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February 27 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

February 25 2014

Arab Bloggers: A Blessed Generation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New challenges 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting the seeds for a better future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 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.

February 18 2014

Collecting Data About Possible Web Censorship in Venezuela

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

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

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

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

February 17 2014

Sudan: Blogger Remains in Detention for Criticizing Presidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Blow to Government Rhetoric

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

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

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

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

February 15 2014

Venezuela: Twitter Photos Blocked as Protests Continue

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

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

Journalist Jesús Torrivilla said:

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

Journalist Laura Solórzano reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 14 2014

Venezuela: Protests Leave Three Dead as Threats to Media Escalate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fran Monroy posted on Twitter:

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

Rodrigo Blanco posted an alert about the situation:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The protests have not stopped.

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

February 13 2014

Web We Want Contest: Cartoonists Fight Back!

Anti-surveillance comic by Francisco

Anti-surveillance comic by Francisco “Fankiniano” Cardozo via Flickr (CC BY 4.0)

This post originally appeared on the World Wide Web Foundation blog.

A week ago, the Web We Want initiative challenged artists everywhere to produce cartoons on the topic of NSA surveillance, in support of #TheDayWeFightBack. We received more than 70 submissions from all over the world, and today we’re announcing the winners, as judged by the Web We Want team.  All submissions can be viewed on our Flickr photo stream here.

In first place, receiving a $1000 prize, is Francisco Javier “Frankiano” Cardozo Baudry. He is just 17 years old, a true digital native from Asunción, Paraguay. His contribution “Do Not Fear, I care about you” (above) shows how surveillance is invading each and every moment in the daily life of a young person these days. The PDF of this multi-frame cartoon can be downloaded here. We will ask him to make editable versions available so activists all over the world can easily translate, adapt and use his amazing material.

Anti-surveillance cartoon by Carlos Latuff via Flickr (CC BY 4.0)

Anti-surveillance cartoon by Carlos Latuff via Flickr (CC BY 4.0)

Second place goes to cartoonist Carlos Latuff from Brazil, who produced a piece (right) representing a single national leader monitoring the communications of the entire world. Third place goes to American cartoonist Jimmy Margulies, whose work highlighted wiretapping of foreign leaders.

A video (below) submitted by digital rights group Red PaTodos in Colombia deserves an honorary mention and we encourage them to upload it in a collaborative platform such as DotSub, including its script, so others can translate and add subtitles to it. It neatly explains current threats and challenges to online privacy.

The cartoons produced by activists and artists from different countries and contexts show a common pattern: They acknowledge the invasion of their private space, private life and daily activities by those in power. Intelligence agencies are pictured as dark forces by many of the authors and US President Obama is the main character in several submissions. The computer was not shown as the sole method of surveillance – there were also submissions related to telephone surveillance and CCTV cameras, parents spying on children, the military spying on users, physical surveillance and also the role of private corporations that use data collection and consumers habits as business models. One explained in simple terms what the NSA is currently doing, while others show how we interact and watch via our devices.

All the cartoons are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 License which will allow each and every activist, journalist, school teacher and creative around the world to use them, adapt them, modify them and remix them, keeping the content open.

The Web We Want promotes and defends the protection of personal user information and the right to communicate in private. Expect more soon!

 

Renata Avila is the campaign manager for the Web We Want.

February 12 2014

Venezuela: Authorities Threaten to Fine Media Outlets for Protest Coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 11 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazilian Activists Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance

As the world comes together to take a stand against mass surveillance on February 11, 2014, Brazilian citizens, organizations and collectives are bringing momentum to #TheDayWeFightBack campaign.

Anti-surveillance collective Antivigilancia.tk (@antivigilancia on Twitter), one of the 15 Brazilian signatories of the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, has a website with complete information in Portuguese on how to participate in #TheDayWeFightBack, as well as several resources for the day of action, such as banners and memes.

Cartoon by Latuff with D'Incao (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

Cartoon by Latuff with D'Incao (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

Well-known Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff took on the challenge launched by Web We Want early in February to create original visual works on digital surveillance and the right to privacy.

Cartoon by Latuff with Operamundi (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

Cartoon by Latuff with Operamundi (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

On Twitter, many Brazilians are linking the day of action with the country's pioneer bill of rights for Internet users, the “Marco Civil da Internet” (Civil Framework for the Internet), which will be brought to the floor in a plenary session [pt] in the House of Representatives today. A group of civil society organizations is expected to meet the Minister of Justice [pt] to voice “serious concerns” regarding the latest modifications to the bill, especially with respect to “the right to the inviolability and secrecy of the flow and content of private communications, the right to privacy and freedom of expression.”

Cartoon by Latuff with Operamundi (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

Cartoon by Latuff with Operamundi (2013). Shared by WebWe Want on Flickr (BY SA 2.0)

 All submissions to the Web We Want contest are available on Flickr.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Privacy vs. Free Speech? Questioning the Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 10 2014

The Day We Fight Back, à la Française

banner-2b-fr

The Day We Fight Back banner, French translation. Graphic by Alec Perkins via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-4.0)

Since 2004, February 11 has been the worldwide “Day for a Safer Internet”, mainly focusing on safe web browsing for children and young people. A French website was set up for the occasion. But for online activists all over the world, the meaning of the day is about to change. This February 11, digital activists around the world will commemorate the life of Aaron Swartz and come together in a campaign against mass surveillance. This February 11 is “The Day We Fight Back“.

France is among those countries that have been more closely and overtly affected by mass Internet surveillance. After Edward Snowden's leaks became public, France's own practices of Internet surveillance soon appeared in plain sight. And in December 2013, the vote of the French Military Planning Act began to sound very much like a French version of the NSA – comprehensive description here [fr] – ringing alarms among activists in France and the world over [fr]. As explained by online NTIC magazine Numerama.com [fr]:

Depuis que la surveillance globale mise en œuvre par la NSA a été révélée par Edward Snowden, de multiples initiatives ont vu le jour pour s'y opposer. Cependant, aucune d'entre elles n'a eu pour l'instant un impact décisif. Certes, la bronca mondiale contre l'espionnage des communications a poussé Washington à initier une timide réforme de leurs pratiques, mais celles-ci n'ont pas été fondamentalement remises en cause.

Qu'à cela ne tienne. Puisque les précédentes approches n'ont pas abouti à un encadrement plus strict des activités des agences de renseignement, autant en essayer de nouvelles. C'est ainsi qu'est né le mouvement “The Day We Fight Back” (“le jour où nous contre-attaquons”), dont Presse-Citron vient de s'en faire l'écho. Il s'agit en fait de reproduire la même stratégie que celle qui a permis de faire reculer PIPA et SOPA.

Since the NSA-enforced global surveillance was disclosed by Edward Snowden, numerous initiatives emerged to confront it. However, none of them have had a significant impact thus far. Indeed, the global outcry against communications surveillance drove the US to initiate a feeble change of their practices, without wholly reconsidering them.

But never mind. As former approaches could not result in a more stringent control over intelligence agencies, let's try new ones. This is how the campaign “The Day We Fight Back” was launched, as echoed by Presse-Citron. The idea is to copy the same strategy as the one that helped defeat PIPA and SOPA.

La Quadrature du Net (@laquadrature on Twitter), the organization spearheading the fight for online freedoms in France, is leading the campaign. On January 31, 2014, they launched a crowdfunding campaign “to support the making of the upcoming animation movie about privacy, mass surveillance, and the urgency to rethink our relationship with technology.” The movie, entitled “Reclaim our privacy!” seeks donations [fr] via the crowdfunding website Ulule. La Quadrature du Net has also set up a NSA observer page, describing 71 programs, 35 “attack vectors” and 6 departments of the sprawling, opaque agency.

Change your profile photo, Share a photo on Facebook. Source: Presse-Citron

Change your profile photo, Share a photo on Facebook. Source: Presse-Citron

Framablog explains the actions [fr] planned on Feb. 11:

Le jour J, le collectif et les activistes qu’ils représentent téléphoneront et enverront des mails aux députés. Les propriétaires de sites web mettront en place des bannières pour encourager leurs visiteurs à combattre la surveillance et les employés d’entreprises technologiques demanderont que leur organisation fasse de même. Il sera demandé aux usagers d’Internet de créer des ”mèmes’’ et de changer leurs avatars sur les médias sociaux pour refléter leur demande.

On D-Day, the group and their activists will send phone calls and e-mails to MPs. The owners of websites will set up banners to encourage visitors to fight against surveillance, and the employees of tech businesses will ask their entity to do the same. Users will be invited to create memes and change their avatars on social medias to make their demand visible.

The call was passed on by activist Mohamed Sangare on his Mediapart blog.

Any individual concerned about mass government surveillance will be encouraged to call and email MPs and to sign the Thirteen Principles on Communications Surveillance, a set of principles for a privacy-protective digital world, developed by a coalition of activists and civil society experts on human rights law. A French translation of the principles can be found here.

February 11: The Internet Says No to Mass Surveillance

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

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

Nigeria's new cyber crime law may fight financial fraud — but it could also gag critics. Authorities in Argentina are collecting data that maps citizens' DNA, their iris information, and the way they walk. Activists in Tunisia fear that the country's new Technical Telecommunication Agency may ring in a new era of mass surveillance.

There's no question about it: Mass government surveillance is a global problem.

On February 11, individuals, civil society organizations, and thousands of websites will come together to take a stand against mass surveillance. Anyone, anywhere can participate — whether you're taking to the streets, or to the Web.

Mass surveillance programs violate our right to privacy and infringe on our rights to freedom of expression and association. They harm the freedom and openness of the global internet, and go against democratic values. The documents leaked by Edward Snowden last June exposed dozens of wide-ranging intelligence collection programs and sent shock waves around the globe. But while the Snowden leaks brought to light some of the most egregious violations of privacy by the US government, they also brought new energy to debates about surveillance and privacy happening all over the world, like the ones mentioned above.

Want to get involved? Here are some ways to do it:

JOIN THE ACTION

Groups in countries all over the world are staging protests, hosting hackathons, and pushing online campaigns. Find out what's happening near you:

Argentina • Australia • Austria • Brasil • Canada • Colombia • Deutschland • France

India • Mexico • Nederland • Peru • Polska • Србија • ประเทศไทย • Uganda

United Kingdom • United States

Don't see your country here? Use materials here and on partner sites to source your own campaign! Read Global Voices’ community posts about surveillance around the world on our surveillance page.

 

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT

Show solidarity with the February 11 campaign! Post a banner on your website. Share the message — or a super cool cartoon (like the ones seen here) — on social media.

The Day We Fight Back banner, by Alec Perkins via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-4.0)

The Day We Fight Back banner, by Alec Perkins via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-4.0)

Screen shot 2014-02-09 at 10.05.22 PM

Cartoon by Xpectro & Web We Want via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

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

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

SAY “YES” TO THE GLOBAL PRINCIPLES ON COMMUNICATIONS SURVEILLANCE

Sign on to the Thirteen Principles on International Communications Surveillance, developed by human rights experts from around the world. These Principles are the backbone of global civil society efforts to protect privacy rights for the digital citizen: A clear set of guidelines that establish the human rights obligations of governments when it comes to surveillance.

Read and sign the principles in any of the following languages:

Русский • Español • Hrvatski • Македонски • Shqip • Polski • Čeština • Svenska • Nederlands

Français • हिन्दी •  العربية • Italiano • Ελληνικά • Română • Slovenčina • Eesti • Slovenščina • Dansk

Magyar • Suomi • Deutsch • فارسی • Български • Latviešu • Lietuvių • Português • Quechua

繁體中文 • Tiếng Việt • 한국어 • Українська • ภาษาไทย • اردو

Show your support for the principles with a banner or badge.

February 08 2014

Some Kazakh Bloggers Dine With Mayor, Some Get Jail Terms

alm

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

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

‘Corrupt bloggers’

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

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

Shortly before his detention, Aitelenov tweeted this image:

Rally against corrupt bloggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Useful’ meeting

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

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

Following the meeting, bloggers have also responded to criticisms.

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

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

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

February 05 2014

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

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

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

caricature aloui boutef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viral Video of Deputy PM Triggers Cyber Assault in Serbia

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

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

Alek u Feketiću from Ivan Đokić on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 28 2014

Arab Bloggers Demand Release of Rights Activists in Syria

The 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting participants support the release of Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights lawyer and the co-founder of Syria's Violations Documentation Center (SVDC) — a non-violent civil group documenting human rights abuses in Syria since March 2011. Ms. Zaitouneh, 36, who is a co-awardee of the European Union's Sakharov Prize for her human rights work was kidnapped on December 9, 2013 in the outskirts of Damascus along with Samira al-Khalil, Wael Hamada and Nazim al-Hamadi, also members of SVDC.

In the 33 months since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising, Razan Zaitouneh's work with her colleagues at SVDC became a vital source of information for the international community on the violations of human rights in the country. Now that the UN has made the unfortunate decision not to track the death toll in Syria, the work of SVDC has become more crucial than ever.

Razan and her colleagues worked in extremely difficult conditions, taking great risks in order to fulfill a vital task enriching our understanding of the plight of the Syrian people. So were many others, like our colleague blogger  Bassel Safadi – in detention since March 2012 – who worked on promoting freely available and open-source technology, and who is highly missed at the 4th Arab Bloggers Summit, which took place from January 20-23 in Amman, Jordan.

As a community, we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with activists promoting freedom and exposing human rights violations in service of our shared humanity.

We at AB14 demand that the UN and all countries involved in the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference establish verifiable mechanisms to protect and secure the release of opinion detainees and kidnappees in Syria.

January 20 2014

Ukraine Stifles Freedom of Speech, Peaceful Protest With New Law

An anonymous image circulated online. The inscription reads [ru]:

An anonymous image circulated online. The inscription reads [ru]: “Now EVERYTHING is prohibited”

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

On the 57th day of Ukraine's massive pro-European, anti-government protests, the country's parliament passed a law that limits freedom of assembly, restricts the country's media and clamps down on freedom of expression.

Law No. 3879 [uk] introduces a variety of legal changes “for protecting the security of citizens.” Members passed the legislation during the parliament's first session of the new year on January 16, 2014.

The law comes as thousands of protesters continue to fill a central square in Kiev. The Euromaidan protests, as they have been dubbed, began as peaceful pro-EU rallies but turned into a large-scale anti-government movement after police unleashed an aggressive crackdown against demonstrators – a handful of brutal beatings by police have been captured on film.

NGO Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group called the new law repressive, citing its key issues:

A draft law “passed” in full by the ruling majority in parliament on Jan 16 criminalizes libel, labels and restricts civic associations receiving foreign grants as “foreign agents” and imposes and substantially increases liability for any forms of protest. If the draft bill is signed by the parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Rybak and president, Viktor Yanukovych, it will set Ukraine’s democracy back by years.

Maksym Savanevsky of Watcher.com.ua noted that these and other measures, such as making it mandatory for citizens to show their passports to buy even a prepaid mobile SIM card, amount to a rise in censorship [uk] of journalists and Internet users’ expression, as well as increased control and surveillance over telecommunications systems and social media websites, under the guise of fighting extremism and violent uprisings:

Сьогодні більшість у Верховній Раді прийняла закон, яким фактично вводиться цензура в інтернеті.

Today the Verkhovna Rada [Parliament] majority adopted a law which basically introduces censorship on the Internet.

Lawyer Dmytro Nazarets posted a few express analysis posts [ru] mentioning a new requirement that all Internet news sites and news agencies are now obligated to register with the authorities:

Теперь уже новости на сайте не попишешь без надзора и регистрации

No more writing and posting news on your website without oversight and registration

Journalist Mustafa Nayyem pointed out [ru] on Facebook the viciousness with which the law’s authors dealt with social media:

Social media denounced by the explanatory note to the controversial draft law adopted by the Ukrainian parliament. The authors insist social media are used as a tool to spread these ideas and fuel hostility, where calls to violently change power and constitution are becoming more and more frequent.

Rachel Denber, the Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia division for Human Rights Watch, succinctly summed up numerous comparisons with Russia:

Budget vote brawl

The parliament also voted on the year's state budget on the same day. The budget has been highly controversial with the opposition criticizing [uk] it for multiple flaws, including a drastic increase in funding for law enforcement agencies at the expense of such items as healthcare. Opposition MPs had pledged to block parliament and prevent voting at all costs. At first, things seemed to progress according to their plan.

However, the opposition quickly lost control, with the pro-government majority voting in support of the budget and bypassing regular voting procedure.

Editor of an English-language Kyiv-based publication, the Kyiv Post, Christopher Miller tweeted:

A brawl during the parliament session followed, with the opposition physically trying to prevent their rivals from using the electronic voting system. However, the pro-presidential majority quickly retreated and continued voting by a raise of hands.

A screenshot of the live broadcast from the Ukrainian Parliament. Pro-Presidential majority adopts the laws by raising hands. January 16, 2014.

A screenshot of the live broadcast from the Ukrainian parliament. The pro-presidential majority adopts the laws by raising hands. January 16, 2014.

Opposition MP Andriy Shevchenko commented [uk] on the violations of voting procedure:

While the whole country is watching, the seventh Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada [parliament] is ceasing to exist. What a f*cking shame… #Рада7

Roman Shrayk, an independent journalist and author of the satirical Durdom Portal, called the parliamentary vote on the bills itself a sham, posting a video [ru] of the vote on his blog for Ukrainska Pravda:

20 минут, которые уничтожили остатки украинской демократии

20 minutes that destroyed the remnants of Ukrainian democracy

“The day democracy died”

Later, President Viktor Yanukovych signed all five laws, including the openly anti-protest law no. 3879, sparking outrage in the Ukrainian online community.

Kyiv-based Anglophone blogger Taras Revunets tweeted:

Twitter user Igor Shevchenko went even further in his comparisons [uk]:

Now we are North Korea. And we have our own Vik Fed Yan [Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych]

Yet many other social media users have ridiculed the new measures, pointing out their absurdity.

The civic movement “Chesno” posted the following photo, noting [ru] that it depicts something already “fobidden” by the new law:

Civic movement

Civic movement “Chesno” depicting an activity technically illegal under new legislation. Photo by Hanna Hrabarska. Used with permission.

Тем временем, вот мы – иностранные агенты, офис движения ЧЕСТНО, группа больше пяти лиц, В МАСКАХ!

In the meantime, here we are – foreign agents, office of the CHESNO movement, a group of more than five, wearing MASKS!

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

Tetyana Bohdanova (listed as the author) and Tetyana Lokot co-authored this post.

January 16 2014

Russia’s Parliament Prepares New “Anti-Terrorist” Laws for Internet

Graffiti in Moscow, 9 June 2013, photo by Victor Grigas, CC 3.0.

Graffiti in Moscow, June 2013. Photo by Victor Grigas via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Another Internet crackdown appears to be looming in Russia, where the Duma is reviewing three new pieces of proposed “anti-terror” legislation that could place hefty restrictions on the activities of website operators and civil society organizers.

Two of the bills address government surveillance powers—one would create new requirements obliging website operators to report on the every move of their users, while another addresses penalties for terror-related crimes. The third would set new restrictions for individuals and organizations accepting anonymous donations through online services like PayPal, a measure that could have an especially strong impact on small civil society groups.

The three proposed laws

The first of the three bills (Legislative initiative 428884-6 [ru]) creates new requirements for mandatory archives and notifications, granting the federal government wide jurisdiction. The most concerning article of the bill stipulates that “individuals or legal entities” who “[organize] the dissemination of information and (or) the exchange of information between Internet users are obligated to store all information about the arrival, transmission, delivery, and processing of voice data, written text, images, sounds, or other kinds of action” that occur when using their website. At all times, data archives must include the most recent six months of activity.

It appears that this obligation would apply to the owners and operators of websites and services ranging from multinational services like Facebook to small community blogs and discussion platforms.

Website “organizers” must also “inform” (уведомить) Russian security services when users first begin using their sites, and whenever users “exchange information.” Taken literally, this requirement could create a nearly impossible task for administrators of blogs, social media sites, and other discussion platforms with large quantities of users.

The legislation also includes an ambitious note about jurisdiction, claiming applicability to all websites that Russian citizens access: “In the event that the communication service organizer is located beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, but the user of the services is located within Russian territory, the location of services rendered is the territory of the Russian Federation.” Jurisdictional inconsistencies and international human rights norms would make such a policy nearly impossible to implement.

Finally, the legislation proposes fines for website owners who do not comply with the law, threatening legal entities (e.g., Facebook, Vkontakte, Twitter) with penalties as high as six thousand dollars per offense. It is also difficult to imagine how such a scheme could be implemented across international borders.

The second bill (Legislative initiative 428889-6 [ru]) would broaden police powers and raise penalties for terrorism. This legislation grants the Federal Security Service (post-Soviet Russia’s successor to the KGB) rights to inspect travelers that currently only regular police enjoy. It also increases the maximum prison sentences for several terrorism-related crimes.

Finally, the third piece of legislation (Legislative initiative 428896-6 [ru]) would place new limits on online money transfers. This draft law would raise limits on anonymous online financial transactions and ban all international online financial transactions, where the electronic money operator (e.g., PayPal, Yandex.Dengi, WebMoney) does not know the client’s legal identity. The legislation also raises operating costs for NGOs, requiring them to report on every three thousand dollars spent in foreign donations. (Currently, NGOs must report on every six thousand such dollars.)

The proposed restrictions on anonymous online money transfers could be significant. Currently in Russia, one can deposit up to 1,200 dollars into a single anonymous online wallet, and one can pay out almost 450 dollars from that account in a single transaction. Under the new legislation, Russians wouldn’t be able to spend more than 450 dollars in a whole calendar month from any one anonymous online money account, and single-day transactions would be limited to just under 30 dollars (1000 rubles).

Freezing civil society’s electronic wallet?

How much money do Russian netizens typically send when they transfer rubles online? Consider Alexey Navalny’s August 2013 Moscow mayoral campaign, which he funded largely with online donations through Yandex.Dengi  (a service similar to PayPal). Navalny’s public audit [ru] of his online donations is still accessible, and it’s clear from just a glance that a sizeable number of the transfers were well above 1000 rubles.

Perhaps anticipating today’s backlash to the new crackdown on anonymous RuNet money transfers, the Duma actually raised the allowed maximum balance [ru] for identified (non-anonymous) online money accounts in late December 2013, increasing it from 100 thousand rubles (3 thousand dollars) to 600 thousand rubles (almost 18 thousand dollars).

Arkady Babchenko in an interview, 18 March 2012, YouTube screen capture.

Arkady Babchenko in an interview, 18 March 2012, YouTube screen capture.

Indeed, the legislation’s potential impact on crowd-funded projects (like Navalny’s mayoral campaign, his anti-corruption organizations, and others’ grassroots efforts) has alarmed many in the Russian blogosphere. Writer and activist Arkady Babchenko, who runs a civic group called “Journalists without Intermediaries,” published an emotional blog post [ru] on Echo of Moscow, declaring that the new legislation would destroy any efforts to fund his project, which he promotes unceasingly in his online social media (always directing his readers to the group’s Yandex.Dengi account). “Now I can close down the project with a clear conscience,” he announced fatalistically.

RuNet guru Anton Nosik blogged [ru] in a similar tone on LiveJournal, claiming that Russians who order pizzas online costing over 1000 rubles run the risk of being labeled “terrorists.” With even greater hyperbole, economist and city council member Konstantin Yankauskas proclaimed in a Facebook post [ru], “Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, the Federal Duma is preparing to shut down Yandex.Dengi.” Like Babchenko, Yankauskas manages his own crowd-funded civic group—a local newspaper in the Moscow suburb of Zyuzino.

Curiously, Babchenko, Nosik, and Yankauskas all downplay the fact that the proposed limitations on Internet money transfers apply exclusively to anonymous accounts. Presumably, their panic is rooted in the assumption that Russians will donate to civic initiatives only if they can do so anonymously, without alerting the authorities to any ostensibly “oppositionist” leanings.

These intended reforms may have been designed to force Russian civic society’s supporters into the open, thereby thinning their numbers. Even now, while the legislation is not yet law, civic groups like Babchenko’s and Yankauskas’ are far from wildly successful. “Journalists without Intermediaries” has just 110 “likes” on Facebook, and “I Live in Zyuzino” has fewer than 300 followers on Vkontakte. As the proprietor of the former rushes to announce a closure of operations and the head of the latter concludes immediately that “Yandex.Dengi will be shut down,” it seems that some struggling online initiatives might use the latest RuNet crackdown to save themselves from the ordinary disgrace of unpopularity.

According to Vedomosti newspaper [ru], work on the bills has been underway for some time, but a recent string of terrorist attacks in the city of Volgograd accelerated the process. Four of the laws’ sponsors are former professionals in Russia’s security apparatus (including one former prosecutor, two former FSB agents, and a former deputy chairman of the federal “Information Policy Committee”). The legislation was drafted in closed meetings with representatives of Rosfinmonitoring (an anti-money-laundering agency), the Federal Security Service, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Whatever the ulterior motives of Russian lawmakers and the fundraising strategies of civic groups, this move to peel back the privacy offered by online exchange will have an inevitable chilling effect on the country’s netizen self-organization. One of the bills’ authors, Oleg Denisenko, even admitted [ru] to Kommersant newspaper that the legislation “will be unpopular.” As the Duma discusses and revises the bills over the coming weeks, Denisenko will learn whether his colleagues agree that the fight against terrorism warrants such sacrifices. The initial reactions from the RuNet, however, indicate that the proposed measures will never be popular with the country’s bloggers.

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