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February 14 2014

A Visitor Describes How it Feels to be Mugged by Bulgarian Police

Central Bus Station Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, published on Wikipedia under CC-BY license.

Central Bus Station in Sofia. Photo by Nikola Gruev, used under Creative Commons-BY license.

Political scientist and blogger Anastas Vangeli described his experience of extortion by Bulgarian policemen on his way from Macedonia to Poland, in a Facebook post. On February 9, 2014, two armed officers “detained” him at a secluded area of the main bus station in Sofia, until he gave them some money. In conclusion, he wrote:

This was probably one of the most disappointing experiences in my lifetime. What added to the disappointment, however, were the comments and the double victimization by people when I told them this happened:

  • I was asking for it since I look “like a foreigner” and rich
  • I was asking for it since I was bragging with my China books and looked rich
  • I was supposed to know and expect this kind of things
  • I was supposed to hold my grounds better, e.g. not let them take me to a room, not let them get my money
  • I am supposed not to complain, as this stuff happens every day and I am not special

These are all statements that not speak only of the reality of omnipresent corruption and abuse of office and power, but about the complete lack of empathy, or even consciousness that one day it might be you. Moreover, it is an indicator that people have given up the hope that things will change; but also the responsibility that they should contribute to such change. At the end of the day, the state holds the monopoly of the use of force; I was mugged by those who are supposed to protect me (even though I don’t have a Bulgarian passport – no pun intended). So all kinds of relativizing comments are completely out of place on this.

These reactions are consistent with one of the key characteristics of “backsliding from democracy,” exposed at the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, held in Lima, in October 2012:

“…corruption becomes so widespread that citizens accept is as a norm.”

People commenting (in various languages) on Vangeli's Facebook post about the incident reminisced that such a “toll for foreigners” was common Bulgarian police practice during the dismal 1990s – but that they had not expected its resurgence in this day and age. Some of the commenters related similar experiences from other countries, from Russia to Kenya. Activist Besim Nebiu wrote:

Notice how they immediately asked you if you have a flight to catch at the airport. That gave them the ‘upper hand’ in dealing with you. A friend of mine who lives in Kenya, once wrote a blog post, in which he describes how corrupt police have “opportunity cost” (8 hours shifts in which they try to maximize revenue). They usually avoid “difficult customers,” so any strategy of acting dumb and not too upset should work, after 15 minutes, they give up on you, and move to someone easier to deal with.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police. Source: Ministry of Interior.

Special Winter uniform of Bulgarian Border Police presented [bg] on the website of Ministry of Interior Affairs. According to the victim, the officers in question wore green and carried badges of common police (“Ohranitelna Politsiya”), which according to the Ministry wears dark blue uniforms.

Bulgarian blogger Komitata translated Vangeli's post within his post [bg] titled “They Protect Us and It's No Theater,” which includes opinions about the local context of wasted state resources on questionable police actions praised by the relevant minister:

Системата на МВР не е реформирана. Предното неслужебно правителство положи големи усилия, но поради липса на решителност и политическа воля, реформите останаха скромни и далеч не необратими.

The system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is not reformed. The previous government invested great efforts, but due to lack of decisiveness and political will, the reforms remain modest and far from irreversible.

In his post, Komitata also referred to Twitter discussion [bg] in which Bulgarians ask whether the police have the right to search them at the bus station, and pointed to information on citizen rights during police searches [bg].

Protests Against Death of Immigrants in Ceuta, Spain: “No One Is Illegal”

Image from Fotomovimiento taken at the Barcelona protest

Image from Fotomovimiento taken at the Barcelona protest. Used under CC License.

A group of 200 people tried to enter Spain from Morocco by swimming around the fence at Ceuta, and some 14 sub-Saharan African migrants were crushed to death or drowned. The Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) has been condemned by the immigrants and by a number of civil society organisations alike that argue that the security forces neither assisted [es] the immigrants nor alerted the coastguard to rescue those who were at sea. They also condemn the use of rubber bullets and tear gas against the immigrants in an attempt to prevent them from crossing the border.

The Guardia Civil has denied the accusations and created confusion by daily changing their version [es] of the events of Thursday 6th February.

Map of the border zone between Morocco and Spain - Wikipedia

Map of the border zone between Morocco and Spain – Wikipedia

A week after the tragedy, protests were convened in 15 Spanish cities to condemn the immigrants’ deaths. At the citizen gathering in Madrid, the most popular slogans [es] were: “They didn't drown, they were murdered”, “Natives or foreigners, we're all the same working class”, “No one is illegal” and “Where are the pro-lifers now?”, the latter in reference to those who support the controversial reform of the Abortion Law that the Spanish conservative government is currently preparing. 

The Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz finally acknowledged the use of riot gear by the security forces, although he claimed that it was used “only as a deterrent” to prevent the migrants from crossing the border. While the minister was appearing in the House of Representatives and facing the questions and accusations of the opposition parties, Twitter was transformed into a vehicle for people to express their indignation via the now trending topic #muertesCeuta [#Ceutadeaths]:

It seems that when prospecting for oil the borders are a lot wider than when for saving lives #muertesceuta

— Leire Iglesias (@leireis) February 13th, 2014

The minister acknowledges that rubber bullets were fired but not at people… what were they firing at then, the seagulls? #muertesCeuta

— Lorena Sainero (@Anerol27) February 13th, 2014

There are some things which we should never allow to happen. #muertesCeuta
— Ani ツ (@Vaquesinmas) February 13th, 2014

Shooting into the water near people who are desperate and can't swim isn't deterring them “for humanitarian reasons”, it's something entirely different #muertesCeuta

— Juan Luis Sánchez (@juanlusanchez) February 13th, 2014

There are still many questions to be answered: 

Autor Dani Gago - DISO Press

Photo by Dani Gago – DISO Press. ‘More bridges, no walls’

What is the existing protocol for managing the entry of immigrants in Spain? Did the Guardia Civil's actions in Ceuta show respect for the law and the immigrants’ human rights? Were some of the immigrants who did manage to reach Spanish territory returned to Morocco, in spite of the illegality of such an action? 

One Twitter user briefly summarises the need for accountability: 

Why should the minister provide answers to the mysteries surrounding the #Ceutadeaths? Above all, for them: http://t.co/TzhPH6zS9M

— Gabriela Sánchez (@Gabriela_Schz) February 13th, 2014

Bosnian Protesters Demand Bread, Social Justice and Freedom of Speech

When the citizens of Bosnia’s second biggest city, Tuzla, went out to protest on February 4, 2014, few expected to witness the country-wide riots that the world is witnessing just a week later. Whether the latest unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, can be qualified as the “Bosnian Spring”, as some media have named it, isn't what matters at the moment. The reasons behind the unrest and where things are headed are the topics that many locals are asking the international community and media to focus on.

Bosnia’s “Grapes of Wrath”

Protesters have drafted a set of demands, narrowing down their struggle to one about social justice [ba], the end of corruption, and freedom of expression. People have also made it clear that the protests are not motivated by a quest for identity or inter-ethnic tensions. Stefano Fait from Italy commented:

Eric Gordy, a University College of London (UCL) professor who also writes for a group blog about Balkan politics and academics, described snapshots of the recent atmosphere in Bosnia that he observed during a visit there, giving insight into what is fueling the current anti-government protests:

Conversation 1 was with the waiter in a large Sarajevo hotel [...] A colleague and I had heard that the employees of the hotel had not been paid for several months, so we asked. It was true, he told us. Most of the employees had remained at the hotel through a series of ownerships and bankruptcies, and had often faced periods of reduced pay, no pay, or something in lieu of pay. So what were they working for? They wanted to keep the hotel going in the hope that one day it might become profitable again, and they wanted the employer to keep making contributions to the pension and medical care funds. [...]

Conversation 2 was with a group of postgraduate students in Tuzla. Most of them had or were seeking work as schoolteachers. And they were only able to get short-term jobs. Why no permanent jobs in schools? Because available workplaces are distributed among the local political parties, who fill them with their members and put them on one-year contracts. The effect of this is that no young person can get a job except through the services of a political party, and no young person can keep a job except by repeatedly demonstrating loyalty to the political party. You can probably imagine the wonderful effect this has on the development and teaching of independent, critical thinking in schools.

The government has been claiming that it has no funds to provide even for its citizens’ most basic needs. Some Bosnians have responded with humor, circulating comments and images like the one below, widely on social networks:

The note reads:

The note reads: “Donations for the government”, using the word “sergija”, which is a term for donations made to religious institutions and charities. Image widely circulated on Twitter.

Media coverage

In national and regional mainstream media, the protesters are often labeled as hooligans. A textbook example of media manipulation is the spin around protesters having weapons. Serbian tabloid “Kurir”, considered a government mouthpiece in Serbia, published an article detailing a plot for the “violent unification” [sr] of the ethnically varied cantons of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The article screams, through exclamation marks, images of violence and biased wording, that protesters are amassing a stockpile of weapons with which to lead the alleged “violent unification” of Republic of Srpska, the so-called Bosnian Serb Republic that is one of the two political entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the other, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kurir’s piece generously quotes Mehmedalija Nuhić, called a “political analyst from Tuzla” in the article. On social media, people wondered [ba] who this person is, some of them clearly dismissing his claims. Tanja Sekulić, executive editor at Klix.ba, tweeted:

The peak of idiocy: Analyst Mehmedalija Nuhić claims that protesters have acquired weapons that they will allegedly use against the citizens of RS [Republic of Srpska, the Serb majority part of Bosnia-Herzegovina]. #protest

Banja Luka-based Kontakt Radio published an investigative piece [ba] researching the alleged Nuhić, “presented [to the public] as an analyst”. “Every journalist around Tuzla is wondering who this analyst is,” writes Kontakt Radio team. As Kontakt Radio's quick research revealed, Nuhić is in fact a municipal inspector serving in the city of Lukovac. “And we kid you not,” comments the author, cheekily ending the piece with some more readily available information on Nuhić, which dismisses his credibility as a “political analyst” entirely.

People from the region are used to media manipulation and the above example of such machination is one among countless others. In an op-ed [ba], Paulina Janusz reflected on the unity political parties and media in Bosnia's show against protesters. The media, for its part, was quick to report on any rumors of protesters’ bad behavior, but protesters were quick to react to such reports. Activist Emir Hodžić, who attended the Sarajevo protests on February 7, detailed to Radio Slobodna Evropa (Radio Free Europe) what he witnessed, declaring “we are neither vandals nor hooligans”.

Others have been thorough in describing their experiences on blogs as well. The following video of a young woman in tears, imploring police to join the crowd, went viral, accompanied by snarky comments on social media in the lines of “see, these are the hooligans of Bosnia”:

Dario Brentin, among others, has compiled articles from the early days of the protests in a Facebook note. Materials like this are regularly translated into English and updated on Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files. A collectively curated compilation of links is also available through the CrowdVoice.org platform.

Now what?

Many politicians and media representatives have already begun to play the blame game quite actively. Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served as High Representative and Europe’s Special Envoy to the country from May 2002 until January 2006, urged the European Union “to make Bosnia functional”. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Lord Ashdown warned:

At the moment its citizens are complaining about poverty and lack of movement and dysfunctionality of the state and corruptions among politicians” [but it] “could move to something far worse very quickly.[...]

The international community has to act now. If they don’t act now, I greatly fear that a situation where secessionism will take hold could easily become unstoppable as we approach elections.

Alarmism is also present on several sides. Valentin Inzko, an Austrian citizen and the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, declared to Balkanist.net:

If the situation escalates, we will possibly have to think about EU troops. But not right now.

Regardless of whose fault it is and who is supposed to “fix” the country, one question persists: Why are so many Eastern European and Balkan countries suddenly protesting? Shortly after protests erupted in Tuzla and Sarajevo, Bulgarian independent research blog Banitza published a thoughtful post, “Waving ‘Democracy’ from Ukraine to the Balkans”:

Why now? Why not 6 months ago; why not one year ago? These are question that were directed at the protests in Bulgaria, which reached their largest numbers in the summer. Clearly, the situation is so dire that either nothing or anything could trigger public outrage. [...]

Of course violence cannot be the answer. It’s destructive. But desperation clearly takes precedence over dialogue in this case. [...] It’s simple – for the people protesting, the assumption of patience is nonexistent. And it is understandable. There is a level of tolerance that is, as has been shown over and over again in the 20th century, very flexible and malleable among human beings. But it has its limits. And within the Balkan countries this year, the sense of tolerance has been exhausted by the outright public arrogance of the Untouchables – call them mafia men, ex-communist, business elites. It makes no difference. Their capacity to flaunt their economic dominance is one thing, but their increasing ability to enforce their political and legal immunity is apparently too much. It has been, for a long time, a fact that democracy is very dysfunctional.

Writing for Balkanist, Darko Brkan formulated four suggestions:

1) Declare Victory for the Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina
2) End all Police Investigations [against citizens having taken part to the protests]
3) Establish Provisional Governments in the Cantons
4) “Internal Lustration” Within Political Parties

What may be a game-changer is a recent decision by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordering “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Pro-government protests have also been witnessed, as seen in a video from February 10.

Rap Musicians Take on Guinea-Bissau's Drug Trafficking Problem

Rapper NB on the balcony of Rádio Jovem (Youth Radio) during the interactive radio program ‘frees’. Photo shared by Buala (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

A longer version of this article, written by Miguel de Barros and Patrícia Godinho Gomes, was originally published on web portal Buala with the title Percepções e contestações: leituras a partir das narrativas sobre o narcotráfico na música Rap da Guiné-Bissau (Perceptions and demands: Readings from narratives on narcotrafficking in the rap music of Guinea-Bissau) on January 24, 2014.

The problem of drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau has been gaining visibility in the African country, thanks to rap musicians who are waging a war of words against the illicit trade. “Narco-rap”, as it is called, is building resistance to drug trafficking in an innovative way by giving a voice to the people fighting against it.  

In the beginning of the new millennium, illegal cocaine trafficking reached global proportions, not only by infiltrating the traditional markets such as the United States and Latin America, but also in Western Europe, Russia and more recently some countries on the West African coast, which have become countries of transit for drug cartels.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world and lacks the capacity to control its territory, making the narcotrafficking phenomenon there and the subregion of West Africa not only a matter of lack of development, but also a security problem (see a special mention of Guinea-Bissau in the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime reports from 2007 and 2008 [PDF]).


Song “Relatório” (Report) by MC Mário, Patche di Rima and Dom Pina

Beyond the highly publicized American intervention [en] against drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau and the subregion, it is important to understand the internal mechanisms of resistance that are being adopted and what effects they are having at the national level.

For example, “non-institutionalized” youth from lower social classes are protagonists in the fight against the trade, denouncing it in rap performances broadcast on the radio and in concert. Narco-rap is an artistic medium through which the rappers give commentary, criticize those in power and challenge prevailing social (dis)order, combining cultural emancipation with the exercise of political and democratic participation.

Take a look at the lyrics of a handful of narco-rap songs written in kriol, or Creole, the lingua franca of Guinea-Bissau, with translations in English.

Drug trafficking, condemned

The lyrics of “Culpadus” (Guilty) by Torres Gémeos (2008) condemn narcotrafficking:

droga tchiga Guiné i djumblintinu senariu/Nhu alferis ku nhu kabu/Tudu pasa sedu bida empresariu (…)
Amadu ki chefi di izersitu/Iooode/I ka fasi nin 2 dia ki tchiga la/Iooode/I mata Djokin i subi la
Ku asasinatu ku aumenta/korupson ganha forsa
I ta troka mindjer suma ropa/I tene kumbu té na Eropa
Nunde ki sai ku es manga di kusas?/no ka sibi! 

Drugs arrived in Guinea and shuffled our scenario
Mr. Lieutenant and Mr. Private
All became businessmen
Amadu is the chief of the army/Iooode
It hasn’t even been two days since he got there/Iooode
He killed Joaquim and climbed up there
With the increasing murders
Corruption gained power
He changes women as if changing clothes
He even has money in Europe
Where did he get all that?
We don’t know!

Exploring the narcotrafficking route 

The song “Bo obi mas” (Listen again) by Baloberos (2008) travels the geographies of drug trafficking:

Guiné-Bissau nason di trafico? Tráfico
kil ku na bin bai pa Spanha? Tráfico
kil ku ta bin di Colombia? Tráfico
Mira ermanos, la fuerza armada transportando la cocaína en quantidad
haciendo negócios com nuestros ermanos de Colombia
(…) bo obi es sistema di pesa coca: kilograma, decagrama, hectograma, graaama 

Guinea-Bissau, nation of trafficking? Trafficking
the one that goes to Spain? Trafficking
the one that usually comes from Colombia? Trafficking
Look brothers, the armed forces carrying a large quantity of cocaine
doing business with our brothers in Colombia
(…) listen to this system of weighing coke: kilogram, decagram, hectogram, graaam [sic]

Calling for protest

In “Kaminhu sukuru” (Dark way) by FBMJ (2008), a call is made to the people of Guinea-Bissau:

Marca di Avion 515 tisi medicamentu pa tudu duentis
i guineensis ka na duensi mas
bardadi n`fia, Guiné i terá nunde ku pekadur ta garandi ora ki misti, di manera ki misti, tudu ta dipindi 
bardi n`fia, Guine i tera nunde ku po ta sibi riba di santchu mbes di santchu sibi na po
Ma i ka sigridu ku nha kabesa na ramasa i ni i ka kudadi
i sibidu kuma i ten djintis na Guine ora ku e misti pa tchuba tchubi, tchuba ta tchubi
ora ku é mista pa sol iardi, sol ta ratcha

An airplane branded 515 brought medicine for all the patients
and Guineans will never again become ill (…)
truth I believe, Guinea is a land where people are mature when they want to be, how they want to be, but everything is relative
truth I believe, Guinea is the land where the trees climb monkeys instead of the latter climbing trees!
But it is not a secret that I am throwing up nor that it is worrying
It's known there are people in Guinea that when they want it to rain, it happens
when they want the sun to shine, it happens

Expressing uneasiness

The song “Contra” (Against) by Cientistas Realistas (2007) regrets the state of the “narco-state”:

Cartaz de Cientistas Realistas.

Poster for Cientistas Realistas

notícia di tera obidu ate na rádios internacionais
fidjus di Guine ta ianda npinadu é ka ta ossa ianda nin alsa rostu
tera i ka purmeru, ma anos pekaduris i restu
na diaspora no ta sta tristi suma kil ku tene disgostu
pais sta desorganizadu, corupson sta generalizadu, aparelho di no stadu aos torna un sistema di corupson
dinheru ku no djunta passa na sbanjadu a toa i grande orgulho, fama(!)
Guine-Bissau i narcotráfico
djintis di stadu na pratica di negócios ilegais
e na fasi crimes organizadu ma faladu na nomi di stadu
es tudu anos i contra
narcostadu puera lanta
tudu mundo misti sai nês coba

news from the land was heard even on international radio
sons of Guinea-Bissau are crestfallen without the guts to raise their faces
the country is not prioritized, people come last
in the diaspora we get used to being sad as if we were heartbroken
the country is disorganized, generalized corruption, the apparatus of state turned into a system of corruption
our money is now being wasted for nothing, great pride, fame!
Guinea-Bissau is a narco-state
people of the state practicing illegal businesses
carrying out organized crime, but let’s say in the name of the state
all this we are against,
narco-state raised dust
everyone wants to leave this hole

Calling for action

The song “Kaminhus” (Paths) by As One (2012) takes on a tone of indignation as well as gives a call to action:

No leis apedrejado
cheio de lacunas
li ki Guine-Bissau pa kin ku ka sibi
li ku traficantes ta dadu privilegio mas di ki pursoris di universidade
juro li te purcu ta pudu gravata i bistidu fatu
katchuris si é mata é ta dadu caru tipo incentivo
tipo se presente pa é continua mata
guineensis i sta na hora di no kunsa nota
no disa pa tras tudu ke ku na tudjinu avança…

Our laws stoned
full of holes
this is Guinea-Bissau for those who don't know
this is where the traffickers are given more privileges than college professors
I swear pigs wear ties and suits here
when they kill the dogs, they receive cars as an incentive
as a gift to keep killing
Guineans, it is time we start to notice
let’s leave behind everything that does not allow us to move forward…

Radios have been (and still are) an extremely important medium in Guinean daily life. Rappers, through their creative narratives, aim to spread the word [fr] in the freest way possible about those who are profiting from trafficking. They use radio as an opportunity to denounce via their music the various aspects of the illicit trade.

This trend proves the need to question the label of “narco-state”, keeping in mind that the living of a large majority of the Guinean population is not based on the drug business. 

Young rappers have opened up new pathways for reflection on the position of youth, the dispute over the management of “public affairs” and the emergence of new political actors in the public arena of a country in development.

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

Doubts Arise Over Nigerian Journalist's Undercover Human Trafficking Exposé

A screenshot of the

A screenshot of the exposé.

A gritty undercover exposé of a human trafficking in Nigeria is making waves in the African country – but not for all the reasons you may think. 

Tobore Ovuorie (@DaughterofMit), a reporter for Nigerian online newspaper Premium Times, wrote about her experience going undercover to shed light on a ruthless human trafficking syndicate. The motives for the story, according to Ovuorie, were:

It had all started in Abuja, with me deciding to expose the human traffic syndicates that caused the death, through Aids, of my friend Ifuoke and countless others. As a health journalist, I had interviewed several returnees from sex traffic who had not only been encouraged to have unprotected sex, but who had also been denied health care or even to return home when they fell ill. They were now suffering from Aids, anal gonorrhoea, bowel ruptures and incontinence.

The human traffickers were not only involved in recruiting and exporting young Nigerian ladies to Europe as prostitutes, but were also training them to pickpocket. Ovurie also recounted an incident of cold-blooded murder: 

What happens next is like a horror movie… As we ‘unlucky’ four, are standing aside, Mama C talks with five well-dressed, classy, influential-looking visitors.The issue is a ‘package’ that Mama C has promised them and that she hasn’t been able to deliver. The woman points at me, but Mama C refuses and for unexplained reasons Adesuwa and Omai are selected. We all witness, screaming and trying to hide in corners, as they are grabbed and beheaded with machetes in front of us. The ‘package’ that the visitors have come for turns out to be a collection of body parts. The mafia that holds us is into organ traffic, too.

Ovurie however was able to escape from the mafia and publish her story, which stunned the Nigerian blogosphere. It also prompted an investigation by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters.

However, the shock had barely worn off when doubts over the veracity of Ovurie's report began to surface.

Literary critique Ikhide R. Ikheloa picked holes in Ovuorie's investigation in post entitled “Tobore Ovuorie's Story: Fact or Fiction”

Ikhide R. Ikheloa (Image sourced from his Twitter profile - @ikhide - and used with his permission)

Ikhide R. Ikheloa (Image sourced from his Twitter profile – @ikhide – and used with his permission)

Tobore Ovuorie (whose twitter handle is @DaughterOfMit) is enthusiastic, if anything else, as evinced by her vociferous testimonies on her timeline. If her narrative turns out to be true, Ovuorie and her sponsors (Premium Times and The Zam Chronicle deserve the Pulitzer. And her sponsors deserve to be censored for reckless endangerment of a reporter. As far as I can tell, Ovuorie is walking the streets of Nigeria unprotected after making serious claims against powerful interests. It is a mystery to me why she so brazenly attached her name to the story. If indeed there is a mafia, she is being quixotic and reckless to boot. She could be badly hurt or killed. As for the external sponsor of the adventure, The Zam Chronicle based in Amsterdam, it seems highly unusual for a Western outfit to sign on to such a risky venture without putting many things in place to minimize actuarial risk, the financial consequences may be too much to bear. What if she had been murdered? Her family could have sued the sponsors.

Ikhide asked seven questions

1. Why is the Nigerian Police silent on this story? Ovuorie seems to know many geographic details of the places where she was taken to and where she witnessed horrific crimes. She knows names of important personalities, there is even a name of a policeman provided. Has Premium Times contacted the Nigerian authorities? …

2. When she witnessed the beheading of two abducted girls, she had her phone (or seemed to). Who did she text? Who did she call? Forensic experts can learn a lot from these transcripts.

3. At what point did she and her sponsors realize that this was possibly an unwise venture and she needed to be rescued? Where there any discussions about this?

4. I am having trouble believing that she did not text any of the pictures that were in her cellphone to someone else. That just seems unlikely. Does anyone have pictures or anything?

5. How sophisticated can this syndicate be if they allow the girls keep their cellphones and presumably let them continue to chat with the outside world?…

6. Ovuorie seemed close to the two girls who were beheaded, does she have their phone numbers? Can they be traced back to their families? Why are people silent about all this?

7. The report talks of a “multibillion dollar syndicate” but the “syndicate” doesn’t appear very sophisticated, a reporter walks the streets asking for the leader and is promptly hooked up with one, gains the trust of the syndicate and along with the other “abducted girls” has access to her cellphone and even a charger. Interesting, but then we are talking about Nigeria. Nothing seems to stretch credulity:

Ikhide received a response from Editor of Premium Times Dapo Olorunyomi:  

In amusement, I notice the ambivalence in your review as you tried to challenge the veracity of the story.  This is how you put it: “How sophisticated can this syndicate be if they allow the girls keep their cell phones and presumably let them continue to chat with the outside world? There are so many tracking devices on a cell phone, you wonder if and why the game plan of the reporter did not include these free tools.”

Let’s cut to the chase. The logic in your question is erected on the assumption of the implausibility of infiltrating a syndicate and still use a cell phone. Thus, on account of your logic, if one gets to operate a cell phone in the environment of the syndicate, then the story automatically becomes false. Seriously? Sorry, this is either empty or dubious.

This twist has split the Nigerian blogosphere into those standing by Ovuorie's story and others swayed by Ikhide's scepticism. “Onas” wrote on Facebook

If she went undercover in November, when and where did she receive treatment for the trauma she allegedly underwent? When was she discharged? For how long was she there? Which hospital did she go to? Can we have the medical records? (Even though we know that her medical records are private and personal but the controversy surrounding the story has made the issue a matter of public interest). The Tobore that was at the conference in December was the life of the conference. She was bubbly, talkative and the soul of everything that transpired there. Someone that almost got beheaded, did stunts at the border and checked into a hospital won’t be the most talkative person with the brightest makeup in a human trafficking class. She did not betray any sign of distress even when the heart-rending stores of those who have been victims were told in the class.

Another blogger, Semiu A. Akanmu, asked for more clarification from the Premium Times. This time, Managing Editor Musiklu Mojeed responded:

I can tell you categorically that the story is not fiction. It was well reported by the reporter. It is cruel that Ikhide and others are casting aspersion on a reporter who risked her life to tell us an important story. I agree the story could have been better done, but it was such a dangerous assignment. We warned her against pushing too hard. Her safety was more important to us… 

…We knew what our organization and the reporter went through to tell that story. So, for anyone to declare, without any shred of evidence, that the story was a fabrication is simply cruel and annoying. It's an injustice to us and the woman who risked her life and dignity to tell us this story. But this is not the first time Ikhide has mounted a campaign to discredit our work… 

Nigerian blogger Akin came up with a series of questions and scenarios to question the authenticity of the story. He concluded his post by saying:

Too convenient and sadly expedient
Finally, it is all too convenient that critical evidence that could give the real truth to this story was lost, like why she had not immediately transmitted pictures, conversations and much else for most of the time she had her mobile phone. At worst, there should have been an electronic dead drop to collect all this data for the use of the expose.
In the end, we only have Tobore’s word and the threatened reputations of Premium Times and ZAM Chronicle through obfuscation, bluster, bullying and ad hominem attacks to go by, the rest in text messages and Facebook posts is hardly independently verifiable. It is a crying shame.
You cannot trust this
If Tobore was exposed to such evil and unconscionable human traffickers with connections to people in high places in Nigeria and abroad, she and her handlers must be recklessly bold, careless, and utterly irresponsible to reveal her identity where she must daily be at risk of being apprehended and assassinated.
I am sorry, it is time for Premium Times to cut loose of this travesty or both it and its reputation would sink with it, considering the reporter they are supporting has hardly been with the outfit for 6 months, the level of naïveté demonstrated by the seasoned journalists at Premium Times is befuddling to the point of bafflement.

The end of this story is no where in sight, yet one thing is certain: human trafficking is a vicious business in Nigeria, and it's about time attention is given to it.

February 12 2014

China Dissidents Going to the U.S

Patrick Lozada from Beijing Cream discussed the phenomena that many dissidents who have left China would turn up joining the Right Wing organizations in the U.S. He pointed out the dilemma of the current situation:

I understand why they do it. You can say bad things about China in China and go to jail, or you can have conservatives pay you enormous amounts of money to do it in the US. Regardless it causes these activists to lose credibility as agents of change in China, and the impact they can have from the States is minimal.

February 11 2014

Prisoners Lists Stir Informbiro Memories in Former Yugoslav Republics

The recent publishing of lists of prisoners of Goli Otok, victims of communist purges in Yugoslavia from 1949 to 1956, has reignited dormant debates and opened some old wounds, across all the former Yugoslav republics.

Goli Otok is a Croatian island that was used as a prison camp during the so-called “Informbiro era” – the post-World War II breakdown between the communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For many Yugoslavs, “Tito's historical ‘No!’ to Stalin” was a source of pride, especially because it solidified their country's role as an intermediary between the Western and Eastern Bloc. The purges that were part of the clash officially included persecution of alleged “pro-Soviet communists”. According to the victims and dissidents of the time, this was often just an excuse by the country's power-mongers to get rid of anyone they disliked for any reason and, thus, people of many other political affiliations were sent to the notorious camp.

Prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

Abandoned prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

During the last two months of 2013, Croatian portal Novi Plamen (New Flame) published two lists compiled by UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) from the State Archive of Croatia – the list of the 413 people [hr] who died in the camps, and the list of all 16,101 prisoners [hr] who had served sentences there. The second link spread widely through social networks and then through news portals in all six former Yugoslav republics.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment... Published by Novi Plamen.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment… Published by Novi Plamen.

Slovenian right-wing blogger Pavel noted [si] that the publishing of the lists coincided with the recent December 9, 2013, death of Jovo Kapičić [sr], who had allegedly been the man in charge of Goli Otok. In an August 2013 interview, Kapičić, a Serb, claimed [sr] that the Serbs had made up the majority of prisoners at the camp.

Twitter user ‏@flusteredcooler from Montenegro commented on this issue as well and, while people from all of the former Yugoslav republics often claim that their nationals made up the majority of those sentenced to serve time at Goli Otok, he noticed:

Legend says that most of the population of Goli Otok consisted of Montenegrins? The lists show that it was Yugoslavia in a nutshell [representing everybody]

A senior Macedonian blogger, among the oldest members of the local blogosphere, and a World War II anti-fascist resistance veteran, Buv (“Owl”), posted an announcement [mk] by the Association of former Goli Otok prisoners, advising caution in relation to the lists and offering first-hand consultations to all interested parties:

Темата за “голооточаните“.“информбировците“затвореници што ја издржувале казната во логорот Голи Оток е дел од пошироката историска тема за конфликтот меѓу СССР и СФРЈ.Не може да се зборува за казнениците на Голи Оток,без да се разгледуваат во комлесот на историските збиднувања.

Независно од тоа колку биле свесни/идејно свесни/за својот однос кон конкретните настани,учесниците во збиднувањата,што подоцна се нашле на Голи Оток,се учесници во еден политички судир кој има исклучително историско значење,за нив,за нивната земја,за пошироките светски движења.

Ова отклонување го направивме за да обрниме внимание на оние лесно искажани карактеристики што се даваат по повод на објавените списоци за голооточаните/информбировците/ и во други прилики.Без да се има во вид поширокиот контекст на случувањата,може паушално да се кажува се и сешто.Важноста на историската проблематика бара сериозен пристап.

Здружението Голи Оток,меѓу другото,ја има и таа задача да ја објасни,документира,да ја покаже историската вистина за настаните во кои независно од нивната волја се нашле и овие страдалници,што така строго ги казнила историјата.

The topic of the “inhabitants of Goli Otok,” the “Informbiro prisoners” is part of a larger historical topic about the conflict between the [USSR] and the [SFRY]. One cannot talk about the Goli Otok prisoners without taking into account the complexity of historical events.

Regardless of how much they were aware or ideologically involved in these concrete events, the participants who were detained on Goli Otok were engulfed in a political clash with exceptional historical importance, for them personally, for their country and the wider world movement.

We publish this notice to draw attention to the reactions that have been published with great ease after the lists of prisoners were exposed, as well at other occasions. Without taking into consideration the wider context of events, anyone can say anything without arguments. The importance of the historical issues requires a very serious approach.

The Goli Otok Association has the mission to explain, document and disclose the historical truth about the events which unwittingly encompassed these sufferers, who were so severely punished by history.

Informbiro activities left deep trauma in the collective former Yugoslav memory, parts of which were artistically expressed through popular cult movies like When Father Was Away on Business (1985) by then young Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and Happy New Year '49 (1986) by Macedonian director Stole Popov.

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

Mapping Conflicts Between Indigenous Peoples and Corporations in Latin America

map conflicts latin america

Codpi (Coordination for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) has created a map to monitor projects that are affecting indigenous territories, as their website explains [es]:

This map aims to collect cases of conflict that arise due to the presence of transnational corporations -mainly those with headquarters in Spain- in the territories of indigenous peoples in Latin America.

In Otramérica [es], Diego Jiménez from Codpi adds:

It is a tool in permanent construction, which collects some of the most important cases of violations, and that will be completed periodically to reflect a total of 50 identified [cases]. For each [case] a record is published -accessible from the interactive map- that contains basic information about the violated rights, the resistance posed by the indigenous people and a summary of the current situation. We have also included a number of links and additional audiovisual material.

With all this, we don't want to limit ourselves to denouncing a situation of enormous and increasing severity. We also hope that this tool will be useful and effective for indigenous peoples and also for the organizations, social movements and groups working with them.

When Algeria's Police Fail to Act, Citizen Journalists Step in

Not long after evidence of police abuse was exposed by citizen journalists there last month, cyber activists in the city of Ghardaïa have once against uncovered failings of Algeria's police forces, this time for not stepping in to protect a man who as killed in public after being kidnapped by a group of local gangsters.

Sectarian tensions in this region situated in the heart of the M'zab valley are high, and cyber activists and citizen journalists are doubling their efforts to expose the violent clashes between the Ibadites minority (a.k.a Mozabites in this region) and the majority made of Muslim Sunni communities, publishing video evidence on YouTube. The publicity generated by the activists’ first videos showing police abuse against Ibadites prompted Algerian authorities to launch an investigation and sanction the officers involved.

The goal of these citizen journalists is clear: share the reality on the ground with the Algerian population, whose awareness of the situation is obscured by the lack of reporting in the mainstream media. In fact, many facts and elements of the situation are not reported. For instance, the media seldom reports on the complicity of security forces with local thugs who vandalize and wreck havoc in the city to increase sectarian conflict between the Ibadites and the Sunni. The photos below taken by Mozabites activists show the reality of the crimes occurring in Ghardaïa right under the nose of police:

Photo gardaia activistes

Photo posted on Facebook by Ghardaia activists showing crime evidence in the city. Used with permission.

Among the crimes exposed by the activists was the case of 21-year-old Mozabite youngster Babaousmail Azzedine. Azzedine was attacked in public after being kidnapped by local gangsters on February 5, 2014. The youngster succumbed shortly after to his injuries, as a result of 20 knife wounds he received.

The crime shook Ghardaïa to its core. Yet Azzedine assassins are still free. Activists retrieved amateurs photos of the murder captured by eyewitnesses and assembled all the video and photographic evidence adding captions as well as geographical and historical annotations. The footage shows Azzedine's aggressors as they assaulted him:

Disseminated via YouTube, citizen journalism website Envoyés Spéciaux Algériens (Algerian Special Envoys) [fr, ar] and independent news site Algérie-Focus [fr], the video went viral and sparked public outcry. It comes at a time when the Interior Minister and the Chief of the Algerian Police were visiting the region in an attempt to appease the situation. Still, local authorities have yet to arrest anyone in the murder, but an investigation was launched by the national armed forces to track down Azzedine's murderers, who can be clearly identified in this video:

In the meantime, numerous online communities are working together to alert Algerian authorities to the situation in the region and to pressure them into acting against against sectarian violence in M'zab. Ghardaïa News [fr] and Ahdath Ghardaïa  (Gharadaia Events) [fr, ar] are two news sites that regularly fight to report on the violence against the Mozabite population.

The tremendous work of these activists was not in vain. The impunity of the criminals was publicly revealed, putting the Algerian authorities in a compromising situation and forcing them into action. Violence hasn't stopped in Ghardaïa, but this a positive step forward for the local population.

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

Iran on the Day to End Mass Surveillance

Iranian green movement protest, 2009. Photo by Waging Non-Violence (CC BY 4.0)

Iranian green movement protest, 2009. Photo by Waging Non-Violence (CC BY 4.0)

The revelations surrounding the surveillance practices of the NSA and other Western government intelligence agencies may have made 2013 the year the Internet lost its innocence within democratic states. But this state of perpetual, pervasive surveillance has long been part of everyday life within the Islamic Republic of Iran. While security and privacy concerns have recently become a mainstream concern in the Western world, Iranians have long known the risks of sharing information through communications technologies.

Shunood, the term most often used for surveillance in Farsi, comes from the word shenidan, which means to listen. Relatedly, surveillance within Iran is commonly associated with the wiretapping of phones — a common practice within Iran since the introduction of the technology to the country. In July 2013, the outspoken Parliamentarian Ali Motahari discovered his office had been bugged with recording devices — many suspected the devices were installed by Iran’s previous hard-line Minister of Intelligence. In recent years, advances in communication technologies have changed the state’s surveillance apparatus.  From data mining and eavesdropping through the ultra pervasive Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) method, to control over meta-data collected by telecommunication companies, and physical wiretapping (which is the most popular method inside Iran), researchers have identified various digital surveillance methods.

During and after the Green Movement of 2009, security researcher Chris Parsons found strong evidence suggesting that sophisticated surveillance technologies such as DPI were used by the government during this period. Tebyan Zanjan, an Iranian website covering ICT news, has reported on different methods of government data collection, from DPI to telephone wiretapping, further illustrating the government’s surveillance capabilities.

In sum, it is common knowledge among Iranians that if the state can, it will spy on its citizens.

Two important legal standards exist for surveillance practices. Both call for due process in instances when the state engages in surveillance. Article 25 of the Constitution indicates:

The inspection of letters and the failure to deliver them, the recording and disclosure of telephone conversations, the disclosure of telegraphic and telex communications, censorship, or the willful failure to transmit them, eavesdropping, and all forms of covert investigation are forbidden, except as provided by law.

At the same time, Article 104 of Iran’s Criminal Code of Procedure for Public and Revolutionary Courts states:

In cases where there is a need to inspect and detect mailing, telecom, audio and visual correspondences related to the accused, in connection with investigation of a crime, the judge will inform the respective officers to confiscate [these materials] and send them to him or her. Once they are received, they will be presented to the accused, noted in the minutes, and attached to the file after being signed by the accused. Refusal of the accused to sign will be noted in the minutes and in case the items are not of relative importance, and if the confiscation is not necessary, they will be returned to the owner obtaining an acknowledgment of receipt.

While laws exist to protect the privacy of individuals, there is a dissonance between the laws and practices of the state. These protections are often lost between the many different authorities who administer these practices within a complex, larger government apparatus, with various Ministries and organizations of different branches involved. The central entity involved in mass data collection from communications technology is the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI), or Mokhaberat in Farsi. This organization falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information Communication Technology (ICT), but maintains private shareholders. While there are conflicting reports concerning the precise nature of the influence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over the TCI, it is widely known that they own the greatest shares of the TCI, placing this body in the hands of an entity accountable only to the Supreme Leader. Although often difficult to prove, many experts suspect these shareholders are associated with elements within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Basij (IGRC).

The Ministry of Intelligence, the IGRC, FETA (Iran’s Cyber Police), Ministry of Defense, Ministry ICT, the Passive Defense Organization (PDO), and the Supreme Council for Cyberspace (SCC) are all involved in the country’s surveillance regime, but they are often accountable to different authorities and represent different motivations and ideologies, ranging from hard-line elements in the opposition to reformist or moderate influences within the elite.

On February 11, when the world takes a stand for privacy rights in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, we should not forget the practices that have always existed, and continue to prosecute and imprison Iranians. While we stand up against countries like the United States, Canada, and the UK for their violations of our privacy rights, ASL19 urges the world not to forget the circumstances in a country that does not require revelations to reveal the unjust state of privacy and human rights.

 

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

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.

Somali Activist's Personal Account of Female Genital Mutilation

Activist Asha Ismail via

Activist Asha Ismail via “Save a Girl, Save a Generation” Facebook page.

Somali activist Asha Ismail recounted her own experience with female genital mutilation (FGM) and her fight to eradicate it to radio Onda Vasca on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, 2014 (hear the full interview in Spanish here).

Asha Ismail was born in a Somali village and subjected to FGM when she was just 5 years old. She promised herself that she would never let her own daughter suffer such torture. Currently, she directs the organization Save a Girl, Save a Generation, which campaigns against FGM and other practices that violate women's rights such as forced marriage.

Asked whether about the practice's cultural and religious ties, a factor that could complicate efforts to combat it, she said that FGM violates women's rights and dignity, and in many cases, women stay in situations in which their own will is totally defeated.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted in his message for the day, “Just because a harmful practice has long existed does not justify its continuation. All ‘traditions’ that demean, dehumanize and injure are human rights violations that must be actively opposed until they are ended.”

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 09 2014

An Info-Activism Tool-Kit on Women's Rights Campaigning

Tacticaal Tech's Info-activism Toolkit on Women's Rights Campaigning

Tactical Tech's Info-activism Toolkit on Women's Rights Campaigning

The Women's Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit by Tactical Technology Collective is a new guide for women's rights activists, advocates, NGOs and community based organizations who want to use technology tools and practices in their campaigning. This has been developed in collaboration with advocacy organizations from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Egypt.

This Toolkit has been customized from an updated version of two earlier toolkits: Message in a Box and Mobiles in a Box. The website will soon be translated into Arabic, Swahili, Bengali, and Hindi.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 08 2014

Legalizing And Regulating The Sex workers in Sri Lanka

Shilpa Samaratunge, a development worker, discusses in Groundviews about the problems surrounding the sex workers in Sri Lanka. Instead of abolishing and criminalizing them, which is the path Sri Lanka currently is on, she suggests to legalize the profession and impose regulation and provide health-services for the sex workers.

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