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February 27 2014

“Google Tax” Threatens Spain's News Aggregators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

editorial-el-mundo-agregadores

Blogger J.R. Mora writes [es]:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 26 2014

Draft Media Law Could Bring Censorship to East Timor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Jamaican Dancehall Deported from Dominica

“You're not welcome here”. That's the message the Dominican government is sending to Jamaican dancehall artiste Tommy Lee (real name Leroy Russell), who has been prevented from entering the island, where he was scheduled to host a concert. Lee is known for his Gothic Dancehall style, which bases itself on dark subject matter. The move is the latest of several high profile immigration controversies in the Caribbean, several of which have involved Jamaican citizens. In this instance, the issues of censorship and free speech were also being widely debated on social media.

According to the Dominican authorities, Tommy Lee was considered a security threat:

‘Pursuant to advice received, government had concerns for public safety. The decision to deny entry was intended as a preemptive action and also to provide an opportunity to exhaust all efforts to clarify information received,’ the statement said.

Many religious leaders were opposed to Lee's performance, citing what they considered to be dangerous lyrics:

The Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches (DAEC) had been calling for a boycott of the concert here, featuring Sparta, whom it claims glorifies Satan during his performances.

A spokesman for the group, Bishop Michael Daniel, speaking on the state-owned DBS radio Monday, said he was pleased that the concert did not occur as had been planned.

He said while the churches played no role in the detention of Sparta, their prayers had been answered. 

On Instagram, Lee himself posted video of his supporters in Dominica outside the police station:

Some Dominicans tweeted to show that they did not support their government's actions:

Tyrone Christopher argued that Tommy Lee's rights must be protected, whether you like his music or not:

Some Twitter users referred to the controversial Shanique Myrie case and the Caribbean Court of Justice's involvement:

On the other hand, some netizens seemed glad that Tommy Lee was denied entry:

This Twitter user was amazed – and a tad amused – that the Dominican government was getting criticized for banning Tommy Lee…

…while these were bemused by the government's justification for their action:

Some argued that Tommy Lee was ultimately to blame for his deportation:

Others were confused as to how Tommy Lee was allowed to leave Jamaica in the first place – and why he would want to go to Dominica knowing that protests against his concert were already happening:

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.

Jamaicans Make Do with Fake Verdict in Vybz Kartel Trial

The satirical website FakeJamaica shares fictitious breaking news about the Vybz Kartel murder trial:

The Jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The…defendant’s lawyer Tom Tavares-Finson…based a significant portion of the defense’s case on the idea that Adijah Palmer cannot be held responsible for anything that his musical persona does.

Reposted bydarksideofthemoon darksideofthemoon

Tajik Court Fines Journalist for Calling Docile Intellectuals ‘Shit’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Kiev to Moscow: Russia's Tired Protest Antics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A burning Kiev barricade photoshopped to look like a Google

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show Me an ‘Animal-Driven Constitution', Demands Zambian President

As questions began to emerge over Zambian President Michael Sata's commitment to following through on a campaign promise for a new constitution, the leader stunned with a comment mocking calls for a “people-driven” constitution by asking if any country had ever passed an animal-driven one.

During a swearing in ceremony of constitution office holders, the only time Sata publicly addresses the nation on television, he said:

And for all of you here, ask the most learned woman here, [acting Chief Justice] Madam [Lombe] Chibesakunda. You are always saying people-driven constitution, people-driven constitution. Madam, where do you have an animal-driven constitution? […] Have you ever seen an animal-driven constitution, which country because everybody is talking of people driven constitution, so once you produce the animal driven one, let’s ask Mr Phiri, once you produce the animal driven constitution, we compare the two constitutions, what we have and then we shall look at that.

As an opposition party, Zambia’s now-ruling party the Patriotic Front defeated the then-ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 2011 with a promise that when elected into office in elections later that year, it would pass a new constitution within 90 days of taking office.

A few weeks into office, President Sata appointed a technical committee to look into the previous constitutional making processes to come up with a new document. The promised landmark difference with the previous processes was to be that the draft constitution was going to be simultaneously released to both the government and the public and a referendum held.

People holding a banner demanding that President Sata releases the draft constitution. Picture used with permission of The Zambian Voice.

People holding a banner demanding that President Sata releases the draft constitution. Photo used with permission of The Zambian Voice.

With shifting deadlines and the constitution making process running into two years, the government changed its approach and asked the technical committee to only print ten copies of the draft constitution, which the cabinet was to study first. The draft constitution was later leaked via Zambian Watchdog and is now known as the “eleventh copy”.

Some started to cast doubt on Sata’s commitment to enacting a new constitution when he said that the country did not need a fresh document altogether but only amendments to certain clauses. At another time, Sata said the current constitution was still good because six elections had been held under it.

Nyalubinge Ngwende on his Brutal Journal blog wrote:

[…W]hen it comes to the constitution, President Sata will not fool us. The building of roads, universities, more schools and health facilities come to mean nothing if the citizens are enslaved by political tyranny that refuses to hand them a constitution meant to unleash their full liberties and broaden opportunities for citizens, regardless of their geographical position on the global map. 

 A people driven constitution is our choice and not that of PF! 

Ngwende goes on to explain what is meant by a people-driven constitution in a country where Cabinet with the President as the head has a played a bigger role in the enactment of constitutions by excluding clauses that people had recommended and infusing those favouring the rulers:

When civil society activists are talking of a people driven constitution, they mean a good document that will stand the test of time; with statutes that meet the aspirations of the people and one that the people themselves will agree to.

Joining a chorus of other opposition politicians and civil society organisations, MMD President Nevers Mumba commented:

I think that God has allowed him to lose his way because I can’t imagine a President making such comments. What Zambians are saying is that look, we want a better constitution in which we participate in its formulation […] For him to make such comments shows arrogance of the highest level. I appeal to the President to be presidential about this matter. We are determined to have a new constitution, with or without him anyway.

Sata ordered government officials not to respond to the constitution debate. However, his Justice Minister and PF Secretary General Wynter Kabimba during a visit to Malawi probably gave away the biggest fear his government had in the draft document—50 percent plus one threshold for election to the office of the president and a presidential running mate for the office of vice president. Kabimba said:

There are all these demands about 50 percent plus one constitutional provision, running mate constitutional provision without taking into account that where these provisions obtain they have caused more problems than the solutions they should have brought about to society.

We can learn from others. We don’t have to make the same mistakes that others have made in order to do the right thing.

February 24 2014

Al Qaeda Calls for Jihad in Bangladesh

Screenshot of a video by Ayman al-Zawahiri

Screenshot of a video by Ayman al-Zawahiri

Global militant organization Al Qaeda has called for jihad in Bangladesh via a video released online. The audio message was circulated in a video featuring the leader of the organization, Ayman al-Zawahiri, calling for followers to resist what he called anti-Islamic conspiracies and launch an “intifada” (uprising) in Bangladesh.

He invited Muslims in Bangladesh:

To confront this crusader onslaught against Islam, which is being orchestrated by the leading criminals in the subcontinent and the West against Islam, the Prophet of Islam and the Islamic creed, so that they may turn you into slaves of a despotic and disbelieving system.

Here is a transcription of the video message (PDF).

The entire clip lasting 28 minutes and 58 seconds, titled “Bangladesh: Massacre Behind a Wall of Silence”, features the message from al-Zawahiri along with his image as well as others, such as the Hifazat's rally in May last year. Aaron Y. Zelin, who runs the site Jihadology, reported in an interview to EuroBDNewsOnline.com that he is certain that this voice is of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Bangladesh’s elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) tracked the source of the message and arrested Rasel Bin Sattar Khan for circulating the controversial message from Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri. He is an admin of controversial Facebook page Basherkella and some other militant blogs [bn] believed to be run by extremist operatives. He confessed [bn] that he started spreading this video in Bangladesh, which was first uploaded in a Pakistani website.

Recently in Bangladesh, religious extremist organizations like Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and Hefazat-e-Islam have engaged in a lot of violence. Some netizens have speculated that the call for jihad in Bangladesh is somehow related.

Diaspora legal practitioner Rayhan Rashid (@rayhanrashid) tweeted:

Jamaat, who once worked fought against the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, had always denied their involvement with militants. However, Mofaqkharul Taufique wrote that Jamaat can no longer deny the truth given this video:

এ বার ভিডিও-বার্তায় প্রকাশ্যেই জামাত-নেতাদের পাশে দাঁড়ালেন আল কায়েদার শীর্ষ নেতা আয়মান আল জাওয়াহিরি। এর পরেও কি কেউ বলবেন যে জমাত জঙ্গী সংগঠন নয় ?

In this video message, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has openly supported Jamaat. Can anyone deny that Jamaat is not a militant organization?

Jamaat and Hefazot both have officially denied any involvement with Al Qaeda.

Activists of Hefajat-e Islam march through as part of its Dhaka siege programme to press home its 13-point demand, near Buriganga Bridge-1. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/5/2013)

Activists of Hefajat-e Islam march as part of its Dhaka siege programme to press home its 13-point demand that includes the arrest of atheist bloggers. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/5/2013)

Dr. Imran H. Sarker, a blogger and the spokesperson for the Shahbag movement activists, a movement that supports the death penalty for liberation war criminals, wanted to hear reactions from other political parties:

এক ভিডিও বার্তায় জামাত- হেফাজতের আন্দোলনকে সমর্থন করে ধর্মের নামে মানুষ হত্যার কথিত জিহাদের ডাক দিয়েছে আল-কায়েদা প্রধান আয়মান আল জাওয়াহিরি।

জোটবদ্ধ রাজনৈতিক দলগুলোর প্রতিক্রিয়া কি? যুদ্ধাপরাধী, সন্ত্রাসী সংগঠন জামাত-শিবির, হেফাজত কে নিষিদ্ধ করতে আর কতো অপেক্ষা?

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for jihad (killing humans for religion) supporting the cause of Hefazot/Jamaat.

What are the reactions of different political parties and alliances? How long will it take to ban anti-liberation and militant organizations like Jamaat, Hefazot?

Abdullah Al Mamun, a reader on Bangla daily Prothom Alo, commented:

এটি বাংলাদেশ নামক রাষ্টের প্রতি সরাসরি হুমকি বা হস্তক্ষেপ। এসব হুমকি আমাদের সবাইকে ভাবিয়ে তুলছে।

This is a direct threat against Bangladesh as a country. This has worried all of us.

Journalist Anjan Roy, however, called for verifying this video:

বাংলাদেশে প্রতিরোধ গড়ে তোলার আহ্বান জাওয়াহিরি- এই ভিডিওটি এখন আলোচনায়, প্রথমত দরকার ভিডিওটির তথ্য সত্যতা যাচাই। সত্য হলেও বিন্দুমাত্র শংকার নাই- আমরা শত্রু এলে অস্ত্র হাতে লড়তে জানি। এটা আফগানিস্তান না, পাকিস্তান না। এটা বাংলাদেশ- আল কায়দাকে কায়দা করতে দেয়ার জন্য আমাদের পিতা আর ভাইয়েরা যুদ্ধ করেন নি। আমাদের মা আর বোনরাও জানেন কিভাবে অনুপ্রেরণা দিতে হয় প্রিয়জনকে যুদ্ধে যাবার।

Al-Zawahiri called for resistance in Bangladesh – this video is a source of a hot debate. First we need to determine whether the video is credible or genuine. We need not worry even if this is true. This is not Afghanistan or Pakistan. We Bengalis know how to fight. Our fathers and brothers did not fight the independence war to let Al Qaeda reign. Our loved ones know how to prepare ourselves for fight.

A K M Wahiduzzaman wrote that this video has another purpose – to spark debate in the political arena:

দেশে-বিদেশে যখন এই বিচার বহির্ভূত হত্যাকাণ্ডের তীব্র সমালোচনা হচ্ছে, এমন কী সভ্যদেশগুলো যখন এই হত্যাকারী বাহিনীর সদস্যদের প্রশিক্ষণ কর্মসূচি বাতিল করছে। তখন ‘বিডি নিউজ ২৪’ গত ১৪ জানুয়ারি আল শাহাব মিডিয়ার তৈরি এবং জিহাদোলজি ডট নেট সাইটে প্রকাশিত একটি ভিডিও বার্তা নিয়ে মাঠ গরম করে বিচার বহির্ভূত হত্যাকাণ্ডের বৈধতা দেবার পাশাপাশি জঙ্গী ইস্যু দিয়ে পশ্চিমাদের মন গলানোর চেষ্টা করছে।

আরে গর্ধবের দল, ওটা সত্যি হলে আরো একমাস আগেই পশ্চিমা মিডিয়া এবং আল জাজিরা লিড নিউজ করতো।

When there are talks in the country about extrajudicial killings of security forces, even some countries have cancelled training for these security forces amidst the controversy. At this very moment, a video released by the Jihadology.net site and made by Al Shahab media is being highlighted by BDNews24.net to harp on militancy issues.

If this was real, international media and Al Jazeera would have made it top news a month ago.

The government is investigating the threat by Al Qaeda, but State Minister for Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal does not see it as a big threat. Security Analyst Major (Retired) Abdur Rashid said in an interview with BBC Bangla that Bangladesh should not take it lightly:

আল কায়েদার শক্তি কমে গেলেও ভাবাদর্শগতভাবে বাংলাদেশে তাদের অনুসারী আছে। তারা উজ্জীবিত হয়ে আল-কায়েদার সহায়তায় কোন নাশকতা করতে পারে। এ আশংকাকে আমি উড়িয়ে দিচ্ছি না।

Although Al Qaeda has been weakened, a number of dedicated followers of them exists in Bangladesh. We cannot rule out any violent activity by them after the support of Al Qaeda.

Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a retired air force official and a security analyst, commented in an op-ed in the Daily Star:

Those of us who dream of a democratic state, a multi-religious, multi-cultural society, an educated, healthy and prosperous nation, the Zawahiri message, even if it is a hoax, is a stark reminder that we have an enemy at the gate, and only together we can defeat it. We as a nation need to close ranks on the minimum agenda, and on the question of fighting religious extremism there is no other option but a national consensus.

February 23 2014

Indian Blogger Exposes Fuel Pump Cheating With Viral Video

Screenshot from the video uploaded by Kiruba Shankar

Screenshot from the video uploaded by Kiruba Shankar

In India, where fraud at gas pumps is commonplace and many complaints remain unresolved, a blogger's viral Facebook video has helped shed light on the problem.

Kiruba Shankar, a digital entrepreneur, author, teacher, farmer and long-time blogger in Chennai, India, explained how he first discovered the fraudulent practice:

I just caught the staff red-handed at Bharath Petroleum fuel station on Mount Road. They tried stealing Rs.700 worth of petrol. I paid Rs.2000 for the fuel and as the meter reached Rs.1300, one of the guys tried distracting me by asking me for my car number. Immediately, his accomplice manning the fuel pump stopped the pump and quickly reset the meter. As soon as the guy asked me for the number, I smelled a rat and saw the pump just when the guy was resetting it.

This incident took place in the Bharath Petroleum's Mount Road outlet in Chennai. Kiruba uploaded the video to Facebook, and the one-minute, 44-second-long video went viral with more than 6,000 shares and 3,000 likes. Many people shared their similar experiences in the comments section and local media started reporting on it.

Rajesh Murugesan, a commenter on the video, said:

Hey guys why blame only Bharat Petroleum, it happens with all petrol bunks. our Indian officer's just need to fill their pockets and are not worried about others. These officer's to be punished or teased in public.

Yashwanth Vee, another commenter, wrote:

It is a good thing that you came out and posted this on a social network. Hope the responsible person sees this video and takes some kind of action.

Kiruba posted updates on how the authorities reacted:

The social media outrage coupled with the coverage in national dailies has brought this incident right up to the CMD and top management of Bharath Petroleum.

They requested Mr.Kshitij Midha, Area Sales Manager for South Chennai to meet me in person. He is incharge of overseeing 35 fuel stations, including the one where the incident took place. [...]

The BPCL official did an investigation with the owner and staff at Ashwini Automobiles (the franchisee who runs the fuel station). After cross examining, they did find the two men guilty and they have been fired from their jobs. [...]

BPCL has the official complaint numbers displayed in all petrol pumps but most of the customers don’t take the extra effort to lodge a complaint. He encouraged people to complain which will keep the staff grounded.

Blogger Shushant Kulkarni from Pune advised how not to get cheated in a petrol station:

You might be getting fooled if you are not paying close attention. [...] I have noticed this a lot many times, have gotten first hand experience getting cheated a couple of times :), but eventually learned the pattern. You have experienced these or may be you are not paying attention to these.

The Allrounder blog also has similar tips to share. Vinaya Naidu at Lighthouse Insights blog lauded the role of social media in exposing malpractice in the society:

A rampant malpractice at most fuel stations in the country, one that needs to be tackled in these times of high fuel prices. It is interesting to observe how social media can play an important role in eliminating this, if leveraged fruitfully as Kiruba did.

February 21 2014

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.

Jamaicans Waiting to See if #WorldBoss is Found Innocent or Guilty

Jamaicans – and dancehall music fans – have been anticipating the long-awaited verdict in the Vybz Kartel murder trial. Two days ago, blogger Annie Paul posted this Facebook status update:

Massive roadblocks, crowds milling round downtown Kingston in anticipation of ‪#‎KartelMurderTrial‬ verdict (which may not even be delivered today)

Journalist Emily Crooks, who blogs here, wrote a first-hand account that supported Paul's update:

Its (sic) February 19, 2014.

There is animation and anxiety in the 200 metre space around the Supreme Court on King Street in downtown Kingston. In courtroom number 2, Vybz Kartel sits in the dock with his co-accused as prosecutor Jeremy Taylor prepares to rubbish the closing argument of defence attorney, Tom Tavares Finson who acts for Kartel. The case has been going on since November 20, 2013 – we are nearing the end. The stakes are high. Security is tight as I have never seen it before.

Downtown is on edge. The precise reason is not known to many.

There are whispers that the police had intelligence overnight.

Her post went on to give an account of the day's court proceedings:

Court is about to resume its morning session. The eleven member panel of jurors takes seat in the box. The judge arrives. Jury is again asked to leave. Christian Tavares Finson [the lead attorney's son] wishes to address the court in the absence of the jury. Something weighs heavily on him. In the normal course of a trial, I do not report matters that transpire in the absence of the jury but these matters are later repeated in their presence hence my reporting of Christian’s burden that weighed him down.

He stands and says to the judge – I am very distressed to see the approach the police have taken this morning – extra police personnel who have descend on the building.

Judge – are you privy to intel the police has – is the judge’s almost impatient reply.

Christian – I am not My Lord but this scenario that bothers me – media representatives have identification, lawyers have identification, workers have to provide identification cards but jurors have to disclose that they are jurors to get unto the Supreme Court complex and that is very irregular and dangerous. Additionally, the family of the accused have been prevented from entering the building. There is no indication as to the reason this is so. I do no know that there is any order from this court.

Soon after that, Crooks reported, the members of the jury were called back inside and Kartel's lead attorney, Tom Tavares Finson, again rasied the matter – this time in the presence of the jury:

At the end of the session, the judge calls the superintendent and says ‘I have been made to understand that members of public some related to the family of accused have been denied entry. I don’t know the reason if any. What I will say is that every Jamaican citizen has a right to the court unless security forces have some reason that could interfere with the rule of court. I wish for you to bear that in mind. I can’t give any instructions as I don’t know what your intelligence is. But I ask you to consider the rights of the citizens regarding access to court. I wish for you to bear that in mind’.

Mr Tavares Finson is later to announce to the court that during lunch he had discussions two police personnel – Superintendent Pinnock and Ellis who reported there was ‘a breakdown in communication and I accept what they have said’.

Judge – do you believe if you had gone to them before the matter would have been dealt with

Tom – No My Lord because it was because of what transpired in court why they came to me.

On Twitter, @Pseud_O_Nym said:

As it turned out, the verdict was not delivered on February 19; the nation is still in limbo, but tweeting while they wait. Late yesterday, @Lacey_World noted:

Emily Crooks later updated the legal timeline:

There were tweets that shared links to Vybz Kartel's full statement to the court

…and tweets that focused on the strategy of the prosecution:

Emily Crooks, who has been religiously using social media to inform netizens about trial developments, tweeted the following updates about a half hour ago:

About ten minutes later, she posted the first closing speech of the trial on her blog, explaining:

These are my verbatim notes, as I able to capture, of the closing speech of Kartel’s attorney, Tom Tavares Finson. Kartel having called witnesses to give evidence on his behalf is the first to make a closing address to the jury. The address of the legal team for Kartel is followed by the address of the prosecutor, Jeremy Taylor.

Closing arguments will continue on Monday and if the judge is right, by mid-week Jamaicans will know whether or not their self-appointed #WorldBoss has been declared innocent or guilty.

February 20 2014

Is Indian Anti-Corruption Leader Arvind Kejriwal's Resignation Clever or Crazy?

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal briefing the journalists. Image by Sarika Gulati. Copyright Demotix (21/1/2014)

Arvind Kejriwal briefing the journalists. Image by Sarika Gulati. Copyright Demotix (21/1/2014)

After a remarkable victory for anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man's Party, abbreviated AAP) in December's Delhi Assembly election, bringing an end to Indian National Congress’ 15-year-rule there, Kejriwal has resigned from his position as chief minister after only 49 days in office.  

As the capital of India waits for its new administrator, speculations are rife about what Kejriwal's resignation bodes for the general elections later this year and how AAP will perform compared to the established political bigwigs.

Some years back, somebody with a really good sense of humour decided to christen India's common man as the “mango” man. The logic is easy to understand. “Aam” in Hindi means “common”, but it could also mean “mango”, depending upon the context. Mango man or mango people has now become a part of popular political jargon in the country, referring to the common people in India.

India's “mango” people were considerably excited when the AAP managed to garner the maximum number of votes during the Delhi elections. However, Arvind Kejriwal's decision to quit from his job has surprised many and raised a number of speculations. His style of governance was unorthodox and publicity stunts like a 33-hour protest against the Delhi police ensured his frequent presence in the news.

Kejriwal had announced that he would resign from his position unless the Delhi Legislative Assembly passed the anti-corruption bill that would introduce the appointment of an anti-corruption ombudsman, the “Lokpal.” The bill would enable official enquiries into corruption complaints involving high-ranking officials. However, following the introduction of the bill in the state assembly, there was a huge uproar from the opposition and the bill could not be passed.

Kejriwal has defended his decision saying that it was one based on principle, but several supporters are disappointed.

In Facebook and Twitter, this particular statement is being shared by several critical citizens who think it is a case of sour grapes for Kejriwal.

In his resignation letter, Kejriwal has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which represents 32 seats in the 70-member Delhi Assembly, of getting support from billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Kejriwal's AAP had recently filed a police case against Ambani on charges of corruption.

The now ex-chief minister claims that the passage of the anti-corruption bill would have brought even more politicians under the scanner, which is why opposing parties ensured that the bill would stall in Delhi's Assembly. Kejriwal may have made a name for himself as India's foremost troublemaker, but many others, like Anand Pradhan, believe that Kejriwal has “shown the way” towards honest politics:

Amrita Roy commented on a post by Aparna Wanchoo in Youth Ki Awaaz blog:

Well at least he stood by his word! Sure there were issues related to the 49 days his government was in power. Sure he doesn’t know how to deal with parliamentary anarchy. But he stood by what he has always preached. He is one of the very few people who walked the talk. If he hadn’t resigned after the vote against tabling the Lokpal Bill, both Congress and BJP would have called him opportunist. They would have definitely said that Kejriwal wants the power of the seat of the CM and hence isn’t resigning even after his pet agenda was rejected. Now that he has resigned, both these parties have resorted to declaring that he can’t govern. Either way he would be attacked. The only thing that is in his control is to stand by his word. And he did just that.

Kejriwal's move may actually prove to be a strategically potent move for the general elections this year. The AAP has already announced its main candidates for the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, this year.

The run up to the 2014 general elections has begun and the AAP is taking on the big guns in the Indian political scene. Going by the mood, India's mango people definitely seem to have a chance, and they're supporting the one party which, to say the least, appears to be the most honest of the lot.

February 19 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippine Supreme Court Upholds Cyber Libel Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 17 2014

Trinidad Lecture Ignites Fiery Discussion on Gay Rights & Religious Freedom

The Faculty of Law at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies recently hosted a public lecture on the topic “Lesbian and gay human rights in the Caribbean: Would decriminalization restrict religious freedom?”

The lecture was coincidentally held a few days after Roman Catholic priest Fr. Stephen Geofroy made a controversial contribution to the national debate on constitutional reform, by suggesting that LGBT rights should be included in the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution. The statement generated discussion throughout the country, including social media:

On the Trinidad Express Facebook page, a bevy of comments were posted on the issue.

Dale Orsoco registered his opinion about the lack of morality in the society: 

All these things would come to pass, Just as in the days of Noah and the days of Lot immorality will reign and mankind will reap the results of such practice those who are proud of this despicable practice of Homosexuality continue on defending that abomination you will be rewarded for your support of it just as those of us will be rewarded for our stance against it, you can brag on how backward we are but the Old way is the Moral way….

Ria Ragoonanan quoted scripture in her comments on the issue:

All this does not surprise me. It is the times, read the book of Revelation. Jesus spoke everything in that book for the CHURCHES and how people will be blinded by the unholy trinity (the Devil, the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet). He warns us of what is to come and asks us to repent. Do some research into who today is the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet in Revelation 16:13. I am not surprised at all. All I will say is God loves each and everyone of us but not the sin. Repent before it is too late. God bless you all.

Others supported Fr. Geofroy's statements. Gerard Pinard had this to say:

Equal rights ought to be afforded to ALL citizens of our country, full stop. And, for all those quoting the Bible, remember that it also says ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged'.

Meanwhile, Dwane Salandy was more forceful in his comments:

I am appalled however not remotely surprised by the insanely ignorant, closeminded and uneducated comments on here. All of you preaching and quoting the bible… what about all the other ‘teachings’ in there? If one were to live by the literal example of the bible none of us would have tongues, hands or feet (and that's just one example). So many hypocrites on here. Smh

With a high level of public interest in the issue of LGBT rights and its impact on the society, the lecture at the Faculty of Law attracted a full house. Dean of the Faculty, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine spoke of the role of the law as a tool to shape society, and the commitment of international law to protect against discrimination in all societies:

The feature address was delivered by Professor Robert Wintemute of King's College. The lecture focused on the human, legal and religious aspects of the debate on LGBT rights and religious freedom:

Attendees to the lecture were given an opportunity to ask questions and ventilate their concerns on the topic. The comments were fiery, with both sides of the debate well represented:

Professor Wintemute earlier presented the same topic at the Cave Hill (Barbados) and Mona (Jamaica) campuses of the University of the West Indies. Some netizens who attended the lecture posted their thoughts on Twitter:

Others posted their views on Facebook. Mike Eskada pointed out:

Religious freedom? They mean oppression ? Discrimination ..funny how these godly people act more like the devil.

The debate on equality and discrimination will no doubt continue to engage the attention of the region.

Algerian Cartoonist Faces 18 Months in Jail for Mocking President

All links lead to French-language web pages.

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

Djamel Ghanem

Djamel Ghanem via Algérie Focus. Used with permission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 16 2014

One Nepalese Doctor's Hunger Strike Wins Action From Officials

After an assurance that Prof Dr Prakash Sayami would be reinstated as the dean of Institute of Medicine following Dr Shashi Sharma's dismissal, senior orthopaedic surgeon Prof Dr Govinda KC is ending his 3rd hunger strike in Kathmandu. Image by Narayan Maharjan. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2014)

After an assurance that Dr. Prakash Sayami would be reinstated as the dean of Institute of Medicine following Dr. Shashi Sharma's dismissal, senior orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Govinda KC is ending his third hunger strike in Kathmandu. Image by Narayan Maharjan. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2014)

Dr. Govinda KC, a senior orthopedic surgeon of Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Nepal who has earned the nickname Crusader KC, ended his fourth fast-unto-death [ne] on 15 February 2014. Dr. KC, who was fighting to end political interference in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in Nepal, has once again proven that victory can be won without resorting to violence.

The doctor had only ended his third hunger strike for the same reasons on 25 January after officials had assured him they would meet his demands, but he resumed the strike in early February, accusing them of dragging their feet.

He had been demanding to appoint a new dean at the Institute of Medicine (IoM) on the basis of seniority, stop granting affiliation to medical colleges in urban areas, autonomy for IoM and action against Tribhuvan University (TU) vice-chancellor, rector and registrar, who according to him were corrupt and influenced by “medical mafia”.

Medical students taking care of Dr KC during the fast offered juice to him to end the latest eight-day strike, online portal Onlinekhabar reports. An agreement was signed among Dr. KC, the education secretary and the newly appointed Dean of the Institute of Medicine (IoM) Dr. Rakesh Prasad Srivastav, according to The Himalayan Times.

Dr. Sudhamshu KC, a liver specialist, researcher and traveler from Kathmandu, tweeted:

Very happy to know that Dr. KC ended the fast. But the pest of TU [Tribhuvan University] is still to be killed. May the new council of ministers use effective pesticide.

Dr. KC enjoyed widespread support from the public during all of his four fasts-unto-death in 2010, August 2012, January 2014 and February 2014.

One of his fans, Manohar, a graduate of life science and biotechnology, tweeted:

Hey,
Those who say you will eat when it falls,
Those who say you will eat when it dies,
KC won’t feel tired
KC won’t retire
Your palace of black property will surely burn down
KC’s dreams will never burn down.

Popular Nepali blog Mysansar [ne] wrote about the doctor's heroics quoting an earlier write-up on him by journalist Surendra Paudel of Nagarik Daily, who has covered the KC extensively:

It’s been 17 years, he packs his bags with medicines and sets off for the remote villages in Nepal, at least twice a year. He has been to the mountains, hills and terai, to serve his countrymen, free of charge. He has served the needy of 72 districts out of the 75 districts in Nepal. And his journey is continuing.

He has not only served Nepalis but has been a helping hand to the survivors of major catastrophes in recent times. He was in Bangladesh after the devastating cyclone in 1993, in India’s Gujarat after the major earthquake, in Pakistan after the earthquake in 2005, in Myanmar in 2008 after the cyclone, and in Haiti after the disastrous earthquake in 2010. He spent several weeks in these countries treating the survivors.

While he treats, distributes medicines, he doesn’t charge anything. He does not accept donation from organisations. It’s his own hard-earned money that he spends in cure of the needy.

Screenshot from the Facebook page

Screenshot from the Facebook page “Save IOM, Save Dr. Govinda K C”

Dipak Bhattarai discussed on his blog an anecdote shared on his Facebook by Paudel:

Just after resigning from the premiership, the Maoist supremo Prachanda aka Pushpa Kamal Dahal had invited Dr KC for his health check-up. Dr KC rejected the request and said that he has never gone to anybody’s residence for the check-up due to his busy schedule treating the poor and needy at the hospital. The messenger had to give in to Dr KC’s principles. He also had to abide by the rules. Prachanda had to come to the hospital and wait in queue for the check-up. And he had to do away with his entourage of bodyguards, as suggested by Dr KC only three of them came to the hospital.

While many Nepalese were supportive of his strike, some were irritated by his fourth fast.

Jigyasu Mahesh tweeted:

Dr KC’s ways of not letting work amplifies the politics. [They are] collapsing the system.

Ramen Adhikari wrote.

To which Milan Bagale replied:

Hope the mafia loses the battle. From the deepest of my heart. Victory be with us.

With Dr KC’s ending of the fast, the medical fraternity hopes that this will mark the end of the rule of medical mafia and political interference at the IoM in Nepal.

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