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February 27 2014

#AB14: If I speak out, will I be punished for it?

Empty chairs at the Arab Bloggers Meeting. Each post-it bears the name of a colleague currently in prison or missing. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Empty chairs at the Arab Bloggers Meeting. Each post-it bears the name of a colleague currently in prison or missing. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This post was written as part of a partnership with Global Post.

When we know we’re being watched all the time, what happens to our right to free speech?

This was the question at the core of a live debate at the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting, a recent gathering—in which I participated—of bloggers, activists and scholars from across the Arab region in Amman, Jordan.

Clearly drawn from the fiery discourse that has overwhelmed the Internet policy world since the first Snowden leaks broke last June, the subject of the debate was provocative: “Censorship doesn’t matter anymore – surveillance is the real problem.”

The group assembled to discuss the new political paradigms and challenges facing digital activists and bloggers, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, three years since the start of the Arab uprisings.

Two security experts said they envisioned a future Internet where much communication happens privately (through encrypted channels) and the use of pseudonyms becomes the norm. If we can’t defeat surveillance, we must circumvent it, they argued. Because as long as you’re being watched, you can’t be free.

But this argument didn’t strike a chord with the audience as it might have in the west. Censorship is a very real problem in the Arab region, especially in countries where independent media are under threat and heavily reliant on the web to get their stories out.

The Arab uprisings of 2011 proved that news sites and social media can change what people believe and how they interact with their governments – unless they’re shut down. Walid Al-Saqaf, chair of Internet Society Yemen (and my debating partner), took this point within the context of the current moment, when (largely western) digital rights advocates are sounding the alarms, somewhat singularly, about surveillance.

“People in Western societies do not understand realize the value of being able to criticize one’s own government. We do not have this right in Arab countries.”

We went on to make the point – no news to our audience – that surveillance is ubiquitous in the Arab region. Most people, to say nothing of those who criticize or document government actions, expect to be surveilled – a guarantee of privacy is a distant dream at best. But this doesn’t change the fundamental need for dissent.

Surveillance or no, some individuals are willing to take the risk of reporting on an incident, filming a confrontation, or voicing an opinion. And in the end, censorship and surveillance often stem from the same kinds of desires on the part of governments – they want to control information and the people who disseminate it.

The Snowden revelations exposed the surveillance practices of the US government. Around the world, they left many people wondering, “is my government spying on me too?”

Internet users may not be happy that the US government is collecting their data, but in regions like the Middle East and North Africa, this is a foregone conclusion. The bigger question is: If I speak out, will I be punished for it?

The Al Jazeera journalists currently in prison in Egypt provide one among far too many examples – like many bloggers and independent media workers in the region, these journalists have been accused not of libel or slander, but of aiding terrorist groups.

The Moroccan government is considering a new blanket law that would punish online statements deemed threatening to “public order, national security, necessities of public service, or public policy” – often with web censorship.

In Gulf countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, criminal prosecution over something as a small as a Tweet is a real threat.

It seems strange to talk purely of policies for the digital realm in a region where dissent and even fact-based reporting, whether they happen online or offline, so often have profound real-life consequences.

Those who speak out are not simply fearful of being watched or of having their websites blocked. They are fearful of arrest, detention, prosecution, and torture.

The Snowden revelations set off shock waves in the US, Europe, Brazil, and beyond, sending much of the global Internet policy community on to tackle digital surveillance as a primary and now almost seemingly singular goal. But in a region like this one, where it is impossible to separate the threat of surveillance, let alone censorship, from the dire consequences it could bring in the real world, such a singular agenda doesn't quite resonate.

Still, just because we (as online activists) face different challenges from place to place, doesn't mean we can’t work together to help defend each other and support campaigns and efforts across borders, oceans and hemispheres.


This piece was inspired by many conversations at #AB14, including several with Walid Al-Saqaf. Read his piece on our debate and the “censorship vs. surveillance” dichotomy. 

“Google Tax” Threatens Spain's News Aggregators

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

The Minister of Culture with the president and CEO of AEDE. Photo from, 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 [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, 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:


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 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 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 and, 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

Draft Media Law Could Bring Censorship to East Timor

East Timorese youth undergoing a journalism training sponsored by the Independent Centre for Journalism. Photo from Flickr page of DFAT photo library (CC License)

East Timorese youth undergoing a journalism training sponsored by the Independent Centre for Journalism. Photo from Flickr page of DFAT photo library (CC BY 2.0)

East Timor journalists and human rights groups are opposing a government-proposed media law which they believe would lead to possible media censorship and repression in the country. The draft legislation was approved by the Council of Ministers last August, but was introduced in the Parliament just two weeks ago.

The Council of Ministers claims that the law is necessary since it seeks to guarantee the rights of media practitioners as well as encourage the media to do its job “objectively and impartially”:

The Press Law aims to ensure the freedom of the press while at the same time promoting the necessary balance between the exercise of that freedom and other fundamental rights and values contained in the Constitution. Its purpose is primarily to regulate the activity of professionals adequately prepared and ethically responsible, so that they can inform the public objectively and impartially and encourage active and enlightened citizenship by the population, thus contributing to a democratic society.

But several media groups have pointed out that the proposed law contains several provisions that directly undermine free speech. They highlighted Article 7 of the measure which mandates the registration of journalists to be supervised by a Press Council. Activist group La'o Hamutuk argued that the creation of a press council is unnecessary:

As freedom of expression is already guaranteed by the Constitution, no Press Council is needed to regulate it. A Council of commercial media organizations and paid journalists can self-regulate their business, including with their Code of Ethics, but their processes cannot be imposed on everyone and should not involve the state, either through financial support or legal enforcement. Furthermore, no journalist should be required to join an organization in order to practice his or her Constitutional rights.

The group also questioned a provision which would narrow the definition of journalists to those working for corporate media. It insisted that the media landscape has changed and that citizen journalists must also be recognized by the government:

This law should respect every person’s right to free expression, including students, bloggers, web-posters, civil society organizations, free-lancers, part-time reporters, discussion groups, churches, political parties, columnists, researchers, community groups and ordinary people. It should not be monopolized or controlled by for-profit media.

La'o Hamutuk concluded by asserting that the proposed law is not crucial in promoting the right to information, and worse, that it violates the constitution:

Timor-Leste has already gone for more than a decade without a Media Law, and we have not had problems with media and information. During this time, Timorese people enjoyed their right to information and freedom of expression through various media, after nearly five hundred years of repression and censorship.

Therefore, we conclude that this Media Law violates Timor-Leste Constitution Articles 40 and 41 about people’s rights and freedom to seek, collect, choose, analyze and disseminate information, as words and/or images, to everyone.

Meanwhile, the Journalists Association of Timor-Leste thinks that the bill, if passed into law, would mean more regulation and not protection of the media:

We want the law to reflect the realities of the modern media and to obey international standards. What we see in these laws is gives an impression that they intend to regulate the press rather than protect the rights of East Timorese journalists.

Blogger David Robie concerns about transparency around the act, asking why the content of the document was only made public a few weeks ago:

The proposed Timor-Leste media law is a draconian mixed bag. And it is ironical that such a document with lofty claims of protecting the freedom of the press should be shrouded in secrecy for the past six months.

Alarming is the attempt to lock in the status and definition of journalists, effectively barring independent and freelance journalism and leaving the registration of journalists entirely to the whim of commercial media organisations.

It would not have worked in any kind of democracy in the days of low-tech newspapers and media publishing. But in these days of digital media, citizen journalism and diversity of critical information online it is tantamount to censorship – the very thing the draft law states opposition to.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) supports East Timor journalists in calling for the review and even overhaul of the proposed legislation:

Any legislation that would limit the capacity of local and international journalists reporting on East Timor, also limits the public’s right to know and is of great concern to the IFJ. We urge the government to ensure those reservations and perspectives are taken seriously and incorporated into the draft media law.

In response, the government vowed to consider all comments of media organizations before further deliberating on the draft proposal.

Netizen Report: Turks Protest, “Unfollow” President Over Censorship Law

Protest against Internet censorship. Istanbul, May 2011. Photo by Erdem Civelek via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Protest against Internet censorship. Istanbul, May 2011. Photo by Erdem Civelek via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed ElGohary, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, 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 Turkey, where protesters have taken to the streets to reject a new law that could make government censorship and surveillance easier and more rampant than ever before. The law gives the Turkish government new powers to access and retain user data, and to block content deemed illegal in “emergency” situations, all without judicial oversight. The law would also require all Internet service providers to join a state-run association that would drive the implementation of content and data-related policies.

The bill was approved in Parliament last week after President Abdullah Gul defied expectations of a veto and signed it into law. Shortly after Gul announced the bill’s passage, he lost approximately 80,000 followers on Twitter, thanks in part to the #UnfollowAbdullahGul hashtag.

Free Expression: Venezuela hit by web blocking, blackouts

As protests continued last week, the Venezuelan government appears to be further clamping down on digital expression. This week the government published details [es] on its new Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Country, which has the unilateral ability to censor any information it deems threatening to national security.

Walkie-talkie app Zello, which has been used to organize protests in Venezuela, was blocked one day after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the government was using the app to monitor protesters. Similar to prior restrictions placed on Twitter images, the origins of the blockage were traced to state-run telecommunications company CANTV.

Other Internet companies have been working hard to keep lines of communication open in the face of the censorship. Zello developed and released a new Android version of the app in hopes that it would bypass any blocks. VPN TunnelBear has provided unlimited free service to Venezuelans for several days.

In Egypt, along with several bloggers and political activists, three Al Jazeera journalists have been behind bars since late November 2013. On Friday, February 27, Al Jazeera is organizing a global day of action on press freedom.

The Hanoi Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of blogger and human rights defender Le Quoc Quan to 30 months’ imprisonment on charges of “tax evasion” under Vietnam’s Criminal Code. Media Legal Defence Initiative attorney and Advox contributor Nani Jansen, who is aiding in Quan’s defense, gave a summary of the case in a recent post.

Surveillance: This is not a new problem

The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a historical piece overviewing government surveillance of African-American political leaders and activists in the United States. Communist Party members, activist groups such as the Black Panthers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were all targets.

New National Security Agency documents released by Glenn Greenwald demonstrate how the US and UK government targeted Wikileaks, the Pirate Bay, and Anonymous with surveillance and international pressure.

Netizen Activism: Egyptians speak up for better bandwidth

“Down, down with slow routers,” is the battle cry of a Facebook page titled “Internet Revolution Egypt,” [ar] which has acted as a forum for Egyptian youth to speak out against “insufficient” Internet speeds. The group, which has Facebook administrators in four Egyptian cities, encourages campaigners to voice their complaints with local service providers.

Colombian digital rights collective RedPaTodos (Internet for All) has come out with an English translation of its entertaining, hand-illustrated video that explains digital surveillance for the average Internet user.

Copyright: Fair use down under?

The Australian government may introduce new copyright reforms that would include a fair use doctrine similar to that of the United States, EFF reports. Currently, the country has a list of specified acceptable uses under “fair dealing”, but the reforms could lead to a broader, more liberal regime.

Industry: Fearing Facebook, WhatsApp users migrate to Russian “Telegram”

Telegram, a messaging app created by the founder of Russian Facebook competitor VKontakte that claims to feature end-to-end encryption, received 8 million downloads after it was announced that WhatsApp would be acquired by Facebook.

As Thailand’s anti-government protests continue, opposition to Thailand’s exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is beginning to manifest itself in Thailand’s telecommunications sector. AIS, Thailand’s largest telecom services provider, which was founded by Shinawatra, is buying newspaper ads and sending text messages pleading with its customers not to heed the opposition’s boycott and underlining the fact that the company is no longer connected to its founder.

AT&T published its first-ever transparency report on February 18. Reception has been lukewarm due to the suspiciously low number of government-issued requests for customer data listed under the “national security demands” heading. This suggests that NSA metadata collection remains secret due to a loophole in the new transparency guidelines.

Cloud storage platform Dropbox released its new privacy policy, effective March 24, which elucidates how it will handle outside requests for user information, particularly from governments. The company has vowed to fight blanket requests, such as the NSA’s collection of metadata, as well as government-imposed limits on reporting the quantities of requests it receives.

Internet Insecurity: Don’t use Internet Explorer

Iranian hackers reportedly attacked French aerospace engine maker Snecma by exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. Although researchers are unsure how successful the attack was, the malware was intended to target remote users, steal employee and vendor credentials, and allow the hackers remote access to the company’s network. The same Internet Explorer vulnerability also facilitated an attack on the US Veterans of Foreign Wars website earlier in the week.

Not Cool Things: Doing It For the Lulz

A University of Manitoba study found correlations between trolling behavior and personality traits that fall in the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy and sadism. This means that efforts by moderators to curb trolling may not be terribly effective, because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for users.

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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 24 2014

Digital Citizen 1.4

Arab Bloggers Meeting participants hold a sign calling for the release of jailed colleagues. Photo by Hisham Almiraat, used with permission.

Arab Bloggers Meeting participants hold a sign calling for the release of jailed colleagues. Photo by Hisham Almiraat, used with permission.

Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.


“When detainees ask to see a warrant, they may be hit over the head with the butt of a gun, as in the case of a leftist blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, and his wife, Manal. When a prominent international judge reviewed Manal’s account of the arrest, he described it as reminiscent of the days of apartheid in South Africa.” – Bahey El Din Hassan, New York Times, February 12, 2014

Alaa Abd El Fattah has been in prison since late November, when he was arrested on accusation of organizing a protest without obtaining legal permission. In January, both Alaa and his sister, Mona Seif, received one-year suspended sentences in a case in which they were accused of torching former Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq’s campaign headquarters. Other prominent activists, including Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel have also faced similar charges.

In January, a coalition of more than 40 organizations called for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and other unjustly detained Egyptian activists. In the statement, Alaa’s father, Ahmed Seif, is quoted as saying:

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 with the detention of several Al Jazeera journalists, these cases are emblematic of the brazen censorship being imposed by Egypt's current military regime. Press freedom advocates have described current restrictions on the press as “greater than those imposed by either Morsi or his predecessor, autocrat Hosni Mubarak.”


Tunisia’s new Technical Telecommunications Agency, also known as A2T, will undertake electronic surveillance in service of judicial investigations. Index on Censorship's Afef Abrougui writes:

Tunisia's interim authorities have failed to introduce real reforms in order to cut ties with the surveillance abuses of the past. Before taking the step to establish a surveillance entity the priority should have been repealing the dictatorship era laws and legally consolidating personal data protection.

Local activists organized a “Stop #A2T” campaign, urging the government to hold public hearings about the agency’s structure and legal obligations, but thus far authorities have not sought to engage civil society in planning discussions.


Activists and legal experts fear that Morocco's Code Numérique, a draft bill put forward by Ahmed Reda Chami, former Minister of Industry, Trade, and New Technologies, could jeopardize online freedoms. In an interview with EFF, activist Zineb Belmkaddem explained:

[The] strategy of the Moroccan authorities has been to “watch” the internet, and often times intimidate and humiliate those who criticize the regime, rather than censor…However, as the numbers of protesters shrank due to police violence, arrests and intimidation, the authorities had regained control of the streets and tried to control the Internet.

Journalist Ali Anouzla, arrested in last September and released provisionally on bail in late October, still faces charges under Morocco’s terrorism statutes for linking to an article containing a YouTube video allegedly posted by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. At a January press conference in Rabat, Khadija Ryadi, head of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, called for all charges against Anouzla to be dropped “because we are convinced of his innocence. This is not just for Ali…we are fighting for freedom for all.”


On January 10, Aisha Ibrahim Al-Zaabi was arbitrarily detained as she attempted to leave the UAE with her 18-month-old son in an effort to reunite with her husband, human rights defender Mohamed Saqer Al-Zaabi. Currently exiled in the UK, Saqer Al-Zaabi was convicted in absentia in the trial of 94 human rights defenders and activists in July 2013. His wife is not known to be involved in any political activity but rather appears to be the target of a campaign of punishment against her husband. Ibrahim Al-Zaabi was arrested at the Omani border and taken away by state security officers, leaving her father and her son behind.

Shezanne Cassim, an American citizen imprisoned for posting a satirical video on Dubai youth culture on YouTube, was released on January 9. Cassim was accused of “defaming the country's image abroad” under the country’s cybercrime law and sentenced to jail, deportation, and a fine in December 2013. Upon his return to the US, Cassim sharply criticized the UAE, saying: “I did nothing wrong. There was nothing illegal about the video, even under UAE law. I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court, and I was convicted without any evidence.”

On December 25, 2013, the Abu Dhabi Federal Court sentenced human rights advocate Mohamed Salem Al-Zumer to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Emirati Dirhams (US$136,091) over accusations of insulting the president and the prince of Abu Dhabi on Twitter.

The Abu Dhabi court also issued a verdict against human rights advocate Abdul Rahman Omar Bajubair, who lives outside the UAE, demanding that he be detained for five years on accusations of managing a website called Motadaminoon, which the court claims had offended the honor of the Federal Court's judges and the court's prestige.


A new policy requires mobile phone users to register their devices — those using local SIM cards will have their service deactivated if they do not comply with the rule. On a similar note, Jordan’s Telecommunication Regulatory Commission is seeking to implement a system for tracking phones coming in and out of Jordan. The Commission's stated aim is to track stolen devices and protect consumers from counterfeited ones, but the system could also lead to broad mobile phone surveillance.


In addition to traditional and chemical warfare used in Syria, malicious software is being deployed against the Syrian opposition and being used to hijack Facebook pages, install malware, and trick targets into clicking malicious links. A study by EFF and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab analyzes and documents evidence of these trends. The study warns Syrians to use caution when opening email attachments or clicking links posted to Facebook and YouTube.

US-based online learning platform Coursera was recently blocked in all countries under US trade sanctions, including Syria. The block on Syria was lifted shortly thereafter, following a series of activist reports on the issue.


Sudan has been known to censor the Internet, but—as analysts with the New America Foundation recently pointed out—they’re not the only government affecting what Sudanese citizens can see and use online.  In an article for Slate, Danielle Kehl and Tim Maurer write:

Currently, Sudan is one of five countries in the world subject to comprehensive U.S. sanctions, which are designed to change governments’ behavior. But some of the provisions of those sanctions have become outdated—especially when it comes to new technologies like personal communication tools.


You might think that the Internet doesn’t play an important role in Sudan. But Dalia Haj-Omar, a Sudanese activist and blogger, told us in an email that the Internet is “the only platform for free civic engagement in Sudan.

The Council on Foreign Relations joined their call to push back against technology sanctions affecting the country, pointing readers to a call from Sudanese civil society to end the burden of technology sanctions.

Activists at the sit-in in Khartoum. Photo by Usamah Mohamad, used with permission.

Activists at the sit-in in Khartoum. Photo by Usamah Mohamad, used with permission.

Sudanese blogger Tajeldin Arja, arrested on December 24 2013, remains in detention for his criticism of the Sudanese and Chadian presidents. Arja, who hails from North Darfur, was arrested for standing in the front row of a press conference in Khartoum and shouting criticism at the presidents of both Sudan and Chad. His arrest was caught on video by an anonymous attendee and uploaded to YouTube. On February 18, activists called for his release at a peaceful sit-in before the national Human Rights Commission.


In mid-January, Hamas announced that their Twitter account, @alqassambrigade, had been suspended by Twitter. Writing for Index on Censorship, Ruth Michaelson said:

Social media, while potentially a tool for propaganda, is one of the few ways that the wider public is able to know what is happening inside Al Qassam Brigades and Hamas. Cutting off this line further maligns part of a regime that uses this seclusion to its political advantage within Gaza, and allows Hamas to further clamp down on free speech within the Strip. In short: the content may be a strange development on Twitter, but its absence potentially has tangible effects for people on the ground.


In early December, the head of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom—an institution that provides training and support for journalists and advocates for press freedom—was fired without explanation. Jan Keulen, a Dutch journalist who has worked in the region for many years, called his sacking a “political decision.”


Activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison on February 16 after spending one year behind bars. Although Al-Khawaja was sentenced for “participating in an illegal gathering,” she is an outspoken Twitter user and drew the government’s ire for her tweets posted at @angryarabiya.

Protests in Bahrain on February 14 marked the third anniversary of the 2011 uprisings in the Gulf nation. Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights used a crowdsourcing tool to map arrests and other abuses of protesters.


Social Media Exchange has identified several instances of Internet filtering in Lebanon, a country where traditional censorship is not uncommon but Internet censorship has been rare. The filtering is applied inconsistently across ISPs and demonstrates a lack of transparency in the blocking process.

Twitter user Jean Assy was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of insulting the president on Twitter. The decision found that Assy’s tweets constituted “defamation and libel” and stood in violation of Lebanon’s broadly-worded media and publications law. Assy remains free for now, and plans to appeal the verdict, challenging the court’s interpretation of Twitter as a “media outlet” in Lebanon. Freedom of speech advocates in Lebanon are highlighting Assy's case in a call for reforms to existing law, including an end to the “criminalization of public expression.”

Saudi Arabia

A new anti-terrorism law in the Gulf country threatens free speech, says Human Rights Watch (HRW). The new law reportedly defines terrorism as:

Any act carried out by an offender in furtherance of an individual or collective project, directly or indirectly, intended to disturb the public order of the state, or to shake the security of society, or the stability of the state, or to expose its national unity to danger, or to suspend the basic law of governance or some of its articles, or to insult the reputation of the state or its position, or to inflict damage upon one of its public utilities or its natural resources, or to attempt to force a governmental authority to carry out or prevent it from carrying out an action, or to threaten to carry out acts that lead to the named purposes or incite [these acts].

HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson stated that the terrorism law “would allow the government to label any Saudi who demands reform or exposes corruption as a terrorist.”

From our partners

Research and collaboration

  • The fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting (#AB14) took place in late January in Amman, Jordan, bringing together over 70 individuals from across the region and around the world. Photographer and 7iber staff member Amer Sweidan developed a moving series of portraits of #AB14 participants expressing wishes for the future.

  • A November 2013 paper by The Citizen Lab shows how content filtering software Smartfilter—used by the Saudi and UAE governments—miscategorizes content.

  • Participants in the Arab Free Press Forum, which took place in November in Tunisia, say the Arab world needs more access to independent media.

  • In December the Institute for War and Peace Reporting launched the Cyber Arabs Online Academy, a platform dedicated to providing online training and resources on digital security issues in Arabic.

  • Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) publishes an Arabic Introduction to Open Knowledge.

Upcoming events

Digital Citizen is brought to you by Advox, Access, EFF, Social Media Exchange, and This month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mariwan R. Hama, Wafa Ben Hassine, Reem Al Masri, Dalia Othman, and Jillian C. York and translated into Arabic by Mohamed El Gohary.

February 23 2014

Macedonian Court Fines Journalist and Magazine for Quoting Source

The top headline quotes the statement of former ambassador Igor Ilievski: “I left because of the pressure from Mijalkov”. The second headline reads: “Embassy in Czech Republic under bombing threats, Ministry for foreign affairs doesn’t lift a finger”. Photo by <a href=

The top headline quotes the statement of former ambassador Igor Ilievski: “I left because of the pressure from Mijalkov”. The second headline reads: “Embassy in Czech Republic under bomb threats, Ministry for Foreign Affairs doesn’t lift a finger”. Photo by NovaTV, used with permission.

After a controversial lawsuit in which one of Macedonia's last independent magazines, Fokus, was charged with defaming Director of the Security and Counter-Intelligence Directorate (UBK) Sasho Mijalkov, a court in Skopje ruled that the magazine must pay Mijalkov over 9,000 euros (about 12,500 US dollars) for damaging his reputation.

Mijalkov sued the daily publication, which has been shut down in the meantime and only the weekly edition of this Macedonian media house remains, for two published articles that were based on the statements of former Macedonian ambassador to the Czech Republic Igor Ilievski. Ilievski held this diplomatic position until December 2012, when he informed the media [mk] that his mandate ended before the official date, blaming Mijalkov for this.

In view of all the evidence available to the public regarding this case, it seems that the newspaper has been fined for transmitting their source's statements. The only potentially disputable statement claims, “Off the record, from before the holidays UBK Director Sasho Mijalkov is in Prague where he owns a business empire”, which alleges that Mijalkov was staying in Prague during that period, of which there was no evidence.

Vlado Apostolov, the journalist who wrote the articles involved in the lawsuit, and Editor-in-Chief of Fokus weekly Jadranka Kostova will have to pay 6,000 euros (about 8,200 dollars) in damages and some 3,300 euros (about 4,500 dollars) for the costs of Mijalkov’s lawyer during the trial.

Ilievski will also have to pay 10,000 euros (about 13,500 dollars) in damages to Mijalkov for having made a statement to the newspaper that the main reason why he resigned from his post as Macedonian ambassador to the Czech Republic was “the coordinated activity of the Chief of the Macedonian secret police, Sasho Mijalkov, with his ‘friends’ who are very well organized in the Czech Republic”.

He also stated that Mijalkov was pressing the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Popovski and Macedonian President Gorge Ivanov to take their hands off the case. In his statement for Fokus daily, Ilievski said:

Сашо Мијалков го спречи тоа и почна масовен последен напад. За среќа, неуспешен. Мијалков беше нем набљудувач на четирите закани по мојот живот и трите закани за бомба на амбасадата

Sasho Mijalkov prevented it and started his last massive attack. Fortunately, unsuccessfully. Mijalkov was a silent observer of the four threats on my life and the three threats to bomb the embassy.

Vlado Apostolov said in an interview for A1on that the ruling is scandalous and that they have been sentenced for simply presenting the statements of former ambassador Ilievski.

As previously reported by Global Voices, the media landscape in Macedonia has become a somewhat dangerous place and Apostolov reminds the public of this in the mentioned interview:

Од едена страна паричната казна е голема и за Фокус е критична, ама од друга страна Македонија е земја во која што новинари одат во затвор, други загинуваат во сообраќајни несреќи под чудни околности, и со парична казна ни е треба дури да бидеме среќни

On one side the fine is very large and critical for the magazine Fokus, but on the other side, Macedonia is a country where journalists go to jail, others die in car accidents under strange circumstances, so with this fine we should be happy.

After hearing of the court's decision, Fokus Editor-in-Chief Kostova told Balkan Insight, “With this court criteria, we might as well close Fokus. Or perhaps that is exactly their goal.” She also noted that the last remaining weekly, Fokus magazine, that is critical of the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was already on the brink of financial ruin, mainly because of a series of lawsuits against it.

The court ruling also brought strong reactions from media and citizens on social networks.

Meri Jordanovska, a journalist for Fokus, posted on her Facebook profile:

И после ќе зборуваме за автоцензура? Па нормално дека ќе зборуваме!
Гарантирам дека после пресудата, ќе нема новинар што 3 пати ќе се запраша дали да пренесе изјава од некој! А во случајов тоа не е било кој, туку бивш амбасадор. Интервјуто и пренесувањето изјави ќе станат потежок жанр од истражувачкото новинарство!
Ај што луѓево одамна се плашат да проговорат, туку сега и оние што ќе сакаат да проговорат ќе нема кој да ги пренесе.

And are we going to talk about self-censorship? Of course we are!

I guarantee that after the verdict, there will be no journalist that will wonder whether to present a statement! And in this case it is not anyone, but a former ambassador. Interviews and presentation of statements will become more complicated over investigative journalism!

For a long time people are afraid to speak out, but now even those who wish to speak will have no one to present their statements.

In 2013, both the daily and weekly Fokus were closed temporarily because of the sudden death of their owner and publisher Nikola Mladenov, who died in a car accident that many suspect involved foul play. The daily newspaper was closed for financial reasons and several pending defamation lawsuits, while the weekly Fokus re-launched in July 2013 under the leadership of Kostova.

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) reacted strongly against the verdict, saying that it is “draconian” to punish the journalist and the editor of the newspaper for libel. In their statement, the Association said:

Ова е прва осудителна пресуда против новинари според Законот за граѓанска одговорност за навреда и клевета која може да се процени како сериозна непријателска порака кон новинарите на Македонија. Со пресудата новинарите се заплашуваат и обесхрабруваат да информираат и истражуваат за одговорноста на јавните функционери што е една од главните принципи на новинарството низ целиот свет

This is a first verdict against journalists according to the Law on Civil Liability for insult and defamation, which can be estimated as a serious hostile message to Macedonian journalists. With this verdict, journalists will be intimidated and discouraged to investigate and inform the public about the responsibility that the public officials have, which is one of the main principles of the journalism worldwide.

The Independent Journalists’ Trade Union (SSNM) also reacted, saying that this verdict is a clear indication of the attitude that the judicial system and the government have towards freedom of the press:

Казните за новинарите на Фокус е показател за исклучително непријателскиот и репресивен амбиент во кој функционираат новинарите во Македонија

The fines for the journalists from Fokus are an indicator of the extremely repressive and hostile setting where Macedonian journalists work.

International media organization Reporters without Borders strongly condemned the judicial harassment of Fokus in a statement of their own:

Репортери без граници силно го осудуваат судското малтретирање на Фокус, една од последните независни публикации во Македонија. Уште еднаш судот во Скопје го осуди Фокус на несразмерно висока парична казна со што, се чини, дека има за цел да се затвори последниот независен неделник во Македонија

Reporters without Borders strongly condemns the judicial harassment of Fokus, one of the last independent publications in Macedonia. Again, the court in Skopje condemned Fokus with a highly disproportionate fine, and it seems like the aim is to close the last independent weekly magazine in Macedonia

February 22 2014

#EuroMaidan Medic Shot in Neck Lives to Tweet: “I Am Alive!”

Volunteer medics attend to the wounded

Volunteer medics attend to the wounded on the morning of February 20, 2014 when snipers indiscriminately took aim at protesters from the roof of Hotel Ukraine. Photo by Alan Turgutoglu © Copyright Demotix

As snipers fired at EuroMaidan protesters on February 20, 2014 one young medical volunteer was hit in the neck, but managed to write on Twitter: “I am dying”. Her message was shared by thousands of people until finally, two hours later, she tweeted that she had survived.

A tense truce between protesters and the Ukrainian government was broken that morning and sniper shots were fired at up to a hundred people in the square. Many shots were aimed at the head or neck, apparently for the purpose of killing. [There are photos and videos - WARNING graphic content].

As the shooting began, medical volunteers rushed to the scene despite the danger. Among them was a 21-year old volunteer from Ternopil, Olesya Zhukovskaya.

Olesya has been volunteering on Maidan for over three months. According to the administrator of a Facebook page about Maidan activists called “Єлюди – maidaners”, she had caught the attention of other volunteers for her bravery. On February 19, the day before shooting, one person had written to the Facebook page encouraging them to take note of Olesya and write something about her.

Олеся Жуковська з Тернополя (Кременець) на Майдані з першого дня. Їй 21 рік, працює за 250 км від дому медиком-фельдшером. На Майдан поїхала як медик-волонтер. Що вона там тільки не бачила. На Грушевського їй згорів одяг, поруч граната впала…..але вона нікуди не пішла, а лишилась допомагати людям. За 3 місяці перебування на майдані захворіла, мала страшну ангіну і лежала в лікарні. кілька днів тому поїхала додому до мами, бо матуся плакала і просила показатись їй живою, а Олеся одна єдина в сім'ї. Поїхала на кілька днів додому. Але вчора, коли побачила, що коїться на Майдані, попри сльози мами, переживання тата та родини, вночі поїхала на Майдан автобусом, в якому були тільки чоловіки, 18 людей і вона сама……Зараз вона на Майдані в медпункті біля йолки. я горджусь такими як вона, думаю, що Олеся варта того, щоб Ви про неї написали».

Olesya Zhukovskya is from Kremenets, in the Ternopil region and has been on Maidan [central square in Kyiv] from day one. She is 21 years old, and works as a medical assistant 250km away from home. She came to Maidan as a medical volunteer. She has experienced everything there. On Hrushevskogo [street where the first clashes took place] her clothing was burned when a grenade fell next to her… but she has not left, she stayed to help people. After three months on Maidan, she fell ill, had a terrible angina and had to stay at the hospital.

A few days ago she went home to see her mother, because her mother prayed and pleaded for her only child to show up at home alive. She stayed at home for a few days. But yesterday, when she saw what was happening on Maidan, despite her mother's tears, and the concerns of her father and other family, she took a night bus to Maidan with 18 people, all men…. Now she is on Maidan, at the medical aid point next to the “Christmas tree”. I take pride in people like her and beleive Olesya deserves to be written about [on your page].

The next day snipers opened fire on protesters. Here's what Olesya tweeted that morning:

EVERYONE COME TO KYIV URGENTLY, IN ANY WAY POSSIBLE! Your support is needed! If a massacre has begun in the morning, there will be horror by evening! Especially when Russian troops arrive aiming to shoot Western extremists [as protesters are called in Putin's official statements].

According to the timestamp, about 20 minutes later she was shot in the neck, despite wearing a bright medical volunteer uniform. Already wounded, Olesya tweeted [uk]:

I am dying

Her tweet went viral immediately. Media even reported Olesya's death:

However, Olesya did not die, but was taken to a hospital and received an operation. Just as Maidan was trying to come to terms with the unprecedented loss of life, she tweeted again [uk]:

I am alive! Thank you to everyone who's supporting and praying for me! / I am at the hospital. My state is stable so far.

Many have referred to Olesya as “Maidan's heroine” [uk]. She gained around 8,000 new followers on her twitter account in one day. People from all over the world sent their messages of support:

Olesya, get well! We are in Moscow, but we are with you and worry for you. You have done great.

In recognition of Olesya's service and sacrifice, Hungarian Red Cross held an action of solidarity for her:

February 21 2014

GV Face: Venezuela Protests

Venezuela is going through an economic, political and social crisis which brought about thousands of citizens taking the streets to express their discontent. For more than a week, Venezuelans have been involved in mass protests that, until now, have caused eight deaths, hundreds of injuries and hundreds of arrests. What's going on?

In this edition of GV Face, our Latin America editor Silvia Viñas and I talk to Global Voices author and digital rights lawyer Marianne Díaz Hernández who has been tracking citizen media and web censorship amidst a government-imposed media blackout in Venezuela.

Marianne talks about everyday life in Venezuela – how shortages of food and medicine affect people, and how newspapers in the country have been reduced to as few as four pages because of lack of paper. She recommends alternative online news sources that focus on fact-checking, including, at a moment when disinformation and propaganda is confounding those trying to make sense of events.

Xu Zhiyong and the Long Road for China's Human Rights Activists

Supporters demonstrate for Xu Zhiyong's release. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, released to public domain.

Supporters demonstrate for Xu Zhiyong's release. Photo via Wikimedia Commons, released to public domain.

The well-known blogger Xu Zhiyong, a pioneer of online human rights campaigns in China, was sentenced to four years in prison by the Beijing court on January 26, the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Some activists see his case as emblematic of the fate of the citizen movement that has taken place over the past decade — a human rights advocate who once sought to work towards reform in cooperation with government leaders, he now faces years behind bars because of his efforts to bring about change.

Xu Zhiyong was prosecuted for his work as an education advocate. Ten years ago, Xu launched his first online campaign, one that sought to raise awareness about the mysterious deaths of two individuals: Huang Jing, a 21-year-old teacher who was drugged and raped in her dormitory and Sun Zhigang, a recent university graduate who was beaten to death in a Guangzhou detention center for people caught without local residential registration cards. A doctoral student in law at the time, Xu Zhiyong and his classmates Yu Jiang and Teng Biao submitted a petition to advocate for the abolition of the custody and repatriation system, under which Sun had been detained. The then-new Communist Party leadership under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao accepted the suggestion, generating a positive interaction between civil society and the government. The moment brought significant hope for social reform.

Xu had campaigned for the rights of children living in rural areas to have equal access to education as their urban peers. In China, due to the household registration system, children who followed their parents to the cities could not enter local schools and many of them were deprived of education opportunities. The New Citizens’ Movement campaign for equal education began in 2009 with an online petition and demonstration aimed at education authorities in Beijing. The following year, authorities granted permission to Beijing schools to admit migrant students.

From this moment onward, citizens — particularly young people — began to use the Internet as a place for discussion, debate, and organizing. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, the Internet became the only channel for university students to communicate with friends and get access to information, as school campuses shut down and forced students to remain confined to their living areas. Trapped in their dormitories, frustrated students connected through the school network to discuss the cause of the spread of epidemics, which many felt was the failure of local government to alert the public to the spread of the disease and promote prevention techniques. The deaths of Huang Jing and Sun Zhigang were also the most hot topics on the university networks. As human rights lawyer Teng Biao put it, all citizens’ rights campaigns during that period made use of the Internet as a platform. Over the next five years, the online public sphere developed at a rapid clip.

Many interpreted the various citizens’ rights campaigns that began in 2003 as a breakthrough moment in which free assembly and more open speech might take hold.

When the Twitter-like platform Fanfou emerged in 2007, netizens were suddenly able to post news to the web via mobile in a matter of seconds. Protests which previously had been restricted to the local level spread quickly to national networks. The live-casting of mass incidents demonstrated the power of micro-blog.

Though new communication technologies have generated new space for social groups and online deliberation in recent years, new regulations, controls and crackdowns have quickly followed, stifling these transformative forces.

Soon after the conclusion of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a joint signature campaign pushing for political reform based on international human rights standards known as the Charter 08 campaign began. The government responded with an attack on the digital public sphere under a pretext of “anti-vulgarity”. A large number of independent websites, blogs and social networks were either closed down or suspended soon thereafter.

Ethnic minority regions felt this increasing intolerance too. In the midst of riots in 2009, the Internet was temporary shut down — it remained shut down for nearly a year in Urumqi, the largest city in China's Uyghur region of Xinjiang. The independently-run Fanfou was shut down two days later after the riot and suspended until November 2010. During its suspension, Sina Weibo, which is controlled by the party-state, replaced Fanfou. Sina Weibo has since become the country's most influential social media platform.

Uprisings in Middle East and Northern African countries between 2010 and 2011 also hit a nerve for the Chinese government. More than a hundred activists, bloggers and netizens were arrested following online calls for China to stage its own “Jasmine Revolution”.

Still, the control of the Internet was mainly through keyword filtering and censorship, manipulation of online opinion and selective arrests. The majority of the netizens continued to use Weibo to webcast social incidents and coordinate grassroots election campaigns. Political satires and jokes were still visible and some netizens even reported corruption cases, allowing their real identities to be disclosed to the public. The real-name registration system, designed to enforce self-censorship, has now given rise to a group of influential online opinion leaders.

The current deputy director of the State Council Information Office, Ren Xianliang wrote in the CCP think tank Red Flag Journal back in April 2013 that the government should lock up some Weibo opinion leaders to prevent the manipulation of public opinion. Four months later, on August 10 of last year, representatives of Weibo opinion leaders were forced to sign a pledge on a Central Television program to uphold “seven self-censorship guidelines“. A week later, citizens saw the mass arrest of hundreds of opinion leaders and the so-called Internet Water Armies who were accused of spreading rumors and defamatory speech.

Despite the claim of victory in eradicating critical comments against the authorities and reclaiming the ideological leadership in Weibo, the battlefield has expanded to the prosecution of moderate reformists marked by the arrest of Uyghur intellectual and the founder of the website “Uyghur online”, Ilham Tohti on January 15 and the announcement of 4-year jail sentence of Xu Zhiyong on January 26. After their initial victory, the campaign has continued on behalf of students who needed to return to their hometown for university entrance examination. Xu was accused of disrupting public disorder for organizing two small petitions regarding the examination arrangement.

Since his conviction, official propaganda about Xu’s trial has flooded Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like “grassroots” public sphere of China with headlines such as: “Xu Zhiyong has wrong judgment of the world”, “Western countries’ explicit conspiracy in the support of Chinese dissidents.” Xu Zhiyong's court statement, in which he defended his actions, is nowhere to be found.

Xu Zhiyong's New Citizens’ Movement was driven by a generation of independent subjects who developed their critical thinking skills in a relatively free online public sphere. It proved that virtual networks can lead to real-life mobilization once the consensus of a particular social agenda is built. The campaign for equal education rights for rural children is just an example.

The sentence of Xu Zhiyong, a symbolic figure who represents the “new citizen” whose awareness has been cultivated through online deliberation of public affairs and live-casting of protests and citizen action, is not an individual case but a symbol of the government’s systematic denial of people's desire freedom and dignity.

February 19 2014

Netizen Report: Censorship Continues as Protests Turn Violent in Venezuela

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed El-Gohary, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Sarah Myers, Bojan Perkov, and Sonia Roubini 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 Venezuela, where a wave of peaceful protests over food insecurity and public safety snowballed into a nationwide uprising after the arrests of several student demonstrators last week.

Demonstrators flood the streets of the Cachao section of Caracas. Photo by @Pedro_Alvarez_ via Twitter.

Demonstrators flood the streets of the Cachao section of Caracas. Photo by @Pedro_Alvarez_ via Twitter.

Government officials and supporters are calling protesters “neo-facists” and accusing US government leaders of driving the opposition. Authorities have arrested at least 100 people, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who will reportedly face terror-related charges. Media attempting to cover the protests have been threatened with fines under a law that “prohibits the dissemination of media containing hate speech and violence.” Colombian cable television network NTN24 was taken off the air on February 12, allegedly due to its coverage of protests.

On Twitter and the independent crowdsourcing platform Herdict, users have reported that multiple independent and pro-opposition blogs and news sites are inaccessible via CANTV, Venezuela’s state-owned ISP that has a near monopoly over the national telecom market. Activists and media workers using social media to report on protests are also facing big hurdles. On February 12 and 13, Twitter users were unable to send or receive photos in the country, allegedly due to state efforts to block Twitter’s multimedia servers. In recent days, many have reported that police and National Guard officers are seizing protesters’ mobile phones, reviewing personal information, and erasing protest images. Global Voices authors in Venezuela are running a special coverage section of the protests here.

Free Expression: Philippines’ new online libel law takes media policy “a century backward”

The Philippine Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of online libel, part of the controversial “Cyber Martial Law” that has sparked controversy since it was first introduced in 2012. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines described the court ruling as “a half-inch forward but a century backward” in terms of advancing media freedom in the country.

Chinese censorship watchdog reported that Microsoft’s search engine Bing seemed to be filtering simplified Chinese language search results not only in mainland China but in its international version. The site also inconsistently displays censorship notices, making it difficult to determine whether the removal of results was at the request of the government. Rebecca MacKinnon suspects this is likely the result of Microsoft “applying apolitical mathematical algorithms to politically manipulated and censored web content.” Engadget reports that Bing Senior Director Stefan Weitz “emphatically confirm[ed]” that Microsoft does not engage in political censorship and promised that Bing is “fixing the issue.”

Surveillance: Ethiopian journalists targeted with Italian spyware

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab has uncovered the use of commercial spyware to surveil Ethiopian journalists working in the US. Produced by the Milan-based company Hacking Team, the spyware is capable of stealing documents and contact lists, reading e-mails, and remotely enabling cameras and microphones. In this case, it was used to target journalists working at Ethiopian Satellite Television Service, a US-based news outlet that is frequently critical of the Ethiopian government.

Citizen Lab researchers say they have found evidence of the spyware being used in 21 countries including Egypt, Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Thailand and Turkey. While the company’s customer policy states that it sells only to governments, Hacking Team will not confirm whether Ethiopia is a customer.

After Chinese police launched a massive crackdown on prostitution in the southern city of Dongguan, responding to an undercover China Central Television report, Sina Weibo released a heat map reportedly showing the flow of people fleeing the raids. Produced from geolocation data from smartphones collected by Baidu, the map indicates the broad capacity of surveillance systems in China to track massive movements of people within the country.

Internet Governance: Two million SIM cards deactivated in Zambia

The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) deactivated the SIM cards of over two million mobile phone users who failed to register their cards under a new nationwide real-name registration policy. Former Zambian Vice President General Godfrey Miyanda, now an opposition party leader, spoke out against the measure, which he says poses a threat to privacy and freedom of expression.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is backing proposals that would seek to create European data networks that keep communications within European territory. Germany plans to partner with France in the effort.

Open Government

Pakistani Senator Osman Saifullah Khan launched an online platform for his constituents to address grievances. Saifullah represents the district of Islamabad, which has higher than average literacy rates and Internet penetration.

Netizen Activism: Peaceful demonstration for Darfuri blogger

Human rights activists staged a peaceful sit-in at the government-run Human Rights Commission in Khartoum, Sudan, calling for the release of Tajeldin Arja, a blogger and activist from Darfur who has been in detention without charges since December 2013. Arja was arrested after criticizing government leaders at a press conference.

Vigil in front of the Human Rights Commission demanding the release of Tajeldin Arja was GOOD. Memorandum was handed over to UNHCR

Publications and Studies


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Follow the Escalation of Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests Live

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

Protests in Ukraine escalated to a deadly stand-off between hundreds of thousands of citizens and government forces in the evening of February 18. Roads to the city were blocked by authorities, and the metro in Kyiv were stopped. The main opposition TV channel reported being taken off air. Fierce clashes between police and protesters around the main square continued through the night. On February 19, the Kyiv Post reported that at least 25 people are dead and more than 1,000 are injured.

In the morning of February 18, 2014, Ukraine's opposition tried to register a bill in Parliament to bring back the old version of the country's Constitution, one that significantly limits presidential powers. The move was backed by the nearly three-months-old Euromaidan movement, which has been protesting daily in several cities throughout Ukraine demanding that the government of President Viktor Yanukovych step down. 

Ahead of the session, the protesters marched to the Parliament building. When the speaker of the parliament refused to register the bill, clashes broke out between the people and the police. MPs who support President Yanukovych had left the building, while the president himself was nowhere to be found. Police and special forces then stormed Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independance Square), the protesters’ stronghold.

A screencap from Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independance Square] in central Kyiv, Ukraine. Feb. 19, 2014

A screenshot from Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independance Square] in central Kyiv, Ukraine. Feb. 19, 2014

President Yanukovych has made a statement blaming the opposition for the violence and police crackdown. Overnight negotiations between the protesters and the government failed and protesters once again reclaimed Independence Square in Kyiv on February 19.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso released a video statement regarding the latest developments in Ukraine and also tweeted:

Citizens and independent media still turning to Internet tools to cover what is happening on the ground and get the news of the atrocities happening in Ukraine to the rest of the world. Live streams of the clashes and protests from Kyiv are available on several online channels:


Twitter is also a popular online venue for following updates directly from Kyiv. Global Voices has compiled a list of some of the Twitter accounts with English-language coverage of current events in Ukraine:

Euromaidan volunteer translators are busier than ever, translating as many updates from the scene of the protests. The most popular blog and Facebook page is that of Maidan Translations:

Updates from the organizers of the protests, dubbed Euromaidan headquarters, can be followed on their Facebook account in English:

Philippine Supreme Court Upholds Cyber Libel Law

cybercrimeFirst, the good news: The Philippine Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the “takedown clause” of a proposed anti-cybercrime law that would allow authorities to restrict or remove suspicious websites and other questionable Internet content. It also struck down a provision on real-time collection of traffic data, that would have empowered the government to conduct mass surveillance without judicial approval.

But there’s also bad news: The Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of online libel. The court clarified that “online libel only applies to the original author or producer of libelous material. Receiving, responding to, or sharing libelous material online would not be covered by online libel.”

Under the new law, crimes that are already addressed in the country's penal code receive higher penalties in electronic form. Libel is among them.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act or Republic Act No. 10175 was signed in 2012 but was immediately challenged by media groups and citizens concerned about various provisions that would have undermined human rights and media freedom in the country. The law was described by many netizens as ‘cyber martial law.’ In response to a civil society petition, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order which prevented the government from implementing the law.

Human rights lawyer Harry Roque asserted that the new law constitutes an infringement on free speech:

The high court should not abdicate its duty to protect freedom of expression. No less than the U.N. Human Rights Committee has already declared that Philippine Criminal Libel Law is contrary to Freedom of Expression. The Court’s decision failing to declare libel as unconstitutional is therefore contrary to Human Rights Law.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines described the court ruling as “a half-inch forward but a century backward” in terms of advancing media freedom in the country:

By extending the reach of the antediluvian libel law into cyberspace, the Supreme Court has suddenly made a once infinite venue for expression into an arena of fear, a hunting ground for the petty and vindictive, the criminal and autocratic…

Journalist Inday Espina-Varona warned about the dangers of online libel laws:

…the problem with libel as a criminal offense is, it encourages reprisals even when a post is true, fair and motivated by the best intentions. A criminal case is always a cause for concern. You think warlords care about the effort you took to be fair and truthful?

The Supreme Court decision on the Cybercrime Law only makes citizen watchdogs vulnerable to people in power with the resources to harass voices of dissent.

Noemi L Dado, one of the petitioners, urged netizens to continue the fight to protect Internet freedom:

I am so disappointed at the SC decision on online libel. I welcome though, their decision on the unconstitutionality of the provisions such as the Take Down clause and the decision to strike down the real time gathering of information. The fight to protect our internet freedom and hashtags #notocybercrimelaw continue in social media.

The College Editors Guild accused the government of supporting the law in order to stifle citizen dissent:

Such laws are passed not in the interests of public safety or national security, but to defend the status quo’s own interests against public dissent. Defence and security become convenient justifications to chip away at democratic rights, bit by bit, when in reality a political system like our own ought to be defending the public – against itself.

The Department of Justice welcomed the ruling but also noted that numerous cybercrimes were committed in the past year and a half when the restraining order was in effect:

In the intervening period when the [restraining order] was in place, cybercrime in its many forms were continuing and even escalating. A clear legal framework is necessary to protect citizens and balance state duties. We will continue to recommend best practices to improve the law.

Netizens are using the Twitter hashtag #NonLibelousTweets to mock the court's ruling on the law.

February 18 2014

Adapting to Extreme Climate Change in Mali and Madagascar

Forest in the Kayes Region in Mali CC-NC-2.0

Forest in the Kayes region of Mali CC-NC-2.0

Mali and Madagascar have faced many similar challenges over the past five years. Political turmoil punctuated by coup d'états that saw the removal of their president-elects before the end of their terms. As a consequence, both economies had steep dives in terms of GDP. Today, Madagascar and Mali are both trying to rebuild their broken political systems via newly elected executive branches.

A lesser known challenge that both countries face is their struggle against extreme climate change. Fragile countries are often more vulnerable to extreme weather, but that adage could not be more evident than in the recent evolution of the ecosystem in Madagascar and Mali.

An undeniable impact

In Mali, the forest is slowly given way to the Sahara desert in the north. The Kayes region is symptomatic of the seemingly unstoppable progression of the desert in a region that used to host a buoyant forest and is now home to vast areas of sands and rocks.

Adrien de Chaisemartin and his colleagues from the McKinsey's Johannesburg office reported on the impact of climate change in the Malian region:

Mali is a mostly dry nation, subject to frequent droughts. Increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall tell of a shift in climate zones as the desert moves south over productive land. In these regions, farmers dependent on agriculture and livestock already face trying periods of drought and have few options to overcome them. Many are moving to the cities, others to the country’s less arid south.

Kayes region  in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Kayes region in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Here is how they assess the current situation and the potential economic loss for the country:

The climate zone shift—the combined effect of rising average temperatures and declining average rainfall—has already pushed the country’s agroecological zones to the south over the past 50 years, with average rainfall down by about 200 millimeters and average temperatures up by 0.5°C over the same period. [..] The pessimistic high-change scenario could involve losses of about $300 million annually (some 15 percent of the value of agriculture and livestock); the optimistic scenario, losses of $120 million annually (6 percent)

In Madagascar, the impact of climate change was even more dramatic. Following two consecutive cyclones (Giovanna in 2012 and Haruna in 2013) that made landfall on the island and displaced at least 100,000 people, the southern region was plagued by a locust invasion. How those events are related is explained by Emmanuel Perrin on maxisciences [fr]:

Le cyclone Haruna a touché l’île de Madagascar. Or, son passage a créé les conditions d'humidité favorables à la prolifération de criquets migrateurs. Les autorités n’ont pas réagi à temps et, aujourd’hui, leur population atteint 500 milliards d’individus, estime une récente mission de comptage.

Cyclone Haruna hit the island of Madagascar and its landfall has created the humid conditions that favors the massive proliferation of locusts. The authorities did not react in time, and today their population reached 500 billion in the most recent estimates.

Locust invasion in down town Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

Locust invasion in downtown Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

The World Food Programme states that 60 percent of rice production will be affected by the locust invasion. Cyclone Haruna's direct impact was also dramatically felt by southern farmers as 6,351 hectares of their crop fields were flooded. Raw footage of the floods can be seen in this video from YouTube user ongbelavenir:

How to adapt

So what can local population do to withstand the climate assault on their way of life? Here are a few ideas by Michael Kleine and his fellow scientists or researchers from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations solutions (IUFRO):

New modes of governance should enhance effective stakeholder and community participation, transparent and accountable decision-making, and the equitable sharing of benefits. And strategies for adapting forests to climate change must be coordinated with those of other sectors and integrated into national and regional development programmes and strategies.

In the field, new strategies are dependent on the local context and the type of activities in the region. For instance, declining crop yields can be countered with the following measures: increase crop diversification and plant early maturing crop varieties such as the NERICA rice variety. 

Dr. Balgis Osman Elasha emphasized the importance of grasping the local context and gaining buy-ins from community leaders to implement the new measures:

The same policy could yield contrasting results ,for different sectors or different activities in the same sector, e.g. removing subsides on inputs, from agriculture produced positive impact on traditional rain fed sector (using minimum inputs), and negative impacts on mechanized irrigated agriculture (using intensive inputs) [..] Community Leaders are key players in the policy process , they possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding the wise use and conservation of natural resources, moreover, customary rules and orders issued by them , are considered sacred by their local community. 

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 15 2014

Venezuela: Twitter Photos Blocked as Protests Continue

Yesterday, after two days of intense protests throughout the country, Venezuelan netizens reported a number of problems accessing certain websites. Several websites were reported as blocked, and Twitter users were unable to access images and video on the social networking site, which has been vital for communication among protesters. Gabriel Bastidas, a Venezuelan journalist, said on Twitter:

10:08 pm, [apparently] they would have blocked Twitter multimedia protocols in Venezuela. Users report that they cannot see photos.

Journalist Jesús Torrivilla said:

I have the webclient for Twitter blocked. I use ABA. But I could access using Tor.

Journalist Laura Solórzano reported:

The problem with the pictures on Twitter is due to a blockage of Twitter protocols. It's done by the government.

The problem with the pictures in Twitter is suffered only by people with CANTV connections. Inter and satelital are normal.

Other users did traceroutes to the Twitter image server and reported that the connection was being interrupted by CANTV, the government-owned ISP that has a near-monopoly over other telecommunications providers in the country. Loris Santamaría, a consultant in network infrastructure services, tweeted:

Well, I have the traceroute, it's Cantv who's blocking us

Other users were having issues accessing different websites throughout the day. Naky Soto, a venezuelan blogger and activist, reported problems accessing the website of the national newspaper El Nacional and linked a screencapture:

For many people, links from El Nacional are giving this error

On Thursday, William Castillo, President of the Venezuelan Telecommunications Commission, CONATEL, declared that media coverage of the protests could result in a violation of the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media. The Venezuelan government has been blocking websites for different reasons for several years, and a wave of blockages flared last November, when President Maduro announced measures against websites reporting on the unofficial price of foreign currency. On past Saturday, Castillo had announced that the government had blocked up to 384 websites for this reason:

CONATEL has gotten Venezuelan ISPs to block 384 website urls that are distributing misinformation about the illegal dollar.

On Friday, scattered reports of problems accessing other websites, such as, Facebook and Twitter itself, have continued. Friday afternoon, CANTV issued a statement categorically denying its connection with blocking images on Twitter.

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 13 2014

Two Million Mobile SIM Cards Deactivated in Zambia

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The SIM cards of over two million Zambian mobile phone users were deactivated last week, according to the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority. After spending several months pushing subscribers to register their SIMs, the regulatory body now says that those who did not meet the January 31 deadline have had their SIMs deactivated.

Most people in Zambia, a country with a population of just over 13 million, own up to three SIM cards, one for each telecommunications service provider. Zambians also use them to access mobile Internet services.

In a statement released shortly after the close of registration ZICTA announced that out of a subscriber base of 9,462,504, “a total number of 8,235,991 SIM cards have been registered while 2,215,376 have been deactivated.”

Apart from cutting off services to subscribers who failed to register their cards, ZICTA also threatened to punish any of the three mobile phone service providers MTN, CellZ and Airtel in the same statement, stating:

As is the case in any process of this magnitude [SIM card registration], some level of margin of error is expected and accepted. Any Service provider found to have mistakes within the margin of error will be requested to re-run their system. However, for any Service Provider whose errors shall be above the accepted threshold will be punished by Law.

The SIM registration process did not go over without problems. Some people who had registered at the beginning of the exercise, four months prior to the deadline, discovered last month that they were not on the final list of registered subscribers. Others had their numbers under different names and even the wrong gender.

Former Vice President Brigadier-General Godfrey Miyanda, a leader of the now-opposition Heritage Party and a vocal critic of SIM registration policy, had one of his SIM cards registered without his knowledge. The phone company later apologised.

Gen. Miyanda is among some subscribers who have threatened to take ZICTA to court for allegedly threatening their rights and freedoms pertaining to privacy, property ownership and communication. On the last day of registration, Gen. Miyanda, in what he referred to as his last post, wrote:

Fellow internet partners and the Social Media family, I wish to inform you that the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) have reminded me that by midnight this day they will cut me off from civilisation by arbitrarily deactivating my SIM cards without just cause. I have NOT committed any crime, neither is there a credible record of the prevalence and/or abuse of these communications gadgets to justify any derogation from the said guaranteed rights.

Gen Miyanda, who had written several statements on this issue, continued:

By this single act ZICTA is attaching the condition that before I can enjoy my guaranteed freedom of expression I should first apply to the Authority or their agents to be registered. By the same token ZICTA are infringing my right to privacy and other proprietary [rights]. I contend that these freedoms and liberties cannot be taken away arbitrarily or traded for a few minutes of airtime. My communications to ZICTA and the Mobile Service Providers have remained unanswered. This means that by midnight I shall not be able to communicate or use my purchased implements for such communication. In short until this issue is resolved I shall be off air, including off the internet. This is my Last Post for now.

A journalist and mobile phone subscriber who has threatened class action against ZICTA complained that local media had not covered his anti-SIM card registration fight. Kasebamashila Kaseba alleged that the media was compromised by the regulatory body which sponsored various media activities including awards and working breakfasts. He stated:

As we close and review the public and media debates, to open the court process, in view of ZICTA deadline of Friday, 31st January, 2014 for SIM card deactivation, I wish to say and may elaborate later that we may not seek an “injunction” or “judicial review” as the matter is outside the law or SI 65 of 2011. Instead, the “class action” as already mentioned elsewhere may include action against some public media houses that benefited from the ZICTA SIM card registration […] campaign of deactivation and may include “citizen’s arrest.”

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