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January 15 2014

Next Week in Amman: 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting #AB14

AB14 banner

Next week, bloggers, techies, activists and entrepreneurs from throughout the Middle East and North Africa will come together in Amman, Jordan for the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting, led by Global Voices and Heinrich Böll and hosted by Amman-based media platform, 7iber.com. We are thrilled to be organizing this event once again!

Over the course of three closed-workshop days, we will discuss and learn about MENA region community-based projects that are advancing civic engagement online, and work together to build collaborative knowledge around advocacy, digital security, and policy issues.

We'll be lucky to have friends and colleagues with us from many leading advocacy groups and platforms —  SMEX, Al-Monitor, EFFTactical Technology Collective, and Free Press Unlimited, just to name a few. On our final day, we will discuss current political trends and challenges in a live, public forum with leading activists and thinkers from the region and around the world. All this and much more information about the meeting can be found on the AB14 website, in both English and Arabic.

As many of our readers know, the Arab Bloggers meeting has served as a critical space and platform for our broader community since its first iteration in Beirut in 2008. The meeting brought together influential voices from across the region, playing an important role in helping digital activists build a network of solidarity with each other prior to the Arab uprisings.

Today, three years after the ousting of Ben Ali in Tunisia, the challenges faced by digital activists and bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa have shifted substantially. While in some countries the Internet and speech rights are considerably more free, others face continued and significant surveillance, censorship, and significant threats of violence or imprisonment. Uncertainty about the future and political polarization have made attempted transitions to democracy difficult and often times painful, especially for those of us, netizens, who supported and helped drive it.

There are many questions about the role of netizens themselves in a post- “Arab Spring” MENA — these have given way to frustration and uncertainty about what to do next. We believe there’s a need, today more than ever, for a meeting of this kind.

We wish we could invite all of our friends to join us next week, but limitations on space and funding force us to keep the meeting small — this also has the advantage of giving us plenty of time and space for one-on-one conversations and work in small groups. The good news is that meeting facilitators will do everything they can to make the meeting readable, watchable, and tweetable for friends and followers who aren't with us in Amman!

Please watch the official meeting website — arabloggers.org — and follow hashtag #ab14 on Twitter for updates, reports and insights from Amman. More to come very soon!

January 13 2014

‘Red Pencil Protest’ Demands Media Freedom in Malaysia

Journalists shouted 'Free The Media' and 'Free The Heat' during the 'Red Pencil' protest in Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Sam Ruslan, Copyright @Demotix (1/4/2014)

Journalists shouted ‘Free The Media’ and ‘Free The Heat’ during the ‘Red Pencil’ protest in Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Sam Ruslan, Copyright @Demotix (1/4/2014)

Malaysian journalists and activists banded together and organized a ‘red pencil’ protest early this month in reaction to the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs to suspend news weekly magazine The Heat for an indefinite period. Protesters accused authorities of suspending The Heat in retaliation for publishing a story on the spending habits of the Prime Minister and his wife.

More than 200 people gathered to demonstrate in downtown Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. Participants belonged to the Gerakan Media Marah (Geramm) or Angry Media Movement, a loose coalition of journalists which was formed to push for greater media freedom in the country.

During the protest, red pencils were broken in half to symbolize the violence perpetrated against the media. Fathi Aris Omar, spokesman of Geramm and editor of online media site Malaysiakini, explained further the meaning of the red pencil:

The red pencil represents journalists who were injured (in the past, by the authorities) and a culture of control by the powers that be.

Listen to the breaking sound. That is the suffering of journalists and the media when it is ‘broken'.

Geramm has eight demands addressed to the government. Aside from calling for the withdrawal of the suspension order against The Heat, the network is also pushing for the easing of the tight media regulation in the country. Some of the other demands include the following:

Abolish the publication permit which is made mandatory under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984.

Allow all media practitioners to cover government events and access to public buildings for news gathering purposes.

Apologise to media practitioners for any breach of media freedom and rights.

The controversial PPPA was invoked by the government when it suspended The Heat. Malaysian journalists and activists are demanding the repeal of the law which they argue institutionalizes media censorship in the country.

The appeal for the review of the law was supported by Christopher Leong, president of the Malaysian Bar:

It is an archaic piece of legislation that no longer holds any relevance in a modern democracy. The Act has been used and abused to influence, bully, intimidate, threaten and punish the press. Such legislative and governmental control of the press, including licensing regimes, should end.

Red pencils were broken in half to symbolize media violence in Malaysia. Photo by Sam Ruslan, Copyright @Demotix (1/4/2014)

Red pencils were broken in half to symbolize media violence in Malaysia. Photo by Sam Ruslan, Copyright @Demotix (1/4/2014)

Prominent activist and Bersih (clean) founder Ambiga Sreenavasan attended the protest and noted the political importance of the gathering:

This is one of the first times I have seen journalists come together fighting for this very important fight. I know you are not just fighting for online or specific media, you’re fighting for all journalists. For me, this is about your self-worth and integrity as journalists.

Ambiga founded the Bersih a few years ago to push for electoral reforms.

Meanwhile, journalist Eric Loo criticized mainstream media for tolerating censorship in the country. He asked Malaysian netizens and the alternative media to persist in reporting the truth:

Let’s refuse to buy their interpretation of political realities, their version of history. It’s time we tell our own stories and circulate online what we know to be true, stories that reflect today’s political realities than those framed by the mainstream media.

Alternative Malaysian TV station KiniTV has additional reporting on the ‘red pencil’ protest

January 11 2014

“No”, the Brilliant and Optimistic Campaign that Boosted a Revolution

“No” campaign logo. Released to public domain.

Augusto Pinochet, perpetrator of the 1973 coup d’etat in Chile, fell from power by the force of the ballot box in 1988. He is history’s only dictator who organized an election to decide his future, and was deposed democratically. As in any political race, there were campaigns supporting each side. The “Yes” was advocating for Pinochet’s reelection; the “No” aimed to put an end to the military dictatorship. Openly airing an advertising message against a military regime that controls the media is a heroic task, even today. But the “No” campaign used an optimistic message — bringing about a paradigm shift in the art of presenting raw and painful human rights issues — and with that was able to propel a revolution.

The 2012 film “No” by Pablo Larraín, tells the story – without being a documentary – of the October 5, 1988 referendum on Pinochet in a positive light. The central character – René Saavedra (Gabriel García Bernal) is a bright young advertising agency creative and the son of a well-respected opposition figure who returns to Chile after growing up in exile in Mexico. His talent and family background lead the “No” campaign leader, José Tomás Urrutia (Luis Gnecco), ask him to participate in the strategy and design of the “fringe” (a name given to the official 15 minute television program used for political propaganda by all parties during elections).

At the beginning of the process, members of the Concertación (the group of opposition parties) wanted to show the vicious reality of the dictatorship: murders, tortures and disappearances, as a way to open people’s eyes and lean public opinion towards their just cause. René managed to convince the opposition to bet on selling democracy as a desirable product rather than emphasizing the dark realities of the present. “No” became the campaign that talked about the joy of living in freedom. And the “No” beat Pinochet.

It would be naive to think that an advertising campaign alone was able to overthrow a dictator. But it is interesting to consider the idea proposed by this campaign: re-thinking the way we advocate today by shifting the focus on the negative, the vile and painful towards hope and happiness and – why not humor – that the future may hold. In recent years, we have witnessed multiple revolutionary movements around the world, but also many instances of mass violence and injustice. Many of us have reached the point of an overload of messages of struggle that are so often disheartening. Media studies scholars like Wendy Johnston and Graham Davey have studied the ways in which this abundance of images and stories of atrocities online can be enough to leave one feeling apathetic, even helpless. It may be critical to find new ways to spread this sense of urgency towards achieving peace and freedom — many activists are doing this already, and finding great success. The humorous “No Woman, No Drive” (a spoof on Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”) video created by Saudi comedian Hisham Fageeh to support the Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia is a terrific example of this kind of ingenuity — Syria Untold, a web platform that highlights creative and journalistic projects within the non-violent Syrian uprising, is another.

The harsh realities that people in these situations face still need to be documented and shared openly — but we can complement these narratives with humor, hope, and an optimistic approach towards realizing the changes this planet is looking for.

On a recent edition of GV Face, co-founder Ethan Zuckerman and GV editors Solana Larsen, Sahar Habib Ghazi, and Ellery Roberts Biddle discussed the ins and outs of “solutions journalism.”

January 10 2014

Award-Winning Egyptian Activists Receive One-Year Suspended Sentence

Prominent Egyptian activists Alaa Abd El Fattah, his sister Mona Seif, and ten others on January 5 received a one-year suspended sentence in a case in which they were accused of torching the headquarters of ex-Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq’s campaign. This is one of many cases that has Egyptian and international activist communities worried about the government’s apparent backlash at those active in fueling the January 25 revolution in Egypt in 2011.

Tweet showing Mona Seif coming out of the court hall where she was just handed a one-year suspended sentence.

Alaa did not attend the court session. He has been detained since November 28, after being accused of organizing a protest in front of The Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's Parliament) without obtaining legal permission. Two days prior to the protest, legislators passed a law requiring all protest organizers to submit logistical information about planned protests to the Ministry of the Interior. Under the new policy, the Ministry reserves the right to (indefinitely) require a change of logistics. Practically speaking, this enables the Ministry to prevent protests from taking place, if it so chooses.

The protest in question was organized by the No to Military Trials for Civilians group, a campaign initiated by Mona Seif but of which her brother Alaa is not a member. The group has issued a press statement claiming responsibility for the organization of the protest. Members of the group have also filed a report with the public prosecutor claiming responsibility for the event. The protest, which took place on November 26, called for the abolishing of military trials for civilians in the new constitution which Egypt is to vote on later this month.

The protest was violently dispersed by the police roughly half an hour after it began. Police detained 11 women, most of them members of the No to Military Trials group, and 24 men. The women, all of whom were beaten and some of whom were sexually harassed while being detained, remained in custody for a few hours. They were then forced to ride a police car and thrown in the desert sometime after midnight. The men were detained for a week and are now released (except for one, Ahmed Abdel Rahman) pending investigation. Alaa was detained after police stormed his house two days later and accused him of organizing the protest. This allegation came despite the fact that Alaa waited outside the police station where his sister was detained on November 26 all evening until she was picked up by friends after police threw her and her colleagues in the desert. Although both Alaa and Ahmed Abdel Rahman have been detained for over a month pending investigation, no court date has been assigned yet for the case.

The suspended sentence should allow the activists to serve a period of probation, rather than jail time, on the condition that they abide by the law during this period.

These are not the only two cases currently in progress against prominent activists in Egypt. Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel have all recently been given a hefty 3-year-sentence with hard labor in another case, in which they were also accused of organizing a protest without permit. Maher is the founder of the April 6 Youth group, and Adel is the group’s spokesperson. The three activists have also been each fined EGP 50,000 ($7,000) each, and would be put on probation for another three years if found guilty. The activists have appealed the sentence, but they currently remain in prison.

In Alexandria, long-time activists Mahinour El Masri and Hassan Mostafa, along with four others, were convicted of organizing a protest without permit, and were given two-year prison sentences and a fine of EGP 50,000 ($7,000) each. Hassan Mostafa had just been released from jail in November after the public prosecutor suspended a one-year-sentence he received for slapping a prosecutor while filing a complaint for torturing detainees.

Activists in Egypt believe these cases and others are merely political in nature, and meant to keep prominent activists behind bars while intimidating others to keep them away from the political process. The government passed the Protest Law in November claiming it was necessary to control the chaos created mostly by Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers in clashes with security forces that often turned violent. Since it has been put in effect however, the law has been used to crack down on all kinds of opposition, including peaceful protesters, and individuals and groups that have been closely associated with the January 25 revolution and its aftermath.

January 09 2014

Prison Flees: Reflections on Alaa, Activism, and Community

Adapted from Alaa’s own Twitter icon by Hugh D’Andrade. Free for reuse.

Adapted from Alaa’s own Twitter icon by Hugh D’Andrade. Free for reuse.

By Lina Attalah, Chief Editor, Mada Masr.

He has two hours of fresh air and 22 hours of cell air.

He discusses the constitution draft with other inmates from across the wall of his cell.

And then he reads. He mostly reads.

He is not receiving letters this time. Letters are barred.

But he is receiving books. Some books, not everything. Some are novels. Others are comics. And others are social theory.

He reads both comics and theory because he believes that we are both plumbers and philosophers; we, the children of precarity, of mischief, of bold adventures and of impossible dreams. We work and work and work on bits and pieces and then sit back and reflect on the whole that our work is gazing at. And sometimes we write about it.

When the revolution broke out and everyone celebrated the kids that came out of the Internet, Alaa, who had tirelessly spent years on the forefront of organizing online activism, reminded us how our encounter with technology became a way of living. Everyone celebrated the Facebook, the Twitter and the Blogosphere. Alaa was thinking of the community and the way in which activism was changing and differing from what he had heard about from his folks and from tales of the 1960s and 1970s.

Alaa rose to fame with the hype of the Egyptian blogosphere in the beginning of the millennia, the stars of which have been mostly young middle-class Egyptians. He believed in this new wave of activism and created with Manal, his partner, the famous Omraneya aggregator, which collected and archived blog entries and which was at times the house of alternative expression and at others the amplifier of muted voices. He often reminded us how at the same time that he and others were blogging in the heart of our cities, the youth of our slums scrambled to buy locally assembled computers. This all happened while the government announced the forming of colossal partnerships, promising to provide a laptop for every child in the context of some grand 2010 scheme. He also reminded us how bandwidth was already being shared by hundreds and supporting the livelihoods of dozens in the countryside and the slums every day, while it took years for the government and its service providers to promise connectivity for all.

While he spent years building websites around causes and campaigns and developing Arabization tools to make that sea of knowledge accessible, he sat back and observed how our social and political work is evolving on a multiplicity of levels: organization, the production of narrative, and ambition. He would talk about this evolution, and eventually write about it, but most importantly, he was actively thinking of how Internet tools should serve these changes.

When we set out to create Mada, which we commonly describe as a product of crisis and inevitability, Alaa and Manal naturally became our technology partners. When they sat with us to brainstorm on the website we would build, they made us think about the different ways we want to tell our stories, at a time when a mainstream narrative is dominating the news from Egypt. Being both techies and tellers, they made us think of technology as more than a sheer logistical tool, and more of a vehicle of possibility. For us, web development became less of a list of technical requests but more a process of carving out a space for expression, where prose would unfold in performance, and so would the visual narration, and other unknown forms of storytelling.

What happens when you confiscate a computer from a kid for whom technology has become a trigger for thinking, an entry point to philosophy, to a new and emerging social theory?

This is not theory crafted by academics or theorists, but rather by the children of precarity, of mischief, of bold adventures and of impossible dreams. And this is theory born out of practise. The computer and the tools are no prison companions. But the thinking is. It is a prison companion for Alaa and also for us, who strive to fetch for his presence in his absence, through written correspondence, memory and imaginary conversations.

In his incarceration, Alaa continues to exist, by reading, by talking, by eventually writing and most importantly, by staying in conversation with us. It takes a leap of faith to be in conversation with a prisoner today. We do it because we are capable of imagining and because his thinking transcends time and space.

In the grandeur of analysis and punditry, we are deemed the losers of the margins today in Egypt’s dazed revolution. But we remain the children of precarity, of mischief, of bold adventures and of impossible dreams. That is so long as we read and write and talk and continue to exist.

This article originally appeared on Mada Masr.

On Alaa, Learning, and the Struggle

Alaa and Manal. Photo by Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Alaa and Manal. Photo by Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Egyptian activist, blogger, and GV Advox friend Alaa Abd El Fattah is currently in prison because of his work as an activist. This essay originally appeared on Jillian C. York's personal blog.

I don’t really remember meeting Alaa. I just remember that, from the first moment I saw him, how obvious his presence was. We were sitting in a room in Budapest talking to a group of academics about something or other, something about activism, and everything they said was wrong, in Alaa’s view. He raised his voice across the table, and I was struck by his boldness.

Sometime a couple of years later, in 2010, we became friends. I know this from the abundance of encrypted chat logs that sit in my email, when we started to talk once or twice a week. This was before the revolution, when he and Manal were living in South Africa. From the snippets I can piece together from memory and those rare unencrypted logs, I recall him admonishing me for not doing enough on X, chiding me gently for not speaking up on Y. One of those blanks was crypto itself. After one of those small but typical annoyances that come from using OTR, he said “OTR is a bit too demanding, but encryption tools typically are.”  I replied, “I need to start getting better about using them.” ”Yep,” was his response, and he was right. He would prove that.

Jillian booking a plane ticket for Alaa and looking exasperated because he didn’t know his passport number. Photo courtesy of Jillian York.

Jillian booking a plane ticket for Alaa and looking exasperated because he didn’t know his passport number. Photo courtesy of Jillian York.

When the revolution started, he was still in South Africa and could still reach his family in Cairo, despite the Internet blackout. I was in freezing Boston, and by virtue of my job at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, I began receiving press calls – the New York Times, NPR, Al Jazeera. I knew how Egyptians had used Facebook and Twitter to organize before, but I couldn’t reach anyone on the ground. Alaa gave me names, including his sister Mona’s, which I in turn gave to press, connecting them with the rare person who still had a means of connecting out. He filled me in, I repeated his analysis to press. He didn’t want to be the center of attention then. He wasn’t there.

And then they went back to Cairo, he and Manal. And a year of requests started pouring in: to speak, to comment on this or that. “I’m going to the Empire,” I remember him telling me about his first visit to New York. And then shortly thereafter, his second trip, where we met amongst friends at Personal Democracy Forum and drank a little too much and plotted. Later that year we saw each other again in Tunis for the second Arabloggers meeting; Manal was quite pregnant and looked beautiful, and at one point I’m pretty sure they both did a session still wearing their swimsuits. It was a happy, optimistic time. And at some point, sitting on a couch in the lobby, I convinced Alaa to come to San Francisco for RightsCon. He would stay on my couch, and they could send anything they wanted to my house.

For nearly a week before he arrived, I would come home each day to find another enormous package from Amazon. There was a stroller (“all-terrain 4WD” as we later joked), countless books, and a few pretty cool toys that we definitely played with before Khaled did. The story of what happens next is known: When Alaa arrived, he already knew what would happen when he went home. He gave an incredible talk, went to the Occupy protests in Oakland, and hung out with my friends.  Then he got on a plane and went straight to prison. Do not collect, do not pass go.

Alaa with Khaled. Photo by Rasha Abdulla, used with permission.

Alaa with Khaled. Photo by Rasha Abdulla, used with permission.

I visited Cairo for the first time not long after Khaled was born. He was tiny, fragile, and I stood helpless while Manal bathed him, already so obviously a mother. This was the height of autotune in Cairo and at some point after midnight, parents delirious from the beautiful lack of sleep that comes with having a newborn, we recorded Khaled’s cries and ran them through autotune, stifling manic laughter so as not to wake the baby.

The last time I saw Alaa was in Cairo. He picked me up across town at my hotel, and we sat in crazy Cairene traffic for three hours, the first time I’d ever seen him drive. I had brought a tricycle for Khaled and a fresh EFF shirt for Alaa at his request, and when we arrived Manal and I caught up while Alaa put the thing together, scrambling for its plastic parts. Later, the three of us went out with some of their friends. I listened quietly while they talked politics and revolution. Manal kept chiding them to speak English, Alaa remarked that by now I should be able to understand. I did, only a few words getting lost here and there. We drank tea until it got cold and they drove me back to Heliopolis.

These friendships come in fragments, but they are sometimes the best we have. And in this case, despite the fact the he is only (and exactly) six months my senior, the friend has also been one of my most important teachers, reminding me to take risks and not being afraid to tell me when I’m not going far enough, not doing enough. Chatting recently with another friend, who suggested that perhaps surrounding myself with perfectionists and radicals has damaged my own thought processes a little, I relented, but when I think about all that I have learned and all that I have been taught, I have no regrets.

I’ve said it to reporters so many times that it’s almost lost its meaning, but I’ll say it again: Alaa is in prison not because he committed a crime, not because he said too much, but because his very existence poses a threat to the state. Those who are bold, those who do not relent, will always threaten the terrified and ultimately weak state which must, to survive, squash its opponents like flies. But Alaa will not allow himself to be crushed like that, I know.

There is little more I can say that hasn’t been or wouldn’t be better said by Egyptians, those who fought these battles on the street while I merely watched, an observer with a few good friends on the ground.  But the one thing I know is that we must not give up.  Alaa hasn’t, and we cannot.

Inspired by Omar Robert Hamilton and Alia MossallamBelal Fadl, and Lina Attalah who have written their own beautiful pieces about our shared friend.

January 08 2014

WikiLeaks Supporters Shocked by Visit With Syria's Assad

Wikileaks Party

Wikileaks Party
Photo: Courtesy Takver (Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Many WikiLeaks supporters were caught unawares when members of the Wikileaks Party met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in late December.

The small Australian delegation to Syria included party chairman John Shipton, father of party founder Julian Assange, along with representatives from the Sydney-based lobby group, Hands off Syria. Journalist Chris Ray, who was in the room for the 45-minute meeting, reported that the two groups “reject foreign military support for Syrian rebels and advocate a political solution to the crisis.”

The WikiLeaks platform was quick to distance itself from the initiative on Twitter.

Major Australian political parties have condemned the meeting. In a somewhat curious response, Shipton threatened to sue Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for defamation, over critiques they made to national press concerning the Syria visit. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported Bishop as saying,

It's an extraordinarily reckless thing for an organisation registered as a political party in Australia to try and insert itself in the appalling conflict in Syria for their own political ends.

When news of the meeting first hit the Internet, it became clear that many supporters of the WikiLeaks transparency platform knew little about the party to begin with. The WikiLeaks party, although institutionally separate from the platform, was created in 2013 to support Julian Assange's candidacy for the Australian Senate. In the September Federal elections, Assange led a group of New South Wales Senate candidates, with a number of Wikileaks Party members standing in other states. Assange and his party endured a dismal electoral failure, gaining less than 1.0% of the Senate vote.

During the campaign, with its figurehead still stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the party suffered from broad cleavages among members. One candidate and other party members resigned over allocation of voting preferences to right-wing parties. Australian technology website Delimiter commented in August:

Is the party purely a vehicle for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to get elected to the Federal Senate, and thus earn himself a ticket out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London? Or is it a legitimate new political movement in Australia, which will achieve legitimacy beyond Assange personally?

Perhaps the journey to Syria was an attempt to broaden the party’s political profile. According to the latest Wikipedia entry for the Wikileaks Party:

Shipton subsequently stated that the meeting with al-Assad was “just a matter of good manners”, and that the delegation had also met with members of the Syrian opposition.

Despite John Shipton and Wikipedia indicating that the delegation also met with the Syrian opposition, details have not become available yet. Accompanying journalist Chris Ray did not mention the meetings in his post. Responding to WikiLeaks initial tweet, Wikileaks Party National Council Kellie Tranter tweeted that she too had no prior knowledge of the meeting.

This brought more questions about the party’s future:

Well-known commentator on the Middle East, Antony Loewenstein, showed his disappointment in the party, which he has given his support:

The tweet and accompanying link brought several contrary views. Loewenstein further explained his concerns on his blog:

As a Wikileaks supporter since 2006, right from the beginning (and I remain a public backer of the organisation), it’s tragic to see the Wikileaks Party in Australia, after a disastrous 2013 election campaign, descend into political grandstanding.

The Wikileaks Support Forum has been a centre of debate. Journalist Jess Hill was especially active in taking the party to task. The conversation became heated:

This tweet should act as a warning to all in the twitterverse:

Doubtless, Shipton and other delegation members will face many questions when they return to Australia.

December 30 2013

2013 in Review: A Fireside Chat with EFF's Jillian York and Eva Galperin

Graphic by 7iber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Graphic by 7iber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Jillian York and Eva Galperin are both longtime Advox contributors that work for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading US organization defending human rights in the digital age. They conducted a “year in review” exercise this week, looking at the state of digital rights in 2013 and making predictions for the new year. Not surprisingly, they found themselves focusing on the threat of surveillance in a post-Arab Spring world.

Jillian York: After the Arab Spring, I wasn't really sure how subsequent years could get crazier on the Internet freedom front. And then they did.

Eva Galperin: So was this the “worst year for Internet freedom” to date?

JY: For people who thought that the Arab Spring was going to be a positive turning point, I think 2013 was a pretty tough year. We've seen plenty of evidence of how the Arab Spring influenced countries in the MENA region. What do you think its impact was in other parts of the world?

EG: It has definitely had an influence in Russia and other post-Soviet states. For example, in Turkmenistan the government has seen the Arab Spring as a sign that they should ramp up Internet surveillance. And it doesn't help that the equipment is getting cheaper and surveillance is getting easier as more people all over the world lead more of their lives online.

JY: Surveillance is getting cheaper, and yet there are only a few countries that produce the kind of equipment we're talking about, right?

EG: A lot of the equipment is made in the West, but companies in the US and Europe are facing increasing competition from Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE. As activists, we can put pressure on companies like BlueCoat or Cisco or even Teliasonera, but there isn't a lot we can do to influence the policies of Chinese companies.

JY: Right — although I wonder how much the contracts in the West for those companies might influence their choices?

EG: Actually, Huawei officially said this year they were not interested in the US market anymore. I don't want to sound too defeatist, but if the best defense Western companies can come up with for selling surveillance capabilities to authoritarian regimes is “if we don't do it, Chinese companies will,” they've pretty much ceded the moral high ground.  Since everyone is talking about state surveillance these days, do you think that we've made any progress in calling out Western companies this year?

JY: Yes and no. I think we've made a lot of progress with online service providers and social media companies – even if we don't think their statements have been strong enough, many of the leading companies came together and took a stand against the NSA's mass spying. But when it comes to surveillance equipment providers, I think there's so much more we can do. In fact, I'm making that a New Year’s resolution: Find a way to target investors.

On the slip side, there was the launch of the 13 Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance – this document, developed by a coalition (of which EFF was a leading member) and signed by over 300 organizations around the world felt like a powerful step towards a more transparent, rights-protective online environment. So there's some good news.

EG: Indeed! And this could have a lasting impact in years to come. Speaking of strong activism efforts – you watch MENA pretty closely. What great activism have you seen come out of the region this year?

JY: There have been some strong actions around the case of Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah — he is facing charges under Egypt’s new “anti-protest” law, which prohibits public demonstration without prior authorization from government officials. When he was arrested last month in Egypt, his allies created a “rolling press release” in a Google Doc that they sent to journalists and organizations — this is still being updated all the time.  It is pretty genius — a great way to keep people informed of the latest news on his case.

Alaa Abd El Fattah. Photo by Alaa (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Alaa Abd El Fattah. Photo by Alaa (CC BY-SA 2.5)

And in Jordan, people have done great work opposing online censorship that has come out of the Press and Publications Law — over 300 sites have been blocked under new amendments to the law that introduce restrictive content and registration rules for websites. Last year, activists responded by driving a coffin around town, calling it a “funeral for the Internet.”

What about in the places that you watch? I know you keep a close eye on Vietnam, what's happening there?

EG: Vietnam is in the midst of a years-long crackdown on bloggers. This year, we saw high-profile bloggers like Le Quoc Quan (also a human rights lawyer) jailed and convicted. There were also cases where bloggers were lumped together and convicted a dozen at a time. And people like Dinh Nhat Uy were jailed for making anti-government Facebook posts.

They're pretty brazen about charging people for unrelated crimes. Charges of tax evasion, which is what got convicted, are pretty common.

This is also a common tactic in China and Russia. Blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in jail in Russia this summer.

JY: Speaking of Russia, this summer it seemed Russia was “on top” so to speak — between Snowden and Putin's success vis-a-vis Syria — but Russia really is cracking down on activists, is it not?

EG: Not only is Russia cracking down on the political opposition, but they've come down hard on free speech on the Internet. Last year, the Duma passed an Internet censorship law that was ostensibly aimed at protecting children but has been used to silence the opposition. Protecting minors from “extremism” “homosexual propaganda” and information about the sale of drugs all have been leading excuses in Russia for censoring the Internet. I think the homophobia angle is relatively new and unusually strong there.

What trends do you expect to see continue into 2014?

JY: Heh – well, one unfortunate one that merits a mention is journalists being charged under terrorism statutes. I counted four just this year. On a more positive note, I think the growth of the digital rights “scene” is amazing. We're not alone in this fight — there are so many allies in every corner of the globe…but that also means we have to be strident in standing up for ALL of our rights, and not compromise.

EG: I have been really impressed by the sheer number of new organizations springing up all over the world.  I hope this means we'll see a continuing trend towards a more comprehensive, less US-centric Internet freedom movement.

JY: Yes, I hope for the same. Well, Eva – have a happy new year, and I'll see you on the other side.

EG: Back at you! Let’s hope it’s a good one.

A Different Kind of Free Speech

Political demonstration in Azerbaijan. Photo by Jahangir Yusif, used with permission.

Political demonstration in Azerbaijan. Photo by Jahangir Yusif, used with permission.

Today is the birthday of the friend of the youth, our Mr. President. I sincerely congratulate you on behalf of “Azerbaijani Youth Alliance” public union and myself. I wish you lots of luck in all the work you do for turning our Azerbaijan in the worlds most strongest states! We are proud of you!

She was wishing him a happy birthday, on Facebook. The man’s whose birthday she was so candidly celebrating was Ilham Aliyev, the current President of a small country called Azerbaijan. She is a young woman from Baku who works for a government institution.

Reading the message was heart wrenching. At the time of its writing, there are people behind bars for doing something not unlike what this user was doing – expressing their opinions. Perhaps this young woman doesn’t know them, but I do. They are not hooligans or terrorists — they represent no threat. They are innocent men who have families and friends waiting for them to get out.

According to the Baku-based Human Rights Club, currently there are 142 people “in detention or imprisoned for politically motivated reasons” in Azerbaijan. The comprehensive list includes the names of journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, activists, religious figures and others. To be more precise, this group includes ten journalists and bloggers; two human rights defenders; eleven youth activists (so much for the caring love and compassion of the president); six political activists; seventy-four religious activists; seventeen people (of various background including police, former employees of the executive authorities, militia, and former prime ministers) serving lifetime prison sentences; and nineteen cases involving other politically motivated charges.

On December 18 of this year, Anar Mammadli, chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS) landed behind bars on charges of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship (failure to obtain proper institutional permits) and “abuse of office” (Criminal Code Article 308.3), suggesting that he sought to interfere with election results. Mammadli’s arrest was seen as yet another politically motivated move by the government.

The EMDS Center is one of the few independent election observation bodies that does transparent work and publishes its findings in Azerbaijan. When the case against EMDS was originally brought in late October, following national elections, the Center’s offices were searched and equipment, reports, news releases and financial documents were confiscated.

Overall, 2013 was not a good year for human rights in Azerbaijan. While many protests shook the country starting in early January of this year, organizers and participants in these protests are now paying a high price for their activism. Advocates who share information with foreign media and international institutions have been warned. In a recent speech in Baku, Ali Hasanov, a senior political aid and regime loyalist argued that it is the “Western influence” and so-called “donor grants” that are corrupting the minds of Azerbaijanis and letting them “engage in an anti- Azerbaijani activity for some AZN 2,000-3,000 (approximately EUR 2,000-3,000).”

Last year, Azerbaijan hosted the 7th international Internet Governance Forum — the annual multistakeholder meeting organized by the United Nations to discuss public policy issues related to the Internet. Many government representatives attending the event repeated over and over again that human rights, press freedom and Internet freedom were all doing just fine in Azerbaijan. Ironically, as over 1500 international delegates attended the event, at least eight journalists and three human rights defenders were serving prison terms for criticizing public officials and for writing on sensitive government issues. All were sentenced on dubious charges.

A year later, similar remarks and statements were heard during the 8th annual Internet Governance Forum, held in Bali, Indonesia. A session titled “Azerbaijani government open forum building bridges: elimination of the digital divide” brought together a panel of like-minded people praising each other and commenting on successful partnership rather than on the pressing issues in Azerbaijan. This affable atmosphere was interrupted with a question from the audience on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan and government persecution of activists. Nariman Hajiyev, an Azerbaijani government representative to the United Nations, responded: “I could easily say there are no concrete human rights violations or concrete freedom of speech [violations].”

The Azerbaijani government is working hard to present a rosy picture of our country abroad. Government supporters — like the young woman wishing Aliyev a happy birthday — have helped this effort. Like anyone else, she used the Internet to express her views on government activities — she’s exercising her right to free speech. But this woman will not find herself in jail. She will get a pat on a shoulder and a golden star for her immaculate behavior. How many more gold stars will be issued and innocent lives ruined before things really change?

 

Arzu Geybullayeva is an Azerbaijani blogger and regional analyst based in Istanbul.

December 18 2013

Dozens Detained on Human Rights Day in Cuba

“We salute the party congress.” A 2011 pro-government rally in Havana. Photo by Reno Massola, labeled for reuse.

On Human Rights Day this year, somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred people — including punk rockers, intellectuals, dissidents, and a pair of Argentine tourists – were detained in Cuba.

Several were taken into police custody outside the home of Antonio Rodiles, the embattled organizer of Estado de SATS, an independent intellectual forum with a strong web presence. Rodiles held a small, two-day human rights conference at his home in Havana that became a hub of activist and police activity on December 10 and 11.

Twitter users reported that throughout Havana opposition activists trying to make their way to Human Rights Day events were stopped and detained by state security officials. Conflicting accounts have made it difficult to confirm precisely how many people were detained. According to friends of Rodiles, state security officers surrounded his home the night before the event began, stopping participants en route to the house.

The next morning, organizers were faced with a new obstacle: teenagers. A group of secondary school students arrived outside Rodiles’ home and remained there throughout the day, playing games, singing songs, and reciting political slogans.

Artist and opposition blogger Lia Villares described an absurd scene of bloggers, activists, friends and family gathered inside Rodiles’ home and attempting to focus on their conversations, while students loudly sang and chanted patriotic slogans outside. Villares suspected the students were brought to the site by State Security, in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the event. She tweeted:

They’ve brought a group of secondary school students in front of the house, typical manipulation, the S.E. [state security] doesn’t show its face, it uses minors instead

Some hours later, she continued:

#DDHHCuba2013 the high school students recite poetry and do skits about children’s rights, shouting “fidel” they sing a chorus

Upon exiting the house, several participants were arrested, including Rodiles. Boris Larramendi, a Cuban musician based in Spain who performed at the event, told Diario de Cuba:

Llevaban rato allá afuera, pensábamos que no iban a hacer nada (las autoridades) delante de todos esos niños, pero de pronto miro y veo que hay una molotera, que les están dando golpes y que los están arrastrando.

They stayed outside for a little while and we thought they weren’t going to do anything in front of all those kids, but then I look and I see there is a whole mess of people, that they’re hitting and dragging people away.

Among others arrested were bloggers Calixto Martinez and Walfrido López and filmmaker Kizzy Macias. Multiple sources reported on the arrest of political punk rock musician Gorki Aguila, who has been detained and imprisoned several times in recent years. Other arrests took place around the city, but it has been difficult to track and verify reports. The Miami Herald estimated that over 150 arrests took place in total, and reported on December 12 that police had freed all of those taken into custody on December 10 and 11.

Arrests were not limited to Cubans — two Argentine tourists, both active PRO (right wing) party supporters who had heard about the event online, were arrested shortly after arriving. A group of college students from the US, traveling the world with the academic tourism program Semester at Sea, somehow found their way to the event but were spared detention.

Yohandry Fontana, a mysterious online figure regarded by many as the digital voice of state security, tweeted that Rodiles was arrested for “attacking children” on the street.

I confirm that Antonio Rodiles was detained for attacking and insulting children who were playing in the street, as part of their play time.

Although friends of Rodiles documented the event on camera, the resulting video is somewhat overproduced, making it difficult to determine the veracity of the footage.

Iroel Sanchez, an outspoken pro-government blogger, wrote a long post decrying activists and foreign media who portrayed the circus outside Rodiles’ home as an injustice. He described the organizers of the forum as “those who ask for a stronger blockade, who depict themselves as terrorists and receive technology and money to deliver falsehoods about Cuba.” 

In a similar vein, Yohandry Fontana later tweeted:

Antonio Rodiles es un pagado por la Fundación Cubano Americana (terroristas) para provocar violencia en #Cuba #DDHHCuba

— Yohandry Fontana (@Yohandry8787) December 11, 2013

Antonio Rodiles is paid by the Cuban National Foundation (terrorists) to provoke violence in #Cuba #DDHHCuba

Rodiles has been a target of state security for some time and has been arrested in the past. There is some evidence of Rodiles communicating and sharing information with US government agencies that sponsor “democracy development” programs in Cuba, a controversial activity that is forbidden by the Cuban government. Fontana's allegation that he is associated with the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, a longtime advisor and supporter of conservative federal lawmakers in South Florida, is not a baseless claim. But the character of Rodiles’ advocacy efforts and the tone of the intellectual debates he convenes are not entirely consistent with those of Miami's old-guard exile community. Rodiles’ messages are often rooted in international human rights doctrine – freedom of expression and access to information are hallmarks of his discursive style.

While many of the island's most prominent human rights activists are now known to receive support from the US government, there are those who genuinely want change but do not want to associate with foreign interests. It is this small minority that may prove most interesting in Cuba's near political future.

December 13 2013

Syrian Cartoonist Akram Raslan Reportedly Killed by Regime

Uncertainty continues over the fate of Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan, winner of the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning for 2013, arrested in October 2012 by the Assad regime. While some report that he was killed by the Assad regime after a show trial, others claim he is still alive.

The cartoonist was was arrested by the Syrian military intelligence, while he was at the government newspaper Al-Fedaa in Hama, on October 2, 2012. Akram, who is the winner of the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning for 2013, was reportedly secretly put on trial with no witnesses, no defense attorneys, no appeal, and no hope for justice.

We've learned that on July 26, 2013 Akram Raslan and other prisoners of conscience including journalists, artists, singers and other intellectuals were secretly put on trial with no witnesses, no defense attorneys, no appeal, and no hope for justice.  From unconfirmed and sketchy reports we also learned that they were all condemned to life imprisonment.

StJustAkram

Assembly and demonstration by world cartoonists in support of Akram Raslan
05.10.2013, in St Just Le Martel (France). Source: Cartooning for Peace

Other cartoon blogs like Comic box resources blog, Cartoon for Peace, The CAGLE Post and The Daily Cartoonist also quoted the CRNI news and showed concerns over Akram's destiny. One of the comments reads:

Akram, you and your family are in our prayers….Assad you and your ilk are….. !@#$%^&*

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Source: Facebook page [ar] Detainees and kidnapped are not just numbers in reports. Used under CC BY 2.0

On October 18, 2013, Redac_MM wrote: A Brave Cartoonist is Murdered by the Syrian Regime

I am saddened to write that Cartoonists Rights Network reports that Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan has been executed by the Syrian regime after a show trial.

While Syrian Observer quoted a stronger message: Here There Be Dragons: in Syria Akram Raslan is slain:

Tyrants might be able to fight off criticism or an insurrection or even assassination attempt with truncheons, bullets and terror.  But where do they turn their guns to stop their people from laughing at them?  Can there be any more efficient, more powerful, and cost-effective way of empowering a people than dispelling their fears with a courageous cartoon on its way to letting them laugh through their fear? 

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One of Akram's cartoons that outraged Assad regime. Source: Blog Cartoon Movement. Used under CC BY 2.0

On Twitter, Rime Allaf writes:

On Facebook, Alisar Iram shows solidarity:

Akram Raslan, dead or alive, we remember and cherish you.

While the Syrian Observer concludes with regret and hope at the same time:

I am sorry I couldn't reach down into the pit and drag you out Akram. Please forgive me. Perhaps your sacrifice will motivate us to look again into the mirror, and ask again where we straddle the line between fear and courage and challenge us, again, to take a new first step.

Non-Violent Activist Razan Zaitouneh Kidnapped in Syria

(photo source: Metro, 2012)

(photo source: Metro, 2012)

Four activists, among them internationally acclaimed non-violent activist Razan Zaitouneh, from Syria's Violations Documentation Center (VDC) were kidnapped by unidentified masked gunmen from the center's Douma office on the outskirts of Damascus, the Syrian capital, reported Activist News Association.

Zaitouneh, along with her team made up of Nazem al-Hamadi, Sameera Alkhalil and Wael Hamadah, were abducted on December 9, with no news of their whereabouts, sparking an international outcry.

Following their abduction, Douma's local committee issued a statement condemning the act, adding that the ransacking of the VDC office too was shameful and likened it to the work of Assad's regime [Arabic]:

(photo source: Douma Local Committee Facebook page)

(Photo source: Douma Local Committee Facebook page)

The statement reads [ar]:

Douma woke up today [Tuesday, December 10, 2013] to the news of an attack on the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria and the arrest of activist Razan Zaitouneh and her team, who have exerted their efforts in the support of this revolution and who have previously been arrested by the oppressive regime more than once. They have lived with us during our seige, stemming from the belief and true work is conducted from the battle ground and not on the pages of the Internet. We, in the local city council, condemn this cowardly act, which is similar to that of the regime, and call upon all the military groups and revolutionary forces to follow up on this case, which is a stain of shame on Free Douma.

On their behalf, Syria's Local Coordinators Committee, founded by Zaitouneh, demanded the release of all four activists and asked all human rights advocates to join the LCC's campaign. They also said that the abducted activists were highly inspired by Mandela, who recently passed away, adding that:

At a time when the world is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, we must remember that there are other Mandelas around the world. These activists were inspired and informed by Mr. Mandela’s work, and were promoting concepts of nonviolence and civil resistance in Syria even at a time when the regime has violated every possible tenet of human rights. Failure to call for their release is tantamount to failing in all that Human Rights defenders stand for in the call against tyranny.

According to a decree issued by Eastern Ghouta civic agencies, Zaitouneh received several threats prior to her kidnapping by both the regime and extremist insurgents while working in the Damascene district.

In a Facebook post, writer Yassin Al Haj Saleh, Alkhalil's husband, said their abduction is an insult to Syria and its revolution. He also asked those who can help to do so quickly.

سميرة الخليل (زوجتي) ورزان زيتونة ووائل حمادة وناظم حمادي معتقلين من البارحة بدوما.
الرجاء ممن يستطيع المساعدة أن يتصرف بسرعة.
اعتقال سميرة ورزان ووائل وناظم إهانة للثورة ولسورية.

Sameera Al-Khalil (my wife), along with Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamadah and Nazem al-Hamadi have been arrested since last night in Douma. Whoever can help, please take action soon. Arresting Sameera, Razan, Wael and Nazem is an insult to the revolution and to Syria.

Twitter users, too, began mobilizing a virtual campaign demanding the release of Zaitouneh and her colleagues. United States-based Syrian activist Rafif Jouejati marked their abduction as an indicator of humanity's death:

She also urged the global community to act as being silent is harmful to the cause:

Bahraini activist Maryam Alkhawaja remarked that the least the global community can do to help such a remarkable person is to collectively raise awareness on the act:

Executive Director of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement Ibrahim al-Assil added that Zaitouneh is a true revolutionary:

BBC Reporter Kim Ghattas said that Zaitouneh's kidnapping is a terrible blow to what's left of Syria's secular opposition:

Zaitouneh's accomplishments are nothing short of daring and courageous. She was awarded the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya award; the 2011 Sakharov Prize; and the 2013 International Women of Courage Award.

Her most recent work includes being among the first on site in the August 21 chemical weapon's attack on Ghouta, as Foreign Policy Middle East Editor David Kenner noted:

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Manager Kristyan Benedict remarked that their kidnapping happens to coincide with Human Rights Day:

Zaitouneh's work along with her abducted colleagues helped Syrians document their losses and grievances along the country's course of havoc since 2011. The VDC keeps a tremendous track of those abducted and always calls for their immediate release. Their work and contributions are essential not only to the revolution but also Syria's future. Their abduction harms every hopeful and positive aspect in today's misshaped Syria.

December 09 2013

Spain: Public Safety Bill or Threat to Civil Rights?

GreenPeace desplegó una pancarta inmensa en el edificio España con el lema NO a la #LeyAntiProtesta.

GreenPeace spread out a huge banner on the España building with the slogan “NO to the #AntiProtestLaw”

Various groups were quick to organize demonstrations against Spain's Protection of Public Safety Bill [es] a few days after Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz presented the draft bill. A new version of the bill could restrict basic civil rights, particularly affecting activists both online and on the streets.

This law will replace the Corcuera Law, passed by Felipe González's socialist government in 1992, which at the time was already known as the “kick down the door law” because it allowed security forces to enter and search a home without obtaining prior approval from a judge. It was later declared unconstitutional. Now the governing People's Party intends to compliment this law, despite having voted against it in 1992.

Joan Coscubiela, a representative from the Iniciativa per Catalunya – Verds (ICV) and spokesperson for Izquierda Plural, quipped that new version could be called the “kick in democracy's teeth law” [es] because it aims to start a “brutal attack on civil rights,” while the Izquierda Unida (United Left) parliamentary group commented that “the People's Party is trying to put the country under a totalitarian system.” Izquierda Unida (IU) MEP Willy Meyer spoke out before the European Commission about the fact that passing it would come as a violation to the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Although the government insists that the draft bill is just a draft [es], it appears to contain a series of measures against civil movements and any kind of dissent. It is expected that, due to societal pressure as well as that of other parliamentary groups and even judges, the draft will change in the coming days, before the final version is approved.

Many of those arrested during demonstrations (particularly since the economic crisis began) have not been convicted of criminal proceedings [es] because most of the judges hearing their cases have not found probable cause in police accusations. The new draft text considers the possibility of introducing offenses administratively. The 39 valid offenses will increase to 55, of which 21 are quite serious. The new law would involve “very serious” offenses (with fines between 30,001€ to 600,00€), “serious” offenses (between 1,001€ to 30,00€), and minor offenses (punishable by  100€ to 1,00€). These all fall well above penalties under the existing law.

Of all the new offenses included, the most problematic are:

  • It is against the law to participate in a demonstration before a state institution without sending prior notification to the relevant government office.
  • Those who call for demonstrations through the Internet, social networks, or another other means may also be penalized for having committed a very serious offense.
  • The circulation of riot images during demonstrations can also constitute a very serious offense, punishable by 600,000€.
  • Disobedience or resistance to authorities; refusing to identify oneself; and giving false or inaccurate information given to state security agents are all prohibited.
  • “Insulting, harassing, threatening, or coercing” members of the Security Forces will constitute a serious offense.
  • Circulating information on the Internet that is understood to be an attack on an individual's privacy or that of a person's family, or that contributes to disrupting an operation, will be punished equally with fines up to 600,000€.
  • Failure to provide a valid ID to the police upon request is prohibited.
  • Covering one's face with a hood, hat, or helmet will also result in a heavy fine and a serious offense if the subject is detained during a demonstration for violent behavior.
  • Violence against street furniture is prohibited.

Verbal offenses or insults, in written form or via advertising, against Spain, its Autonomous Communities, or its symbols or emblems, will be punished with imprisonment from seven to 12 months. (See hashtag #OfendeAEspaña (#OffendSpain) on Twitter as a response in protest of this new regulation.)

Amnesty International Spain has developed a campaign [es] and even a video denouncing the government's cuts to democracy:

Online action platform Avaaz has also launched a campaign [es] that has already collected over 100,000 signatures protesting the law.

As seen in this video, socialist parliament member Eduardo Madina says that if the bill passes, it will be appealed in the Constitutional Court. He even assures viewers that it will be repealed in the face of a possible change in the government in the next election. Meanwhile, the Interior Minister insults him and loses his temper:

One of the most active groups in the civil protests in Spain, the 15M, has seen a direct attack on the bill. Public reactions can be seen via hashtag #leyAnti15M (#Anti15Mbill).

GreenPeace also participated in the demonstration, which took place in Madrid two weeks ago, by hanging a large banner over the España building in Madrid with the slogan “NO to the #LeyAntiProtesta (#AntiProtestBill)”:

Concern remains that the commotion caused by the bill is diverting attention away from blatant cases of corruption [es] in the People's Party, where senior officials stand accused of violating the law, while others have already been jailed.

December 05 2013

Controversy Smolders Over Japan's State Secrecy Bill

Image by twitter user @281_ for anti-state-secrecy-protection bill.

Image by twitter user @281_ for anti-state-secrecy-protection bill.

Japan’s proposed State Secrecy bill continues to stoke controversy after its passage in the Lower House last week. The proposed law would introduce harsh new punishments for leaking national secrets related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage.

National security is one of the most important agenda items for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The bill, in relation to an already-enacted law that launched Japan's version of the NSA, is considered very important for the party's success.

During a key plenary session and even days after its approval, people opposing the bill rallied in front of the Diet (Japan's House of Parliament), shouting “stop the secrecy bill! The evil bill should be discarded!” This is unusual in Japan — although the Japanese constitution affords citizens the right to assemble, most people will not join public rallies.

Shigeru Ishiba, Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party, found the noise unpleasant, and casually referred to demonstrators as “terrorists” on his blog [ja]:

単なる絶叫戦術はテロ行為とその本質においてあまり変わらない

It seems to me that the tactic of simply shouting at the top of their lungs is not much different from an act of terrorism, in essence.

Taken out of context, Ishiba's comment might sound outrageous, but it's easy for people see protests as hindering political progress, whatever that progress might mean. Later, Ishiba posted an apology and correction [ja] to withdraw the above remark:

整然と行われるデモや集会は、いかなる主張であっても民主主義にとって望ましいものです。 一方で、一般の人々に畏怖の念を与え、市民の平穏を妨げるような大音量で自己の主張を述べるような手法は、本来あるべき民主主義とは相容れないものであるように思います。「一般市民に畏怖の念を与えるような手法」に民主主義とは相容れないテロとの共通性を感じて、「テロと本質的に変わらない」と記しましたが、この部分を撤回し、「本来あるべき民主主義の手法とは異なるように思います」と改めます。

Protests and gatherings held in an orderly nature, are desirable for democracy, regardless of what they stand for. On the other hand, I think protests, which are loud enough to bother neighboring citizens’ peace of mind, and leave citizens in awe by blatantly expressing what they stand for, run counter to authentic democracy. I had written on my blog that such acts are not much different from terrorism because I felt there was something similar about these tactics of scaring and leaving citizens in awe with an act of terrorism, but here I withdraw this part of the sentence, and rewrite it as “different from tactics in the original form of democracy.”

Such remarks have evidently done nothing to turn down the volume of protesters. If anything, it seems to be getting louder. On December 5 and 6, angry protesters marched in Hibiya park at a gathering dubbed “drums of fury” [ja].

A coalition of artists, film-makers, editors and publishers opposing the State Secrecy Protection Bill have gathered over 4,400 endorsements for an appeal [ja] against the bill. Their Facebook page [ja], founded on December 1, 2013, has already reached 8,270 Likes.

In a statement, they called for support from people who engage in acts of expression:

「表現人の会」では、声明の趣旨に賛同いただける方を広く募集しています。
条件は、「声明に賛同する」ことと、「あなた自身が、何らかの表現者」であること。プロ・アマ・経歴・国籍は問いません。

We are calling for people to support our appeal [against the Secrecy Bill]. Anyone engaged in any type of work that involves expressing yourself, regardless of nationality, professional or non-professional work history in expression, is eligible to support our appeal.

Patriotic conservative blogger gintoki commented on the issue, suggesting [ja] that people against the bill are predominantly leftists.

マスコミのみならず、ジャーナリストに弁護士、それに賛同する者達が集まってデモを行う・・・
その集団の後ろには労組系や左派系と思しき団体の幟が林立し、まるで反原発デモか、沖縄の反米・反基地運動かと見間違うほどだが、マスコミが彼らの事を左派系団体だとか、労組系を中心にした…などというその団体の本質的な部分について触れて報道する事は少ない

It is not only the mass media, lawyers, journalists, and people who support them and are coming together and protesting [against the bill] [...] This group appears to look like a protest rally before an anti-nuclear power plant, or and anti-US base in Okinawa, with multiple banners of unionists and left-looking groups behind them. However, no mass media described them as left-wing groups or unionist groups. Very few reports touch on the fundamental part of the protesting groups.

Until recently, acts of protest were considered some what rebellious and often times protesters were labeled as “professional activists”, “commies” or “leftists”. But since the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, more people have started to take action and we have seen many first-time demonstrators. Yet those who oppose the secrecy bill seem to stretch beyond Japan's so-called left.

A wide range of organizations have expressed opposition to the proposed law. Seven doctors and dentists released a statement [ja] opposing the bill that won the support of roughly 200 doctors and dentists:

私たち医師・歯科医師が「特定秘密の取扱者」になった場合、日常診療において患者さんから得る病歴・薬物歴・精神疾患歴・家族歴などのプライバシーを、国に強制的に提供させられることになるかもしれません。特定秘密に指定されれば、強制も秘密になります。これは医療者の守秘義務に大きく反し、たいへん危険な人権侵害に加担することになってしまいます。

We, doctors and dentists, may have to be obliged to provide the government with private information of patients such as illness history, record of medication, mental health history, family history that we keep from daily consultation, if we are assigned as people who deal with ‘special secret'. Once special secret is designated, we would have to keep the fact that it is enforcement. Such an act would be far from our duty of confidentiality as medical workers, and would assist human rights violation.

The Directors’ Guild of Japan [ja], Writers’ Guild of Japan [ja], and Japan Writers’ Guild [ja] also put out a joint statement against the bill.

To sound the alarm internationally, Japan Computer Access for Empowerment (JCAFE) released an urgent appeal on December 1, saying that the proposed law is dangerous in the following ways:

We think the law is problematic because:

  • The scope of “specific secrets” is broad and vague, and how exactly “specific secret” will be designated remains unclear. Especially, there is no regulation which forbids specification of the disadvantageous information for the government.
  • The government can permanently designate any information it wants to hide from the public as specific secrets.
  • Any independent third-party bodies will not established that have the power to screen information to determine whether it merits being classified as a specific secret. Even the Diet or courts can not check.
  • The bill includes serious threats to whistle-blowers and even journalists reporting on secrets. Government officials who, in good faith, release confidential information on violations of the law, or wrongdoing by public bodies, should be protected against legal sanctions.
  • Anyone who asks central government employees to offer specific secrets could be subject to punishment on the grounds that they abetted the leakage of secrets. This withers too much the coverage act by all the press containing community media, independent media, and foreign media with the intimidation by punishments.
  • The “aptitude evaluation system” is a privacy infringement not only to public servants and the private citizens that have accepted commissions for government contracts but also to their families, friends, and even their romantic partners.

We call upon all members of the House of Councilors to scrap the bill.

The House of Councilors is expected to vote on the bill on the afternoon of December 6.

December 03 2013

UN Experts Condemn Detention of Vietnamese Blogger Le Quoc Quan

wpid-le_quoc_quanA UN group of human rights experts has found that the detention of Vietnamese blogger and human rights defender Le Quoc Quan stands in violation of his right to freedom of expression and a fair trial. Le Quoc Quan was arrested in December 2012 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, which were aimed at preventing him from carrying out his legitimate human rights work. Following his arrest, he was held incommunicado and denied permission to see his lawyer for two months. He was also unable to see any of his family members until the day of his trial.

In October of this year, Quan was convicted and sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and a fine of 1.2 billion dong (approximately USD 59,000). Quan appealed this decision, but a trial date has not yet been set.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which is set up under the UN Human Rights Council, said that Quan’s detention might be “the result of his peaceful exercise of the rights and freedoms guaranteed under international human rights law” and “related to his blog articles on civil and political rights.” The Working Group statement continued:

Given Mr. Quan’s history as a human rights defender and blogger, the real purpose of the detention and prosecution might eventually be to punish him for exercising his rights under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to deter others from doing so.

The Working Group called for Mr Quan’s immediate release and also recommended that he be paid damages for his arbitrary detention. The group’s decision follows a petition filed in March 2013 by the Media Legal Defence Initiative and a coalition of human rights NGOs.

Mr Quan has long been persecuted by the Vietnamese government for his activities as a blogger and human rights defender. He has been detained several times, kept under state surveillance and also suffered physical attacks. The UN Working Group’s decision is clear confirmation that Le Quoc Quan’s detention for having merely exercised his rights to freedom expression, freedom of association and his rights as a human rights defender is unjustified and illegitimate. With international pressure on Vietnam mounting, calling for Quan’s release, rights advocates hope that the government of Vietnam will remedy the situation as soon as possible.

December 02 2013

Syrian Activists: Crimes Against Media Workers Must Stop

Media organizations in Syria are speaking out against the increasing harassment of journalists by jihadist groups in the country. Following recent abuses by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), advocacy groups in Syria and around the world have launched a campaign demanding an end to crimes against Syrian media workers.

The Global Voices Advocacy community is deeply concerned about threats and attacks against free speech posed by extremist groups taking over areas free of regime control in Syria. While the Syrian regime's tradition of censorship, monopoly over communication infrastructures, and repression against journalists and media activists is well-known, violations of freedom of expression in so-called “liberated” areas reveal a tragic trend.

We join other local and international organizations in demanding support of press freedom and freedom of expression, the release of detainees and an end to the crimes and abuses committed by ISIS in Syria. A campaign effort is under way at freepressforsyria.com.

PETITION STATEMENT: FREE PRESS FOR SYRIA

In its last report, Reporters Without Borders considers Syria “the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.” Priority targets of the regime and its security forces since 2011, Syrian journalists are now facing an increasing deadly threat since 2013: the Jihadist militias.

Facing retaliation if they denounce the abuses aloud, and facing extinction if they don't, Syrian media have chosen the former. Despite intimidation and threats, Syrian media are uniting for the first time and standing up together to demand an end to the crimes committed against all journalists. This is unprecedented and holds potential for real change. This coalition for press freedom and against intolerance has the potential to be the core of a vast popular movement.

However, Syrian media are taking a very serious risk by doing so, and their action will only have an impact if they receive enough national and international support to make a difference.

Please sign the petition to support the Syrian media who refuse the alternative between a criminal regime and intolerant extreme Islamists, and who show the possibility of a third way, equidistant from the Syrian regime and the Jihadist militias.

To sign this petition, visit Avaaz.org. This petition is available in Arabic, English, French, and Italian.

More coverage of media worker abuses in Syria:

November 29 2013

Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd El Fattah Arrested — Again

Alaa Abd El Fattah. Photo by Alaa And El Fattah via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Alaa Abd El Fattah. Photo by Alaa And El Fattah via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Prominent Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was arrested in his home at approximately 10pm on Thursday, November 28. An arrest warrant was issued for Abd El Fattah this past Tuesday, following violent dispersal of protestors in Cairo. The blogger's father told local media he believed the arrest was made under a new law effectively banning street protest in Egypt. At least 51 people were arrested that day, among them several prominent activists. Many were beaten and sexually harrassed.

Alaa was taken by police despite having declared that he'd deliver himself to the police on Saturday, according to a statement he made and that his aunt, renowned Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, posted on Facebook.

According to his wife, Manal, police used violent force when the arrest took place:

There is no known explanation of why the arrest took place today, given that Alaa had publicly stated that he would turn himself on Saturday.

Human Watch Egypt director Heba Morayef linked his arrest with the anti-protest law, drafted earlier this week:

Hesham Mansour offered his own ironic response:

Don't ask what Egypt has done for us. Ask how many times did Egypt arrest Alaa

Activist Mona Seif, Alaa's sister, informed her followers of her brother's detention location:

We are now sure that Alaa is being held in the CSF barracks in giza, on the Cairo – Alexandria desert road

Alaa Abd El Fattah was jailed under Hosni Mubarak's regime for 45 days and again by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in 2011, when he remained in jail for almost two months. He also faced charges under Mohamed Morsi's government in 2013, along with popular satirist Bassem Youssef, in what many perceived to be politically motivated charges used as an intimidation tactic. Each time, the #FreeAlaa hashtag has resurfaced to show solidarity. It seems that this is back on track.

November 26 2013

Will Tunisia's ATT Ring in a New Era of Mass Surveillance?

Stylized photo of surveillance cameras. Image by Corey Burger via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Stylized photo of surveillance cameras. Image by Corey Burger via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tunisian activists fear that mass surveillance and Internet censorship may return to their country following the creation of a new “investigative” telecommunications agency. On November 6, the Tunisian government announced the establishment the Technical Telecommunication Agency (known by its French acronym ATT or A2T) by decree. Article 2 decree n° 2013-4506 [fr] summarizes the mandate of the agency:

The Technical Telecommunications Agency provides technical support to judicial investigations into ICT-related crimes. It is thus tasked with the following missions:

- Receiving and treating orders stemming from the judicial authority to investigate and record ICT-related crimes in accordance with the applicable legislation.

- Coordinating with the different public telecommunication network operators, access networks and all concerned telecommunication service providers in all of its listed missions in accordance with the applicable legislation.

- Exploiting national monitoring systems of telecommunication traffic in accordance with international human rights treaties and personal data protection laws.

ATT members still have yet to be appointed and the agency has not begun its activities. But it has already raised eyebrows among activists and bloggers who say decree n° 2013-4506 lacks necessary mechanisms for protecting user rights.

Article 5 of the decree states that the annual report on the ATT's activities will be “secret, unpublished and only sent to the government.” Activist Skander Ben Hamda called the ATT decree ‘dishonest‘:

This agency is similar to dozens of other agencies around the world established under the pretense of fighting cyber-crime or counter-terrorism which transform the State into a massive-surveillance State. The decree establishing this agency is dishonest: total absence of civil society and lack of transparency.

On Twitter, Tunisian Pirate Party member Raed compared the ATT to the US National Security Agency:

In a statement [ar] issued on November 20, Tunisia's Ministry of Information and Telecommunications Technology said that the creation of the agency aims to “protect the [country’s] national cyberspace from crimes.” The statement continued: ”A set of guarantees on ATT’s activities have been made in order to consolidate respect for human rights, personal data protection, freedom of expression on the Internet and the right to access information.”

But this did not quell activists’ fears. In an interview with Global Voices, Internet freedom activist Dhouha Ben Youssef said, “The first problem is already in the form, the creation of this agency is made through a decree – not a law that must be voted by the National Constituent Assembly. Thus [there is] not even a debate.”

Unlike laws, decrees are issued by the government and do not require the parliament’s approval.

“Secondly, the introduction of the decree is based on a set of obsolete and repressive laws from the Ben Ali era,” Ben Youssef added.

“Hello darling, your beloved 404 [error] is back.” Tunisian netizens used the term “Ammar 404″ to refer to Internet censorship and surveillance under Ben Ali. Cartoon by Z.

The 2001 Telecommunication Code and the 2004 Privacy Law, were among the laws invoked by the government to establish the ATT. These two laws have deficiencies which make users vulnerable to judicial prosecution and state surveillance. Article 86 of the telecommunication code stipulates that anyone convicted of “harming others or disrupting their lives through public communication networks’’ may face up to two years in prison. This particular article was used many times under Ben Ali to prosecute and convict bloggers and users.

Also concerning is the fact that Tunisia's data protection authority (INDPD) remains weak under the2004 Privacy Law. Among other deficiencies, the law allows state authorities to collect and process personal data without obtaining the consent of the INDPD.

The autonomy and neutrality of the new agency has also been called into question.

Under Decree Article 4, the agency’s general director shall be appointed by the ICT ministry. A Tunisian Pirate Party statement [ar] charged that Article 4 “strips neutrality and objectivity” from the agency’s work and “makes spying on the opposition possible.”

The Ministry has said that a “follow-up” committee will be appointed within the ATT, with the intention of ensuring “good exploitation of national systems monitoring the telecommunication traffic in respect of personal data protection and public freedoms.” Yet just like the agency itself, this committee will be led by the ATT's general director.

The follow-up committee will be comprised by five government representatives appointed from the ministries of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, Interior, National Defense, ICT and Justice. A judge will act as the committee’s vice president and the two remaining members will be selected from the country’s data protection authority (INDPD) and the High Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, a government institution.

With the establishment of the ATT, the storied Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) will no longer be involved cybercrime investigations. ATI head Moez Chakchouk tweeted:

Indeed, amidst Tunisia's post-revolution legal and institutional vacuum the ATI often stepped in to assist judiciary investigations of cybercrime. ‘We don’t have any constraints but we try to help the court solve some cases, keeping a minimum surveillance,” Chakchouk said during the Freedom Online Conference in Tunis last June.

Tunisian activists have already launched the Stop #A2T campaign. “There is still time to get civil society and netizens involved,” said Ben Youseff. She suggested that the ATT board include a civil society representative. “By adding a representative at the A2T board, we'll be watching the watchers.”

November 22 2013

Protesters, Journalists Speak Out Against Japan's National Secrecy Bill

Protest against Japan's Secrecy Law

Screenshot from the live stream of the protest against the Secret Information Protection Act on November 21, 2013. Demonstrators chant, “No to secrecy law, protect the constitution.”

Thousands of people marched in Hibiya Park in Tokyo in protest of a bill that stiffens penalties for leaking classified information that could jeopardize national security. The bill has been lambasted by critics who fear it could hinder freedom of the press and the right to information.

Representatives from human rights groups, labor unions, the Japanese Communist party, and concerned citizens joined the protest on November 21. According to the organizer [ja], 7,000 people participated in the march to demand the withdrawal of the bill.

The bill would introduce harsher punishments for leaking national secrets in related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage, but it remains unclear how the so-called Secret Information Protection Act would define what is a “national secret”.

The day before the march, a group of journalists organized a press conference in Tokyo to publicly object to the bill. Journalist and critic Soichiro Tahara spoke [ja] at the gathering:

私たちが普段やっている取材では、オフレコ取材、共謀、教唆などあたりまえ。この法律で“不当な取材”とされたら10年の懲役刑を喰らう。これでは報道は萎縮してしまう。これは危険きわまりない法律で、とんでもない

The job of journalists like us commonly involves off-the-record news gathering…If the bill is put into force, our job of reporting could be considered an act of inappropriate reportage, and we could face ten years in prison. This would make journalists wither. A bill like this is nothing but dangerous, and truly absurd.

Journalists criticize Secret Information Protection Act

Journalists criticize the Secret Information Protection Act at a press conference held in Tokyo on November 20, 2013. Image captured by Labornet Japan

Article 19, a London-based organization concerned with freedom of expression, also condemns the bill:

ARTICLE 19 urges the Japanese National Diet (Japanese Parliament) to reject the pending Special Secret Protection Bill. The bill violates international standards on freedom of expression and the right to information.

On the Internet, a number of users mentioned the bill. According to social media analytics, more than 370,000 tweets mentioned the bill during the week of the protest. Users published their messages under the hashtag “Demolish the Secrecy Act”(#秘密保護法をブッ潰せ) to express their sentiments against the proposed law.

Aside from the danger that the bill poses for access to information and freedom of expression, a pseudonymous lawyer known as “K” pointed out in an article [ja] on Weekly Playboy that foreign spies might not be subject to the penalties of leaking information:

このままでは日本ばかりが外国の機密を守る義務が生じて、日本の機密は他国に奪われ放題という悲惨な状態に陥ってしまうと思います……

I think, ultimately, the law would only obligate Japan to protect secret information potentially designated as such by foreign countries, while Japan's national secrets can be spied on and obtained by other countries, which would be a terrible situation.

November 19 2013

Ecuadorean Activists Say No to Cybercafe Surveillance

Cybercafe, Ecuador. Photo by Romsrini via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cybercafe, Ecuador. Photo by Romsrini via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Links are to Spanish-language pages unless otherwise noted.

Do you use cybercafés to communicate with your family and friends, or for work or school? If you do and you find yourself in Ecuador, under a proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code (Código Orgánico Integral Penal or COIP), you may be captured on video while doing so. This new provision, along with new requirements for ISP data collection, has unleashed controversy across the Ecuadorian blogosphere. Its outcome could determine the fate of open Internet access in the country.

The proposed law is part of a growing trend among governments around the world to restrict the privacy of Internet users and the free exchange of information, first with anti-piracy laws and then with laws to fight cybercrime—measures that free speech activists fear are actually designed to increase surveillance of citizens by their governments. Examples of this trend are popping up in many countries in Latin America.

On a surprising note, similar processes have been used to pass this kind of law in two neighboring Latin American countries of Peru and Ecuador. In both cases, cybercrime-related bills included articles that had not been discussed previously by members of the national congress or assembly, as is the custom. In Peru the law has actually been promulgated, while in Ecuador the executive branch has yet to rule on it.

It is in this climate of anticipation that a few important steps have been taken in the tug-of-war over whether to approve or reject the bill. The bone of contention is article 474 of COIP, which mandates that all ISPs store user data (telephone numbers, IP addresses, etc.) and that cybercafé owners install video surveillance cameras to record customers using their services.

According to Alfredo Velazco of the Usuarios Digitales (Digital Users) association, the provision set out in article 474 appears to have originated in Ecuador's criminal investigations department, which also showed an interest in reducing anonymity on the Internet. In an article for the website Gkillcity, Velazco indicated that one of the problems is assembly members’ limited knowledge of digital culture:

Legisladores de excelente sueldo, que cuentan con asesores que ganan miles y comités de expertos, pero que ignoran ciertos temas digitales. El problema no es ignorar, pero son “ignorantes digitales” por ignorar voces e iniciativas dispuestas a brindar apoyo por ciudadanos desde la red. Los asambleístas deben legislar en función de garantizar los derechos de los ciudadanos también en plataformas digitales y, en este caso particular, de más 10 millones de usuarios ecuatorianos conectados.

Legislators with generous salaries, who have advisors earning thousands and committees of experts, but who ignore certain digital issues. The problem is not ignorance itself, but that they are “digitally ignorant” because they disregard voices and initiatives aimed at providing support to citizens through the Internet. Members of the Assembly should legislate to guarantee the rights of citizens on digital platforms as well, and in this particular case, that means the more than 10 million users connected in Ecuador.

As US-based digital rights group Access points out [en], one of the consequences of the legislation could be an increase in the cost of Internet access, thereby widening the digital divide for communities with limited resources and subjecting the poor to greater surveillance:

In addition to the deep human rights concerns, Article 474 also poses significant economic costs. Many of Ecuador’s internet users connect through cyber cafes, often small businesses in the room of a private home. Section 2 of the Article provides that those suppliers and distributors of information also must record the user identification, date and time of connection, as well as record their activities on video, again, for a minimum of six months.

The high costs of this provision — from purchasing video recording equipment to storing all user data for at least six months — may prove to be prohibitively expensive for many of these cybercafes, forcing them to go out of business. This would certainly diminish Ecuador's already low Internet penetration rate of 27.2%.

Además de las profundas preocupaciones de derechos humanos, el artículo 474 también representa costos económicos significativos. Muchos de los usuarios de Internet en el Ecuador se conectan a través de cibercafés, a menudo pequeños negocios en una habitación de una casa particular. La sección 2 de este artículo dispone que los proveedores y distribuidores de información también deben registrar la identificación del usuario, fecha y hora de conexión, así como grabar sus actividades en vídeo, una vez más, por un mínimo de seis meses.

Los altos costos de esta disposición – desde la compra de equipos de vídeo de grabación para almacenar todos los datos de usuarios de al menos seis meses – puede llegar a ser costosamente prohibitivo para muchos de estos cibercafés, lo que les obligaría a cerrar. Sin duda, esto disminuiría la ya baja tasa de penetración de Internet en Ecuador, del 27,2%.

Civil society organizations such as Usuarios Digitales, Apertura Radical and Asociación de Software Libre del Ecuador have adopted various strategies with citizens and state institutions, principally the National Assembly, to try to exert pressure on the executive to get it to veto article 474 of COIP. The upshot of this has been the creation of a large coalition called #InternetLibre, rallying other organizations at the national level in a concerted effort to defend the digital rights of citizens on several fronts.

In fact, members of the Assembly from different groups welcomed representatives of #InternetLibre and listened to their points of view and proposals regarding article 474 of COIP and others in the bill. It is worth mentioning that some members of the Assembly favour eliminating the article and others only support amendments to it.

On November 5, #InternetLibre also held a meeting with representatives of different coalitions and Internet freedom activists. The meeting garnered substantial tweets in the Ecuadorian cybersphere under the hashtag #InternetLibre. Journalist Bethany Horne summarized it for Alt1040:

Ayer 5 de noviembre, usando el hashtag #InternetLibre, más de cuarenta personas reunidas en Quito hablaron de las posibles consecuencias de un artículo incluido en el nuevo Código Integral Penal, aprobado hace poco por la Asamblea Nacional que va pronto a consideración final por el Presidente de la República, Rafael Correa. Entre los asistentes estuvieron miembros de la Asociación de Software Libre de Ecuador, el gremio de software AESOFT, la empresa Thoughtworks, docentes de varias universidades, abogados y los emprendedores de ECStartups.

Yesterday on November 5, using the hashtag #InternetLibre, more than 40 people gathered in Quito to discuss the potential consequences of an article included in the new Comprehensive Criminal Code, recently approved by the National Assembly and soon to be submitted for consideration to the President, Rafael Correa. Among the attendees were members of the Asociación de Software Libre de Ecuador, the AESOFT software guild, Thoughtworks, and the faculty of several universities as well as lawyers and entrepreneurs from ECStartups.

Some of the opinions expressed on Twitter that day were:

There is little awareness that article 474 of #COIP will bring a level of absolute surveillance to our society #Ecuador #InternetLibre
— Valeria Betancourt (@valeriabet) November 5, 2013

Let's do some activism! Find out more about COIP, stay on top of it and talk about how this is going to affect us on a daily basis #internetlibre
— Jesica Madrid (@jesicamadrid) November 5, 2013

Possible consequence of #COIP: to avoid having to store more ISP data, mobile service providers might even limit GB for navigation #InternetLibre
— Daniela Peralvo (@danielaperalvo) November 5, 2013

Meeting with President and advisers has more weight than delivering a letter
http://t.co/XLjwmXDGAj #InternetLibre #COIP
— Usuarios Digitales (@usuariosdigital) November 5, 2013

To conclude this post, we decided to talk briefly to Alfredo Velazco, activist and member of the association Usuarios Digitales, about what the next moves by #InternetLibre will be and what expectations there are about amending or eliminating article 474. This was his answer:

Basicamente hacer lobby entre los profesionales del sector que sean citados por entes estatales, ya que no han hecho llamamiento o acercamiento a la sociedad civil vía #InternetLibre, pese incluso a que les hemos escrito para dialogar. Adicionalmente tambien contacto con el Presidente, quien en ultima instancia tiene opcion a vetar ciertos articulos del Codigo Penal. Continuar con la campaña hasta tener un compromiso de las autoridades encargadas. Nuestra expectativa es la eliminación del artículo, no su modificación.

Basically to lobby professionals in the field who are mentioned by state bodies, who have not called on or approached civil society via #InternetLibre, despite our having written to them to begin a dialogue. In addition, contact with the President, who ultimately has a veto option over certain articles of the criminal code. To continue the campaign until we have a commitment from the appropriate authorities. We want the article eliminated, not modified.

Post originally published on the blog Globalizado by Juan Arellano.

 

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