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February 27 2014

It's Music Freedom Day on March 3!

Music Freedom Day

19 musicians killed, and 7 abducted. 18 music creators imprisoned. These are just some of the reported cases of injustice against musicians recorded by the human rights organization Freemuse in 2013. On March 3, the annual Music Freedom Day will draw attention to the rights to free expression of musicians everywhere. The program is expanding daily on Musicfreedomday.org with concerts of exiled musicians, radio broadcasts, and much more in at least 17 countries.

Brazilian Activist's Video Satire Censored After Globo TV Claims Copyright

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“No censorship”: William Bonner and Patrícia “Correta” in “the video that Globo doesn't wan't you to see”.

[All links lead to Portuguese-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

A video posted on Facebook skewering TV giant Globo Television Network's nightly news program for inaccuracies has been removed from the social network after Globo claimed copyright infringement, according to the video's author, Brazilian activist and filmmaker Rafucko

The video montage, published online on February 18, 2014, took on an editorial from Globo's main TV newscast “Jornal Nacional” (National News) to expose their manipulation of information about protests that have rocked the country since June 2013. In the video, the activist posed as journalist Patricia Poeta (in his humorous version, Patricia “Correta”, meaning “correct”) and corrected the comments of her fellow journalist William Bonner. Both are news anchors for “Jornal Nacional”.

Among the corrections are the role of Globo's journalism in the coverage of the death of cameraman Santiago Andrade during a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro [en]; the false accusations made by newspaper O Globo against State Representative Marcelo Freixo alleging that he was involved with protesters who were accused of killing the cameraman; the network ‘s insistence on calling protesters ”thugs” or “vandals”; and its attempts to equate the defensive violence of the protesters with the violence of the military police, which is responsible for 75 percent of attacks against journalists, according to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism.

In just eight hours, the satire had attracted more than 40,000 views, and many viewers republished it on other platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo. However, many of these versions were also censored at the request of the Globo Network, the activist said:

Quem baixou, pode repostar! Em breve reposto, com o slogan: “o vídeo que a Globo não quer que você veja”. Vai ser sucesso. Já é.

Whoever downloaded it can repost it! Soon, I'll repost it with the slogan: “the video that Globo doesn't want you to see.” It will be a success. It is already.

On the same day, Rafucko protested on his blog against what he considered to be censorship:

Não é à toa que um dos gritos mais ouvidos nas manifestações diz “a verdade é dura, a Rede Globo apoiou a ditadura (e ainda apóia)!”

Na última semana vimos a emissora dedicar extensas reportagens e editorias para versar sobre a liberdade de expressão. Desde o início das manifestações, a Rede Globo utiliza sistematicamente imagens de coletivos de mídia independente sem dar créditos ou pedir prévia autorização.

Entretanto, meu vídeo satirizando o Jornal Nacional foi retirado do ar menos de 12h após sua publicação. O papo dos “direitos autorais” eu dispenso.

No wonder that one of the most heard chants in the demonstrations says “the truth is hard, Globo supported the dictatorship (and still supports it)!”

Last week, we saw the broadcaster devote extensive reports and editorials to the subject of freedom of expression. Since the protests began, Globo systematically uses pictures of independent media collectives without giving credit or asking permission.

However, my video satirizing “Jornal Nacional” was taken down less than 12 hours after its publication. All this chit chat about copyright, I dismiss it.

Activist Pedro Ekman criticized Globo Network and commented on the copyright issue: 

A Globo é a maior censora da internet brasileira. A retira conteúdos alegando ter direito autoral sobre eles. A Lei de Direito Autoral determina que é LIVRE o uso de pequenos trechos de obras protegidas por direito autoral para fins de crítica e sátira. Mas respeitar leis nunca foi muito a prática da Globo, vide 1964.

Globo is the largest Brazilian Internet censor. It removes content claiming to have copyright on them. The Copyright Act states that it is FREE to use a small snippets protected by copyright for the purposes of criticism and satire works. But respecting laws was never Globo's practice, see 1964 [the year the dictatorship began in Brazil, with the support of Globo].

Journalist Bruno Natal added on his blog:

Nos EUA, por exemplo, essa alegação mambembe de violação de direitos autorais não colaria, porque lá existe uma lei chamada Fair Use (Uso Justo), que permite a reprodução de qualquer material protegido desde que dentro de um contexto pertinente, o que claramente é o caso aqui. Afinal, como o Rafucko pode criticar o editorial sem mostrá-lo?

Isso pra não entrar no âmbito da liberdade artística, antes que alguém venha dizer que ele não precisava mostrar o vídeo, mas bastaria citá-lo (quem escolhe a forma é o artista).

Só tem um nome pra isso e vc sabe qual é.

In the US, for example, this shoddy claim of copyright infringement wouldn't stick because there exists a law called Fair Use, which allows for the reproduction of any copyrighted material within a relevant context, which is clearly the case here. After all, how can Rafucko criticize the editorial without showing it?

That, to not go into artistic freedom, before someone comes to say that he need not show the video, but suffice to quote him (who chooses the way is the artist).

There is only a name for this and you know what it is.

The next day on February 19, Rafucko thanked his followers for republishing the video. In the same post, he stated that before being censored the video had reached 500,000 views online, becoming the most watched of his filmography, and added:

Quando se fala pela liberdade, toda tentativa de repressão e censura amplifica nossa voz.

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Original video censored.

When speaking for freedom, every attempt of repression and censorship amplifies our voice.

Tatiane Rosset commented on Youpix blog:

Como a internet não é boba nem nada, existem outros meios para assistir o viral, onde Rafucko interpreta Patrícia Correta (piadinha) corrigindo o colega de bancada durante o editorial. Um deles são as várias repostagens feitas no próprio YouTube (uma já tinha mais de 400 mil views quando foi retirada, e outra está em 190 mil).

A outra, é claro, é através do Vimeo. Porque, por algum motivo, todos as pessoas com o ~~rabo preso~~ no país esquecem que o YouTube é o principal, mas não o único meio de veicular vídeos online

A censura, pedida pela Rede Globo por “infringir direitos autorais”, levanta o questionamento: Até onde a liberdade de expressão rola online? O universo digital é realmente livre?

As the Internet is not stupid or anything, there are other ways to watch the viral video in which Rafucko plays Patricia Correct (little joke) correcting her fello anchor during the editorial. One of them are several reposts on YouTube itself (one already had more than 400,000 views when it was withdrawn, and another is at 190,000).

The other, of course, is through Vimeo. Because for some reason, all the people who are ~~compromised~~ in the country forget that YouTube is the leading platform, but not the only means of publishing online videos.

The censorship requested by Globo for “copyright infringement” raises a question: How far does freedom of expression go online? Is the digital universe really free?

The video can still be watched at YouTube and Vimeo.

February 26 2014

Mozambican Tech Woman Talks Local Impact of Social Networks

This Portuguese-language interview was originally published by the Mozambican citizen media platform Olho do Cidadão (Eye of the Citizen) on July 10 2013. 

Ludmila Maguni (@_mwaa_ no Twitter e Instagram)

Ludmila Maguni (@_mwaa_ on Twitter and Instagram)

At a time when more and more Mozambicans are utilising the Internet as a way to show the world their local reality, as well as to share with their locality what is happening in the world, we spoke with Ludmila Maguni, an influential Mozambican on Twitter, who speaks about the impact that social networks are having on Mozambican society.

It is estimated that just 4.8 percent of the 25 million Mozambicans have Internet access, according to 2012 data. In Mozambique, the Internet and social networks provide a space for greater openness of expression. In terms of press freedom, the country was placed at number 73 in the report published by the Reporters Without Borders organisation in 2013 (the recently launched 2014′s report puts the country six places down, at 79).

Ludmila is the head of the Department of Information Systems of the Ministry of Science and Technology in Mozambique. But just like the majority of Mozambicans with access to the Internet, she uses the web for information, socialising and entertainment. On Twitter she is known as @_Mwaa_. She was born in Maputo, but identifies herself as cosmopolitan, or in other words, a citizen of the world. As described on her profile, she is “1st Mozambican, 2nd African, 3rd Citizen of the World”. She posts in both Portuguese and English. 

Ludmila argues that the reason social networks have found success in Mozambique is that the people feel free to interact with each other and to share information:

Quando falamos de redes sociais, a primeira coisa que nos vem a cabeça são as redes sociais que usamos no dia a dia pela internet, mas penso que não podemos nos esquecer que naturalmente os seres humanos sempre se organizaram em grupos, e as redes sociais sempre existiram. E penso que é por isso que as redes sociais eletrônicas tem tanto sucesso hoje em dia, porque naturalmente sentimos vontade de nos comunicar uns com os outros, de partilhar informação, etc.

When we talk about social networks, the first thing that comes to mind are the social networks we use every day on the Internet, but we should not forget that human beings always organise themselves naturally into groups, and that social networks have always existed. And I think that this is why the online social networks are so successful today, because we always feel a natural desire to communicate with each other, to share information, etc. 

And thanks to social networks, citizens have gained the courage to debate the country's affairs in an open and candid manner: 

Os Moçambicanos estão a usar esta plataforma para expressarem os seus sentimentos (bons ou maus) sobre o nosso pais, sobre o que está acontecendo na vida política do país e no dia-à-dia. Todos nós como cidadãos temos uma palavra a dizer sobre o que quer que seja, penso que com a capa das redes sociais muitos ganham coragem e conseguem realmente dizer o que lhes vai na alma.

Mozambicans are using this platform to express their feelings (good or bad) about our country and about what is happening in the political world and in everyday life. As citizens, we all have something to say, no matter the topic. I think that through social networks, they are able to find the courage to say what is really on their mind.

Ludmila believes that social networks can, in some way, serve as a bridge between citizens and the government:

Conheço alguns países em que através do Twitter, Facebook, blogs, os governos usam estes instrumentos para estarem mais próximos do cidadão, gostaria que em Moçambique também fosse assim.

I know that in some countries, politicians use Twitter, Facebook and blogs as tools to reach out to the citizens and I would like it to be like this in Mozambique too. 

During the month of December Ludmila was involved in organising the third edition of Hackathon, which took place in the city of Maputo and whose objective was to promote the development of smartphone apps to respond to the specific needs of the market. 

February 25 2014

Tajik Court Fines Journalist for Calling Docile Intellectuals ‘Shit’

A court in Tajikistan has found a local journalist guilty of “insulting” three state-appointed intellectuals and ordered that she pay them 30,000 somoni (over 6,000 US dollars) in “moral damage”. The court has also ruled that Asia-Plus, one of the country's few independent newspapers, must apologize for publishing the “insulting” content.

Olga Tutubalina. Image from her Facebook page, used with permission.

Olga Tutubalina. Image from her Facebook page, used with permission.

Olga Tutubalina, an editor and columnist of Asia-Plus, wrote a column [ru] in May 2013, criticizing the members of the intelligentsia for their “cozy relationship” with the government of President Emomali Rahmon. In that column, Tutubalina quoted the first Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin who had once referred to intellectuals in the service of the state as “shit”. 

A number of state-appointed members of the intelligentsia and creative unions then chose to feel insulted. Shortly after Tutubalina wrote her column, three individuals, the Academy of Science, and unions of writers, artists, composers, and architects filed a joint lawsuit against the journalist. On February 25, after almost a year-long trial, a court in Dushanbe ruled in their favor.

The initial reaction to the verdict among Twitter users was one of shock, disbelief, and anger.

News: The court has ruled in “Intelligentsia vs. Asia-Plus”

The United States Embassy in Dushanbe has issued a brief statement criticizing the verdict. US Envoy tweeted:

Shame on Tajikistan! Shame on its entire judicial system! Shame on all that shit which watched Tutubalina's trial in silence.

It is clear that Olga [Tutubalina] is being drowned. But there is one advantage: we now know for sure who shit is [in the country]. The court has confirmed it.

Overall, there is little doubt among social media users in Tajikistan that the journalists's trial was part of a broader campaign to silence critical journalists and independent media. Few netizens believe that the court's verdict was fair or impartial. After all, judges in Tajikistan are frequently compared to prostitutes catering to those in power.

From Kiev to Moscow: Russia's Tired Protest Antics

Tires (for burning on barricades) in the shape of the Olympic symbol. Anonymous image found online.

Car tires (used for burning on barricades during Ukraine's Maidan protests) in the shape of the Olympic symbol. Anonymous image found online.

With the Sochi Olympics over, it is back to business as usual in Russia — futile protests for the opposition, reactionary repression for the government. On Monday, February 24, 2014 Moscow's Zamoskvoretsky Court sentenced eight political activists to several years in prison for participating in a May 6, 2012 riot near the centrally located Bolotnaya Square. The actual sentences in the “Bolotanaya Case” vary, from two years and seven months for Artem Savelov to four years for Sergey Krivov. Alexandra Duhanina, the only female defendant left after an earlier amnesty that freed Maria Baronova, received a suspended sentence of 3 years and 3 months.

An image showing the Bolotnaya prisoners and their sentences. Anonymous image found online.

An image showing the Bolotnaya prisoners and their sentences. Anonymous image found online.

The sentencing took place this Monday, rather than last Friday as was originally planned [ru], likely to keep from spoiling the Olympic closing ceremony with untoward headlines. Even though it was a week-day, hundreds of people showed up to the court building, and later to Manezhnaya Square, to protest against the court case, which many view as rigged and political in nature. Some of these protesters seemed to have been inspired by the revolution in neighboring Ukraine, where violent street action helped the opposition reach their political goals. Specifically, several people tweeted about the need to bring car tires to the protest — either a defiant gesture referring to the mounds of tires burned by protesters on Kiev barricades, or a call to build barricades of their own.

Ilya Azar, a reporter at Lenta.ru, was the first one to call for “tires at Manezhka,” tweeting:

не забудьте каждый взять с собой на Манежку хотя бы одну автомобильную покрышку

everyone, don't forget to take at least one car tire with you to Manezhka

He later deleted his tweet, perhaps rightly fearing that it could be construed as a call to violence by the humorless Kremlin, but not before people made screenshots [ru]. Others [ru] picked up on this call to action, one Twitter user also calling [ru] for empty bottles, gasoline and motor oil (Molotov cocktail ingredients), another using Aesopian language to avoid charges of extremism:

I need help! Around Manezhka I got a flat tire. Everyone who is coming, please bring a spare, it could be old or without the rim.

A few people heeded these calls, one of them Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot fame, who was apparently arrested while carrying one [ru]. Tolokonnikova later tweeted from a police van, describing [ru] her detention as “rough.”

A man getting arrested on Manezhnaya Square, holding a car tire. Grani.ru.

Indeed, the Moscow police reacted swiftly and ruthlessly, dispersing the protest and detaining several hundred people, among them putative opposition leader Alexey Navalny [ru], according [ru] to tweets [ru] by protesters. Some also described [ru] the police action as “unusually” brutal and impatient. Pro-Kremlin writer Eduard Bagirov tweeted [ru] that this was because of the Ukrainian angle; post-Maidan the riot police have a “moral right” to “execute” protesters, he maintains.

A burning Kiev barricade photoshopped to look like a Google

A burning Kiev barricade photoshopped to look like a Google “doodle.” The protesters are holding car tires. Anonymous image found online.

Yulia Arkhipova, an economics student who recently got into a Twitter flame war [Global Voices report] with radio talk-show host Vladimir Solovyev for being pro-Maidan, wrote [ru] a scathing criticism of the tire-debacle, arguing that the Russian opposition is adopting the trappings of Ukrainian protests without their spirit:

В России оппозиция насмотрелась на Майдан и теперь играет в ролевые игры. К Замоскворецкому суду приносят российский флаг, поют российский гимн. Протестующие кричат “Банду гэть!” и называют ОМОНовцев Беркутом.

In Russia the opposition has seen the Maidan and is now role-playing. They bring the Russian flag to the Zamoskvoretsky court, they sing the Russian anthem. The protesters yell “Down with the thieves” [in Ukrainian] and call the riot police “Berkut.”

Sure, that might look like the Maidan, she writes, but what these protesters lack is the willingness to quit their jobs and the commitment to stand in the cold for months at a time. Thus, what worked in Kiev, is unlikely to work in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Bolotnaya Square prisoners will do hard time, although human rights defender Pavel Chikov hopes [ru] that the sentences are low enough that they might soon be released on parole, considering how much time they've already spent in jail. It remains to be seen if these eight men and women will become a mascot for the protest movement or a successful deterrent against it.

February 24 2014

10 Reasons Why I Do Not Want Shariah In Pakistan

One of the Taliban negotiators pulled out during a recent talk with the Pakistan government demanding that the agenda includes the strict imposition of Sharia law. Pakistani Blogger and Journalist Beena Sarwar highlights a protest note posted in Facebook titled '10 reasons why I do not want Shariah in Pakistan’ by communities The Traitors of Pakistan (Liberal/Secular Pakistanis against oppression, discrimination, extremism and intolerance) and Pakistan Votes (activist community). Here are some gems:

1. Religion and how I choose to practice it is my business and not that of the State.

2. Enforcing Shariah will not make me a better Muslim nor will it make Pakistan a welfare state. The world’s welfare states are all governed by secular governments.

3. I reject the idea that Shariah in any form can be enforced by those who have raped and plundered my country, blown up schools and mosques and beheaded soldiers. I will not give these criminals the right to dictate to me.

4. I will not give up my civil rights, including freedom of thought and expression, under the guise of Shariah.

The Venezuela I'll Always Remember

Caracas

Caracas, Venezuela. Image by flickr user danielito311. Used with Creative Commons licence (BY-NC 2.0).

Back then in Peru, terror and fear was part of our daily lives.

I had just graduated from law school in Lima. It was late 1993 and my beloved Peru was recovering from 12 years of internal conflict which had claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Christmas was coming and I decided it was time for my first journey abroad to visit a dear aunt. 

My mother's elder sister moved to Venezuela in the late 1950s. She got married in Caracas and settled there with her husband and two sons. After my younger cousin died in a car accident, my mother and her sister strengthened their bond and never let distance deter them from staying in touch.

When I stepped foot outside Simón Bolívar International Airport [es] in Maiquetía, I was instantly struck by how different everything looked, compared with Lima.

Caracas was a shiny modern city, with high-rises, highways, flyovers, and recently repaved roads.

All the cars looked like they had just rolled off the factory assembly line, glossy and splendid. New cars was something we were just starting to get used to in Peru, after out-of-control hyperinflation [es] had made all of us billionaires with little purchasing power.

The road signs looked like they had been painted the day before.

I could feel progress everywhere I looked, and this was just on the way from the airport to my aunt's house. Rain welcomed me on this adventure, something we Limeans are not used to at all.

The next day I started my tour of the city. I didn't feel like a total outsider. My generation grew up watching Venezuelan soap operas on TV, so some popular areas were familiar to me: Chacao, Chacaíto, the Virgen of Chiquingirá. So was the rhythmic speaking that I noticed was following me everywhere, after a few days.

During a visit to one museum, I saw a guy looking at a list of battles fought by Simón Bolívar, the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Bolivia. There were the names of the battles with no indication of the where they'd been fought, and I stood by next to this tourist and started with a lesson learnt long ago at school: Carabobo, Venezuela; Boyacá, Bogotá, Pichincha, Ecuador; and Junín and Ayacucho, Perú (country of yours truly).

On that trip, during a visit to a beach whose name I have forgotten, my toes first felt the waters of the Atlantic, I owe that to Venezuela too.

But what impressed me above all was the freedom people had, simply living their lives. We could enter any building and there was no military officer waiting to check our bags and belongings. There were no metal detectors or special machines that we had to pass through at the entrance of shopping centers or museums or anywhere for that matter.

I even walked in front of government buildings and ministries, as if that was the most normal thing to do. No one stopped me from being there, no one checked my documents, and no one made me feel like there was something to fear.

That is why I have been overwhelmed with sadness, as the recent stories and images have been trickling out of Venezuela.

Venezuelans are suffering. Venezuelans are crying. Venezuelans are mourning.

Protesters are rallying for liberty and demanding their rights be respected. Young people are dying in the streets, as police and government supporters battle protesters. Brothers are fighting brothers. 

I prefer to remember the Venezuela I knew in 1993. Joyous Caribbean music mingling with traditional Christmas songs wherever I went. Smiling faces greeting me, people welcoming me with kind words open arms, upon learning that I was Peruvian. 

Venezuela, you will always be in my heart.

Gabriela Garcia Calderon is a Peruvian lawyer specialized in Arbitration and Civil Law. She comes from a family connected to the media in Peru. Gabriela has been a member of Global Voices since November 2007.

Big, Bad Bullies of the Russian Media

The bullies of the Russian media. Dmitri Kiselyov, left, and Vladimir Solovyov, right. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The bullies of the Russian media. Dmitri Kiselyov, left, and Vladimir Solovyov, right. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

The media environment in Russia is not good right now. Readers of RuNet Echo are already familiar with the high-profile attacks on TV Rain, Russia’s only independent television channel, as well as legal threats against Echo of Moscow, the country’s most popular radio station, and Alexey Navalny, Russia’s most famous political blogger. All of these cases involved some utterance published online that politicians and conservative media figures deemed offensively unpatriotic. TV Rain ran a poll asking viewers to assess abandoning Leningrad to the Nazis in World War II; Echo of Moscow published an article by Victor Shenderovich, comparing aspects of the Sochi Olympics with the 1936 Berlin Games; and Navalny made a cryptic joke about an assassinated judge in Ukraine, quipping that the same might await Russian judges.

While Russians can debate how offensive they find TV Rain, Shenderovich, or Navalny, beyond dispute is the prominence of the TV station and these two men in Russian politics. In that regard, for all the senselessness of modern Russia’s witch-hunt against supposed “traitors,” a certain logic guided the process of targeting persons and institutions.

Last week, the logic seemed to break down, when popular Russian TV and radio journalist Vladimir Solovyov dedicated an entire radio show [ru] to dissecting and denouncing the Maidan-supportive tweets of a handful of students from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. (See Sultan Suleimanov’s detailed report on this scandal, in Russian.) Yulia Arkhipova suffered the brunt of Solovyov’s attacks, villified (in absentia) for being a homosexual-loving Ukrainian citizen.

Solovyov appears to have learned of Arkhipova thanks to Vitalii Milonov, the St. Petersburg city councilman infamous for launching Russia’s original legal crackdown on “gay propaganda” in 2011. Milonov engaged Arkhipova a day before Solovyov’s radio show, mocking her concerns about wounded protesters in Kiev [ru] and holding up her ‘misplaced’ worry as an example of Russian higher education’s failings. When Arkhipova later taunted Solovyov, writing [ru] on Twitter that “specially for him” she had dawned traditional Ukrainian clothes and cradled her Russian passport in her pocket, Solovyov responded by saying [ru] that her “soul remains rotten,” despite the wardrobe change.

Why did Solovyov hound a group of unknown university students over a few Ukraine-related tweets? Arkhipova herself theorized that Dmitri Kiselyov—a recently promoted, pro-Kremlin journalist who regularly shocks liberal society with assaults on the Russian opposition—has raised the bar for loyalty in the Russian mediasphere. Solovyov has long been a Putin-supportive polemicist, but his regular antics pale in comparison to Kiselyov’s, who made Milonov look like Harvey Milk, when (in 2012 on national TV) Kiselyov angrily championed burning the hearts of gay car accident victims. Popular journalism and public debate in the era of Kiselyov have become wildly sensitive to the two main tropes of Russian liberalism: criticism of the Kremlin and praise for the West.

While Solovyov may have been upping the ante by taking the good fight to twenty-somethings on Twitter, the larger objective was of course the Higher School of Economics, which Milonov has condemned [ru] as a “nest of liberalism.” In other words, the logic guiding Russian reactionaries may not have disappeared after all.

In the meantime, “Vyshka” (as the university is known colloquially) has done its best to remain above the fray in this controversy. On February 21, 2014, the school’s Facebook page published a note [ru] calling Solovyov’s behavior a “provocation.” The post also included a photograph of Mark Twain, with the quotation: “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

Image posted to Vyshka's Facebook page.

Ukrainian Revolution Rattles Russian Nationalists

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Photoshopped image of politician Yulia Timoshenko, recently released from jail by the opposition controlled Ukrainian parliament. Many view her as a strong candidate in the coming presidential elections. Anonymous image found online.

Remarkably, it is now a fait accompli that the Ukrainian opposition has taken control of the country's political process. President Yanukovich's fall from power was in no small part due to the radical nationalists who made up the core of the street activists standing opposite Ukrainian riot police for the last three months. Nationalist parties like Svoboda, and radical organizations like the “Right Sector” (see this early YouTube video [ru] of Right Sector leader Yarosh talking about taking the fight to “Ukrainian” lands in Russia) contributed to the eventual victory of the Maidan movement, and now appear to be in a unique position to influence Ukrainian policy making.

At least this is what Russian nationalists fear — not only that the new Ukraine will look towards the West, rather than Russia, but that the Russian speaking population in Ukraine will come under attack from radicals who will attempt to “derussify” them. The prominence of Ukrainian nationalists in the opposition movement gives fodder to these fears. A Russian radio-host Ilias Mercury, for example, tweeted about statements previously made by leader of the Svoboda party Oleh Tyahnibok:

Tyahnibok declared that the Russian language in Ukraine will be made illegal. Clear?

and 

Tyahnibok declared that Russians living in Ukraine will be made “non-citizens of Ukraine.” Clear?

It doesn't matter if such policies will ever come to pass. The very thought of them scares nationalists who feel that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are also Russian.

Some Russians blame Yanukovich for this turn of events. Blogger and publicist Egor Holmogorov wrote [ru] recently that:

Судьба Януковича – великолепный урок всем мелким тиранам, предающим русских. Он мог бы сделать русский язык государственным и править опираясь на русскую половину, которая постепенно стала бы русским большинством. Он предпочел прямо противоположный путь.

Yanukovich's fate is a great lesson for petty tyrants who betray Russians. He could have made the Russian language an official state language and rule relying on the Russian half of the country, which over time would become a Russian majority. He chose an exactly opposite approach.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

This language map by Kiev National Linguistic University shows the split between Russian speaking east and Ukrainian speaking west.

In general, language appears to be a major point of contention for nationalists on both sides. In the past couple of days the new opposition controlled Rada has passed several laws, one of which was to repeal of an older law that gave Russian the status of a secondary official language in Ukraine. This led nationalist philosopher and founder of the National Democratic party Konstantin Krylov to proclaim [ru] the new regime “anti-Russian.” Krylov claims that such laws diminish political freedoms and Ukraine, and calls for new policy that would allow Ukrainians to easily acquire Russian citizenship, if they so choose.

Nationalist publication Sputnik & Pogrom also commented on the law repeal, saying [ru] that it fits with their predictions of increased nationalism in Ukraine in the case of an opposition win. S&P also criticized Alexey Navalny for supporting the Ukrainian opposition movement, as it seems contrary to his claims of looking out for the interests of Russians. S&P also published an address to “all Ukrainian Russians,” [ru] in which they call on them to self-organize and create “Russian national organizations,” because, “that's the only way to create a European Ukraine.”

Conservative publicist and radio-show host Dmitry Olshansky, on the other hand, made a more emotional appeal [ru]:

Можно себе представить, что было бы, если бы не было 1941 года, и существовали бы те, кого убили, и их потомки, – а Рада отменила бы идиш в качестве регионального языка.

You can imagine what would happen, if there was no 1941, and all of those who had died and their descendants would now be alive – and the Rada took away the regional status of Yiddish.

Truly, Russian nationalists are vehemently against any kind of ethnic discrimination — unless, of course, they get to be in charge.

Reposted byepimetheus epimetheus

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

Pro-Maidan Video Goes Viral Thanks to Pavel Durov, Russia's Zuckerberg

Screen capture from

Screen capture from “Fear Is Not Real.” YouTube.

Pavel Durov, the creator of Russia's most popular online social network, Vkontakte, is an unusual man. Young and fabulously wealthy (he made nearly half a billion dollars [ru] last month divesting from VK), Durov has something of a mixed reputation. In December 2011, he gained a reputation for defending civil rights, when he publicly defied a police request to delete certain Vkontakte groups formed in opposition to United Russia, the country's dominant political party. Early last year, however, Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's best established anti-regime newspapers, revealed evidence that Durov may have cooperated with the authorities in more subtle ways. In the last year, Durov has been at the center of a shareholders conflict with United Capital Partners, an investment group that bought 48% of Vkontakte in April 2013. Last month, Durov sold his remaining 12% in the company to a close ally of Alisher Usmanov, preserving Mail.ru Group's majority control.

While he's no longer a part-owner in the website, Durov remains Vkontakte's CEO. That arrangement might not last much longer. Indeed, there is widespread speculation in Russia that Durov will soon be forced out of the company entirely. Durov has fought hard to remain at Vkontakte, but his recent divestment suggests he may finally be acquiescing. (Losing his creation undoubtedly costs him some sleep, but Durov can now toss and turn on a bed of 420 million dollars, thanks to the stock sale.) 

Besides selling off his shares, Durov did something else recently that could signify his impatience with keeping himself in the good graces of Russia's powerful. On February 20, 2014, Durov republished an evocative two-minute video featuring combat footage from Kiev, narrated in a dramatic male voice cheering on demonstrators. The video is thoroughly pro-Maidan, challenging protesters to overcome the fear of battle and encouraging them to continue resisting. At the time of this writing, Durov's post has almost 32 thousand views and over 17 thousand “likes.”

Given the political climate in Russia now, Durov's willingness to stake such an unabashedly pro-opposition position on the Ukraine crisis is rather astounding. Durov leads a multi-billion-dollar company—the “Facebook of the Russian Internet”—where an unpredictable competition between two investment tycoons will decide his future. Outside Vkontakte, Russian politicians have been on a spree of attacks against anyone who promotes “extremism” (read: any kind of support for Ukraine's opposition). As I've documented in past Global Voices posts, there have been assaults on television and radio stations, websites, and individuals—sometimes for behavior as innocuous as a bad joke. Is Durov's daring a show of open defiance? 

The video: “Fear Is Not Real”

Artist Alexander Makedonskiy originally authored the video that Durov published on Vkontakte. YouTube hosts the clip, as well, on Makedonskiy's channel and other accounts. The commentary in the video is a curious mix of dialogue from two Hollywood movies: the 2013 film After Earth, starring Will Smith, and the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone's sixth and final Rocky installment. (The scenes harvested for the narration include father-and-son moments from each film, and the speech Rocky delivers to the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission, when he tries to renew his boxing license.)

What follows is a transcription [ru] of the “Fear Is Not Real” Maidan video, with the original English text from the two films mentioned above. The video itself, with English subtitles, can be viewed below.

Страха в реальности нет!
Страх живет в одном закоулке в наших мыслях о будущим.
Страх это плод нашего во брожения.
Он заставляет нас боятся того чего нет! И вероятно не будет ни-ког-да!
Это ж чистое безумия.
Ты только пойми меня правильно!
Опасность это реальный факт, но страх это твой выбор!
Я скажу то что для тебя не новость. Мир не такой солнечный и приветливый.
Это очень опасная и жесткая места.
Если толька дашь слабину, он опрокинет с такой сили тебя что больше уже не встанешь!
Не ты, не я не кто на свете не бьет так сильно как жизнь!
Совсем не важно как ты ударишь , а важно какой держишь удар.
Как двигаешься в перед будешь идти иди если с испугай не свернешь!
Толька так побеждают!
Если знаешь чего ты стоишь?! Иди бери свое!
Но будь готов удары держат!
А ни плакаться и говорит ” я нечего не добился из-за его из-за нее и из-за кого-то. Так делает трусы а ты не трус!!! Быт этого не может!
Если человек сам хочет за что то драться, хочет добиваться своего, кто правы остановит его?! А может кому-то из вас тоже чего-то хотелось.?! Чего-то о чем мечтал, чего-то не обычного. А его не дают “нет” говорят и точка.
Кто имеют права так говорит “кто?” Ни кто !
Человек сам решает в какую сторону ему повернуть. Права каждого быт именно тем кем он захочет быт!

Fear is not real.
The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future.
It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.
That is near insanity.
Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.
You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
How much you can take and keep moving forward.
That’s how winning is done!  
Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth!
But you gotta be willing to take the hits.
And not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody!
Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! 
Because if you’re willing to go through all the battling you've got to go through to get where you wanna get—who’s got the right to stop you? Maybe some of you guys got something you never finished, something you really want to do, something you never said to somebody—something!—and you’re told “No,” even after you pay your dues?
Who’s got the right to tell you that? Who? Nobody!
It’s your right to listen to your gut. It ain’t nobody’s right to say “No” after you earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do.

February 20 2014

Tunisia: Jailed Facebook User Pardoned, Release Unconfirmed

After spending nearly two years in prison, Jabeur Mejri jailed for posting content deemed offensive to Islam, obtained presidential pardon, local media reported on Wednesday.

In March 2012, Mejri was sentenced to seven and half years imprisonment for posting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on his Facebook page. His friend, Ghazi Beji who published an ebook named “the illusion of Islam”, received the same sentence in absentia after fleeing the country. He now lives in France after obtaining asylum there.

They were found guilty of ‘publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals', ‘insulting others through public communication networks’ and ‘assaulting public morals'.

Mejri was repeatedly denied pardon requests made by his defense team, despite multiple promises from interim President Moncef Marzouki to release him.

For instance, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) last September, Marzouki said that he is “waiting for the good political moment” to release Mejri.

“Now when you have this situation with the Salafists, extremely violent, releasing this guy right now could be dangerous for himself”, he added drawing criticism from human rights activists who considered his statement as an excuse to keep Mejri in prison.

On Facebook, the President's office confirmed the pardon[ar]:

الناطق الرسمي باسم رئاسة الجمهورية السيد عدنان منصر على موجات شمس إف إم :رئيس الجمهورية أمضى منذ أيام عفوا خاصا عن جابر الماجري في القضية الأصلية

The official spokesperson of the Presidency of the Republic Mr Adnan Mansar speaking on Radio Shems FM: Days ago, the President of the Republic signed a special pardon for Jabeur Mejri in the first case

Twitter reactions followed:

Ghassen Yahia referred [fr] to the country's new constitution which guarantees freedoms of speech, thought and conscience. The same charter, adopted last January bans “attacks on sanctities”, though.

Jabeur freed? Is this the first implementation of the new constitution?

Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for Minorities, tweeted [fr]:

#freejabeur…it is too late, this is not a pardon but an attempt to repair a serious blow to human dignity

Cartoon in support of Jabeur Mejri, by Fey

Cartoon in support of Jabeur Mejri, by Fey


Martin Pradel called for caution [fr]:

The pardon was announced a while ago, it should have been signed. But, caution as long as Jabeur has not been effectively released

Though pardoned, Mejri's release remains unconfirmed. The privately owned radio Shems FM reported that he remains in prison over an old lawsuit against him.

In a statement published yesterday [Feb 19, 2014], his support committee said [fr]:

Nous ne pouvons confirmer ou infirmer, pour le moment, ce nouveau rebondissement dans le dossier de Jabeur Mejri

Right now, we can neither confirm nor deny this new development in the case of Jabeur Mejri

Last January, the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) announced that Mejri would soon be released to travel to Sweden where he obtained political asylum.

Molka Chaari tweeted [fr]:

Pardoned, ok. But is he “obliged” to leave the country???

February 19 2014

Rumours and ‘Fake’ Photos Prompt Calls for Responsible Social Media in Venezuela

[Links are to Spanish-language pages, unless otherwise noted]

The current information crisis in Venezuela, following a surge of protests [en] that mainstream media cannot cover under threat of fines [en] by the government, has compelled netizens to spread news through social media. However, not all users have been sufficiently transparent in their reporting of daily events, which has generated strong criticism about how useful digital media in the country really is. 

Imagen para la campaña #ElMedioEresTu a cargo de @untalhector (Instagram).

“Social media calls out what the mainstream mutes” Image for the #ElMedioEresTu [The Medium Is You] campaign from @untalhector (Instagram).

The group Kaos en la Red, which defines itself as a cultural association fighting capitalism, denounced the republishing of previously used images taken out of context in its post ”Venezuela: Mentiras de medios de comunicación para generar caos de violencia” (Venezuela: Spreading lies in social media to spur violence). The group charges pro-opposition and other digital media users with manipulation “to generate an atmosphere of violence and destabilization that undermines the Government”. The post features a series of contrasts between the images used to criticize alleged abuse of power by the security forces against demonstrators and the original story and source of the publication:

Izquierda: Denuncia de

Left: Denouncing the “repression” in Venezuela from the user @YACUBATWITEA. Right: Image originally published by Al Jazeera about protests in Chile in 2012.

Meanwhile, many Government supporters retweeted a photo of the gathering convened by President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on February 15. In the background, the logo of a famous soft drink company can clearly be seen atop a building, an advertisement that was removed some four years ago. Ironically, the user who published the image on Twitter, the mayor of the Caracas municipality of Libertador Jorge Rodríguez (@JRodriguezPSUV) is also the man who gave the order to remove the logo in the first place:

While the Fascists try to destabilize the country, we are fighting for peace and life. 

Lucía Calderón, writing in Clases de Periodismo, also referred to a fake photo by a supposedly experienced journalist reporting an incident of abuse and violence by government supporters. It turned out to be the picture of a young Basque man tortured in Spain in 2006. Lucía recommeds:

Recuerda revisar estos consejos para certificar información antes de compartirla siguiendo este enlace.

Remember to follow the tips in this link to check the information before you share it.

There are other pages on Facebook such as Venezuela Sin Mentiras (Venezuela Without Lies), created in April 2013 after the presidential election to demonstrate this kind of media manipulation and urge users not to resort to practices that endanger everyone:

Reflexión: “NO CAER EN FALSOS RUMORES! calidad y veracidad en la información para que no estemos desinformados”

Think about it: “DON'T FALL INTO THE TRAP! quality and truth in information so we are not misinformed.”

In light of the situation, the satirical site El Chigüire Bipolar posted the story of an “Imbecil who shares a fake photo and confirms that there are a lot of ignorant people out there.” The fictitious character, Domingo Ugarte, shares a fake shot of student protests and the expected reaction in a series of retweets. 

“La foto me llegó ayer como a las ocho de la noche. Era una imagen terrible, un policía con un traje negro que nunca había visto en Venezuela, maltratando a un estudiante en una calle que claramente no era acá. Pero no me resistí, tuve que darle retweet y compartirla al mundo. Todos tienen que ver el horror de lo que estamos viviendo y en el camino recibir demasiados RTs. Porque eso es lo arrecho, no importa si es una foto de un cangrejo gigante matando estudiantes, la gente se va a horrorizar y la va a compartir.”

The photo arrived at like eight o'clock last night. It was a terrible picture: a police officer with a black uniform that I had never seen in Venezuela mistreating a student in a street that clearly wasn't here. But I couldn't resist, I had to retweet and share it with the world. Everyone needs to see the horror that we are living through and get a few too many RTs along the way. Because that's the turn on; it doesn't matter if it's a shot of a giant crab killing students, people are going to be outraged and share it.”

There are currently a few independent awareness initiatives aimed at promoting responsible use of digital media, as described by Aglaia Berlutti, blogger and Global Voices contributor, in an article for Noticias Venezuela. Aglaia enumerates a series of tips and recommendations to help social media users become efficient purveyors of  information:

No exageres, ni tampoco distorsiones el hecho que deseas transmitir. Redacta noticias sencillas sin incluir tu opinión o hipótesis no verificadas. [...] La intención de tu post o de tu artículo es que pueda ser compartido todas las veces que se requiera y que todos tus lectores puedan comprenderte sin problemas.

Don't exaggerate or distort the facts you want to publicize. Draft straightforward posts without including your own or other unverifiable hypothesis. [...] The goal of your post or article should be that it can be shared as often as needed and that all readers can easily understand it.

And Karelia Espinoza (@Kareta), political scientist and digital activist, shares a graphic about how to put together Internet reports:

Barquisimeto Móvil graphic to help prevent media censorship [Steps include following recognized lists and checking sources as well as configuring your phone to tweet via SMS and sticking to popular hashtags.]

The Journalistic Purgatory of Eastern Europe

'The rose and the newspaper'

‘The rose and the newspaper’ by Borislav Dimitrov on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We were told the end of totalitarian regimes would lead to a free press, but Central and Eastern European media is less free now than at any point in the past 20 years.

Governments in the region, long used to having unadulterated control over media content, have been reasserting authority. Strong-arming, threats, amendments to law, arrests, destruction of media equipment and property, and beatings have been documented throughout the region with increasing frequency.

In sitting down to write this piece, I was confident I could shed light on the worst examples of media repression from Eastern Europe, as I follow the subject daily and live in Serbia. But as I began looking at case after devastating case, I began to see a larger picture that taken together point to a media system that is badly broken.

To begin understanding, we must clarify the image the typical global reader has of Central and Eastern Europe from 20th century history. Countries in the region with the most threats on freedom of the press, regardless of whether they are EU member states, have double-digit unemployment rates and an enormous gap in income disparity. A very small percentage of extremely wealthy citizens are frequently connected to government, while the vast majority of citizens barely make ends meet. The strong, stable middle class that many Central European socialist countries maintained for some 50 years has been virtually wiped out.

Social and economic factors lay the foundation for the media landscape, because livelihoods depend on the decisions of their local and national government officials. This leads the citizens of most Central and Eastern European to pay close attention to local politics. Societies which follow their governments so avidly should have highly active investigative journalist networks. A host of factors mediates against this from happening in practice.

Follow the Money

Members of the media are very poorly paid for their work, often employed as part-time or outsourced staff, while operating budgets for reporting are minimal. Investigative journalism rarely occurs in this economic environment. Low wages also open doors to bribery of journalists and editors, cash payment for publishing articles and for pushing or ignoring stories based on non-journalistic interests.

Several Eastern European countries have started cracking down on significant investigative journalism. Macedonia, for example convicted investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski in October of 2013 and jailed conspiracy-theorist and journalist Zoran Bozinovski less than a month later. Although the vast majority of Macedonia's press is private, the government was among the 50 biggest media advertisers in 2012, securing a huge influence in both state and private media, say Macedonian journalists Tamara Causidis and Dragan Sekulovski in a guest article on Index on Censorship.

The media houses in all these countries rely mostly on advertising revenue to stay afloat. Business money is frequently connected to politics and political figures. The consequence is self-censorship. Eastern European journalists who write critically of those in power risk offending those who control the advertising money, and thus risk their livelihood and, at times, their physical safety.

In Albania, which last year ranked 102nd of 173 countries in the Reporters without Borders “Freedom of the Press Index”, the media market is so poor and overcrowded it's difficult to sustain, says Besar Likmeta in an article on Balkan Insight. “Most Albanian media are dependent on big corporate advertisers as their main source of revenue, and internal emails show that they can easily skew editorial policy,” says Likmeta.

The situation is similar in most countries of the region. Self-censorship can be further encouraged through unofficial calls from those in power, killing stories before they reach publication. Journalists and editors who publish regardless risk lawsuits, threats, harassment, and even violence.

OSCE Freedom of Media representative Dunja Mijatovic often expresses concern regarding increased media regulation. In Hungary, she has warned of disproportionately high prison sentences for defamatory video and sound recordings, saying such laws are easy to use to silence critics or differing views. In Romania in last year, she called on the Romanian government not to “re-criminalize free speech” saying it could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism through fear and self-censorship.

In Ukraine, before the ongoing Euromaidan protests in the country, many already drew attention to the lack of media freedom, that has only worsened since. Ukraine scholar Andrew Wilson wrote on openDemocracy in October 2013, just weeks before the anti-government protests began:

Now it is media freedom that is under attack. Ukraine’s biggest TV channel ‘Inter’ was still showing signs of independence around October; in February, however, it was taken over by the Head of the Presidential Administration, and a leading oligarch.[...]

Next in line is Ukraine’s most famous web site, Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).[...] Its founding editor, Georgy Gongadze, was a thorn in the side of the then authorities. He disappeared in September 2000, and two months later was found gruesomely murdered.

There are dozens more examples of conflict of interest, intimidation, bribery and corruption in Eastern and Central Europe. The media landscape of the region finds itself in purgatory.

Less Safety Online

Internet penetration rates in Central and Eastern European countries are high and their citizens have a historical habit of turning to alternative sources of information, due to the closed character of official media under communist and socialist regimes in the 20th century. Citizen media and social networks were for several years viewed as a way out of this stalemate, for some perhaps even as a “safe zone” for freedom of expression, due to the respective governments’ lack of monitoring.

This, however, has now changed drastically. Governments in Ukraine, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Hungary now see the influence citizen media and social networks can have on politicians’ reputations and elections. They have responded with close monitoring, and attempts to control what users are uploading and saying. Without much success, of course, but the result is direct pressure on common citizens’ freedom of expression and added pressure on media.

In Serbia for example, online commentary and information was fairly freely passed between users in the late 90s during the Milosevic era, whose regime appeared not to view the Internet as a major threat and thus seldom monitored citizens in public online spaces. Today, personal websites and social network profiles are under direct attack in Serbia for sharing a satirical video of the Deputy Prime Minister and similar materials.

Significant political and economic news in most Central and Eastern European countries now spread through human networks by word-of-mouth and are often reshaped into rumor. Journalists hold back important news stories in their heads, or on post-it notes in their drawers, unable to research them, much less hand them in to their editors for publishing. Citizens, even when afforded a venue where they could express their opinions, now often choose not to. These countries and their media have visibly reached an informational stalemate.

But the tighter the grip of politicians on media, the greater the anger of the people. Media are either unable or unwilling to fight for journalistic freedom, a condition echoed in the development of democracy in the region. Now, in countries in which governments have stifled the free expression of their citizens on the Internet, people are beginning to rise against those in power, calling them out for corruption and incompetence.

After Bulgaria, Ukraine and others, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the latest country in the region to see mass protests both on the streets and online. On February 11, 2014, in the midst of protests in Tuzla and Sarajevo, the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordered “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Decisions like this to silence media only fuel citizens’ demand for access to information and freedom of expression. When all boundaries have been crossed, change is bound to happen.

Danica Radisic is the Central and Eastern Europe Editor of Global Voices. She is a corporate communications consultant, writer, blogger, poet, and native speaker of Serbian, English and Portuguese. A Serbian native, she was born and raised on the Iberian Peninsula, with some time spent in the Middle East and U.S. She is a mother of two and CEO of Krazy Fish Consulting.

Amendments to Brazil's Bill of Rights for Internet Users Jeopardizes Privacy

Recent amendments to Brazil's pioneer bill of rights for Internet users, the “Marco Civil da Internet” (Internet Civil Rights Framework), put net neutrality and users’ privacy at stake. The bill is expected to be voted on by Congress during the last week of February 2014.

“Marco Civil with article 16: Brazilian government becomes NSA”. Banner from the #16igualNSA campaign (

“Marco Civil with Article 16: Brazilian government becomes NSA”. Banner from the #16igualNSA campaign.

Activists have launched an online campaign asking for the removal of one of the new provisions, Article 16, that mandates service providers to store personal data of their users. The hashtag in use is #16igualNSA (“Article 16 leans towards NSA surveillance”).

Joana Varon, a Brazilian researcher from the Center for Technology and Society at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, points to an article on the PrivacyLatam blog as the “most accurate post in English regarding changes on #privacy protection at #marcocivil“: 

This measure not only contradicts all previous versions of the Bill (which is a work in progress started by a draft generated by a public consultation in 2010). It establishes an unprecedented  duty to all “for profit” Brazilian Internet players who run a site or service to keep private information of their users for 6 months, regardless of any consideration about their users’ consent.

Even if the Bill mention protection measures for the data owners, it is clear that the simple fact of the existence of the mandatory personal data register is, ‘per se’, a danger that users cannot avoid since their free consent would be not taken into account. Moreover, the lack of a general framework for personal data protection makes the whole environment at least very prone to the misuse of personal information.

The Brazilian Institute for Consumer Rights (Idec) created an online petition [pt] asking for “neutrality, privacy and freedom of expression in Marco Civil”. The platform allows sending letters to the Members of Parliament.

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.

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.

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 resists more than opinion.”

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 DRS, le département des services secrets algériens, avait menacé le directeur de publication d’un autre quotidien 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 DRS, the Algerian Intelligence Department, threatened the director of another newspaper against hiring 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 the 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 16 2014

The Hilarity of Murder Among Russians

Alexey Navalny (left) and Irina Yarovaya (right). Images from Wikimedia commons.

Alexey Navalny (left) and Irina Yarovaya (right). Images from Wikimedia commons.

Where do you draw the line between a joke and a death threat? That question has been on Russians’ minds this week, after a controversial tweet [ru] by famed blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who described the assassination [ru] of a judge in Ukraine as a “greeting card” to judges in Russia. The murder victim, Aleksandr Lobodenko, was responsible for sentencing several protesters convicted of rioting in Ukraine’s Poltava region, leading police to believe the killing was politically motivated.

Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya quickly branded [ru] Navalny’s tweet “extremist,” interpreting it literally. Navalny’s message, she claimed, “not only mocks a man’s death, but transmits a positive attitude about murder.” Other state officials soon chimed in. Kirill Kabanov, a member of the President’s Council on Human Rights, implied that he believes Navalny was joking, but warned that some of his readers might misunderstand, saying, “Navalny has a pretty big group of fans, who aren’t always evenly balanced, and some of them might see [the tweet] as a call to action.” Georgy Fedorov, a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, accused</a> [ru] Navalny of being a thug disguised as an activist, calling the tweet “reckless” and “twisted.”</p> <p>A day after his “greeting card” tweet, Navalny <a href=" http:="">responded [ru] to the backlash, addressing only Yarovaya. Changing the topic entirely, he pummeled Yarovaya for hiding a luxurious Moscow apartment in her daughter’s name. Indeed, Navalny first blogged about the secret accommodations nearly a year ago, in March 2013, when he republished [ru] findings by an opposition-leaning newspaper. At the time, Yarovaya denied the accusation, calling it “a dirty insinuation.” This week, Navalny presented on his blog a copy of a real estate title in the name of Yarovaya’s daughter for a four-bedroom apartment in a posh area of Moscow.

Navalny offered to delete his tweet about the Ukrainian judge’s murder, if Yarovaya could clarify how her daughter, at 18-years-old, managed to buy property worth an estimated three million dollars. Comedically undeterred, Navalny even offered, in the event of an explanation from Yarovaya, to compose a new tweet, “calling on people never to kill on-the-take judges or corrupt deputies.”

Navalny’s sarcasm has always been a major feature of his persona. Particularly before he became one of the political opposition’s most prominent figures, Navalny’s public image was foremost associated with his blogging. Though he rarely responds to comments on LiveJournal these days, and his blog posts now are heavier in information than opinion, Navalny’s voice online is still consistently snide and disparaging. This is not to say he’s meaner than most using the Internet, but Navalny’s manner distinctly remains a blogger’s style.

How else can we explain why Navalny considers it appropriate to issue a mock death threat to judges throughout Russia? In a year that has kicked off to multiple harsh reactions by authorities in response to ‘offensive utterances,’ Navalny is clearly advertising his fearlessness about pushing the bounds of free speech. Others elsewhere in Russia have responded with similar resolve (or stubbornness, depending on your point of view), when accused of speaking irresponsibly. TV Rain may have apologized and canceled a program, after it caught hell for a survey about abandoning Leningrad to the Nazis, but the station’s management refused to fire anyone. Victor Shenderovich, who enraged many by noting uncomfortable similarities between Russian and fascist Olympians, has stuck to his guns and defended himself against critics who say he crossed a line.

Navalny may very well think he’s rallying behind the country’s beleaguered and besieged civil society. His choice of resistance—turning a man’s killing into a jab at Russia’s own admittedly hated judges—may have been in poor taste, but Navalny is far from the only opposition member who’s alluded to prospects for Ukrainian-style unrest in Russia. Making this stand with a joke, however (and then refusing to defend it directly), suggests that Navalny and his generation have room to mature.

Japan Slides Further Down in World Press Freedom Index

Japan has fallen even further on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2014, coming in at 59th of 180. The annual report pointed to the state secrecy law that the Japanese government adopted last year in December:

The “special intelligence protection bill” that the National Diet in Japan (59th, – 5) adopted in late 2013 would reduce government transparency on such key national issues as nuclear power and relations with the United States, now enshrined as taboos. Investigative journalism, public interest and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources are all being sacrificed by legislators bent on ensuring that their country’s image is spared embarrassing revelations.

The index also highlighted discrimination against foreign and freelance reporters when it comes to access to press conferences and information. 

In general, Japanese do not consider freedom of the press as a right because most people stick to receiving information passively from mainstream media. However, with the country continuing its slide in World Press Freedom Index rankings (Japan fell from 22nd to 53rd place in the 2013 index) and the at times whitewashed coverage of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, people are now starting to be critical about the condition of press freedom in the Japan.

Independent journalist Ryusaku Tanaka responded to the news on Twitter:

Japan is ranked 59th in World Press Freedom rankings? It's not that press is violently silenced by the state as it is in China or Russia. The Japanese mainstream media has a lot of power. It has the freedom to clamor, as much as it likes, for its own special privileges. Couldn't it be said, rather, that the degree of freedom possessed by the mass media is the best in the world?

Another user on Twitter, Daisuke Murakami, commented in disappointment:

The decay present in mainstream media is not something that has just begun recently, but it's now approaching a level that could be called “sick”. We'd better know what kind of coverage and reporting we ordinary people are seeing everyday. To put it bluntly, media is even less believable than a politician. 

User “soret” pointed out [ja] on social bookmark site hatena that the kisha club, the exclusive press club system of Japan's mainstream media, is contributing to the problem:

元々順位が低いのは記者クラブのせいだろうに。そこに一言も触れず原発事故と特定秘密保護法だけ取り上げるようなことをするから、ますます信用がなくなる

The original low ranking was probably the fault of the existence of the kisha club. And without mentioning a word in that regard, only picking up stories on the nuclear accident and the state secrets law, they lose more and more of their credibility.

Thumbnail photo is by Dick Thomas Johnson via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)
Quotes were translated by Taylor Cazella
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