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February 27 2014

“Google Tax” Threatens Spain's News Aggregators

El ministro de Cultura con el presidente y el director general de AEDE. Foto de eldiario.es, con licencia CC BY SA 3.0

The Minister of Culture with the president and CEO of AEDE. Photo from eldiario.es, under the CC BY SA 3.0 license.

A draft law that would amend Spain's Intellectual Property Law — also known as the Sinde Law  – was brought before Parliament on February 14. The bill aims to combat Internet piracy, restricting in passing the use of links and citations of publications by imposing a so-called “Google tax” on websites that use them.

The bill would amend Article 32.2 of the current law, establishing an obligation of paying a “compensation” to the media for utilizing fragments of its content. As 20minutos.es [es] reports:

El proyecto aprobado este viernes autoriza con carácter general “el uso de fragmentos no significativos” de noticias, artículos de opinión o de contenidos de entretenimiento sin autorización por parte de los titulares de derechos pero concede a los autores “un derecho irrenunciable” de compensación.

The bill passed this Friday authorizes “the use of insignificant fragments” of news, opinion articles, or entertainment content without authorization on behalf of the right holders, but grants the authors “an inalienable right” to compensation.

This measure would initially affect aggregators of news like Google NewsMenéame [es], or Flipboard. The tax would be collected by CEDRO, a copyright management entity whose main partners are the most important communications groups in the country, such as Prisa, Zeta, and Planeta, and would then distribute the money equally among its members. According to David Maetzu's blog, Del derecho y las normas [es], this fee would apply:

(…) no sólo a los contenidos que ponen en las webs los medios de comunicación “tradicionales” (prensa, radio, televisión) si no a cualquier “sitio web de actualización periódica”.

Esto debe incluir cualquier blog, revista electrónica, etc, que se actualice con contenidos nuevos. (…) Por lo tanto, cualquier blogger tendría derecho a cobrar de la web a la que sea agregado.

Y es un derecho irrenunciable (…) por lo que aunque uses una licencia Creative Commons el sitio que te agrega tendrá que pagar a la entidad de gestión en tu nombre. (…) aunque no estés asociado y lógicamente, al no estar asociado no te pagará nada y lo repartirá entre sus otros socios.

(…) not only to the content that “traditional” media (press, radio, television) puts on the web, but rather any “website that is periodically updated.”

This includes any blog, e-magazine, etc. that is updated with new content. Therefore, any blogger would have the right to charge the website to which they are added.

And it is an inalienable right (…) meaning even if you use a Creative Commons license, the website that adds you will have to pay the management company in your name. (…) even though you are not associated and logically, upon not being associated, you will not be paid anything and this money will be allocated amongst its other partners.

The representatives of the major media groups have been very satisfied with the measure, which they view as a just compensation for the loss of readers and money that they have been experiencing in recent years. In a statement, the president of the AEDE – the association that brings together the country's leading media,  the same ones that make up the CEDRO management entity – said [es],

La modificación de la Ley de Propiedad Intelectual, que incluye el derecho de compensación por parte de los agregadores, es el paso más importante que ha dado un gobierno en España para la protección de la prensa. Estoy seguro de que este camino que se acaba de abrir será seguido por el resto de países de Europa.

The amendment to the Intellectual Property Law, which includes the right to compensation from the aggregators, is the most important step that a government in Spain has taken to protect the press. I am sure that this path that just opened will be followed by other European countries.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of online media, bloggers, and Internet users are of the opinion that with this measure, traditional media is “biting the hand that feeds them,” given that an important segment of traffic to their sites comes from news aggregators. Ignacio Escolar, the director of eldiario.es, says in his blog [es]:

Estar en Google es opcional. Poner en tu periódico los botones de Twitter, o de Facebook, o de Menéame, también es voluntario. Nadie obliga a ningún diario a ser “robado” por un agregador de noticias o un buscador que enlace a sus artículos. Al contrario: es bastante sencillo desaparecer de Google, pero ninguno de los medios de comunicación que estos días celebran el nuevo canon digital querría salir de allí.

Being on Google is optional. Putting buttons for Twitter, Facebook of Menéame on your news publication is also voluntary. No one is forcing any newspaper to be “robbed” by a news aggregator or a search engine that links to its articles. On the contrary: it is quite simple to disappear from Google, but none of the media that celebrates the new digital fee these days would want to get out of there.

In fact, all of the media that defends the Google tax have social media sharing buttons on their pages so that the reader can send the links for different social networks and aggregators. In the screenshot below of the newspaper El Mundo, published by Carlos Herrero in his blog [es], readers can look at a text that criticizes “the absolute impunity with which news aggregators are being enriched at the expense of the labor of others,” right next to the aforementioned buttons:

editorial-el-mundo-agregadores

Blogger J.R. Mora writes [es]:

Nunca se ha leído, comentado, debatido y difundido tanto lo que se publica en los medios como ahora, la prensa en internet está viviendo una nueva juventud gracias a redes sociales, blogs y agregadores, y se arriesgan a que esto cambie y también lo pierdan. (…) Otro rescate, ahora a la industria de los medios.

That which is published in the media has never been read, commented on, debated, or shared as much as it is now, the online press is experiencing a new life thanks to social networks, blogs, and aggregators, and now this is at risk of changing and being lost. (…) Another bailout, now of the media industry.

Enrique Dans, professor at the IE Business School and a PhD in Information Systems, goes even further on his blog [es], and believes that with this measure, the government wants to buy the submission of the mainstream media:

[El] gobierno, obsesionado con el tratamiento de los medios de comunicación y preocupado por las próximas citas electorales, ha decidido tomar por asalto las posiciones que no controlaba: mediante el reparto de la jugosa tarta de la publicidad institucional y poniendo encima de la mesa la citada modificación de la ley, ha conseguido ya modificaciones en las cúpulas de los principales diarios que le habían resultado hostiles: tras los cambios en la dirección de La Vanguardia y El Mundo, suena ahora el relevo en El País, completando un movimiento en las cabeceras tradicionales que estaba en realidad planificado desde antes incluso de que el Partido Popular llegase al poder.

La web de AEDE, inoperativa a consecuencia de un ataque DoS de Anonymous. Foto de alt1040.com con licencia CC BY-NC 2.5

The AEDE website, inoperative as a result of a DoS attack from Anonymous, which posted a message on its homepage calling the “AEDE's Online Boycott of the media”. Photo from alt1040.com under the CC BY-NC 2.5 license.

[The] government, obsessed with the treatment of the media and worried about the next elections, has decided to take the positions it didn't control by assault: by sharing the juicy pie of institutional advertising and putting this change in the law on the table, it has already achieved changes in the leadership of the major newspapers that have ended up hostile: following the changes in the direction of La Vanguardia and El Mundo, now we see the reveal at El País, completing a movement in traditional news sources that was actually planned before the People's Party even came to power.

Menéame, the main aggregator harmed by the new law, has issued a statement [es] in which they express their opposition of the tax, review the traffic that they provide to the mainstream media, and affirm that upon passing the law, they will have to choose between “blocking links to local newspapers, leaving Spain, or shutting down.” Meanwhile, users of the aggregator have begun their own “war” against the AEDE media [es], scoring their news negatively to remove them from the top positions, while Anonymous hacked the AEDE website.

The draft law has also failed to receive support from popular online newspapers like 20minutos.es and eldiario.es, which has been particularly critical of the tax [es]. Similar legislation has already been unsuccessfully attempted to be put in place in other countries like Germany, France, and Belgium [es], where traditional media was “punished” with not appearing on Google for six years until they resigned to charging the fee.

February 26 2014

Digital Surveillance in Angola and Other “Less Important” African Countries

A recent report from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab traces the use of surveillance malware developed by the Italian company Hacking Team and deployed in Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia. Last year, a German-English company's malware was detected in South Africa and Nigeria. These findings have generated new interest in the issue in sub-saharan Africa.

Detection of malware and other “cheap” surveillance technologies — relatively affordable “off-the-shelf” products made by private companies — in Africa's largest countries seems to be of ongoing interest to researchers. But what about the countries which through a western lens are seen as “less important”, either for their population, language or geopolitical sway?

Angola is an interesting case: The oil-rich nation has a relatively small population and a powerful ruling party that has been in control for 33 years. Investigative journalists, youth protesters, and social mobilizations – mostly around issues like housing and political corruption – seem to irk the regime, but the broader impact of these activities can be hard to track.

Last December, security researcher Jacob Applebaum spoke at the Chaos Communication Congress about Angolan investigative journalist Rafael Marques and his laptop. Marques, a widely acclaimed journalist known for his investigations of abuses of power at the highest level, approached Applebaum with an all too common query: “there seems to be something wrong with my laptop, it's running slow.” Applebaum found what he described as the “lamest backdoor” he'd ever seen, a spyware program that was surreptitiously taking screenshots of Marques’ activities and attempting to send them to another machine.

In the video below, Appelbaum shows Marques how even though he used TOR to protect himself, his machine had been compromised by a very crude form of spyware:

Marques, who edits the independent website Maka Angola was arrested and beaten months after discovering his laptop had been compromised. He is currently facing civil suits in both Angola and Portugal for his research which includes unmasking an international money laundering scheme for diamonds mined in Angola’s troubled Lunda region.

Applebaum suggests that even the least tech-savvy regimes can find new ways of exerting control using simple digital surveillance products and techniques. Yet there is little public discussion about data security, surveillance and the law in Angola.

One reason may be that real-world, physical surveillance and infiltration – with some of the  intelligence agents trained in the ex-Soviet Bloc – is so pervasive that activists and journalists do not feel any particular urgency about protecting their online activities.

Marques is now actively tracking the issue of surveillance in Angola. In October he described proposed legislation that would allow the state vast powers for warrantless search and prohibit certain forms of online communication. These provisions, he noted, were added to a 2010 draft Internet Governance bill released shortly after popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Although these forms of surveillance are relatively new, threats to press freedom are hardly new in Angola. Local independent newspapers and news outlets, have been criminalized or had their ability to expand restricted by onerous, seemingly politically motivated licensing requirements. Marques himself often lives and works in other countries. He is currently facing a defamation suit in Portugal, filed by Angolan members of the regime [pt].

Much like in Ethiopia, many Angolan activists and independent media workers are closely linked to the country's diaspora. An Ethiopian journalist residing in Washington, DC recently filed a legal challenge against the Ethiopian government over surveillance via malware on his computers. This development, at the very least, should help to raise awareness among Ethiopian exiles and activists. The case, which has been filed in the US, will hinge on careful research and tracing of malware.

For individuals like Marques in countries around the world, the Ethiopian case may suggest an interesting, international way of reversing a power imbalance — a way of striking back against threats to open investigation and expression. What remains to be seen in “less important” countries like Angola is whether civil society activists, researchers, and lawyers can find the resources and rally together internationally to trace and challenge increasing digital surveillance.

February 25 2014

Arab Bloggers: A Blessed Generation?

“Your generation is blessed. Everybody has a phone now, internet is accessible everywhere, satellite TV is available in almost every home. What more do you need?”

This was thrown at me by a middle-aged Jordanian taxi driver who took me from the Amman airport to the Arab Bloggers Meeting last month. I was trying to share with him my frustration about the situation of freedom of expression in the Arab world.

Three years earlier, I may have agreed with the man’s comment. Today it seems to encapsulate almost all that is wrong with the way some of us still think about how technology can change things.

Surveillance Is Bad For Your Internet. Poster by Hisham Almiraat (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Surveillance Is Bad For Your Internet. Poster by Hisham Almiraat (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It’s true that communications technology has revolutionized the way we learn about the news or the way we spread ideas –or even the way we relate to each other. Three years back, it even seemed that it had finally succeeded in cracking the wall of censorship and fear that plagued the Arab region for decades. Social media platforms, blogs and the increasing availability of smart phones allowed a generation of citizen journalists to report and inform, while activists could mobilize and organize at a level not seen in the region for decades.

It seemed that people no longer had to worry about censorship and government control over the media. We were the media.

A lot of us believed that the mere access to modern means of communications had acted as the catalyst that allowed the sweeping wave of protests to continue, gather pace and arguably succeed. Today, not many of us are ready to make that unblinking assumption.

New challenges 

The challenges faced by bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa have shifted substantially ever since.

(By blogger, I don’t only mean a person keeping a blog, but rather anyone using the Internet for political or civic engagement.)

Since our last Arab bloggers meeting in Tunis in 2011, at least two major changes have occurred:

For one thing, bloggers are no longer expected to be “mere” commentators. From simple observers to active participants, a lot of them had to adapt to a new, more complex political reality where a lot more is demanded of them.

This called for a whole set of new skills and resources that those most active, most influential or those who agitated for the revolution didn’t necessarily have in store. They are looked at for answers, ideas, actions in so many more areas and ways than they used to be. And in a bitterly polarized region where things are moving so fast and so much is happening every day, the task can seem crushing — almost paralyzing.

I know that this has caused many around me to question their role. I also know that it’s been cause for frustration about the lack of resources pro-democracy activists generally have access to. Some of us just couldn't cope and gave up trying. Some even stopped being active online.

Secondly, the nature of the threats against freedom of expression online has equally shifted: Prior to the revolutions, governments in the region seemed resigned to the idea that Internet filtering was the primary way to stifle free expression on the web.

But now they seem to have learned a new lesson: Censorship may be cheap and efficient, but it is relatively easy to expose. Surveillance on the other hand is more subtle and much harder to identify

Over the last three years, electronic surveillance and interception technology have very much become the name of the game. A multi-billion dollar market has sprung up and many governments in the region seem happy to cash in. Today, with very few exceptions, many of those governments spend huge sums of money on expensive, state-of-the-art electronic surveillance and interception technology, most of it developed by western private companies.

Take the case of my country, Morocco, for example:

In 2012, the country purchased a two million USD program called Project Popcorn, developed by French company Amesys. It is said to be able to intercept and monitor all sorts of communications at a country-wide scale.

The same year, a Moroccan online activist group was visited by “Da Vinci”, a sophisticated virus worth half a million US dollars and developed by a Milan-based company, revealingly named Hacking Team. It is said to be able to compromise any operating system, take control of specifically targeted computers and communicate keystroke records and private files to a distant server.

For all we know, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Similar instances were flagged in places like Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt. And the list is growing.

As a result, while censorship remains a major weapon against free speech in the region, electronic surveillance, with its chilling effect on free speech, is becoming a serious threat.

It’s no surprise that three years after the start of the Arab revolutions, the situation of online freedom of expression in the region seems almost as bleak as it did before 2011.

Planting the seeds for a better future

How are we coping with the new reality? Are there any new and creative forms of online activism that have succeeded in the last three years and that we can learn from?

How can we ultimately play an effective role in improving the internet freedom situation in our countries? And to what extent can we rely on technology to protect us online?

These are but some of the questions that participants at the fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting (#AB14) set out to answer.

For four days, the meeting (co-organized by Global Voices Advocacy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation) brought together 70 bloggers, activists, artists, and trainers came from all over the world, including from 16 Arab countries. Participants, like myself, were full of questions and keen to share their stories and skills while also anxious to learn from their peers.

Perhaps the most important lesson I left with is the idea that despite our broader access to modern means of communication in the region today, they seem to only work at the periphery and not necessarily as a major factor for change as a lot of us seemed to think three years back.

There’s a need to find ways to connect and combine online activity with the “offline” efforts of people who traditionally work to effect change in the real world. And that process seems to work towards change only when technology succeeds in mobilizing and organizing a broader and diverse sector of society.

Arab bloggers today are fighting a tough fight —an asymmetrical warfare, where it is no longer a question of access to technology alone, but also a larger, more fundamental question of user rights, of how technology is governed and whether it’s free from government interference.

The ominous feeling that someone may be looking over our shoulders makes it difficult, even for the most daring among us, to operate freely.

But this is not a lost battle. We may not be so blessed of a generation after all, but I feel like AB14, by bringing us together, has succeeded in planting the seeds for a better future.

February 18 2014

Collecting Data About Possible Web Censorship in Venezuela

Marianne Díaz, lawyer, digital activist and Global Voices Advocacy author, has been making constant appeals from her Twitter account asking users to collaborate on collecting data related to access to some websites and online platforms from Internet service providers in Venezuela, due to growing reports of partial or total blockage of online content and services.

Do you have some free time? Help me test if the websites on this list are accessible where you are located.

She urges users in Venezuela, and those able to test sites via proxy, to report their findings with Herdict, an online project that collects and shows real-time, crowdsourced information about online censorship.

Marianne believes that putting together this kind of information is very important in the current climate in Venezuela. After three people died in protests on February 12, demonstrations and clashes between protesters and security forces have continued across the country. Marianne states that “data is evidence, and evidence is more resistant than opinion.”

February 17 2014

Sudan: Blogger Remains in Detention for Criticizing Presidents

Sudanese blogger and activist Tajeldin Arja has been in detention since his arrest on December 24, 2013 at a joint press conference of the Sudanese and Chadian Presidents in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. Arja, a political activist from North Darfur, interrupted the speaker at the opening session and criticized the two leaders, in what Amnesty International described as an effort to “[hold] them responsible for the atrocities committed in Darfur.”

He was then arrested by security guards, as the video below clearly shows. Local and international human rights organization stated that the 26-year-old blogger is at serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Activists in Sudan have called for a solidarity sit-in before the governmental human rights commission to demand his immediate release. The sit-in will take place on Tuesday, February 18.

Chadian president Idris Deby was on an official two-day visit to Khartoum to discuss peace, security and border issues in the Darfur region with Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir. On the day before his arrest, Arja, who hails from North Darfur, announced on his Facebook account his intention to attend the presidential press conference and confront the audience whom he described as “opportunist leaders.” He called on other activists to do the same and express their “impressions” about the event and its attendees.

Arja's arrest was widely reported on after video footage of the incident — apparently taken by an anonymous attendee from a mobile phone — was uploaded on YouTube. The video shows Arja standing in the front row and shouting criticism at the two presidents. “You want to fool and deceive public opinion!”, he was heard saying to Al-Bashir and Diby. Security guards immediately seized him and can be seen escorting him outside the conference hall. “You can kill us, torture us…” were his last spoken words on the short video. News sources have reported that members of the security service at the conference confiscated the equipment of international journalists and TV channel crewmen at the event and conducted on-site search of their content in anticipation that the arrest might have been caught on camera.

Amnesty International has issued an urgent action appeal calling on Sudanese authorities to charge Arja with a recognizable criminal offense or to release him without delay, warning that he remains under serious risk of torture and other forms of mistreatment. The organization emphasized that Arja was one of the victims of their ill-fated policies surrounding the conflict in Darfur:

Tajeldin Ahmed Arja is from North Darfur. He was displaced with his family during the early years of the Darfur conflict. Since then, he has reportedly become critical of the Sudanese government and has written and blogged about the situation in Darfur.

Independent online newspaper Al-Taghyeer [ar] reported that a close relative of Arja, who was able to visit him in prison, said that the blogger was held in solitary confinement and was subjected to systematic and continuous beating and torture:

وقال المصدر للـ (التغيير الالكترونية) إن علامات الاعياء والتعذيب ظهرت بوضوح علي المعتقل الذي قال انه ظل يتعرض منذ اعتقاله “لعمليات تعذيب متواصلة توقفت قبل الزيارة بيومين”. وقال عرجة، انه وضع طوال مدة اعتقاله في “حبس إنفرادي وتم تحويله قبل ايام لسجن كوبر في معتقل جماعي”.

وابلغت السلطات اسرة عرجه انها لن تتمكن من مقابلته إلا بعد مرور خمسة عشر يوما علي مدة الزيارة الاولي.

The source has told Al-Taghyeer Online that signs of fatigue and exhaustion were visible on [Tajeldهn] Arja, who said that he has been subjected to “continuous torture since his arrest that only stopped two days before the visit”. Arja said that he was put under solitary confinement during all his detention, and was only transferred days ago to Kober Prison.

A Blow to Government Rhetoric

Blogger and activist leader Amjed Farid wrote a blog post putting Arja's arrest in the context of that state of freedom of expression in Sudan and the upcoming 2015 presidential elections:

It is not only the case of Tajeldin Arja although it is enough to make the point. Sudan government keeps a very harsh censorship on daily newspapers with three of them (Almidan, Rai Alsha’ab and Altayar) prohibited from printing for almost three years now without any official reasons (the first two are official publications of legally registered parties). Moreover, during September and October last year, the regime detained hundreds of politicians and activists from their homes and the reason was their political views and stands. The detention was the easy part of that, others hundreds were killed in the streets in cold blood for demonstrating against price raise and economic measures in September 2013.

The youth movement Sudan Change Now has called on its Facebook page [ar] for the activism community in Sudan to hold a peaceful sit-in on February 18, 2014, in front of the government-run Human Rights Commission (HRC) to demand the immediate release of Arja.

Observers have argued that Al-Bashir's failure to issue an executive order to release all political detainees renders the government's new language of open dialogue, reform and reconciliation “empty rhetoric”, as Tajeldin Arja and many other activists languish in prisons while the perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations enjoy impunity.

Algerian Cartoonist Faces 18 Months in Jail for Mocking President

All links lead to French-language web pages.

His name is Djamel Ghanem, and he's a young Algerian cartoonist. His job is no fun in a country where censorship and prosecution await those who dare to speak their minds. Ghanem faces 18 months in prison for an unpublished caricature of Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that was deemed offensive by the authorities.

Djamel Ghanem

Djamel Ghanem via Algérie Focus. Used with permission

In fact, President Bouteflika is not represented or even directly mentioned in the unpublished cartoon. The drawing portrays two citizens mocking the fourth term the current president is seeking after ruling Algeria for 15 years. The caricature compares the fourth mandate to baby diapers. With the drawing, Ghanem wanted to convey the idea that Algerians are treated like children.

For that, he was taken to court and threatened with imprisonment. The district attorney of Oran, the second largest city in Algeria, located 400 kilometers northwest of the capital Algiers, wanted the cartoonist to admit that he had the intention of insulting the president. But Ghanem categorically denied that he had such intention.

Neither Bouteflika nor his advisers filed the suit against Ghanem. It was Ghanem's former employer, La Voix de l'Oranie (Voice of Oran), a daily newspaper known for its pro-regime editorial line, who sued him for the cartoon which was never published in the media.

Sued by his own newspaper, Ghanem saw all the doors of Algerian media closing in his face. Interviewed by Algerie-Focus, Ghanem explained that he has had difficulties finding a lawyer to defend his cause along with other challenges:

Le directeur de publication d’un autre quotidien a été menacé si jamais il me recrutait. Je suis devenu persona non grata. A travers moi, ils veulent abattre l’opposition algérienne qui dit non à un quatrième mandat

the director of another newspaper was advised to not hire me. I became persona non-grata. Through me, they want to thwart the opposition who is fighting against a fourth term for the president.

After the case's first hearing, the judges requested an 18-month prison sentence against Ghanem. The final ruling is expected next month on March 4. Meanwhile, netizens are voicing their support for and solidarity with Ghanem. An online petition demands that Ghanem be let go:

Si les médias et l’opinion se taisaient sur cette atteinte à la liberté d’expression et ces violations des droits d’un citoyen dans les bureaux d’un juge, les tribunaux pourraient demain condamner un journaliste pour avoir pensé du mal du président de la république, d’un gradé de l’armée, d’un ministre ou d’un élu. Nous signataires de cet appel exigeons l’arrêt des poursuites judiciaires engagées contre Djamel Ghanem

If the media and public opinion keep quiet on this infringement of freedom of expression and the violation of a citizen's rights, then tomorrow any court can charge a journalist for criticizing the president of the republic, an army official, a minister or a deputy. With this petition, we demand an end to the prosecution against Djamel Ghanem.

By shielding the president against any criticism, the administration is trying to impose a totalitarian ideology upon its citizens. Freedom of expression is at risk in Algeria. Ghanem's case is a typical example of how dire the situation is for cartoonists and other people willing to speak up.

February 14 2014

Love in the Time of Code Era: A Poem About Secure Communication

This Valentine's card featuring a poem about love in the Post-Snowden era was published in order to draw attention to the importance of secure communication. The text was written by netizen skylark1848, the design and illustration of the poem is the work of artist Xpectro.

Love in the Time of Code Era

With you I am not alone
this transfer protocol is falling prey
to various ARP attacks
they've launched in the name of security.

My full address list was cached
in my DN/A/S.
The one I was longing to share only with you.

They have obtained it. Flush.

It's been a year you first whispered in my ear that PGP is of no use anymore. We are no XMPPtions so, sweetheart, have you received my message? What does the server know?

And now, perhaps https protects my message but not my identity. This is not a secure chat room built from decentralised bricks of bits coming from tunnels rooted all over the world. Lanterns signaling the nodes are lit by cables taped along the pathways by ever-recording hands.

They have created this channel for you and I. They are watching us while
we are falling for each other over a pixellated video conversation. The connection lags, and you log off and on.

Our keys are corrupted. Everything you know about me has to be erased. Format your brain and write all over the drive. Fill your disk space with random floating numbers.

One click: Don't confirm.

I won't tell them I love you.
Goodbye OTR.

Love in the Time of Code Era

Venezuela: Protests Leave Three Dead as Threats to Media Escalate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fran Monroy posted on Twitter:

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

Rodrigo Blanco posted an alert about the situation:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The protests have not stopped.

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

February 11 2014

Brazilian Activists Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 08 2014

Some Kazakh Bloggers Dine With Mayor, Some Get Jail Terms

alm

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

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

‘Corrupt bloggers’

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

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

Shortly before his detention, Aitelenov tweeted this image:

Rally against corrupt bloggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Useful’ meeting

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

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

Following the meeting, bloggers have also responded to criticisms.

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

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

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

February 05 2014

Netizen Report: Egypt and Saudi Suppress Speech With Terror Laws

Photographer at a protest in Cairo. Photo by Rowan El Shimi via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Photographer at a protest in Cairo. Photo by Rowan El Shimi via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Sonia Roubini, Ellery Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Egypt, where 20 journalists employed by Al Jazeera are facing terror-related charges. They stand accused of assisting terrorist efforts to “influence international public opinion” and of presenting “unreal scenes” that suggest Egypt has descended into civil war.

But many observers say these journalists were simply doing their jobs. On independent Egyptian news site Mada Masr, Democracy Now’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous wrote, “the charges would be comical if they weren't so serious.” He continued:

The much-hailed new constitution guarantees freedom of thought and opinion, yet those with dissenting thoughts and opinions are targeted. Freedom of the press is guaranteed, yet journalists are behind bars. Why even refer to rights and legislation when those enforcing the law are its most egregious violators?

Al Jazeera has created a timeline of events surrounding the arrests. A full English translation of the journalists’ charge sheet can be found on the New York Times website. Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and many other human rights groups are demanding the journalists be released.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s government released a draft bill last week that would criminalize the use of online platforms (the bill explicitly mentions Facebook) to “directly or indirectly promote acts of terror” in the country.

And Egypt is not the only country in the Arab region where dissent is being quashed by terror allegations. On Feb. 2, the royal cabinet of Saudi Arabia enacted a new counterterrorism law that will “allow the government to label any Saudi who demands reform or exposes corruption as a terrorist,” according to Human Rights Watch. The new law will codify many of the practices that the Saudi government already uses to target public dissent.

Free Expression: Serbia’s deputy PM saved by the DMCA

In Serbia, a viral video mocking an appearance by Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on national news was removed from YouTube due to alleged copyright infringement. Administrators of Serbian websites that featured the video found their sites temporarily blocked and social media accounts hacked. Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina and SHARE Foundation published a press release [link in Russian] condemning the use of copyright provisions to impose censorship. Vucic has since claimed that he wasn’t responsible for the removal of the video and later re-posted the satire on his Facebook page.

A Turkish bill that would give the government broad censorship and surveillance powers was submitted to Parliament this week. Learn more about the bill here.

Surveillance: The Sochi spy regime

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) will keep a close watch over foreign visitors during the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi with its new digital surveillance system. Personal information of organizers, athletes, and journalists will be compiled into a telecommunications database, along with a wide range of metadata, including “connections, traffic, and subscriber payments.” The November 2013 government decree [link in Russian] authorizing this type of surveillance also permits the FSB to retain and analyze the data for three years after the Sochi games. This has ignited fears that the Russian government could use the data against foreign journalists for years to come.

On a related note, Russian opposition blogger Alexey Navalny has launched an interactive website this week outlining the “true costs” of the Olympic preparations in Sochi.

The latest Snowden revelations concern Canada, where the Communications Security Establishment Canada, the country’s cybersecurity agency, allegedly test-ran a technology that enabled it to track any device that connected to the free Wi-Fi offered in a Canadian airport. CSEC head John Forster defended the agency on grounds that the test didn’t run in real-time and wasn’t an actual operation.

Privacy: How did the NSA snatch encryption keys?

An appeal by encrypted email provider Lavabit against the Justice Department may, for the first time, provide insight into how government organizations like the NSA obtain the encrypted SSL keys that enable to it eavesdrop on some web communications. Lavabit shut down in early August 2013 after being asked to provide SSL keys to the FBI.

Industry: Netizens say bye-bye to Weibo

Chinese microblog site Sina Weibo has lost members for the first time since 2010. Possibly because of a government crackdown on online speech, membership in Weibo declined by 9 percent over the past year.

Online education platform Coursera blocked access to its services in Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan—all countries under U.S. economic sanctions—after receiving a warning from the US State Department. Thanks to an exception for educational tools, Coursera has since reinstated access in Syria. No such luck for Cuban, Sudanese, or Iranian students.

New rules from the Justice Department allowed technology companies to provide more detailed information on national security-related data requests they receive from the U.S. government. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo break down the requests into three categories in their reports released Feb. 3—FISA content requests, FISA non-content requests, and national security letters.

Internet Governance: Pick your poison, Bhutan

The Bhutan government has come under criticism for its plans to migrate all internal communications to Google servers hosted outside Bhutan. Officials say the program will help the nation to become more eco-friendly and will help secure government websites, which have been frequently hacked in the past. Critics including the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society have expressed concern that this will leave the country vulnerable to surveillance by the United States.

North Korea unveiled a new, tightly controlled Intranet called Kwangmyong, or “Bright.” The country has rolled out several other information technologies platforms recently, including an OS, the Microsoft-clone known as “Red Star,” and a search engine called “Our Country.”

Internet Insecurity: Data spill proves corruption among Chinese elites

A terabyte leak that occurred in China more than a year ago may now threaten the legitimacy of China’s ruling Communist Party. Amid rising public discontent over official corruption, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has identified 22,000 Chinese elites, many with family ties to political leaders, who concealed their wealth in offshore tax havens. China’s state-run media has called the use of leaked data to sabotage political leaders as “Internet terror.” The database webpage and all reports of the leak have been blocked inside China.

Cool Things

Slovak designer Martin Vargic created what could be the next poster that will hang in every computer geek’s bedroom – a beautiful map of the Internet that combines this famous 2010 xkcd map showing social networks as countries and regions with National Geographic Maps.

Publications and Studies

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

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

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

caricature aloui boutef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 28 2014

Saudi Arabia Jails Palestinian Poet for ‘Atheism and Long Hair’

Saudi Artist Ahmed Mater shared this photograph on Twitter in support of Fayadh

Saudi Artist Ahmed Mater shared this photograph on Twitter in support of Fayadh

Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh is in a Saudi prison, allegedly for spreading atheism – and having long hair. The poet, raised in Saudi Arabia, was arrested five months ago, when a reader submitted a complaint against him saying that his poems contain atheist ideas. The accusations were not proven and he was released, only to be arrested again on the 1 January 2014.

Fayadh's case is making the rounds in media and on social networks, with condemnations coming from Arab writers from across the region. Some of his friends wrote online that the real reason behind his arrest might be due to the video he filmed five months ago of Abha's religious police lashing a young man in public.

Currently, the poet is still in jail with no evidence to the accusation or details of a coming trial. The following reactions clarify his case and express condemnations from Saudi writers, artists, and others standing in solidarity.

#أشرف_فياض التحرش بالذات الإلهية وتطويل الشَعر…فقط عندما تتوقف هذه التهم المضحكة/المبكية يمكننا أن نبدأ الحديث عن الحقوق والحريات ووو

@reem_tayeb: Ashraf Fayadh is accused of ‘harrasing the Godly self and letting his hair grow long.. when these laughable-sad accusations stop, we can start talking about rights and freedoms.

#أشرف_فياض اعتقاله ليس الا اعلان اننا وصلنا الى ما وصلت اليه اوروبا في العصور المظلمة !!

@MohammdaLahamdl: Ashraf Fayadh's arrest is an announcement that we have reached what Europe faced in the Dark Ages.

هل تعتقد أن إيمانك حقيقي وأنت تعتقد أن الله كائن قابل للتحرش به ؟! #أشرف_فياض

@WhiteTulip01: Do you think your faith is real when you think God can be harassed!!

أشرف_فياض معتقل بتهمة الالحاد!!وهل الكفر تهمة!! وهل الايمان إجبار!! هذا اذا افترضنا صحة التهمة أصلا

@MusabUK: Ashraf Fayadh is detained for atheism. Is atheism a charge? Is faith enforceable? That's if we assume the charge is true.

إن وجود #أشرف_فياض في السجن، مع المجرمين، والقتلة، لأنه شاعرٌ فحسب، لا يعنى سوى أن العدالة مسألة ترفيّة لدينا، سلطة وشعبا

@b_khlil: The fact that Ashraf Fayadh is now detained with criminals and killers just because he is a poet, tells us that justice is only a privilege to us, both as people and the regime.

15 تهمة ملفقة للشاعر والفنان #أشرف_فياض تبدأ بالإلحاد وتنتهي بإطالة الشعر، لماذا ؟ لأنه قبل 5 أشهر صور هيئة أبها وهي تجلد شاب أمام الناس

@turkiaz: The poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh is imprisoned for 15 charges, including atheism and long hair. Why? Because he filmed the religious police as they were lashing a young man in public.

#أشرف_فياض الى اعلامنا ، هل ننتظر ، القليل من المهنية ستفي بالغرض. قضية اشرف فياض علي وشك ان تكون في صفحات كل المحطات العالمية قريبا

@AhmedMater: To our media: should we wait? Some professionalism would do. Ashraf Fayadh's case is going to be on the front pages of international media soon.

تحولت التحقيقات مع الشاعر أشرف فياض بعد عجز المحقق أن يثبت شيئا من الاتهامات إلى أسئلة حول لماذا تدخن ؟ ولماذا شعرك طويل قليلاً ؟

@mohkheder: When the interrogator couldn't prove any accusations against Ashraf Fayadh, he started asking him why he smokes and why his hair is long

January 24 2014

GV Face: Live from the Arab Bloggers Meeting #AB14

In this special edition of GV Face, GV veterans and colleagues join us live from Amman, Jordan, where nearly 80 bloggers and activists from throughout the Arab region came together this week for the Fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting. After four days of training and discussion between bloggers, activists, musicians, rappers, teachers and scholars from across the region, there's plenty to talk about.

GVers Advox Director Hisham Almiraat, GV MENA Region Editor Amira Al Hussaini, SMEX Co-Director Mohammed Najem and Berkman Fellow Dalia Othman share with us their insights from this remarkable event.

Learn more about the meeting and read blog posts from throughout the week (in English and Arabic) on the #AB14 website: http://ab14.globalvoicesonline.org/

January 23 2014

Civil Society to Egypt: Release Alaa Abd El Fattah And All Unjustly Detained In Egypt

The following statement was coordinated by IFEX and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and released on January 23, 2014 at the Arabloggers conference.

The military “interim government” in Egypt is cracking down on virtually all meaningful form of assembly, association, or opposition.

Following the passage of a November 2013 law banning peaceful protest, dozens of activists and organizers have been sent to prison. Among them is Alaa Abd El Fattah, software guru, blogger and political activist.

On the night of November 28th, security forces raided Alaa’s home, beat him and his wife when asked to see their warrant, and took and held him overnight, blindfolded and handcuffed, in an unknown location. Currently, he is held at Tora Prison, Egypt’s notorious maximum security detention center, historically used to house men suspected of violent crimes and terrorism.

But Alaa is not being prosecuted for crimes of violence. A critic of repressive state practices and a staunch advocate of free information, free and open source software, and Arabic localization in the Middle East, he was one of the first Egyptian netizens facilitating a movement for political change around a simple idea: freedom of expression.

His wildly popular blog—established with his wife, Manal—helped spark a community of bloggers in the Arab World committed to the promotion of free speech and human rights. It won the Reporters Without Borders award at the 2005 Bobs. Their groundbreaking website, Omraneya, collected blog entries across the Arab World, archiving dissent in the face of repression. As put by one popular independent media outlet: “[Omraneya is] at times the house of alternative expression and at others the amplifier of muted voices.”

Following the uprising of January 25, 2011, Alaa continued to promote free expression through online platforms. He started a nation-wide people’s initiative enabling citizen collaboration in the drafting of the Egyptian Constitution. He initiated and hosted Tweet-Nadwas (“Tweet-Symposiums”), that brought activists and bloggers from across the world into Tahrir Square, to participate in open format dialogue about tough issues ranging from Islamism to Economic Reform.

Without looking down at our feet, let’s look forward and envision the perfect state; I myself don’t want a state but I know that isn’t possible. Instead, I must focus on the steps that might lead me to build the ‘good’ state. – Alaa Abd El Fattah (Tweet Nadwa, June 14 2011)

Alaa has been jailed or charged under every government to take power in Egypt. In 2006, when he was only 22, he was jailed by the Mubarak government. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) jailed him in 2011. Morsi brought a case against him in 2013. And he is now imprisoned by the current military government. He is not alone in this cycle of persecution. Alongside him now in prison are activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma—all of whom were also targeted by Egypt’s recent regimes. Thousands of other young people are in prison or unaccounted for.

Alaa’s mother, Laila Soueif, one of the founders of the Kefaya protest movement, which is widely credited as one of the key precursors to the January 2011 uprising, commented:

Alaa is one of the most outspoken and uncompromising critics of state violence and repression of his generation. At this particular juncture, those in power are trying to sell the myth that the whole country is united behind them against the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies. The fact that Alaa, who was very vocal in his criticism of the Brotherhood while Morsi was president, is condemning – even more strongly – the current criminal behaviour of the police and the army explodes their myth. Particularly as he is not alone in taking this position. Arresting him and demonizing him in the media is a message to critics of the regime to shut up.

The current government has already handed Alaa (together with his sister Mona Seif) a one year suspended sentence in a similar, but separate, trial. Current charges may find Alaa facing additional years. Ahmed Seif, prominent human rights lawyer and father of Alaa Abd El Fattah says:

“The Prosecution has done everything in its power to impede Alaa’s appeal against his imprisonment on remand. It has been more than a month since the Prosecution completed its investigations and referred the case to the Criminal Court, but lawyers have still not been allowed access to the case file, and neither a district nor a date have been set for the trial.”

As the third anniversary of the January 25 revolution draws near, we express our concern that Alaa’s case marks a worrying trend for civil liberties in Egypt.

The undersigned demand the immediate release and a fair trial for all those unjustly detained in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party.

Signed,

7iber
Access
ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Arab Digital Expression Foundation
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Association for Progressive Communication
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Centre for Independent Journalism – Malaysia
Derechos Digitales
Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Foundation for Press Freedom – FLIP
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Global Voices Advocacy
Globe International Center
Human Rights Watch
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
International Federation of Journalists Asia-Pacific
Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders)
IPYS Venezuela
Jadaliyya
Journalists’ Trade Union
Mada Masr
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Mosireen
National Union of Somali Journalists
Norwegian PEN
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Public Association “Journalists”
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
The Workshops (Egypt)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Individual Signatories
Rasha A. Abdulla, Ph.D., The American University in Cairo
Amir Ahmad Nasr, author of My Isl@m

Tags: Advocacy

January 21 2014

China: Free Ilham Tohti — Support Ethnic Reconciliation

Free Ilham Tohti! by Twitter user @HisOvalness

Free Ilham Tohti! by Twitter user @HisOvalness

Ilham Tohti, founder of Uyghur Online and a moderate advocate for ethnic autonomy policy in China was arrested by police on January 15. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece labelled him as separatist. Many public intellectuals are arguing that his prosecution could result in an irreparable situation on ethnic reconciliation in China.

But current Chinese leaders seem to think otherwise. The CCP propaganda machine represented by Global Times claimed in a January 18 editorial that Ilham Tohti had a close connection with the World Uyghur Congress, an overseas group which has been labelled by the CCP as an extreme separatist group. The report also accused Ilham Tohti of inciting students in his class and spreading rumors and dissent through Uyghur Online, a website founded in 2006 to address ethnic conflicts in China from the Uyghur perspective. The site has been inaccessible since Ilham's arrest.

As highlighted in an online petition signed by more than 1,000 Chinese intellectuals for the release of Ilham Tohti, the Uyghur professor teaching in Beijing Minzhu University has played a significant role in ethnic reconciliation in China:

Ilham Tohit has always opposed Xinjiang independence and violence of any kind. He actively pushes for friendly communication between Uighurs and Chinese. He put his faith of solving the Xinjiang issue in the Chinese government adjusting its problematic Xinjiang policy. Because of this, he has criticized the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy, and at the same time, proposed various changes. His criticism and suggestions are all based on serious academic research. He is regarded by the intellectual community as a precious man who bridges Uighurs with Chinese, and by the local Xinjiang people as a courageous representative of Uighurs. In the future, he should be an important civic leader in solving the Xinjiang issue, and play an irreplaceable role in ethnic reconciliation.

Since the 2008 Lhasa violence to the 2009 Urumqi riots to today, the failure of China’s ethnic policy is obvious to all. The detention of Ilham Tohti demonstrates that the Chinese government is continuing its mistakes. The Communist Party’s grip on power is temporary, but the wellbeing of the Chinese people should be lasting. The Chinese Communist Party maintains present stability by sacrificing the future of the people. Every Chinese citizen has the right to hold the Communist party accountable, taking shared responsibility for the sake of the future of the country. Citizens of other countries may also pay attention to this event, because the suffering of the Uighur people is the suffering of all human beings, and China’s failure could jeopardize the entire world.

According to Ilham's wife, in an account recorded by Tibetan writer Woeser, Ilham was arrested in front of his sons and his computers were confiscated:

Probably between 3:30 and 4:00, there was knocking on Ilham’s door. Ilham opened the door and a line of Xinjiang police burst in, pushing him onto the sofa. There were a lot of police and Ilham was quickly taken away by one group of them. The eldest son was frightened and began to cry. Ilham had time to tell his son not to cry.

The police began to search everywhere throughout the home, including the closets and the children’s bedroom. Afterwards they took away the family’s four computers, three cell phones (including Guzelnor’s cell phone), portable hard drives, flash drives and writeable CDs/DVDs. They also took Ilham’s lesson plans, his student’s exams and essays, and books, etc. In addition, they carried off his small strongbox containing his official papers and bank cards.

On the same day, the dormitories of Ilham's seven students were raided and five male students were detained.

Yesterday, while Ilham was being taken away by the police, 7 Uyghur students who were studying at Central Minzu University (5 males, 2 females) were taken by the police from their individual dormitories. Their cell phones, computers and bank cards were also taken. Late that night the 2 female students were released and sent home. However there is absolutely no word about the 5 male students, just as is the case with Ilham.

Currently Ilham's family is under house arrest and cannot be reached by phone. Many believe the arrest is meant to criminalize speech. The online petition urges the Chinese authorities to release Ilham Tohti immediately, or to otherwise provide concrete evidence to prove their case and allow his lawyer and family to meet with him.

January 20 2014

Ukraine Stifles Freedom of Speech, Peaceful Protest With New Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Теперь уже новости на сайте не попишешь без надзора и регистрации

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

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

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

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

Budget vote brawl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 минут, которые уничтожили остатки украинской демократии

20 minutes that destroyed the remnants of Ukrainian democracy

“The day democracy died”

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

Kyiv-based Anglophone blogger Taras Revunets tweeted:

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

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

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

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

Civic movement

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

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

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

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

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

January 16 2014

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

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

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

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

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

The three proposed laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freezing civil society’s electronic wallet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 14 2014

Monitoring the Russian Internet for Big Bucks

The FSO's emblem graces LiveJournal's logo. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The FSO's emblem graces LiveJournal's logo. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The Russian Federal Protective Service (FSO) is asking software developers to design a system that automatically monitors the country’s news and social media, producing reports that study netizens’ political attitudes. The state is prepared to pay nearly one million dollars over two years to the company that wins the state tender, applications for which were due January 9, 2014. Though the FSO’s RuNet-monitoring contract has been online [ru] at the government’s official Procurement Portal, www.zakupki.gov.ru, since December 18, 2013, news of the project broke only today, January 10, 2014, when the newspaper Izvestia published an article [ru] about it.

Izvestia’s coverage of the story bears all the hallmarks of Kremlin-friendly reportage, sandwiching comments by one critic of the FSO between two supporters of monitoring the Internet. Indeed, Izvestia quotes Maxim Kononenko, a pro-Putin RuNet guru, as its lone opponent of the FSO. (Kononenko doesn’t actually oppose the project, but only argues that the FSB, rather than the FSO, should oversee such work.) Journalist Sultan Suleimanov tweeted the following joke about Izvestia’s apparent integrity:

When it must, Izvestia works as a true propaganda machine. See how, for the blogosphere monitoring story, they went for “criticism” to Kononenko.

Anton Nossik, another titan of the Russian Internet and an extremely popular blogger, agrees that Izvestia’s article played the role of propaganda, but he sees it as distraction rather than promotion. According to Nossik [ru], the FSO’s grand monitoring system is nothing more than a cheap scheme to siphon money from the state budget, charging millions of rubles for software that simply googles publicly available content. More importantly, Nossik discovered that the FSO hired a company to design an identical project [ru] in September last year, when the price tag was far smaller, at just over US$200,000.

Anton Nossik, 21 February 2007, public domain.

Anton Nossik, 21 February 2007, public domain.

One week after the FSO launched a second auction for a new round of Internet monitoring, an entrepreneur named Lana Istomina [ru] lodged a complaint with the Federal Antimonopoly Service, objecting to terms in the FSO’s 75-page contract [ru] that specify the need to use one of four preselected media-monitoring software tools (Glass, Medialogia, Prism, or Medialogia-BAZZ). According to Istomina, the FSO’s refusal to accept bids built on equivalent tools represents a violation of Russian antitrust law.

Nossik argues that Istomina’s complaint was her way of disrupting a redundant tender clearly designed to waste a million dollars on a system that the government already bought:

Весь смысл тендера — второй раз заплатить государственными деньгами за то же самое, что уже куплено в прошлом году. ИП Истомина Л.А. так написать не может, потому что она не может это доказать. Но схема эта не блещет новизной и революционностью, мы такое видим из года в год. Объявление тендера на создание уже существующего продукта — простой и удобный способ по-быстрому освоить бюджетное бабло под благовидным предлогом.

The whole point of the tender was to pay out state money for a second time for the same thing they’d already bought last year. Now, the entrepreneur Lara Istomina can’t write that because she can’t prove it. But this scheme hardly shines as novel or revolutionary. We see the same thing from year to year. Announce a tender for the creation of an already-existing product—it’s an easy and convenient way to spend some quick government cash on a reasonable pretext.

Nossik believes that the officials responsible for arranging the tender also planted in Izvestia the “grand nationwide horror story” of FSO censorship, in order to divert attention away from their crime. Nossik’s theory is familiar in the Russian media sphere, where any major news event produces a range of skeptics who are inclined to view the story as plot to manipulate public opinion and pursue private gains. (For instance, after Ivan Okhlobystin’s homophobic letter to Vladimir Putin earlier this week, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky produced an interpretation [ru] of the stunt that mirrors Nossik’s tone, calling Okhlobystin’s letter a “PR move” with ulterior motives.)

Because it’s so common on the Russian Internet, Nossik’s skepticism about the FSO’s monitoring project would be easy to dismiss. That, however, could be a mistake. The fact that the FSO already operates an identical monitoring project, the steep rise in the cost of this already-completed and automated work, and the presence of Ms. Istomina’s antitrust complaint—it all lends credence to Nossik’s suspicions.

In other words, Russian bloggers now screaming bloody murder about state censors may be ignoring the real bad guys, petty crooks that they are.

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

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