor of an English-language Kyiv-based publication, the Kyiv Post, Christopher Miller tweeted:

A brawl during the parliament session followed, with the opposition physically trying to prevent their rivals from using the electronic voting system. However, the pro-presidential majority quickly retreated and continued voting by a raise of hands.

A screenshot of the live broadcast from the Ukrainian Parliament. Pro-Presidential majority adopts the laws by raising hands. January 16, 2014.

A screenshot of the live broadcast from the Ukrainian parliament. The pro-presidential majority adopts the laws by raising hands. January 16, 2014.

Opposition MP Andriy Shevchenko commented [uk] on the violations of voting procedure:

While the whole country is watching, the seventh Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada [parliament] is ceasing to exist. What a f*cking shame… #Рада7

Roman Shrayk, an independent journalist and author of the satirical Durdom Portal, called the parliamentary vote on the bills itself a sham, posting a video [ru] of the vote on his blog for Ukrainska Pravda:

20 минут, которые уничтожили остатки украинской демократии

20 minutes that destroyed the remnants of Ukrainian democracy

“The day democracy died”

Later, President Viktor Yanukovych signed all five laws, including the openly anti-protest law no. 3879, sparking outrage in the Ukrainian online community.

Kyiv-based Anglophone blogger Taras Revunets tweeted:

Twitter user Igor Shevchenko went even further in his comparisons [uk]:

Now we are North Korea. And we have our own Vik Fed Yan [Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych]

Yet many other social media users have ridiculed the new measures, pointing out their absurdity.

The civic movement “Chesno” posted the following photo, noting [ru] that it depicts something already “fobidden” by the new law:

Civic movement

Civic movement “Chesno” depicting an activity technically illegal under new legislation. Photo by Hanna Hrabarska. Used with permission.

Тем временем, вот мы – иностранные агенты, офис движения ЧЕСТНО, группа больше пяти лиц, В МАСКАХ!

In the meantime, here we are – foreign agents, office of the CHESNO movement, a group of more than five, wearing MASKS!

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

Tetyana Bohdanova (listed as the author) and Tetyana Lokot co-authored this post.

January 16 2014

Russia’s Parliament Prepares New “Anti-Terrorist” Laws for Internet

Graffiti in Moscow, 9 June 2013, photo by Victor Grigas, CC 3.0.

Graffiti in Moscow, June 2013. Photo by Victor Grigas via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Another Internet crackdown appears to be looming in Russia, where the Duma is reviewing three new pieces of proposed “anti-terror” legislation that could place hefty restrictions on the activities of website operators and civil society organizers.

Two of the bills address government surveillance powers—one would create new requirements obliging website operators to report on the every move of their users, while another addresses penalties for terror-related crimes. The third would set new restrictions for individuals and organizations accepting anonymous donations through online services like PayPal, a measure that could have an especially strong impact on small civil society groups.

The three proposed laws

The first of the three bills (Legislative initiative 428884-6 [ru]) creates new requirements for mandatory archives and notifications, granting the federal government wide jurisdiction. The most concerning article of the bill stipulates that “individuals or legal entities” who “[organize] the dissemination of information and (or) the exchange of information between Internet users are obligated to store all information about the arrival, transmission, delivery, and processing of voice data, written text, images, sounds, or other kinds of action” that occur when using their website. At all times, data archives must include the most recent six months of activity.

It appears that this obligation would apply to the owners and operators of websites and services ranging from multinational services like Facebook to small community blogs and discussion platforms.

Website “organizers” must also “inform” (уведомить) Russian security services when users first begin using their sites, and whenever users “exchange information.” Taken literally, this requirement could create a nearly impossible task for administrators of blogs, social media sites, and other discussion platforms with large quantities of users.

The legislation also includes an ambitious note about jurisdiction, claiming applicability to all websites that Russian citizens access: “In the event that the communication service organizer is located beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, but the user of the services is located within Russian territory, the location of services rendered is the territory of the Russian Federation.” Jurisdictional inconsistencies and international human rights norms would make such a policy nearly impossible to implement.

Finally, the legislation proposes fines for website owners who do not comply with the law, threatening legal entities (e.g., Facebook, Vkontakte, Twitter) with penalties as high as six thousand dollars per offense. It is also difficult to imagine how such a scheme could be implemented across international borders.

The second bill (Legislative initiative 428889-6 [ru]) would broaden police powers and raise penalties for terrorism. This legislation grants the Federal Security Service (post-Soviet Russia’s successor to the KGB) rights to inspect travelers that currently only regular police enjoy. It also increases the maximum prison sentences for several terrorism-related crimes.

Finally, the third piece of legislation (Legislative initiative 428896-6 [ru]) would place new limits on online money transfers. This draft law would raise limits on anonymous online financial transactions and ban all international online financial transactions, where the electronic money operator (e.g., PayPal, Yandex.Dengi, WebMoney) does not know the client’s legal identity. The legislation also raises operating costs for NGOs, requiring them to report on every three thousand dollars spent in foreign donations. (Currently, NGOs must report on every six thousand such dollars.)

The proposed restrictions on anonymous online money transfers could be significant. Currently in Russia, one can deposit up to 1,200 dollars into a single anonymous online wallet, and one can pay out almost 450 dollars from that account in a single transaction. Under the new legislation, Russians wouldn’t be able to spend more than 450 dollars in a whole calendar month from any one anonymous online money account, and single-day transactions would be limited to just under 30 dollars (1000 rubles).

Freezing civil society’s electronic wallet?

How much money do Russian netizens typically send when they transfer rubles online? Consider Alexey Navalny’s August 2013 Moscow mayoral campaign, which he funded largely with online donations through Yandex.Dengi  (a service similar to PayPal). Navalny’s public audit [ru] of his online donations is still accessible, and it’s clear from just a glance that a sizeable number of the transfers were well above 1000 rubles.

Perhaps anticipating today’s backlash to the new crackdown on anonymous RuNet money transfers, the Duma actually raised the allowed maximum balance [ru] for identified (non-anonymous) online money accounts in late December 2013, increasing it from 100 thousand rubles (3 thousand dollars) to 600 thousand rubles (almost 18 thousand dollars).

Arkady Babchenko in an interview, 18 March 2012, YouTube screen capture.

Arkady Babchenko in an interview, 18 March 2012, YouTube screen capture.

Indeed, the legislation’s potential impact on crowd-funded projects (like Navalny’s mayoral campaign, his anti-corruption organizations, and others’ grassroots efforts) has alarmed many in the Russian blogosphere. Writer and activist Arkady Babchenko, who runs a civic group called “Journalists without Intermediaries,” published an emotional blog post [ru] on Echo of Moscow, declaring that the new legislation would destroy any efforts to fund his project, which he promotes unceasingly in his online social media (always directing his readers to the group’s Yandex.Dengi account). “Now I can close down the project with a clear conscience,” he announced fatalistically.

RuNet guru Anton Nosik blogged [ru] in a similar tone on LiveJournal, claiming that Russians who order pizzas online costing over 1000 rubles run the risk of being labeled “terrorists.” With even greater hyperbole, economist and city council member Konstantin Yankauskas proclaimed in a Facebook post [ru], “Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, the Federal Duma is preparing to shut down Yandex.Dengi.” Like Babchenko, Yankauskas manages his own crowd-funded civic group—a local newspaper in the Moscow suburb of Zyuzino.

Curiously, Babchenko, Nosik, and Yankauskas all downplay the fact that the proposed limitations on Internet money transfers apply exclusively to anonymous accounts. Presumably, their panic is rooted in the assumption that Russians will donate to civic initiatives only if they can do so anonymously, without alerting the authorities to any ostensibly “oppositionist” leanings.

These intended reforms may have been designed to force Russian civic society’s supporters into the open, thereby thinning their numbers. Even now, while the legislation is not yet law, civic groups like Babchenko’s and Yankauskas’ are far from wildly successful. “Journalists without Intermediaries” has just 110 “likes” on Facebook, and “I Live in Zyuzino” has fewer than 300 followers on Vkontakte. As the proprietor of the former rushes to announce a closure of operations and the head of the latter concludes immediately that “Yandex.Dengi will be shut down,” it seems that some struggling online initiatives might use the latest RuNet crackdown to save themselves from the ordinary disgrace of unpopularity.

According to Vedomosti newspaper [ru], work on the bills has been underway for some time, but a recent string of terrorist attacks in the city of Volgograd accelerated the process. Four of the laws’ sponsors are former professionals in Russia’s security apparatus (including one former prosecutor, two former FSB agents, and a former deputy chairman of the federal “Information Policy Committee”). The legislation was drafted in closed meetings with representatives of Rosfinmonitoring (an anti-money-laundering agency), the Federal Security Service, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Whatever the ulterior motives of Russian lawmakers and the fundraising strategies of civic groups, this move to peel back the privacy offered by online exchange will have an inevitable chilling effect on the country’s netizen self-organization. One of the bills’ authors, Oleg Denisenko, even admitted [ru] to Kommersant newspaper that the legislation “will be unpopular.” As the Duma discusses and revises the bills over the coming weeks, Denisenko will learn whether his colleagues agree that the fight against terrorism warrants such sacrifices. The initial reactions from the RuNet, however, indicate that the proposed measures will never be popular with the country’s bloggers.

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