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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. 

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.

February 25 2014

Arab Bloggers: A Blessed Generation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New challenges 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting the seeds for a better future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 23 2014

Walkie-Talkie App Zello Blocked in Venezuela

This early Thursday, Venezuelan netizens started to report that Zello, the push-to-talk “walkie-talkie” app, had stopped functioning on mobile phones. Many Venezuelans have been using the app to organize and exchange information about the protests that have escalated rapidly over the last eighteen days now. Zello reported more than 15,000 local downloads in a single day last week. The blockage happened a day after President Maduro declared that the government was intercepting communications sent using Zello in order to monitor protesters.

On Twitter, Andrés Azpurua said:

Apparently Zello is being blocked. It's unaccesible from CANTV/Movilnet, we're researching #BlackoutVE #freeinternetVE

The company asked users to report back using technical tools in order to understand the issue:

Loris Santamaria, a consultant in network infrastructure services, did a traceroute and reported:

On Thursday night, the company declared to Associated Press that the origin of the blockage was Venezuela's state-run telecommunications company, CANTV, which covers over 80% of the telecom market in the country. Later, they developed a new version, hoping that it would prove useful to circumvent the blockage:

Meanwhile, TunnelBear, the VPN company, who has been providing unlimited free service Venezuelans for several days, tweeted to Zello their approach:

Surveillance and censorship are increasingly serious concerns for all Internet and mobile phone users in Venezuela. Yesterday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement pressing upon the need for free access to information:

La Comisión Interamericana reitera a las autoridades venezolanas que es indispensable que en una sociedad democrática existan garantías suficientes para asegurar que la población tenga acceso al pluralismo y la diversidad informativa, especialmente en relación con temas de interés público y el acontecer nacional.

The Inter-American Commission reiterates to Venezuelan authorities that it is indispensable in a democratic society to ensure sufficient guarantees assuring that the population has access to pluralistic and diverse information, especially in relationship to matters of public and national interest.

February 22 2014

Venezuela: The Internet Goes Dark in Táchira

After sixteen days of protests across Venezuela, the Internet went dark in the state of Táchira, reportedly for 36 hours. Twitter users and news sites reported that electricity also appeared to have been cut in the area. On February 21, the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal tweeted:

10:59 pm Neighbors from state of Táchira report that they have gone 24 hours without Internet service from CANTV.

Moises Maldonado, an engineer in Táchira, tweeted:

In Táchira we were without Internet, water, light, food, gasoline, [public] transport, commerce. But we do have balls, which is what Venezuela needs right now.

It was in Táchira that the protests began. Violent repression of demonstrators has been especially severe in the state, and many have reported military helicopters flying over head. Noticiero24 tweeted:

TÁCHIRA: militarized without Internet http://t.co/81M2oHarsj The flyovers return and barricades are maintained.

Internet blackouts of this magnitude are unprecedented in Venezuela. But web blocking is not. Over the last six months, as inflation has soared to over 50%, foreign currency valuation sites have been blocked en masse. Since protests escalated last week, hundreds of blogs and websites covering news and political issues have been reported as blocked, both on Twitter and on the crowd-sourcing platform, Herdict. For over a week, users throughout the country have reported difficulty accessing Twitter and a dramatic overall drop in Internet speed.

In this most recent incident, some citizens explained that the blockage was only on government-run ISP CANTV, and that they were able to access the web through mobile connections. But others said that they were unable to get online using other ISPs. Journalist Lorena Arráiz tweeted:

It's been now 24 hours without internet connection from the ABA service.

After two days of darkness, service returned. Science and Technology Minister Manuel Fernández apologized for the disconnection, saying that there had been “problems at northern Táchira and in San Cristóbal,” caused by the “many fires in the city.”

February 19 2014

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

Venezuela: Police Seize Protester Mobile Phones

Several people have reported that police and National Guard officers are seizing the mobile phones of protesters and detainees in Venezuela. As Venezuela reaches its fifteenth day of protests in the streets, protesters believe police are reviewing their personal information, erasing pictures and video of the protests and sending messages to their families and friends. José Vicente Haro, a Venezuelan lawyer and law professor working to defend the detained students, tweeted:

Detainees in CICPC have been taken away their cell phones [by the police] and [they] said they will return them on Monday. They are reviewing the information on their phones.

Since last week there have been reports that policemen are using the students’ cellphones to send prank messages to their friends and family. Eduardo Lischinsky, a student who has been participating in the demonstrations, said:

They're using the cellphones of the detained students to prank friends and family who are trying to reach them.

Mary Mena, an investigative reporter who has been following the detentions, also said that at least two journalists were detained and that the National Guard took their cellphones:

Journalist @JPBIERIL and @perezvaler17 were detained and the GN took their cell phones. Watch out @espaciopublico @ipysvenezuela

After talking with relatives of the detained, journalist LuisCarlos Díaz posited that the police and National Guard were not only holding the phones to make jokes, but also to erase photos, videos, and other evidence of protests:

Another repressive measure in Venezuela is taking away the phones of detained to erase pictures, videos and review personal information.

Amid the protests and with censored media, Venezuelans have turned to the Internet to share photos, video and information on the demonstrations and their subsequent repression. Protesters in the Chacao district of Caracas streamed video of one of the most violent area protests, which had been viewed by 230,225 people as of February 18.

Collecting Data About Possible Web Censorship in Venezuela

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

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

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

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

February 17 2014

Sudan: Blogger Remains in Detention for Criticizing Presidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Blow to Government Rhetoric

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

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

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

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

Algerian Cartoonist Faces 18 Months in Jail for Mocking President

All links lead to French-language web pages.

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

Djamel Ghanem

Djamel Ghanem via Algérie Focus. Used with permission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 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 Pastebin.com, Facebook and Twitter itself, have continued. Friday afternoon, CANTV issued a statement categorically denying its connection with blocking images on Twitter.

February 14 2014

Venezuela: Protests Leave Three Dead as Threats to Media Escalate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fran Monroy posted on Twitter:

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

Rodrigo Blanco posted an alert about the situation:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The protests have not stopped.

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

February 12 2014

Venezuela: Authorities Threaten to Fine Media Outlets for Protest Coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 11 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Privacy vs. Free Speech? Questioning the Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 08 2014

Some Kazakh Bloggers Dine With Mayor, Some Get Jail Terms

alm

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

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

‘Corrupt bloggers’

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

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

Shortly before his detention, Aitelenov tweeted this image:

Rally against corrupt bloggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Useful’ meeting

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

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

Following the meeting, bloggers have also responded to criticisms.

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

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

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

February 07 2014

Indonesia: Twitter Defamation Case Casts Shadow on Media Landscape

Screenshot of @benhan Twitter page

Screenshot of @benhan Twitter page

Popular Indonesian Twitter user Benny Handoko, @benhan on Twitter, was sentenced to one year of probation last week, after being found guilty of defaming a former politician.

Benny tweeted on December 7, 2012 that former Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) member Mukhamad Misbakhun (@misbakhun) was a crook who had stolen from Century Bank, the embattled financial institution at the center of a 2008 scandal in which lawmakers pushed excessive bailout funds to certain banks as part of a larger money-making scheme. Benny rose to Twitter fame because of his sharp commentary on the scandal.

In 2010, Misbakhun was sentenced to two years in jail for forging documents to acquire a loan from the bank. Misbakhun soon after resigned from his party and eventually lost his seat in Congress. But in July 2012, the Supreme Court overturned the 2010 conviction.

Misbakhun threatened that if Benny did not apologize for his tweets calling the Misbakhun a crook, he would sue Benny for libel. But the Twitter celeb refused to apologize, arguing that he based his comments on news reports.

Misbakhun later filed a police complaint against Benny, which ultimately led to the case brought against Benny. In assessing charges, the prosecutor cited controversial Law No. 11/2008 on Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE).

Many Indonesians, especially avid social media users, are voicing support for Benny. Supporters see his case as a sign of rising Internet regulation and censorship in the country.

Media freedom advocates have long lobbied for the review and even repeal of the ITE, as it is often used by politicians to silence critics. They specifically highlight Article 27, Paragraph 3 of the law which gives a person or authority the right to file slander charges against a person or entity if he or she feels insulted or degraded by a particular publication under that entity's control.

After Benny’s verdict was announced, concerned Indonesians immediately expressed fear that it would have a negative impact on freedom of expression in the country. They added that it might discourage whistleblowers from coming out to expose corrupt practices in the government and society.

For his part, Misbakhun advised netizens to learn from the trial of Benny by being more careful and responsible before posting messages online. He reiterated that free expression must not be abused by hurling unfair and malicious accusations against other persons.

Benny has yet to decide whether he will file an appeal.

Beyond the legal fight between Benny and Misbakhun, the case could mark a turning point in the future of Indonesia’s free media. As long as the draconian ITE law exists, it will remain a pernicious threat to Indonesian democracy. It is time for Indonesia to seriously consider proposals to discard the law and embrace Internet legislation that upholds international human rights doctrine.

February 05 2014

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

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

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

caricature aloui boutef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viral Video of Deputy PM Triggers Cyber Assault in Serbia

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

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

Alek u Feketiću from Ivan Đokić on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 28 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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