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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.

#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. 

Chechen Dictator and Russian Nationalist NOT Taking Over Ukraine

A Yin and Yang of Russian trollitics, Leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin. Unlikely bedfellows. Images remixed by author.

Yin and Yang of Russian trollitics, highly unlikely bedfellows Leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov and nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin. Images remixed by author.

Time and time again Russian Internet users and Russophone mass media prove that they will fall for any hoax, no matter how bizarre or unbelievable. It's not as if it is the first time someone took the fake Twitter account of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for the real thing. @KadirovRussia [ru] was started before the real Kadyrov joined Twitter and quickly gained a following. These days, however, almost everyone is aware that although Kadyrov does tweet at his own account, @rkadyrov [ru], he mainly uses it to link to his favorite social networking platform, Instagram [Global Voices report].

Nevertheless, multiple bloggers, forum users, and online media outlets were taken for a ride with a recent tweet by @KadirovRussia:

Prosvirnin and I are riding the “friendship train” to support Russians in Crimea.

Crimea is a primarily Russophone region of Ukraine currently protesting the change of power in Kiev. Crimeans are afraid that nationalist Ukrainians will infringe on their culture, and many Russians share their fear, stoked as it is my mainstream Russian media. A beach paradise not far from where the Sochi Winter Games took place, it is also home to a Russian naval base, and is currently a pressure cooker of ethnic tension between Russians, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tartars. Not a day passes that there aren't rumors of Russia deploying troops or Kiev sending its own militia to the region. The most recent development [ru] is that armed men have occupied a regional administration building and hung Russian flags from it.

In this climate the announcement that the gruff Chechen leader has joined causes with nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirnin (of Sputnik & Pogrom fame), who has been vocally advocating for Crimean independence [ru] for the past several days, fell on fertile ground. Never mind that Prosvirnin harshly mocks and lambastes Kadyrov, the news was reported by several Ukrainian outlets, including Ukrainian Komsomolskaya Pravda [cache], Obozrevatel [ru], and Korrespondent [cache], with commentary noting the increasingly violent climate in Crimea. Kadyrov's alleged involvement must have been particularly troubling — it was the Chechen “Vostok” Battalion that was in the lead during Russia's 2008 armed conflict with Georgia over the breakaway province of Abkhazia.

Prosvirnin himself was amused with the confusion, writing [ru]:

Разбудили звонком с НТВ, спросив, правда ли мы с Кадыровым едем в Крым. Спросонья ступил и сказал, что они там совсем что ли ебу дались, и уже повесив трубку понял, что НАДО БЫЛО ВСЕ ПОДТВЕРДИТЬ.

Was woken up with a call from NTV, asking if its true that Kadyrov and I are going to Crimea. I was still dozy and stupidly said that they were out of their f*cking mind, but as I hung up I realized that I SHOULD HAVE CONFIRMED EVERYTHING.

He said that the news might have scared the Crimean Tartars who are currently against any talk of secession. Later he also joked [ru] that Kadyrov has agreed to take charge of the western Ukrainian province of Lviv.

Chechen “Vostok” Batallion troops at a Crimean beach, or what it might look like if they were. Images remixed by author.

Meanwhile, the real Kadyrov has actually sounded off about Ukraine [ru] on his Instagram account:

Получаем информацию, что у проживающих в этой стране соотечественников появились серьезные проблемы с сохранностью бизнеса и личной безопасностью. Мы никогда не претендовали на чужое, но и своё защитим. Следует четко осознавать, что не дадим в обиду чеченцев и других россиян, где бы они не находились.

We have received information that our countrymen living in that country are having serious problems with safety of their businesses and personal safety. We have never wanted what isn't ours, but we will protect our own. It needs to be clearly understood, that we won't let Chechens and other Russians come to harm, wherever they may be.

A troubling statement — perhaps more troubling than any fake news of rapprochement with Russian nationalists.

Caribbean: How the Media Shapes Perception

Both Venezuela and Haiti have been facing anti-government protests. However, the international media’s escalation of the Venezuelan crisis and their complete silence when it comes to Haiti, raises some important questions about the United States’ inconsistency in upholding the values of human rights and democracy.

Kevin Edmonds calls out the mainstream media.

Reposted byepimetheus epimetheus

February 26 2014

Hong Kong Police Made Thousands of Personal Data Requests With No Judicial Oversight

Editor's note: Despite the lip service given to adopting the principle of transparency in Internet governance, there are no official procedures that government agencies must follow when requesting user data and content deletion from Internet service and content providers. In 2013, the Hong Kong Police Force made 7,462 requests for user data under the pretext of “crime investigation”, yet the process was not monitored by any judicial bodies. Worst still, government officials refused to review the existing practice when confronted by a legislative council member.

The report below was originally written by Michelle Fong and published on inmediahk.net in Chinese on February 19, 2014. It was translated into English by Alpha Au.

The Head of Hong Kong Police Force is watching you. Image from inmediahk.net's Facebook page.

The Head of Hong Kong Police Force is watching you. Image from inmediahk.net's Facebook page.

Among all of Hong Kong's government agencies, the police force made the most user data requests and the Department of Health made the most content deletion requests to Internet service and content providers (ISPs and OSPs) last year. This information was revealed when Legislative Councillor Charles Mok demanded that the government disclose the information to the public on February 19, 2014.

It was found that the Hong Kong government submitted 7,462 requests in 2013, involving 6,099 Internet users. Only some of the requests made by the Hong Kong Police Force obtained court orders, but the government refused to reveal the exact number of cases that involved court orders.

Godfrey Leung, the Secretary of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, openly refused to review the existing information request system and rejected the idea of publishing a transparency report for the public regarding government requests made to ISPs and OSPs. Disappointed by Godfrey Leung's response, Charles Mok said, “If the government refuses to release a regular annual report, I will file the same set of questions every year in the Legislative Council.”

During the council meeting on February 19, 2014, Mok asked the government to reveal the number of government requests made to ISPs and websites and services related to user data and content deletion. According to the government document, between February 2013 and February 2014, the Hong Kong government made 5,507 requests for user data, which involved 5,541 Internet users.

More than 82 percent of the total requests – 4,557 requests – came from the Hong Kong Police Force. They claimed that the requests were made “to prevent and detect high technology and Internet crime” as they were handling 5,212 cases of high technology crime in the same period. However, only a portion of the requests was made under court order, and not all the requests were acceded to by service providers. The government provided no further details on the exact number of court orders and request rejections.

The Customs and Excise Department came in second with 873 user data requests made to “prevent and detect crime”. It is worth noting that 70 requests were made by the Office of Communications Authority, a department that is responsible for Internet governance. They asked for the email registrant's real name, address, phone number as well as the registration date and status, message sent records and related IP addresses, claiming that the information was needed for “investigating unsolicited electronic messages”, i.e. spam. The 70 requests involved 106 users, again without any court order. All the requests made by these two departments were approved. Other user data requests came from the Inland Revenue Department and Companies Registry.

A total of 1,955 content deletion requests were made from six government departments, involving 558 Internet users. The Drug Office and the Chinese Medicine Division from the Department of Health demanded the deletion of 1,321 and 210 content items respectively, accounting for 80 percent of the total number of content deletion requests. The reason was “suspected auction or sale of unregistered proprietary Chinese medicines”. All their requests were approved. The Customs and Excise Department also asked OSPs to delete 391 content items, including webpages, user accounts and hyperlinks, to “combat of intellectual property infringement offense”.

Last year, Mok also asked the Hong Kong government to disclose the data of requests made to ISPs and OSPs between February 2010 to the February 2013. Over those three years, the government had made more than 14,000 user data requests and 7000 content deletion requests.

Currently, there is no guideline for government departments for filing user data and content deletion requests, and most ISPs and OSPs do not issue transparency reports that inform the public on government monitoring and surveillance activities.

Brazil's Racism Problem Front and Center After Black Teen Brutally Beaten

O jovem preso ao poste apenas com um pedaço de jornal para cobrir sua nudez após ser humilhado. Foto de uso livre.

The young boy tied to the lamp post with only a piece of newspaper to cover himself. Photo free to use.

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

A 15-year-old black teenager was found sitting on the ground at Botafogo beach in a central area of ​​Rio de Janeiro completely naked and with a bicycle lock around his neck chaining him to a lamppost on February 1, 2014.

Unfortunately, it is not an isolated case, as attacks by groups of “vigilantes” have become somewhat common in Rio de Janeiro.

Activist Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, who discovered the minor, wrote on her Facebook profile that she was preparing to sleep when a friend who was driving by on Rui Barbosa Avenue called her to say he “saw a young boy bruised, naked and tied to a pole by a bicycle lock. He was beaten by a gang of bikers that often steals on my street.”

She called the firefighters to release him and he was then taken to the hospital. She, in turn, began receiving threats.

In a statement to police, the young man said he had been chased by a group of about 30 men on motorcycles armed with at least one pistol while walking with three friends (two escaped) to take a swim in the sea. He was then beaten, stripped naked and chained to the pole. The 15-year-old has been on the streets of Rio for at least two years since he was caught stealing an electric drill from a family neighbor and being forced to leave his home.

Police believe those responsible for the attack are the “Flamengo vigilantes”, who attack and torture whomever they consider to look suspicious; they are also accused of assaulting gays. About 15 suspected members of the group were arrested by the police.

Cartum de Carlos Latuff, uso livre.

“Any odlCartoon by Carlos Latuff. Free to use

Journalist Rosiane Rodrigues, writing for Afropress, criticized Bezerra de Mello's for taking a photo of the victim and posting it on Facebook rather than just calling the fire department and an ambulance. In her opinion:

A cena chocou. É possível que o motivo da consternação tenha sido o local da ação e não a ação em si. Sim. Um menino, amarrado ao poste, em uma rua da Zona Sul do Rio de Janeiro, não é um fato comum. Meninos, amarrados em postes, baleados, espancados, violentados não cabem na paisagem da Zona Sul da cidade. Essas devem ser imagens periféricas, cotidianas das favelas, dos subúrbios. Imagens de barbárie que já não chocam nem causam espanto aos olhos dos que estão – e devem continuar – à margem. 

O “menino amarrado ao poste”‘ deu sorte. Ele poderia estar morto. Se assim fosse, seria mais um a entrar para a estatística da barbárie cometida diuturnamente nos becos e vielas em todo País. Imagens de corpos violados, machucados, inertes… reflexos distantes de uma realidade encoberta aos olhos sensíveis de uma parcela da população que teima em não querer enxergar: a indústria do genocídio da juventude preta e pobre.

The scene was shocking. It is possible that the reason for the consternation was the location of the incident and not the incident itself. Yes, a boy tied to a lamp post in a street in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro is not a common occurrence. Boys chained to lamp posts, shot, beaten, raped do not fit in with the landscape of the city south. These should be peripheral, everyday images of slums, suburbs. Images of barbarism that no longer shock or cause astonishment in the eyes of those who are – and should continue – at the margin.

The “boy tied to the post” got lucky. He might have been dead. If so, he would be the latest to join the statistics of barbarism committed incessantly in the alleys and lanes throughout the country. Images of bodies violated, hurt, inert… distant reflections of a reality hidden from the eyes of a sensitive population that insists on not wanting to see: the industry of the genocide of black and poor youth.

Activist Caio Almeida warned on Facebook of the danger of the formation of a “fascist militia” in Rio de Janeiro, like the so-called “vigilantes”, and added that “what is going on in the Flamengo neighborhood is very serious”:

Esses caras agridem homossexuais, ambulantes que não concordam com o preço cobrado pela cerveja, usuários de maconha ou negros sozinhos. Em suma, tocam o terror para garantir que o bairro deles sejam para os ricos, brancos e com os mesmos hábitos sociais(e até sexuais!) que eles.

These guys attack homosexuals, hawkers who do not agree with the price charged for beer, marijuana users and blacks alone. In short, they play on terror to ensure that their neighborhood belongs to the rich and the white with the same social habits (and even sex habits!) as them.

According to the assaulted boy, all of his assailants were white “playboys” except one who was brown.

Montagem de Paul Henry Jr.

“Southern USA, 20th century / Brazil, 21st century. Racism always camouflages itself as ‘justice’ to act.” Mock-up by Paul Henry Jr.

Activist Paulo Henry Jr wrote on Facebook that even if the man was really responsible for thefts in the region, the attitude of beating and humiliating him “does not cease to be brutal”, and that it should be up to the police to investigate the veracity of the charges and take him to trial. He added:

Mas a Ku Klux Klan versão brasileira que de tão cômoda nem sequer precisa usar capuz e lençóis, age livremente sem ser perturbada fazendo nas ruas a sua maneira aquilo que considera justiça.

But the Brazilian version of the Ku Klux Klan, which feels so comfortable that it doesn't even need to wear hoods and sheets, acts freely undisturbed on the streets, going their own way with what they consider to be justice.

Similar cases have occurred recently. A few years ago in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio, bikers stripped a black man naked and left him on the pavement under the scorching sun after they accused him of trying to steal a motorcycle, described John Batista Damasceno. Firefighters helped the bikers take off the man's clothes, and a municipal guard witnessed the scene without intervening:

The role of the media in spreading the horror

Outrage over this most recent case would have been smaller had it not been for the intervention of TV anchor for “Jornal do SBT” Rachel Sheherazade, known for her conservative comments. On primetime, she said:

“Num país que sofre de violência endêmica, a atitude dos vingadores é até compreensível”, disse a apresentadora. “O Estado é omisso, a polícia desmoralizada, a Justiça é falha… O que resta ao cidadão de bem, que ainda por cima foi desarmado? Se defender, é claro”. E finalizou: “O contra-ataque aos bandidos é o que chamo de legítima defesa coletiva de uma sociedade sem Estado contra um estado de violência sem limite”.

“In a country that suffers from endemic violence, the attitude of the avengers is even understandable,” said the anchor. “The state is absent, the police demoralized, justice flawed… What is left for the good citizen, who moreover was unarmed? Defend themselves, of course.”. She concluded: “The counterattack to the thugs is what I call collective self-defense of a stateless society from a state of violence without limits.”

The reaction was immediate, both in support and against. Businessman Vinicius Duarte commented on Facebook:

Quando um telejornal de grande audiência permite que se faça apologia a um crime (sim, ~cidadão de bem desarmado~, acorrentar bandidos ou inocentes nus em postes é CRIME), é sinal que a barbárie está vencendo o jogo.

When a news program with a large audience allows an apology for a crime to be made (yes, you ~disarmed good citizen~, to chain bandits or innocents to lamp posts is a CRIME), it is a sign that barbarism is winning the game.

The profile of social collective Pedra no Sapato, making a pun on the name of the presenter, stated that Sheherazade outdid herself with her statements:

[ Cheira a Nazi ]
Defendeu a ação da milicia carioca que prendeu o adolescente ladrão e negro num poste com uma tranca de bicicleta no pescoço, o espancou e o deixou nu. Acha normal, natural algo assim. Afinal, já que vivemos em estado de barbárie, não custa nada nós mesmos começarmos as nossas, né? Ninguém esta defendendo os atos de banditismo do moleque, agora chamar de ‘compreensível’ e ‘legítima defesa’ uma barbaridade dessas é sinal de que essa mulher não tem um pingo de humanidade!

(Smells of Nazi) [a play with the sound of words Sheherazade]

She defended the action of Rio militia who chained the thief and black teenager to the lamp post with a bike lock around his neck, beat him and left him naked. She finds it normal, something like that is natural. After all, since we live in a state of barbarism, it costs nothing to start our [own barbarism], right? No one is defending the banditry of the boy; but saying that a barbaric act like this is “understandable” and “self-defense” is a sign that this woman doesn't have a shred of humanity!

Montagem do ativista Julio Ferreira

Mock-up made by activist Julio Ferreira: “‘Good citizen’ was the name of KKK's newspaper”.

Student Mosiés Teixeira demanded that Sheherazade “be liable for the blunder issued in primetime” and that those who supported it should “reflect a bit before issuing opinions full of catchphrases that are just polished stupidity.”

According to the Union of Journalists of Rio de Janeiro, the punishment will come. The union and its Committee on Ethics not only expressed their disgust, but also demanded that the National Federation of Journalists take action “in this and other cases of human rights violations and of the Code of Ethics of the Brazilian journalists, which occur routinely in broadcasting programs in our country.” The Union of Journalists of the Federal District also declared their disgust with Sheherazade's statements and added that they will ask a prosecutor to act.

The Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) announced that it also will demand punishment for the presenter.

For activist and journalist Rodrigo Mariano, Sheherazade “reached a level that she now supports murderers openly on national television. And the girl shares the same profession as me, you see. She took the oath she swore and reversed it. She wiped her ass with her diploma, certainly.”

After all repercussions, SBT issued a note stating that the journalist does not represent the opinions of the channel. Sheherazade using airtime on “SBT Journal” tried to explain herself, saying that she was “on the good side, the side of the angels”, which is:

uma crítica da violência. Eu defendo as pessoas de bem deste País, que foram abandonadas à própria sorte, porque não tem polícia, não tem segurança pública. O que eu fiz não foi defender a atitude dos justiceiros. O que eu defendi foi o direito da população de se defender quando o Estado é omisso

a critique of violence. I defend the good people of this country, who were abandoned to their fate because they have no police, no public security. What I did was not defend the attitude of vigilantes. What I defended was people's right to defend itself when the state is absent

Imagem de Divulgação do SBT.

Rachel Cheherazade. Image for publication from SBT.

In other words, Sheherazade maintains a view that, for activist Robson Fernandes, “is tradition among the Brazilian conservative right” and consists of “making a Manichean division of society between ‘good citizens’ and ‘bums'.”

He added:

Nessa crença que divide a sociedade entre “bons” e “maus”, os primeiros seriam pessoas “cidadãs” que “pagam impostos”, “respeitam as leis”, “lutam para vencer na vida” e se dizem “incapazes” de cometer qualquer crime ou dano contra outras pessoas e também contra animais não humanos. E os segundos seriam inimigos da ordem, ameaçadores da vida alheia, preferidores de “caminhos fáceis”, como a criminalidade ou o recebimento de benefícios financeiros pelo Estado, sendo muitos deles autênticos demônios do mal que deveriam ser presos, torturados pela polícia e/ou mortos.

In this belief that divides society into “good” and “bad”, the former would be the “citizen” who “pay taxes”, “law-abiding”, the ones who “struggle to succeed in life” and are said to be “not able” to commit a crime or harm other humans and non-human animals. And the latter are enemies of order, threatening the lives of others, those who prefer the “easy path”, such as crime or to receive financial benefits from the state, many of them being authentic evil demons who should be arrested, tortured by the police and/or dead.

Military police officer from the state of Bahia and contributor to Global Voices Danillo Ferreira made it clear:

Nenhuma violência deve ser celebrada. Tentativas violentas de vingança e “resposta” a outros atos violentos apenas alimentam os ciclos de violência. 

No violence should be celebrated. Attempts of revenge and violent “response” to other violent acts only feed the cycle of violence.

A petition that so far has more than 50,000 signatures was created to demand punishment for the journalist. A Facebook event was created to humorously ask for the replacement of the news programme anchored by Sheherazade by the popular Mexican series ”Chaves”, whose main character “has much to teach us about tolerance and equality.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25 2014

Being Gay Is Officially a Crime in Uganda

Protest against Uganda anti-gay legislation

Activists John Bosco, (handcuffs) and Bisi Alimi (sign) in prison uniforms protesting in London against anti-gay legislation in Uganda on December 10, 2012. Photo by Reporter#20299. Copyright Demotix.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signed a controversial anti-homosexuality bill into law on January 24, 2014 that makes being gay a crime punishable with life in prison in some cases.

The parliament of Uganda overwhelmingly passed the bill on December 20, 2013. It also provides for prison sentences for anyone who does not report gay people to authorities and punishes the use of Facebook and Twitter accounts to fight for gay rights a crime with a maximum of seven years in jail.

US President Barack Obama and other leaders around the world have warned President Museveni that the law is an abuse of human rights.

Ugandan LGBT activists say that the law makes Uganda one of the worst places to be gay in the world. Many people have taken to social media to discuss it, some in support while others adamantly against.

Sexual Minorities Uganda leader and gay activist Frank Mugisha tweeted:

Love1Another wrote:

Wadda Mutebi bashed those speaking out against the law:

Jenny Hedstrom simply wrote:

John Paul Torach noted that the government and opposition are both on the same page on this issue:

Eriche White Walker thought that religious leaders have failed to instill morals into the people:

“I am an African” argued that one's ideas of sexuality should not apply to other people's lives:

Stuart Grobbelaar jokingly said Uganda should pass laws that ban divorce and prescribe marriage strictly for virgins:

Ugandans now wonder what will happen to the relationship between their country and others, mostly Western, that believe the law violates basic human rights.

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.

February 22 2014

Ukraine's President Yanukovych Ousted and Parliament Reshuffled

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

After a violent crackdown on anti-government Euromaidan protesters left 70 to 100 people dead this week, Ukraine's parliament has voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych and release his political rival ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. 

Yanukovych was not in the capital Kyiv at the time, having fled and denounced the events as a coup. 

The legislature's vote was met with celebrations from people within the Euromaidan movement, which has protested for three months against the government led by Yanukovych after he backed out of a deal with the European Union in November 2013. 

Following the turmoil on 20 February when security forces shot at protesters, a deal [uk] was originally struck between the opposition and Yanukovych that would end the violence in the country, but would also see him remain president until new elections that were to be held by end of year, according to this agreement. The deal also included a return to the 2004 version of the country's constitution, which limits presidential powers, early presidential elections in 2004, and the creation of an international commission for investigating the events in Kyiv. The agreement was brokered by three European foreign ministers.

On the evening of February 21, the leaders of the parliamentary opposition came to Kyiv's Maidan (Independence Square) – the stronghold of the protesters – to present the signed agreement to the people. They arrived just as Maidan was mourning the unprecedented loss of lives which occurred the day before. Despite risks, hundreds of thousands had gathered on the square, including some of the police officers who had deflected to the side of the protesters. They blamed the president for the escalation of violence and the use of firearms.

When the protesters heard that Yanukovych would remain in power at least until the next elections, they booed the parliament representatives. A regular member of the Maidan self-defense unit (the “sotnyk”) took to the stage and gave a very emotional speech calling on the president to resign by the next morning or Maidan would go into the offensive (video).

His call received overwhelming support from the gathered crowd, and that support was echoed by the leader of the Right Sector movement, a right-wing opposition group, albeit in a more restrained manner. Well-known journalist Dmytro Gnap also got on stage, blaming the leaders of the opposition leaders for betraying the Euromaidan movement and outlining possible options of Yanukovych's resignation.

Social media users, like @RainFromUkraine, reacted similarly:

Cracked voice of a sotnyk was the voice of all Ukrainians.

Afterwards, one of the opposition leaders, former world boxing champion turned politician Vitaliy Klychko, got on stage and apologized to the protesters for entering into an agreement with Yanukovych and “shaking his hand“.

Shortly after these events, news spread that Yanukovych was leaving Kyiv for the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Later in the evening, however, social media activists have identified a private jet that allegedly belonged to the President leaving Ukraine via a flight tracking site FlightRadar24. As the plane was flying towards Sochi, many believed Yanukovych was fleeing to Russia.

However, the jet did not land there but went further towards the United Arab Emirates, with Yanuckovych allegedly on board. Whether Yanukovyh has really left Ukraine, however, remains unconfirmed.

In the morning, the Maidan self-defense movement announced that they were guarding Parliament and other government buildings, while government security forces had completely abandoned the government block in Kyiv. Twitter user Pedrodon tweeted this image of the events:

A journalist from Brussels, @Balliauw, also added this image:

Government forces and private security personnel had also abandoned Yanukovych's notoriously lavish residence Mezhygirya. Maidan self-defense members encircled the residence to prevent looting and destruction, but allowed journalists and other citizens free entry (photos). Hundreds of Ukrainians have visited the place, which was off limits to regular citizens for years.

In the meantime, journalists discovered piles of partially destroyed records of large-scale corruption schemes.

RL/RFE reporter Irtsia Stelmakh [uk] tweeted several photos of the residence:

Here it is, Mezhygirya.

Journalist Oksana Kovalenko tweeted:

Found documents in the water near the dock.

While many Ukrainians were having a tour of Mezhygirya, MPs assembled in Parliament and began voting on a number of crucial decisions, including the return to a parliamentary-presidential republic (with limited presidential powers), choosing a new speaker of parliament, and several other key government positions.

In the midst of these events, one of the pro-government channels released a video statement [uk] by President Yanukovych, who allegedly recorded the statement in Kharkiv, the second largest city in the northeast of the country. In the statement, the president accused his opponents of a state coup, referred to protesters as “bandits”, and stressed that he was doing all in his power to prevent bloodshed.

He also added that he was not planning to leave the country.

A screencap of President Yanukovych' address released on Feb. 22, 2014

A screencap of President Yanukovych’ address released on Feb. 22, 2014

While MPs in parliament were hastily leaving the pro-presidential political party Party of Regions, several pro-presidential and pro-Russian MPs and regional authorities quickly called an assembly in Kharkiv. The move caused widespread concern that separatist or federalist statements would be adopted and appeals for Russia to deploy its troops in Ukraine would be made.

However, the assembly only called for self-organizing to maintain order in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine and for friendly relations with Russia. In support of the event, a mass rally by Party of Regions supporters was organized in Kharkiv. While some participated genuinely, there were media reports of pressure on state employees and others [uk] to participate in the rally.

At the same time, a large rally in support of Euromaidan also took place in Kharkiv [video]. Twitter users @ShkvarkiUA tweeted from the city center:

East and West are UNITED! FREEDOM TO THE PEOPLE! – shouts Kharkiv.

Kharkiv Euromaidan activists also demanded the removal of their separatist mayor and governor. Closer to the evening, reports emerged [uk] that both officials were leaving for Russia, as State Security Service of Ukraine opened a criminal investigation into their separatist claims.

Later that evening, the parliament in Kyiv voted to oust President Yanukovych and called early presidential elections for May. The MPs also supported the release of former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed by Yanukovych in 2011.

Needless to say, the reaction of many Ukrainians was celebratory. Kyiv-based journalist and photographer Bogdana Shevchenko tweeted:

CONGRATULATIONS EVERYONE!!!! #євромайдан #янукович

User Olia Riabuha tweeted:

Thank you everyone who fought for justice! Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Today we won!

Reactions from the international community followed. British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted:

Polish Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Radosław Sikorski also added:

As of 7 p.m. local time on 22 February 2014, the whereabouts of Yanukovych remain unknown.

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

Volunteer medics attend to the wounded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am dying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 21 2014

Social Media Rallies to Help Comatose Pakistani Student in US


Screenshot of Facebook page supporting Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa

Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, a 21-year-old Pakistani exchange student in the US, has been in a coma since 13 November 2013 when a deer collided with the car he and his friends were riding in outside of the city of Minneapolis. At a local hospital after the accident, Bajwa went into cardiac arrest. Doctors were able to resuscitate him, but he suffered brain damage and has been comatose ever since. 

Just as Bajwa was fighting for his life, another battle was brewing. Bajwa's student visa was set to expire on 28 February, and Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota, where he was transferred after the accident, was making plans to deport him to a Pakistani hospital, saying its hands were legally tied. His family feared Bajwa wouldn't survive the flight. 

A student of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Bajwa was also only insured for one semester for the student exchange program with a cap of 100,000 US dollars, not enough to cover the expensive costs of an extended stay in an American hospital.    

As the visa expiration date neared, support on social media for Bajwa began to pour in, and an online campaign to raise funds and to pressure the US to allow the student to stay for treatment quickly spread throughout the web. Finally, after Pakistan’s Ambassador in the US Jalil Abbas Jilani became involved, Bajwa's brother announced on 20 February that US authorities had agreed to extend the student's visa.  

Social media takes up the cause 

Bajwa's medical costs exceeded 350,000 dollars in mid-February and continued to climb. The hospital agreed to absorb the costs and not dip into the insurance money, but warned (before the visa was extended) that it would cease paying on 28 February. Essentia Health also said it would pay the medical evacuation costs, though it threatened to pull the coverage if the family didn't sign off on returning Bajwa to Pakistan, according to his brother Shahraiz Bajwa.  

With the family unable to fund Bajwa's extensive treatment once the hospital pulled its financial support, his brother launched an online fundraising campaign on website gofundme.com, which has collected to date more than 132,000 US dollars of its 300,000-dollar goal.

On Facebook, groups such as “Support For Shahzaib Bajwa“ helped to spread the word about the need for donations. “Inshallah God will help you guys more. People show that humanity still exists in its full context,” one user, Mubarik Hasan, wrote. Other users, A Facebook user like Mohammad Jibran Nasir published statuses urging friends to help.

The peace initiative of the Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India, Aman ki Asha, shared a plea on Facebook from someone who had met Bajwa:

From an Indian about a Pakistani: “I request you from the core of my heart if you could help this lovely guy. I met him on my last visit to Pakistan and I've great memories of the time spent with him. I request you to pl help him out of the situation in which he and his family is.”

Meanwhile, an online petition was created on change.org to demand the extension of Bajwa's visa; it has so far received more than 8,000 signatures. Bajwa's family was not hopeful about the quality of treatment he would receive in Pakistan, and his mother feared signing off on the medical flight would be sending her son to his death. 

On the petition, Ivy Vainio from Minnesota wrote:

Shahzaib needs the best medical care that he can receive right now and he will get it where he is at currently. He is one of the most wonderful young men that I have met. Caring and loving to all. Please renew his visa so that he can stay and get the best treatment available to him.

Richard Mienke argued: 

I would rather see such a brilliant student and decent human being be taken care of until full recovery is attained and then give him the means to continue his degree here in the United States. It is not a question of citizenship, it is a question of humanity and doing the right thing. Period.

On Twitter, users pushed the campaign even further with tweets and retweets. Professor of International Relations, Earth and Environment at Boston University Adil Najam wrote:   

Pakistani journalist, artist and documentary filmmaker Beena Sarwar also requested the US extend Bajwa's visa: 

Political analyst and senior TV anchor Nasim Zehra wanted people to show generosity: 

Slow recovery ahead

Bajwa, who suffered severe facial fractures, will eventually need reconstructive surgery. He remains comatose, but can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs.

Doctors at the Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center say that it will take at least a few years to determine his chances of complete recovery. With his visa renewed, officials are now making plans to move Bajwa to a long-term facility in the area. 

Thumbnail image: Screenshot of Facebook page praying for early recovery of Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa

There Will Be No Peace in Colombia Without Women

[Links are to Spanish-language pages except where noted otherwise.]

The documentation centre No habrá paz sin las mujeres [There will be no peace without women] enables female leaders, professionals and survivors of the armed conflict in Colombia to express themselves and share their experiences so that, according to the website, “the lifework they have dedicated to peace is not forgotten.” Their testimony is offered through an online photography exhibition and video interviews.

Historiadora, documentalista e integrante del colectivo H.I.J.O.S. Afiche del proyecto No habrá paz sin las mujeres.

Alejandra Garcia Serna, historian and documentary filmmaker. Poster for the project “There will be no peace without women”. 

All peace processes should actively involve women.

Alejandra Garcia Serna, a historian and documentary filmmaker, also works for justice and memory as part of the H.I.J.O.S. cooperative. She is the orphaned daughter of Francisco Gaviria, a student leader murdered along with 4,000 militants and sympathizers of the Unión Patriótica by State agents and paramilitaries between 1985 and 1994 in a campaign of political genocide.

The project, created by the Asturian Cooperative Development Agency, gives voice to Colombian women so they can ”learn from each other's experiences and strategies, be empowered in the fight to build a more just society, and advance their own proposals for peace in the process of reconciliation, reconstruction, reparation and justice.

No habrá paz sin las mujeres began with the experiences of Colombian women during the armed conflict [en] that has endured for more than 50 years. The group maintains that, although there are signs of hope in ongoing peace talks [en] taking place in Havana, Cuba, between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) [en] and the Colombian government, “women are noticeably absent from the peace process: neither the issues crucial to them nor their claims or proposals for peace are being listened to.” 

The website goes on to explain that talks have not taken into account United Nations Resolution 1325 [en], which calls attention to the issue of gender in conflict resolution. 

Y precisamente son las mujeres las que más sufren las consecuencias de la guerra: la violencia sexual ha sido empleada por los tres actores de la guerra, los paramilitares, el Estado y la guerrilla; el reclutamiento de menores ha afectada a las niñas como combatientes pero también como esclavas sexuales; son el mayor porcentaje de población desplazada y la mayoría con cargas familiares…

It is women who suffer most from the consequences of war: sexual violence has been used by all three factions, the paramilitary, the State and the guerrillas; the recruiting of minors has damaged girls both as combatants and as sex slaves; displaced persons are disproportionately women, most of whom have families…

Efforts to help redress the situation are publicized on the website's home page through video interviews and testimonials.  

One of these videos is about the artist Patricia Ariza, who found a way to express the Colombian reality through her work. Patricia also uses artistic expression to exorcize the injustice she sees in her country and of which she herself is a victim, her family having been displaced because of the violence. 

</p> <p>Another video shows a campaign where Colombian women are committed to safekeeping their land and not allowing the multinational&nbsp;<a href="http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/AngloGold_Ashanti">AngloGold Ashanti</a>&nbsp;to set up gold-mining operations. The<a href="http://nohabrapazsinlasmujeres.com/2013/12/campesinas-contra-la-fiebre-del-oro/">&nbsp;following video</a>&nbsp;is an interview with a local woman, Judith P&#233;rez Guti&#233;rrez, who lives on a country road in the municipality of Cajamarca, Tolima; and it speaks to the dedication of women to protecting their surroundings.&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the interview reveals the fear and anxiety of P&#233;rez Guti&#233;rrez and her neighbours&#8212;the vulnerability and lack of support they feel at the hands of Colombian authorities, as evidenced by the&nbsp;<a href="http://prensarural.org/spip/spip.php?article10730">serious confrontations they have had with security forces</a>:</p> <p></p> <p>Ester Carmen Mart&#237;nez, a teacher in <a href="http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitalito">Pitalito</a>, Huila, [a major coffee-producing area] tells her personal story and that of her neighbours, who were murdered, evicted or displaced by paramilitary groups.&nbsp;</p> <p></p> <p>The project also publishes texts&nbsp;<a href="http://nohabrapazsinlasmujeres.com/2014/01/mas-mujeres-en-riesgo-por-reclamar-derechos-de-ley-de-victimas/">such as this one</a>, which explains some of the dangers faced by women who choose activism:</p> <blockquote><p>En Bajo Cauca por lo menos otras cuatro l&#237;deres han sido amedrentadas y obligadas a abandonar la regi&#243;n en los &#250;ltimos cuatro a&#241;os. La restituci&#243;n no avanza, y el miedo hace que ni siquiera re&#250;nan las mesas de v&#237;ctimas.</p> <p>[...]</p> <p>&#8220;Las v&#237;ctimas estamos arrinconadas&#8221;, dijo el testigo consultado. &#8220;Hay muchas amenazas. La &#250;ltima fue contra una mujer que fue v&#237;ctima de desplazamiento forzado y se fue para el barrio Par&#237;s. All&#225; lider&#243; la junta de acci&#243;n comunal y los pillos la amenazaron nuevamente y hasta iban a atentar contra su vida y se tuvo que ir del municipio. Lo m&#225;s triste es que ni la Administraci&#243;n Municipal ni la Fuerza P&#250;blica atiende nuestras peticiones. &#191;Usted cree que alguna de nosotras, pese a las amenazas, tiene esquema de seguridad?&#8221;</p></blockquote> <blockquote class="translation"><p>In Bajo Cauca at least four other leaders have been intimidated and forced to abandon the region in the last four years. Restitution is no further ahead, and fear means the victims don't even dare meet together anymore.</p> <p>[...]</p> <p>&#8220;We victims are cornered,&#8221; said the witnessed we consulted. &#8220;There are many threats. The last was against a woman who was a victim of forced displacement and went to the Par&#237;s area. There she led the committee for communal action and the thugs threatened her again, they were even going to try to kill her, and she had to leave the town. The saddest part is that neither the municipal government nor public security paid attention to our petitions. Do you think that any of us, despite the threat, receives any protection?&#8221;</p></blockquote> <p><span>The project </span><a target="_blank" href="http://nohabrapazsinlasmujeres.com/descargate-las-postales-y-posters/">has several posters</a><span>&nbsp;depicting the reality of the many ways women suffer, in particular sexual violence.</span></p> <div id="attachment_226940" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img height="1002" alt="Superviviente de la matanza de El Salado (Foto: Patricia Sim&#243;n)" src="http://es.globalvoicesonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/sexual-afiche.png" width="723" class="size-full wp-image-226940" /><p class="wp-caption-text">Yoladis Z&#250;&#241;iga, survivor of the massacre in El Salado (Photo: Patricia Sim&#243;n)</p></div> <blockquote><p><strong>I suffered sexual violence but it did not defeat me.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Yoladis Z&#250;&#241;iga was raped by ten paramilitaries in front of her husband, who was later murdered, in a massacre that claimed the lives of 100 people in five days in the town of El Salado in 2000. Sexual violence is used as a weapon of war by all three factions in the conflict: guerrillas, paramilitaries and the State.</p></blockquote> <p>The posters also highlight the work of women who have dedicated their lives to peace and activism.&nbsp;</p> <div id="attachment_227006" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img height="991" alt="Defensora de derechos humanos (Foto: Alex Zapico)" src="http://es.globalvoicesonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Captura-de-pantalla-2013-11-30-a-las-22.38.57.png" width="710" class="size-full wp-image-227006" /><p class="wp-caption-text">Mari La Negra, defender of human rights (Photo: Alex Zapico)&nbsp;</p></div> <blockquote><p><strong>Words motivate, examples convince.</strong></p> <p>Mari La Negra began her career as an activist for workers and human rights when she was 14 years old. Not long afterwards, she was raped by State agents and jailed for three months, where she was tortured because of her efforts on behalf of organized labour. At 40, she has survived many attempts on her life and continues to be threatened by paramilitaries because of her fight for the rights of those most marginalized in society.</p></blockquote> <div id="attachment_227008" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img height="1002" alt="Feminista e investigadora integrante de Mujeres Feministas Antimilitaristas (Foto: Alex Zapico)" src="http://es.globalvoicesonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Captura-de-pantalla-2013-11-30-a-las-23.16.17.png" width="724" class="size-full wp-image-227008" /><p class="wp-caption-text">Marta Restrepo, feminist and community organizer (Photo: Alex Zapico)&nbsp;</p></div> <blockquote><p><strong>Freedom for women means removing the right to take advantage of them.</strong></p> <p>Marta Restrepo, a member of&nbsp;Mujeres Feministas Antimilitaristas (Antimilitarist Feminist Women), has dedicated her life to exposing the murder of women, a plague that claims the lives of more than 1,100 victims a year in Colombia. She also militates against the use of women as sex slaves, which in many cases leads to them becoming prostitutes in Spain, and the exploitation of women as a form of currency in the war economy that rules her country.&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>For more information, videos, and posters, visit <a href="https://www.facebook.com/nohabrapazsinlasmujeres">Facebook</a>&nbsp;and Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/Nopazsinmujeres">@nopazsinmujeres</a>.</p> <p class="gv-rss-footer"><span class="credit-text"><span class="contributor">Written by <a title="View all posts by Lully" href="http://es.globalvoicesonline.org/author/lully-posada/">Lully</a></span> &middot; <span class="contributor">Translated by <a title="View all posts by Victoria Robertson" href="http://globalvoicesonline.org/author/victoria-robertson/" class="url">Victoria Robertson</a></span></span> &middot; <span class="source-link"><a title="View original post [es]" href="http://es.globalvoicesonline.org/2014/02/18/no-habra-paz-sin-las-mujeres-en-colombia/">View original post [es]</a></span> &middot; <span class="commentcount"><a title="comments" href="http://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/02/21/there-will-be-no-peace-in-colombia-without-women/#comments">comments (0) </a></span><br /><a title="read Donate" href="http://globalvoicesonline.org/donate/">Donate</a> &middot; <span class="share-links-text"><span class="share-links-label">Share: </span> <a target="new" title="facebook" id="gv-st_facebook" href="http://www.facebook.com/share.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F02%2F21%2Fthere-will-be-no-peace-in-colombia-without-women%2F"><span class="share-icon-label">facebook</span></a> &middot; <a target="new" title="twitter" id="gv-st_twitter" href="http://twitter.com/share?url=http%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F02%2F21%2Fthere-will-be-no-peace-in-colombia-without-women%2F&#038;text=There+Will+Be+No+Peace+in+Colombia+Without+Women&#038;via=globalvoices"><span class="share-icon-label">twitter</span></a> &middot; <a target="new" title="googleplus" id="gv-st_googleplus" href="https://plus.google.com/share?url=http%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F02%2F21%2Fthere-will-be-no-peace-in-colombia-without-women%2F"><span class="share-icon-label">googleplus</span></a> &middot; <a target="new" title="reddit" id="gv-st_reddit" href="http://reddit.com/submit?url=http%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F02%2F21%2Fthere-will-be-no-peace-in-colombia-without-women%2F&#038;title=There+Will+Be+No+Peace+in+Colombia+Without+Women"><span class="share-icon-label">reddit</span></a> &middot; <a target="new" title="StumbleUpon" id="gv-st_stumbleupon" href="http://www.stumbleupon.com/submit?url=http%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F02%2F21%2Fthere-will-be-no-peace-in-colombia-without-women%2F&#038;title=There+Will+Be+No+Peace+in+Colombia+Without+Women"><span class="share-icon-label">StumbleUpon</span></a> &middot; <a target="new" title="delicious" id="gv-st_delicious" href="http://del.icio.us/post?url=http%3A%2F%2Fglobalvoicesonline.org%2F2014%2F02%2F21%2Fthere-will-be-no-peace-in-colombia-without-women%2F&#038;title=There+Will+Be+No+Peace+in+Colombia+Without+Women"><span class="share-icon-label">delicious</span></a></span> </p>

Equatorial Guinea Moves Closer to Becoming Portuguese Language Country

The door has been opened for Equatorial Guinea to enter the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) despite the orienting principles of the intergovernmental organization which pledge “the primacy of peace, Democracy, the Rule of Law, Human Rights and social justice”. 

The recommendation for the country's entry into the organization (which includes Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and Timor-Leste) was approved unanimously by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs for CPLP, who met in Maputo, Mozambique on February 20, 2014, the eve of UNESCO's International Mother Language Day.

Spanish and French are the official languages of Equatorial Guinea, and Portuguese is now closer to become the third. The country, which has been an Associate Observer of CPLP since 2006, announced a proposal in mid-February for the suspension of the death penalty. This change pleased the diplomatic front of the community as the abolition of capital punishment is one of the conditions for membership. 

However, Equatorial Guinea's “human rights record is particularly concerning”, as highlights writer David Shook in an article published on February 19, one day before CPLP's announcement: 

Under the leadership of Guinean president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, now the longest-serving head of state in Africa, Equatorial Guinea continues to rank among the most corrupt states in the world. 

Shook reports that the most important living writer of the country, Juan Tomás Avila Laurel, has been forced into hiding for his work as an activist. Malabo's security forces threatened him just this week after denying his request for permission to stage “a sit-in protesting a recent wave of police brutality”. Shook stresses:

Juan Tomás Avila Laurel’s safety is currently at risk; he faces dire conditions if captured by Guinean security forces. The international visibility of his situation is an important protection.

He also points to The Human Rights Watch “World Report for 2013“:

Corruption, poverty, and repression continue to plague Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979. Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while most of the population lives in poverty. Those who question this disparity are branded “enemies.” Despite some areas of relative progress, human rights conditions remain very poor. Arbitrary detention and unfair trials continue to take place, mistreatment of detainees remains commonplace, sometimes rising to the level of torture.

All of this doesn't seem to be relevant now for the representatives of the eight governments that count Portuguese as one of the official languages. The heads of state and government will meet in Dili, Timor-Leste in July to make a decision on Equatorial Guinea's membership. 

“African money #CFA #Malabo”. Photo shared on Flickr by Kaysha (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Reacting to the latest news, the Portuguese chapter of Transparency International, the civic association and corruption watchdog “Transparência e Integridade” (Transparency and Integrity) [pt], tweeted that ”money speaks louder” in the lusophone world. 

Although the government of Portugal had rejected the country's request for membership until now, the relations between the two countries might be changing in times of economic crisis.

Lusomonitor, a website dedicated to the analysis of “lusophone issues” reported [pt] that Equatorial Guinea has injected 133 million euros into Portuguese bank Banif, “helping the Portuguese State to unravel a complicated dossier, which has hindered the fulfillment of the goals of economic and financial adjustment program with the ‘troika'”, composed by the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile, civil society organizations have promised to mobilize against the accession [pt] in the coming times.

Check out past Global Voices coverage of Equatorial Guinea, including: 

07 June 2011 – Equatorial Guinea: A Language That Ignores Human Rights
08 June 2012 – Equatorial Guinea: Dictatorship Seeks Entry in Portuguese Language Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 20 2014

Violence Escalates as Protests Continue in Venezuela

Manifestantes esquivan gases lacrimógenos lanzados por la Guardia Nacional. 19 de febrero, 2014. Altamira, Caracas. Foto de Sergio Alvarez, copyright Demotix.

Protesters avoiding tear gas thrown by the National Guard. February 19, 2014. Altamira, Caracas. By Sergio Álvarez, copyright Demotix

After Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced [es] in a national broadcast that he would carry out special measures in the Táchira state to control demonstrations, internet users from different cities started to report irregularities related to police officers, the National Guard and some armed civilian groups in motorbikes.

Venezuela is going through an economic, political and social crisis which brought about thousands of citizens taking the streets to express [es] their discontent. For more than a week, Venezuelans have been involved in mass protests that, until now, have caused five deaths and hundreds of wounded and incarcerated people.

On February 19, Twitter and Facebook were used by protesters and witnesses to denounce the day-to-day repression carried out by security forces. However, this is not new, since a viral video by the research unit of the Últimas Noticias newspaper showed some members of the secret police SEBIN (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) in the same moment and place where people were found dead last February 12. 

This Youtube video allegedly shows members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB for its initials in Spanish) destroying everything they find in their way in Valencia, the capital city of Carabobo state, located nearly 250km away from Caracas.

Ortega Brothers shared a photo related to the situation in Valencia.

Most of the reports in Caracas came from the east and downtown areas of the city. As a matter of fact, repression started in Altamira, the scenario for most of these street protests. In his Twitter account, José Márquez not only recounts his experience in this area of the city, but he also denounces that the GNB threw expired tear gas at protesters.

In Altamira, the GNB throws tear gas which expired in 2010, today, February 19.

Some users also posted videos reporting that they were being attacked by both security forces and armed men in motorbikes.

Similarly, citizens also denounced that people were being repressed in another residential area in the east of Caracas. Carlos Bruguera posted on Twitter that even though there were no protesters around, they were being repressed.

The GNB roams through the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue, throwing gas and shooting towards the buildings. It is important to note that there are no protesters. What is this!?

Jorge Estevez also described what was happening:

Minutes ago a GNB contingent crossed the Rómulo Gallegos avenue shooting.

Other people asserted there were armed groups attacking buildings.

 Carmela Longo asked for help and described what she was witnessing: 

Help! groups are shooting at buildings in Horizonte

However, Luigino Bracci reported that protesters provoked the National Guard:

Minutes ago, opposition groups in Montecristo provoked the GNB by throwing firecrackers at those who were in the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue

Downtown Caracas was the most repressed area. During the night users shared two videos that allegedly showed National Guard Forces shooting at civilians, leaving a wounded man in the road (Warning: the following videos may contain strong images).

 

Although there was no official information about what happened to these civilians, the Twitter account for El Universitario [es] affirmed that two people had died

Two people confirmed dead during protests tonight in Caracas: one in La Candelaria and another one in Panteón Avenue.

Update: Alba Ciudad [es] reports that “the crime reporter for the opposition newspaper El Nuevo País, Altagracia Anzola, informed through her Twitter account that both individuals were alive and one had been discharged [from the hospital].”

Other states are also experiencing moments of high tension. Citizens affirm that Táchira state is under siege [es], and some users reported that their internet service was suspended.

Marc Bonet reported about this situation.

Táchira right now with no internet service and no light in many areas. The army is in the streets. State of siege implemented but not declared.

Frases Únicas shared a photo about the situation in Táchira. 

Barricade in Carabobo Avenue, Tachira. Waiting for GNB attack from Faro. Táchira will not kneel down.

Some of the citizens used their Twitter account to provide a brief analysis on the escalating violence. One of them was Sinar Alvarado, who asserts that there could be even more repression if the government feels more threatened.

Chavismo [government supporters] will display even more violence as they see their power threatened.

Others criticized that the state channel, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), was not covering these events. Victor Amaya (@VictorAmaya) affirmed this on his Twitter account:

On VTV they are denouncing that buses were attacked by the fascist right. They don't say anything about the wounded and those shot dead. Poor buses.

Finally, Audrey M. Dacosta in the blog Caracas Chronicles writes the following about the protests on February 19:

A grave line has been crossed. Real, physical violence is finally catching up with the huge reserve of pent-up rhetorical violence we’ve suffered through since 1999.

We’ve spent 15 years fearing this.

Now we’re living it.

#Euromaidan Protests Spread Throughout Ukraine After Explosion of Violence

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

Euromaidan protests in Ukraine took a turn for the worse on February 18, 2014, as special Berkut police forces began their most violent crackdown yet on citizens and political opposition supporters in Kyiv. Instead of quelling protesters, the protests quickly strengthened and even spread to new towns and regions in the country. The government announced de facto martial law, with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claiming that the military now had the right to search, detain and even fire on civilians.

Earlier in the day, opposition representatives attempted to deliver a request to Parliament that would limit presidential power and were denied access to the building to do so. Soon after hearing this news, protesters moved in on the Parliament building. The situation then gravely escalated when police forces violently cracked down on protesters around 8 pm, with devastating results. The following morning, several independent and international news outlets reported that the several-hour-long aggressive police action resulted in 25 deaths and at least 1,000 people injured, but casualties are still being counted. One journalist reported that at least 40 people had been burned alive in the Trade Union building in Kyiv alone.

As this was happening, news of the crackdown traveled quickly through social media and other channels, with people following the events live throughout Ukraine and the world through several live streams. Newly angered protesters marched once again on what has been the main protest site since November 2013, Independence Square, but also took to the streets in several other cities and towns in Ukraine's 24 administrative regions. The images and information users on Twitter and other social networks were sharing, like the one below from @slava_slav, angered citizens throughout the country and incited more protests:

Trade Union Building on Independence Square [in Kyiv]

Ukraine's most popular online community of IT developers joined other Ukrainians in presenting their position on the February 18 events. The founder of the community, Max Ischenko, wrote:

Вчера украинская власть наконец-то приняла решение. Обьявила открытую войну гражданам Украины. Рубикон пройден.
Всего два выхода для честных ребят: перестать быть гражданами Украины, променяв кафкианскую реальность на нормальный мир или же остаться гражданами, приняв навязанную войну. Третий, трусливый вариант, не рассматриваем — это default route.
Голыми руками на БТР идти не надо, это не наши методы. Программисты лучше действуют головой. Я за ненасильственное сопротивление.

Yesterday, Ukrainian authorities finally made a decision. Open war against Ukrainian citizens was announced. The Rubicon has been crossed.

Honest men have only two solutions: stop being a citizen of Ukraine, changing the Kafka-esque reality to a normal world or to remain a citizen and accept the imposed war. The third one, a cowardly choice, is not considered – this is a default route.

There is no need to go against armoured personnel empty-handed, it is not our way. Developers work better by using their heads. I am for non-violent resistance.

After receiving information of the murders in Kyiv, many protests throughout other regions have been refueled, and some have now newly joined the protests. The most radical demonstrations of civil resistance, other than in Kyiv, now come from the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, which was active in the Euromaidan movement from its inception. During the night between February 18 and February 19, several government organizations fell into the control of protesters, such as the local Security Service of Ukraine in Lvyv and the Regional State Administration.

In Lviv, there is no possibility to telephone the police, as they have simply stopped responding. The majority of police stations in the region have been defeated and taken over by protesters. Information has also been circulating both on and offline that police stations in the city had been looted and fire arms stolen. Ukrainian news agency ZIK reported in a tweet:

In Lviv all weapons missing from police stations: In Lviv from the police offices some number of weapons were stolen

In the morning of February 19, Ivan Franko Lviv National University students and professors announced that they would go on strike indefinitely and asked other universities to do the same. In the meantime, students have been doing their best to organize self-defense units to protect citizens and museums from looting and violence. Young Twitter user @yostap from Lvyv said:

The creation of the student self-defense unit and strike committee has been announced.

In Uzhorod, the Regional State Administration is now occupied by the protesters, with many citizens expressing relief that their town has awoken to join what many are calling a revolution. Twitter user @mikekomar tweeted a photo of the building when it had just been occupied by the protesters:

@ukrpravda_news Zakarpatska RSA [Regional State Administration] was taking by storm, and it is now in the nation's hands! Finally, Uzhgorod has awoken! Photo [taken at] 12:35

The same has happened in a few other regional capitals. In Lutsk, a city in another western Ukrainian region, for example, the Regional State Administration is now also in the hands of Euromaidan protesters. Local users on Twitter, like @deep_monday, tweeted images and updates as they happened:

MIA [Ministry of Internal Affairs] and RSA [Regional State Administration] are defeated, everything is in flames, Bashkalenko [Volyn Region Governor Alexander Bashkalenko] was beat. We have the feeling this is not happening to us

What many feel is the cruelest news over these two days has come from Khmelnytskyi. At the Security Service of Ukraine building in this city, an elderly woman was killed and two others were injured. They were a part of the protest group that had come to that building after hearing what happened in Kyiv. Someone opened fire from the Security Service of Ukraine building. According to witnesses, the woman was unarmed and was kneeling in front of the building. The terrible image of this killing was shared by many online, including the official Twitter feed of one of the Maidan movement organizations, Will of the Nation:

Khmenytskyi. SSU is killing theirs nation.

The Ukrainian Democratic Alliance added:

Our activists have said that the shooting came from the building of the Khmelnytskyi SSU [Security Service of Ukraine]. A woman was killed. There are a few injured.

Eastern parts of Ukraine also are no longer peaceful. In Poltava, a protest was held in the city center. A Twitter account represented as Poltava Svoboda (Poltava Freedom) tweeted this image of the protests there:

Poltava. The amount of people [joining the protest] is rising.

People are once again joining forces to try to help the Euromaidan movement in any way they can. Some are collecting and bringing warm clothes and medication, while others are buying and preparing food for their fellow protesters. Food has now become more important than ever at the protest sites in Kyiv, as the Trade Union Building, where most of the food collected for the protesters had been stored over the past weeks, was burned during the February 18 police attacks, leaving protesters with no food at all.

In Kyiv and Lviv, people have also been donating blood and more donors are needed. Information about this is also being spread through social networks and a new hashtag #ядонор (#Iamadonor) can be seen along with the now standard #Euromaidan. Twitter user Ana Toliivna from Lvyv was among those who donated and called for others to do the same:

#Iamadonor RT @euromaidanlviv: On Pekarska street 65 it is possible to donate blood for those affected [at] #Euromaidan #Lvyv

People are also collecting money for those affected by the latest escalation of events. Even those with very little to give are offering what they can in support of the protests. Ukrainian author and journalist Dmitry Gordon shared this image of an elderly woman showing undeniable support of the protests in her country:

This old woman brought half of her monthly pension for those affected at Euromaidan.

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