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June 10 2013

Singapore’s ‘Largest Blogger-led Protest’ Bats for Media Freedom

An estimated crowd of 2,000 people joined a protest assembly in Singapore’s Hong Lim Park last June 8, 2013 to oppose the government’s new licensing scheme for news websites. Organized by the ‘Free My Internet’ movement, it was reported to be the ‘largest blogger-led protest’ in Singapore.

The new regulation issued by the Media Development Authority (MDA) requires news websites that report on Singapore and which have 50,000 unique IP views a month to secure a license. Further, they must put up a ‘performance bond’ of $50,000. The websites must also remove objectionable content within 24 hours after being ordered by the government. The MDA has so far identified 10 websites, including Yahoo! Singapore, which are covered by the ruling.

Prior to the Saturday event, more than 160 blogs participated in a ‘blackout’ protest. Despite the assurance of the government that blogs are exempted from the ruling, netizens described the new regulation as threat to Internet and media freedom. The video below shows some of the blogs which replaced their homepages with a black image.

The ‘Free My Internet’ movement issued this media statement after the protest:

The success of the campaign is no mean feat. #FreeMyInternet came together at a few days’ notice, and the three-prong campaign was organised within a week and a half. Given the spontaneous and leaderless nature of the #FreeMyInternet movement, this is a remarkable achievement.

In the weeks to come, we will roll out material and programmes to educate members of the public and Members of Parliament about why the Licensing Regime needs to be withdrawn.

We do not rule out a dialogue with the government, but this dialogue needs to be a discussion on how the withdrawal of the Licensing Regime will take place, and should be a dialogue about how de-regulating the media environment can best be done to benefit Singaporeans.

Photo from Flickr page of Raymond Lau

Photo from Flickr page of Raymond Lau. Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Some students challenged the Minister for Communications and Information to withdraw the regulation:

As young mass communications students and practitioners, this new framework concerns us as the wording of the amendment suggests that the State will have unmoderated power to muzzle not only journalists, but virtually everyone and anyone who uses the Internet

These concerns obligate us, in our capacities as concerned young Singaporeans, to request that the Minister for Communications & Information rescind the gazetting requiring online news sites to be regulated; and if he would not, to engage us in a dialogue to explain why he cannot.

Article 14 highlighted the success of the campaign:

…the bare mimimum that has been achieved this week is that the blogging community has sent a clear message that we value our limited space and are not willing to give it up easily

It helped to demonstrate the broad cross-section of support that exists for the freedom of online space.

Photo from Flickr page of Raymond Lau

Photo from Flickr page of Raymond Lau. Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Thoughts of a Cynical Investor congratulated the organizers:

Getting 2,000 to 2,500 S’poreans out at very short notice (less than a week) is a very good achievement, no a great feat, on the part of the organisers.

Ravi Philemon asserted that the protest is for ordinary Singapore netizens:

This protest is for us. Because this new regulation gives the government so much power to arbitrarily decide, nobody knows what kind of ‘traffic monitoring tools and perception-based surveys’ – maybe not even god knows, what these tools are – which site is a online news site and which is not.

Aaron Koh was inspired by the protest:

I attended the protest and was quite inspired by the speakers. The speakers, consisted mainly of bloggers, who were concerned, not only about MDA's online “news sites” licensing scheme, and at the speed at which it became law, without consultation with Parliament or with the Public.

Political Writings warned that small protests are not enough:

Whether protests are a legitimate way to force policy change or political change is a separate matter. What is important is that Singaporeans should realize that Hong Lim Park style ‘protests’ will not change anything.

Lim Jialiang explained the importance of participating in a cause:

It is crucial to remember that active participation is something that is to be proud of, even if participation might not translate to actual results at the end. There is nothing wrong in trying. There is something wrong, however, when people actively demean the efforts of others, who are trying their best to secure and speak out against at best, a toothless and aimless piece of regulation, and at worst, a new choker placed upon our democratic voice.

June 08 2013

VIDEO: How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Could Hurt Internet Users

A new animated video by digital rights group Electric Frontier Foundation warns that the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement being negotiated by the United States and ten governments from around the Pacific region, could have alarming consequences for Internet users.

The treaty's negotiations, which include input from corporations, are being kept under wraps, but a leaked draft [PDF] of the treaty from February 2011 and other leaked notes have given many advocates cause for concern over copyright enforcement provisions in the agreement's chapter on intellectual property.

According to the group, the treaty could make the Internet an intimidating place for the people and companies that use it. The agreement could encourage Internet service providers to police the activity of Internet users and block legitimate content with only a private notice from the supposed copyright holder in order to protect themselves from liability.

It could also make it illegal for users to work around technical measures put in place to prevent copyright infringement, such as unlocking a mobile phone in order to connect it to another carrier or modifying the format of an e-book to make it more accessible to those with disabilities.

The video, called “TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of”, is available on YouTube and can be found here:

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June 03 2013

‘Free My Internet’ Movement Rises in Singapore

Singapore’s new licensing scheme for news websites announced by the Media Development Authority (MDA) was quickly denounced by many netizens as a censorship measure. A group of concerned netizens called the ‘Free My Internet’ movement has called on the public to join a rally this coming Saturday, June 8, 2013, to demand the withdrawal of the controversial regulation.

Under the new rule, news websites that report on Singapore and which have 50,000 unique IP views a month must secure a license. Further, they must put up a ‘performance bond’ of $50,000. It also has this provision which angered and worried many netizens:

The Licence also makes it clear that online news sites are expected to comply within 24 hours to MDA’s directions to remove content that is found to be in breach of content standards.

So far, the government has identified 10 websites, including Yahoo! Singapore, which are covered by the ruling.

#freemyinternetThe #freemyinternet movement thinks the license scheme will undermine internet freedom and free speech in Singapore:

We encourage all Singaporeans who are concerned about our future and our ability to participate in everyday online activities and discussions, and to seek out alternative news and analysis, to take a strong stand against the licensing regime which can impede on your independence.

A petition warned Singapore bloggers that they could still be affected by the ruling despite the assurance of the government that bloggers are exempted from the measure:

Even though MDA said that blogs do not fall under the licensing scheme, this is not reflected in the wording of the legislation. It leaves the door open for blogs or any other site to be forced to license in the future without any change in the law.

Socio-political bloggers and commentators issued this joint statement:

As part of the community of websites in Singapore that provide sociopolitical news and analysis to Singaporeans, we are concerned about the impact of the newly-introduced requirement on fellow Singaporeans’ ability to receive diverse news information.

The new licensing regime has the very real potential to reduce the channels available to Singaporeans to receive news and analysis of the sociopolitical situation in Singapore and it is in the interest of all Singaporeans to guard against the erosion and availability of news channels that Singaporeans should rightfully have access to.

Responding to the barrage of criticism, the MDA insisted that the license scheme is fair:

An individual publishing views on current affairs and trends on his/her personal website or blog does not amount to news reporting.

…content guidelines are focused on core content concerns that would threaten the social fabric and national interests of our country. Examples include content that incites racial or religious hatred; misleads and causes mass panic; or advocates or promotes violence.

The framework is not an attempt to influence the editorial slant of news sites

visakan veerasamy notes that the MDA scheme has unified Singapore netizens:

Maybe a few years from now the MDA licensing thing will be remembered as the issue that got bloggers and alt-news agencies coming together against a common threat to have a national conversation of their own.

They propose a terrible idea, and then piss off the masses enough to inspire a co-ordinated response. Boom, active and engaged citizenry. This is great for Singapore.

It is a draconian measure, writes Jentrified Citizen:

The Government is well aware of the power of the Internet and how it is fast igniting the people’s conscience and socio-political consciousness. This is why they are trying to cut off our oxygen with more draconian measures. And they are in a position to do so as they have absolute power and control over almost everything in tiny Singapore.

Because of vague wording in the ruling, a popular news blog can still be ordered to apply for license. It all depends on the MDA. Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss is not happy with this authority given to MDA:

It is discomforting that the Minister has the discretion, the limits of which is still unclear, to decide whether and when a website should be licensed.

Z’ming Cik warns about the impact of the scheme on political blogging:

The new rules will serve to deter bloggers in Singapore from discussing social and political issues, and encourage people to blog about facial cream or their pet dogs instead.

This would presumably help create a ‘safe’ environment for the ruling party’s continual domination in Singapore, free from criticisms.

publichouse.sg argues why Singaporeans should oppose the measure:

…because this new rule affects not only moderators and contributors of online news sites but also their readers, all Singaporeans should fight to protect their rights and voice their opposition of the rule. It is most certainly not in the interest of the people to have what they read censored or controlled, especially when the primary purpose of online news sites is to provide alternatives to the mainstream media.

Siew Kum Hong fears that the regulation would further hurt the image of Singapore in the world:

This new regulation is a mistake, and reinforces the perception that Singapore is a repressive place — which is precisely the wrong message to be sending to a globalised and networked world, when you are trying to build an innovative and creative economy where freedom of thought is so essential.

May 30 2013

Interview: Ali Abdulemam on Human Rights in Bahrain

Bahraini blogger, political activist, and Global Voices author Ali Abdulemam, who had been living in hiding in Bahrain for two years, appeared in London in early May, where he has been granted political asylum by the British government. The founder of BahrainOnline.org, a leading website for political expression and opposition in the Gulf state, Abdulemam was an active organizer of uprisings in the country in 2011. While in hiding, he was tried in absentia by a military court and found guilty of charges related to terrorism and subversion. Readers can learn more about these issues through Global Voices’ Special Coverage of protests and human rights threats in Bahrain.

Global Voices Advocacy Director Hisham Almiraat interviewed Abdulemam in Oslo, shortly after his escape from the island nation.

Hisham Almiraat: Tell us your story in your words.

Ali Abdulemam: How did I get out? I don't want to talk about it because I still need to protect the people who helped me, who hosted me, so I prefer not to talk about this and instead [to] focus on the situation in Bahrain. This is what matters — now I'm free, I'm safe, but the people in Bahrain are still struggling with this [tyrannous] regime. What we all need is to help people in Bahrain get their universal rights. This is what matters. To expose this regime, to understand that it's not any more the Middle Ages, it's the 21st century where everything is open and the exchange of information is available everywhere.

 

HA: Can you say a word about the situation right now in Bahrain and what happens with activists who are there, who are struggling for their rights? How is the situation? Is it getting worse? Is it getting better?

AA: The situation is not developing…attacks on peaceful demonstrations continue. There is no moving forward for reforming, or giving the people their universal rights, there [are] no individual rights, there is no freedom of speech, there is no free press. So the situation is just like a state living 200 years back. The activists [are] struggling with this regime…they cannot move freely, they cannot speak freely, they cannot report what they see. Because [of] the law in Bahrain, the government can do [any]thing to change even a tweet to a criminal offense. But what you can see in the activists and the people in Bahrain is that they have…hope that they can bring change and they have an amount of dignity that no one can take. That's what makes you be sure that the change is coming from the hands of these youth.

 

HA: So you think that the actions of the government instead of breaking the spirit of the Bahraini activists and pro-democracy activists has encouraged them and injected more hope in their community?

AA: I believe the regime failed to reproduce fear inside the people. What the other Arab regimes continue to do in other regions the Bahrain government failed to deliver it to its people. People now, they are not afraid and they believe they are right. No one can break them. And instead as you say, instead of breaking them, it's just making them more and more believe that change is more necessary now than any other time. There is [a] point that everybody should understand: This generation is totally different than any other generation that Bahrain [has seen]. Most generations broke within 2-3 months or 2-3 years. This generation is unbreakable. So if the regime wants this battle to take such a long time, let it be, but I'm convinced that they will not give up until they make the change that they want.

 

HA: Do you think that the international support you had during your time in hiding within Bahrain, do you think that that support has helped your cause and the cause of pro-democracy activists in Bahrain?

AA: Yeah for sure, it's clear that the support that I got from NGOs especially help[ed] a lot in protecting other activists. [It's] clear now that they attacked me, they jailed me, they sentenced me to fifteen years….I wanna just mention something: During my hiding, yes the support from the NGOs had some effect on the government, but the big effect was on me personally, that they still remember[ed] me, that they [wrote] about me, so this cheer[ed] me up and the feeling that whatever I was doing wasn't wrong, that there are people who believe in me, even with the amount of attack by the regime. But still the officials of the NGOs believing that I'm innocent and that all the accusations by the government [were] not true. The effect on me personally was so high.

 

HA: What do you think should be done now that you are free? What do you think should be done now by NGOs and international supporters with regard to the situation in Bahrain? Would you have a word of advice for those international organizations or those individuals who are trying to help?

AA: The first thing I think anybody who wants to work for Bahrain people [should know], [is that] you shouldn't see them as Sunni or Shiite or something. They are human. They need basic human rights. What [is] mentioned in the [Universal] Declaration of Human Rights — we want it in Bahrain. We want equal citizenship, we don't want second class or third class citizenship. So anyone who wants to work for Bahrain, let me just look at them as a human being. And for the NGOs — because, I met with some NGOs, and they were kind of [saying] you have to decrease your demands [in order] for resolution to happen in Bahrain. Well, I believe that it's not my mistake if my universal rights [have] been stolen by the regime, that I should give it to the regime just for the safety and security of the state. I believe that to secure our country for the long term, it's better to have our rights completely without any [restriction]… In short, we are human, regardless of our [faith], and our demands [are] our universal human rights.

 

HA: And finally, would you have a word for the Global Voices community?

AA: Yes, Global Voices helped me so much and kept me remembered by the online activists in the community. I really thank them all. They were really true friends. I would really thank god for letting me work with them once and I'm always thanking my god for all these good friends including Global Voices. I love their work, I was following their website to know what's going on and I just wanted to say that your work…cheered me up and [made] my spirits so high, when I hear that you talk[ed] to this NGO or that EU member, thank you so much for all that you did for me.

HA: Thank you, Ali.

 

Previous Global Voices coverage of Ali Abdulemam:

After Two Years in Hiding, Bahraini Blogger Ali Abdulemam Flees to London

Remembering Ali Abdulemam

Alert: Ali Abdulemam goes missing in Bahrain

Latin American and Caribbean Governments Discuss Internet Policies

Links are to Spanish-language pages except where indicated.

Open development: the Future of the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean” was the theme of a forum held in Montevideo, Uruguay, April 2-3, 2013, as a lead-up to the 4th annual ministerial conference addressing the issue. Attended by both government officials and experts from throughout the region, the conference was organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Spanish acronym CEPAL) and the government of Uruguay via the country's national agency for e-government and the information society (AGESIC in Spanish). The goal of the meeting was to examine regional gains and challenges with regard to the information society as outlined in the eLAC2015 action plan, which aims to:

…coadyuvar a la universalización de la banda ancha, alcanzar un gobierno electrónico transaccional y participativo, lograr el acceso de todas las MIPYME a las TIC, promover la integración regional a través de las TIC, y universalizar el acceso y la expansión de las nuevas tecnologías para la salud y la educación.

…facilitate universal broadband, attain transactional and participatory e-government, provide universal access to ICT for all micro-enterprises and SMBs, promote regional integration through ICT, and ensure universal access and growth of new technologies in the fields of health and education.

As part of the agenda, beyond the formalities and protocol, participants discussed topics such as cyber security, open government, and the role of new technologies in innovation. The event was inaugurated by Uruguay's President José Mujica, who, in his opening speech, not only advocated greater equality of access to ICTs in order to narrow the digital divide in Latin America but also pointed out that “the world is a place where people want to be connected to everything and, conversely, are becoming increasingly less connected to their own feelings.” The blog Hábeas Data, published by Argentina's Center for Personal Data Protection, added:

En esta línea, Mujica remarcó la importancia de aumentar el compromiso por disminuir la brecha digital en el acceso a las tecnologías de la información y comunicación (TICs) existente en América Latina a las cuales se refirió como “instrumentos desafiantes”. Pero, el mandatario también fue desafiante al señalar que “si la tecnología avanza en una sociedad de bestias, el producto será de bestias”. En pos de este argumento y para dejar inagurada la conferencia agradeció a los presentes “por lo que puedan hacer por mejorar la bestia que llevamos dentro”.

In this sense, Mujica emphasized the importance of increasing commitment to narrowing the digital divide in terms of current access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) in Latin America, which he calls “challenging instruments.” But, the President was also provocative, arguing that “if technology advances in a society of savage beasts, the product will reflect this.” To support his argument, as he inaugurated the conference, he thanked participants for “what they could do to tame the beast we carry within us.”

Also speaking at the opening, Alicia Bárcena, the executive secretary of CEPAL, pointed out that Latin American and Caribbean countries were moving technologically at “two very different speeds,” so it is important to strengthen public institutions and policies with a long term strategic vision. She indicated that, while a recent study revealed the ICT sector is responsible for 3.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, “in the 27 countries of the European Union the rate is 5%”. Journalist and researcher Clarisa Herrera added further examples in an article in Pulso Social, including mobile broadband use statistics:

…en los tres países más avanzados es 15 veces mayor que en los más rezagados. Además, se observa un aumento de la brecha digital de América Latina respecto de los países de la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE) en banda ancha móvil (11% versus 55% de penetración en 2011).

In the three most advanced countries, it is 15 times greater than those most lagging behind. Moreover, the digital divide in mobile bandwidth is increasing for Latin America with respect to members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—11 versus 55% penetration in 2011.

The tangible outcome of the conference was the ratification of a document call the “Montevideo Declaration” in which the representatives of the participating countries resolved to approve, among several points, a roadmap for 2013-2015 and to reaffirm their commitment to implementing the results of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10). However, the most significant point of this accord was that it rejected “any attempt to appropriate in any language, without due consent from the countries of the region, the designation Amazon or Patagonia as well as any other generic top-level domain names (gTLD) [en] referring to geographical, historical, cultural or natural entities, as these should be preserved because of their heritage and cultural value.” On his blog, Peruvian lawyer Erick Iriarte commented that it is the first time at one of these meetings that a regional stand on Internet policies has been so clearly stated, and he adds:

Más allá que Perú haya sido quien propuso el párrafo, con el apoyo de Brasil, Argentina, Chile y Ecuador, han sido los países de toda la región de América Latina y el Caribe quienes han expresado su posición clara en torno a lo que el GAC (NdA: Governmental Advisory Committee (Comité Asesor Gubernamental) del ICANN) debe tomar como acción, en la reunión que está ocurriendo en estos momentos en Beijing, en el marco de la 46 reunión del ICANN. [...] ¿sabrá el GAC oír esta posición de los países de América Latina? Y mejor aún la pregunta a hacerse es ¿el ICANN está preparado para que el GAC no escuche a América Latina, región que ha trabajado arduamente para fortalecer el GAC y diversos espacios de dialogo multistakeholder?

Beyond the fact that Peru proposed the paragraph in question, with the support of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador, it is noteworthy that countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean clearly expressed their position that the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) [en] of ICANN [en] must take action in the meeting happening right now in Beijing, as part of the 46th ICANN conference. [...] Will GAC listen to Latin America's position? And more to the point, the question is whether ICANN is prepared for GAC to ignore Latin America, a region that has worked assiduously to strengthen GAC and many other areas of dialogue among stakeholders.

As indicated by the aforementioned Alicia Bárcena: “These countries are defending names that reflect our heritage and identity against plundering third parties.” In fact, during the 46th meeting of ICANN [en] in Beijing, April 7-11, the Peruvian government reiterated its objection to possible registration of the Internet domain name “.amazon” by a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc. It would seem the plea by Latin American countries was heard: at the end of the ICANN meeting in Beijing, the GAC informed [en] Amazon that some of its requested generic top-level domain names (gTLDs)—.amazon and .patagonia—which had been petitioned by another company could be rejected for being problematic. Greater support is expected from Amazon and other applicants in similar situations, the particulars of which will be available at the next ICANN meeting in July in Durban, South Africa.

To return to Uruguay's ministerial conference, the economist Alfredo Velazco, writing for Usuarios de Internet del Ecuador, offered his opinion of the event:

…se matizó con conferencias con temas muy interesantes, lastimosamente poca audiencia, sin espacio para preguntas y poco debate por la sociedad de la información en redes sociales. Nos queda el reto como sociedad civil abrir más espacios, en especial en lo que tienen que ver con la creación de políticas públicas en nuestros gobiernos; pero también aportar en los espacios digitales.

The conference featured interesting topics, [but] unfortunately [had] poor attendance, without time for questions and little discussion of the information society in social networks. As a civil society, we are left with the challenge of opening up more space, especially with regards to the creation of public policies in our governments; but also where digital space is concerned.

The next ministerial conference on the information society of Latin America and the Caribbean will be held in Mexico in 2015. For more information on the meeting in Montevideo, take a look at #eLAC2015 on Twitter.

Post originally published on the blog Globalizado.

May 23 2013

14-year-old Citizen Journalist Killed Covering Clashes in Syria

Omar Qatifaan, a 14-year-old media activist, was killed 21 May, 2013 while covering clashes between the Syrian Army and the rebel Free Army in the southern Daraa al-Ballad area of Syria near the border with Jordan.

Youth media project Syrian Documents reported on his death, and Syrian news blog YALLA SOURIYA called him the “Spirit of Syria”.

The conflict in Syria, as well as other Arab Spring uprisings, has seen a rise in citizen journalists reporting from the ground on the ongoing war between the country's pro- and anti-government forces. Many have been detained, tortured, and even killed while trying to bring the story of the revolution to the world.

Children have also paid a terrible price during the conflict, with thousands killed during the violence so far.

Media activist Omar was 14 year when he was killed while covering a battle in Daraa, Syria. Source: Twitter account of ‏@RevolutionSyria

Media activist Omar Qatifaan was 14-years-old when he was killed while covering a battle in Daraa, Syria. Photo from the Twitter account of ‏@RevolutionSyria

Another media activist recorded video of Qatifaan after he was killed. The footage was posted on YouTube by SyrianDaysOfRage [GRAPHIC VIDEO]:

May 21 2013

Irrepressible Voices: A New Human Rights Video Website

In addition to reporting on Internet rights challenges around the world, Global Voices Advocacy provides a platform for advocates to discuss Internet and human rights-related projects with goals similar to ours. This post announces the launch of Irrepressible Voices, a new video and human rights initiative based in Berlin.

In recent years, few major catastrophes have taken place without being captured through video, pictures, or tweets by ordinary citizens. Citizen journalists have reported on everything from the civil war in Syria, to natural disasters such as the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, to incidents of police brutality at Occupy protests.

This kind of raw documentation brings new complexity to the information landscape. It has created new avenues for news dissemination, and as more mainstream media outlets include citizen media in their reporting, it has changed and enhanced their coverage. However, there still is a gap between the mainstream media, with their large audiences, and these citizen journalists that must be bridged.

The newly launched project Irrepressible Voices (IV) aims to fill this gap by creating a platform that will connect online activists, bloggers, and citizen journalists with the mainstream media as well as with policy and decision makers.

Irrepressible Voices will focus explicitly on human rights. Users from all over the world are invited to securely upload their videos to the Irrepressible Voices platform. After content is uploaded to the platform, the IV team will verify the video's content, discuss the problems depicted, and identify ways to advocate on the issue in question. This final step will often involve work with other NGOs working in this area. While the community interacts on the platform, IV will connect them with experts from partner institutions.

This short video provides a first impression of the topics that Irrepressible Voices wants to cover:

Irrepressible Voices came into being a year ago during the 5th Initiative on Human Rights and Internet by the Internet & Society Collaboratory. Bloggers from around the world were asked to send their video responses on how the Internet helps to enforce human rights.

The response confirmed the need for people to broadcast their living environment and realities. The Berlin-based Irrepressible Voices team (journalist and social entrepreneur Isabel Gahren, human rights expert Linda Walter, and Eike Leonhardt, a scientist at the Leibniz Information Centre for Economics) started Irrepressible Voices with the support of Futurechallenges.org and Internet & Society Collaboratory.

IV’s partners and media collaborators will help to reach an international audience and thereby increase awareness of their causes. Irrepressible Voices is already collaborating with Reporters without Borders Germany, Futurechallenges.org, Witness.org, Co:llaboratory, Social Impact Lab, and Sourcefabric.

The Irrepressible Voices website is still in its beta phase, but there are already some videos on the platform. The video above was produced in cooperation with Future Challenges and it shows how important the Internet is when it comes to human rights violations. Citizens from all over the world can raise awareness for their causes and make their voices heard.

 

Mario Sorgalla is the Social Media Manager for Future Challenges, a supporter of Irrepressible Voices.

May 02 2013

The Future of the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean

In April, nearly 60 specialists and members of civil society gathered in Montevideo, Uruguay, to discuss the future of the information society in Latin America and The Caribbean.

In both meetings, which took place April 1-2, attendees from all over the region discussed issues such as privacy, new collaborative business models and copyright.

The first meeting, “Open Development: Exploring the Future of Information Society in Latin America and The Caribbean (ALC),” was announced by different civil society organizations led by the Comunica Foundation (Fundación Comunica) and its project, 25 years of Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The concept of the “information society” refers to a society “in which technologies allow creation distribution and manipulation of the information that play a key role in social, cultural and economical activities.” It is somehow seen as “the inheritor of industrial society.” Edgar Uriel Domínguez Espinoza shares a more complete definition on his blog En corto Circuito.

The aims of the meeting were “to discuss the future of the information society, explore the new opportunities and challenges and debate policies that need to be established, insuring that technology contributes to the development of open societies and more dynamic economies in the region. For this purpose, the meeting was organized in five themes: Openness, Copyright, New Models of Collaborative Business, Participation and Democracy and Privacy.

Desarrollo Abierto: Explorando el futuro de la sociedad de la información en América Latina y el Caribe

Speakers at opening session. Image shared on Twitter by @Info25uy.

Working groups and lectures in the program provide an accurate idea of the issues tackled. For instance, one session analyzed “Digital Citizenship.” Another asked: Is privacy dead? Additionally, sessions broached topics such as Internet openness and also presented the book called Banda Ancha en América Latina: más allá de la conectividad [Broadband in Latin America: beyond connectivity.]

Videos of all sessions, as well as the following activities, are available on the website Info25.

The organizers also filmed some brief videos with speakers and attendees, who spoke during the last part of the event, “Voices of the Region.” In the following video, Carolina Botero, from Colombia's Fundación Karisma and Creative Commons, comments on policies that would ensure useres free access to the scientific publications in the region:

In this video, Katitza Rodriguez, a Global Voices Advocacy contributor and staff member of the US-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, calls on governments in the region to be concerned about privacy and freedom of speech in internet:

Eduardo Rojas, from Fundación Redes para el Desarrollo Sostenible [Networks for Sustainable Development Foundation] explains the importance of having qualified people in internet leadership.

The Mexican media communicator Ximena Arrieta attended to the event and she reports on panelists’ discussion of four possible scenarios for the Internet in the future, from best to worst. These scenarios were surmised by the Internet Society, the international Internet governance organization, in a debate about the proposed topic: “The Internet in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) will be free, public and open.”

1) Canasta comunitaria (internet como una red global de procesos colaborativos y participativos).
2) Jardines porosos (el acceso es global a los contenidos acertados, se potencian empresas como Google o Facebook).
3) Telecomunicaciones monopólicas (redes cerradas)
4) Redes boutique (muchas redes, sin articulación y resolución universal).

 1) Community Basket (Internet as a global network with a cooperative and participative process).

2) Permeable Gardens (in which users have global access to accurate content, and companies such as Google or Facebook are strengthened)

3) Monopolized telecommunications (closed networks where access is controlled)

4) Boutique networks (many networks, without articulation or universal resolution)

Ximena also includes notable recommendations from the panel, which were provided by Sandro Jimenez from Kolaboracción, regarding digital citizenship. Some of them include:

- Superar el énfasis de los programas de alfabetización sobre la herramienta. La alfabetización digital como el nuevo melting pot donde desaparecen los usos diferenciados en la medida que pareciera sólo interesar la igualdad por vía de la competencia técnica.
- Los estándares técnicos (banda ancha) genera asimetría [sic] que privilegian el consumo y no la construcción de contenidos contextualizados y adaptados.
- Si la democracia se piensa interactiva, el Estado debe plantearse como plataforma abierta de interacción y definición colectiva de las políticas públicas y no sólo un aparato regulador.

- Increase emphasis on literacy program tools. Digital literacy as the new melting pot, in which different uses disappear when interest in equality through technical qualifications is the only aspect that seems to matter.

- Technical standards (broadband) trigger differences that prioritize consumption over the construction of adapted and contextualized content.

- If democracy is considered to be interactive, the state should not only be recognized as a controlling tool, but also as an open platform for interaction and providing a collective definition of the public policies.

Additionally, the economist Alfredo Velazco in his post for Internet Users in Ecuador, comments on his impressions regarding the debate on entrepreneurship and business online, which took place in the second session:

Una lluvia de ideas bastante interesante comenzando por el concepto de moneda social, pasando a negocios colaborativos, observaciones o apoyos de los gobiernos sobre la temática, plataformas de colaboración, medición del impacto y opción de que estas plataformas sirvan para brindar información ordenada para un open gov. Lastimosamente coincidimos en la existencia de restricciones gubernamentales a la moneda social (desde la no formalización hasta su impedimento de uso) principalmente por no pago de impuestos en las transacciones logradas con esa moneda; adicionalmente la ausencia de políticas en apoyo a negocios colaborativos, desde crowdfunding hasta plataformas verticales.

 An interesting brainstorm which starts with the concept of social currency, touching on collaborative business models, government support on these issues, platforms for collaboration, measuring the impact and an option for this platform regarding providing organized information for an open gov[ernment]. Unfortunately, we agree on the fact that there are governmental restrictions for social currency (from a lack of formal processes to deliberate limitations on use), which is mainly due to unpaid taxes in the transactions with that currency. In addition to this, the lack of policies supporting collaborative business, which ranges from crowd funding to vertical platforms.

Finally, organizers made a last call in a latter post:

Aunque el evento ha terminado, el Desarrollo Abierto continúa. Estamos preparando una publicación y estaremos recibiendo con gusto contribuciones adicionales en la forma de comentarios y respuestas a los temas del evento, realizados por los participantes en el evento Desarrollo Abierto, la Conferencia Ministerial y el público interesado, a través del sitio web y del email info25@comunica.org. Las contribuciones son bienvenidas en cualquier idioma de la región.

Although the event has finished, Open Development continues. We are preparing a publication and we would gladly receive additional contributions and comments on the topics of the event from Open Development attendees, the Ministry Conference, and the interested public. This can be seen in both website and the email info25@comunica.org. Contributions are all welcomed in any language from this region.

We will return in the second meeting in Montevideo.

This post was originally published in Spanish on the blog Globalizado.

May 01 2013

TPP: Biggest Threat to Global Internet Since ACTA?

This article was co-authored by Maira Sutton and Katitza Rodriguez of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Its original version can be found here.

The United States and ten governments from around the Pacific region are meeting yet again to hash out the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) on May 15-24 in Lima, Peru. The TPP is one of the worst global threats to the Internet since ACTA. Since negotiations have been secretive from the beginning of the process, advocates seeking to learn more about the agreement have been relying on a leaked draft [PDF] of the treaty from February 2011. Based on that text, some other leaked notes, and the undemocratic nature of the entire process, we have every reason to be alarmed about the copyright enforcement provisions contained in this multinational trade deal.

The TPP is likely to export some of the worst features of US copyright law to Pacific Rim countries: a broad ban on breaking digital locks on devices and creative works (even for legal purposes), a minimum copyright term of the lifetime of the creator plus seventy years (the current international norm is the lifetime plus fifty years), privatization of enforcement for copyright infringement, ruinous statutory damages with no proof of actual harm, and government seizures of computers and equipment involved in alleged infringement. Moreover, the TPP is worse than US copyright rules: it does not export the many balances and exceptions under US law that favor the public interest and act as safety valves in limiting rightsholders’ protections.

Adding insult to injury, the TPP's temporary copies provision will likely create chilling effects on how people and companies behave online and their basic ability to use and create on the Web. The stated goal of the TPP is to unite Pacific Rim countries by harmonizing tariffs and trade rules between them, but in reality, it's much more than that. The “intellectual property” chapter in this massive trade agreement will likely force changes to copyright and patent rules in each of the signatory countries. Accepting these new rules will not just re-write national laws, it will also restrict the possibility for countries to introduce more balanced copyright laws in the future.

This strategy may end up harming more proportionate laws in countries such as Chile, where a judicial order is required for ISPs to be held liable for copyright infringement or to take down content. Such systems better protect users and intermediaries from disproportionate or censorship-driven takedowns. If the final TPP text forces countries to adopt a privatized notice-and-takedown regime, this could imply the end of the Chilean system. It would also undermine Canada's notice-and-notice regime.

Film, music and other content industries can and will continue to use their economic and political power to get laws that protects their interests. They did it with SOPA and ACTA, and now it's happening with TPP [es]. It's going to be a challenge to defeat these policies, but users can do it. The TPP is slated for conclusion this October, but our goal is to get the worst of these copyright provisions out of it. The way to fight back is to show that we will not put up with this: to demand an open, transparent process that allows everyone, including experts from civil society, to analyze, question, and probe any initiatives to regulate the Internet. The secrecy must be stopped once and for all.

Digital rights advocacy groups around the world are working to change the TPP process and bring users’ concerns to the table. Users in any country can join a campaign led by Canadian NGO OpenMedia by clicking here. Users in the US can join EFF's campaign, directed at US Congress members, which calls for the immediate release of the text of the TPP and demands that this process become democratic and transparent.

Below is EFF's infographic highlighting the most problematic aspects of TPP. Please spread the word about how this agreement will impact you and your country. Right-click and save the image for the PNG file, or you can download the PDF version below. Remix it, build upon it, and get the word out. Let's protect and defend the Internet from this secret trade deal.

 

April 30 2013

Cameroon: Blogger Enoh Meyomesse Still in Jail

Cameroonian writer and blogger Enoh Meyomesse has been held in jail in Yaoundé, Cameroon's capital city, for over 17 months. Accused of stealing and illegally selling gold, he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment by the Military court of Yaoundé, after a process that several organizations considered illegitimate. Many suspect that Meyomesse, who received the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award in 2013 and is now an honorary member of the PEN American Center, faced a political trial aimed at silencing one of the most prolific intellectuals of Cameroon.

Liberez Enoh by PEN American Center is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

Liberez Enoh by PEN American Center. (CC BY-NC 3.0 Unported)

Several events reveal the nervousness of the regime regarding the Enoh Meyomesse case. On February 22, 2013 the Committee for the Liberation of Enoh was supposed to take part in a press conference organized by Tribunal Article 53, a Cameroonian NGO, on the situation of the blogger and writer. But the conference was banned [fr] on the grounds that the statement sent to the prefectorial authority was incomplete. In this video, shot on February 22, organizers deny the allegation while public forces expel participants from the conference venue. PEN has created an interactive timeline on the jailing of Enoh Meyomesse.

In addition, since April 5, 2013, Enoh has been forbidden [fr] by the Superintendent from using the computer room of Kondengui prison, where he is incarcerated. Enoh used computers to draft three books: Poems of hope, The elite against the people from 1884 to the present day, and Cameroon: Desert of human rights. In a letter addressed to the prison Superintendent, Enoh Meyomesse expresses his surprise at how he has been treated at Kondengui.

Despite this hostile environment, mobilization continues for the release of Enoh Meyomesse. With substantial assistance from his lawyers, Enoh's appeal against his sentence was received and his case will now move from the military to the civil court.

Advocates around the world have begun to voice support for Meyomesse. A Paris-based collective composed and sang this song, based on one of Enoh Meyomesse's poem Noël en Prison (Christmas In Jail).

Cameroon will have its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council on May 1, 2013. Several international organizations have recommended that the country end the persecution of writers and protect online freedom of expression.

 

Advocates are petitioning for the release of Enoh Meyomesse. To join the campaign, read, sign, and share the petition by clicking here.

April 29 2013

AFTE Releases Legal Guide to Digital Security for Arab Human Rights Activists

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, in Egypt, has issued a “legal guide to digital security” as part of its digital freedoms program. The guide was produced for campaigners and human rights activists and lawyers interested in digital freedom of expression and the confidentiality of communications and information stored on mobile phones, computers or any other device used to store or distribute data or information. They argue that security problems can present a risk to both users and others, particularly in the case of users living under repressive regimes that restrict freedom of expression and the right to privacy and in countries where activists using the internet and other digital services often face vague charges such as “misuse of communications networks” or “insulting individuals and organisations by means of digital publishing.”

The legal guide to digital security is divided into two parts: the first is a technical manual for ways to secure data and information and how to combat snooping or infiltration; the second is a collection of legal advice for people facing prosecution charged with publishing digital content illegally.

The guide, published as part of the digital freedoms program by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, stands out for its emphasis on the legal aspects of digital security and its attempt to explain the most important aspects to be considered during investigations and trials related to crimes of digital publication, where the perpetrators often enjoy a greater degree of anonymity than is the case with other crimes. The technical part of the guide provides a number of tools for digital safety related to browsing, file editing, data storage, restoring lost files, combating viruses and thwarting snooping attempts as well as other tools.

Click here to view the paper [ar].

April 24 2013

Human Rights Verdict Could Affect Cisco in China

photo by kaoticsnow on a CC license

Photo by kaoticsnow. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2011, two separate lawsuits were filed against Cisco Systems alleging that its technology enabled the government of China to monitor, capture, and kill Chinese citizens for their views and beliefs.

The first case involved practitioners of Falun Gong, a religion that is popularly known for its use of qigong exercises and has an estimated two million or more members in China. The suit was filed on behalf of Charles Lee, Guifu Liu, Ivy He, and several anonymous plaintiffs and accuses Cisco of marketing its technology to construct the Golden Shield, or what is popularly called the Great Firewall of China, while knowing that its products would be used to target dissidents. At least 2,000 members of the Falun Gong have been killed by the government of China, according to The New York Times, and many more have been tortured or harassed.

The second case (the Writers case) involved a group of internet writers and activists who were similarly targeted by censors of the Great Firewall. Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, Liu Xianbin, and anonymous co-plaintiffs claim to have been harassed, arrested, and tortured because of their online writings.

To what extent are these human rights violations attributable to technology provided by Cisco? The complaint in the Writers case states that Cisco began marketing its products to the Chinese government in 2002 when the Great Firewall was still in its infancy. The available evidence is especially compelling in the Falun Gong case. It includes a leaked Cisco marketing team PowerPoint slide explaining that its systems could be used to “Combat ‘Falun Gong’ evil religion and other hostiles.” Other documents reveal that Cisco may have customized its products to specifically monitor groups like the Falun Gong, and were so significant that the plaintiffs in the Falun Gong case amended their complaint in March 2012. (For an excellent backgrounder from 2011, read Jillian York's piece for EFF here.)

The plaintiffs in both cases sued under a variety of laws including the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a crucial 200 year-old law that has been successfully used to hold human rights violators accountable in US courts.

The ATS was used in several law suits in Nigeria involving a group of writers and activists who were jailed, tortured, or executed by the military regime in the mid-1990s for peacefully protesting the destruction of Niger Delta wetlands by Royal Dutch Shell and other international oil conglomerates. The claimants in these cases sued Shell, arguing that the company had aided and abetted the Nigerian government and violated international law.

When the Supreme Court agreed to revisit the ATS in Kiobel v. Shell—the latest of the string of Nigeria cases utilizing the Alien Tort Statute—both Cisco cases were put on hold in October 2011 because their outcome would be affected by the top court's ruling. Human rights activists feared the worst from the conservative court, and they were right to be afraid. In its decision, the court significantly narrowed the scope of the ATS by citing a principle called the “presumption against extraterritoriality”, a legal term of art that means that laws should be interpreted as only applying within the U.S. unless clearly stated otherwise. (Click here for an in-depth explanation of Kiobel at PEN.org.)

photo by longtrekhome on a CC license

Falun Dafa practitioners. Photo by longtrekhome. (CC BY 2.0)

The Supreme Court judges issued three separate concurring opinions in Kiobel, which do not have the force of law. These suggest that if there is a significant enough American interest, then a federal court could properly hear an ATS case. Cisco is headquartered in the U.S. and was selling its products abroad, so this seems like a significant interest for Americans. The victims, however, were Chinese nationals, although some of them now reside in the US. It is therefore unclear whether the plaintiffs would overcome the burden to show that Cisco's actions affected an American interest.

Even if US federal courts hold that the Alien Tort Statute does not apply to the Cisco cases, the plaintiffs in each suit also filed claims alleging violations of state law (in California and Maryland, respectively) and the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which governs the ability of companies to disclose private user data to government and law enforcement officials. On the surface, these claims are not nearly as strong as an ATS claim before Kiobel. In 2009, a judge in a California federal court held in Zheng v. Yahoo! that the ECPA does not apply abroad, even when information that is disclosed abroad passes through computer servers on American soil.

Before Kiobel, there was no guarantee that human rights victims could win an ATS case on the merits in federal court, and the cases often resulted in settlement. But we have now come to the point when critical human rights cases may not even be argued in U.S. courts at all. This is a terrible loss for human rights, and even a loss for corporations. Litigating the Cisco cases in open court would provide a vital human rights record for the global community about how tech firms operate.

There is another formidable hurdle: the legal team that defended Royal Dutch Shell in Kiobel, led by the former dean of Stanford Law School Kathleen Sullivan, is also defending Cisco.

Human rights are good for business. A 2012 open letter from a group of socially responsible investors representing over $548 billion in investments explicitly stated [PDF] that human rights can and should be protected by businesses. This goal was reinforced by the UN's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which require companies to actively protect human rights, respect them, and provide remedies to victims of human rights abuses that result from actions by companies. Unfortunately, the facts in Kiobel and Cisco suggest that we are not there yet, and we need the courts to show us the way to go. In this sense, the Supreme Court has provided no real guidance.

 

April 19 2013

Mexico: Another Voice Goes Silent

On April 7, a social media user known only as Valor Por Tamaulipas announced plans [es] to close Facebook and Twitter accounts that have become popular sources of information on drug violence in northern Mexico. Valor por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaulipas) has been using social media to crowdsource reports from citizens in the state of Tamaulipas, which has been riddled with drug-related conflict and corruption since 2006. Little is known about the administrator of the Valor por Tamaulipas (VxT) accounts — although messages from VxT are written in the first person, it is possible that the VxT online identity is managed by a group of people.
Protest against narco-state violence. Photo by Jesus Villaseca Perez. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Protest against narco-state violence. Photo by Jesus Villaseca Perez. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Some following the situation believe that VxT is a credible source working in the interests of civilians who may be harmed by violence in the region. But given the degree of anonymity that VxT has used online, and the general lack of reliable information on drug-related crimes in Mexico, this is also difficult to verify.

In February of 2013, an unidentified drug organization circulated a pamphlet offering MX$600,000 for information on the whereabouts of the administrator(s) of the VxT social media accounts. Shortly afterwards, VxT announced plans to suspend reporting; we can only speculate if this threat had something to do with it. Last week, VxT told readers of plans to close both its Twitter and Facebook accounts [es].

Below is are consecutive excerpts from the official message posted on Facebook [es]:
Lamento haber cerrado la página de forma intempestiva y sin hacer aclaraciones al respecto, la página sigue su curso para su cierre definitivo en menos de 9 dias, entré hoy para primero que nada deslindarme de cualquier otro esfuerzo que se genere de comunidades de apoyo a SDR en la que se indique o se infiera algún tipo de aprobación de mi parte.

I am sorry to have closed the page abruptly and with no explanations, the page will remain live until its final closing in less than 9 days. I logged in today to make it clear that I will no longer be part of any effort to support SDR [situación de riesgo, situation of risk or threat] or anything that might infer any endorsement on my part.

[...]

Tienen que estar conscientes que hay muy pocas personas que podrían realmente estar interesados en hacer un apoyo como el que algunos usuarios realizamos en los que no tenemos ningún tipo de interes personal o por parte de organizaciones criminales, o de autoridades estatales o federales.

No pueden confiar en la primer página que salga diciendo que siguen los pasos de VxT, solo pueden confiar con el tiempo, evaluando lo que se indica y con que razón pueden estar haciendo esas indicaciones en el modo que lo hacen. En la experiencia que he tenido en el año y meses de administrar la página, me he encontrado que las redes sociales son un campo de batalla en el que los usuarios principales tienen algún tipo de interes o rol en esta misma guerra…

You have to know that there are few people who could really be interested in advocating the way some users do, with no personal interest or criminal or government allegiance – state or federal. You cannot trust the first page that comes your way saying it is following VxT's (Valor por Tamaulipas) steps.

You can only trust after time, evaluating what's been said and the reasons behind what they say. In my year-and-a-half of experience managing this page, I have learned that social networks are a battle field in which key users have a certain interest or role in this same war.

[...]

Yo no digo que no colaboren con otras redes de SDR, pero por Dios sean conscientes de lo que hacen, utilicen cuentas genéricas, y no hagan caso que VxT mandó decir tal cosa. Ya se deben de imaginar la cantidad de personas e intereses que hay por replicar lo que se ha logrado aquí.

No se como explicarlo pero en mi caso específico si ganó una batalla, pero me la ganó a mi no a la sociedad, me ganó a mi y a mi familia, sin embargo no le ganó a las 200,000 personas que confiaron y los miles que hicieron colaboraciones a pesar del temor. No puedo seguir en esta trinchera por diversas razones, que creo no es necesario explicarlas….creo he dado todo lo que podía y ya empieza a ser notoria mi incapacidad para administrar la página, los reportes, los riesgos, etc.

I am not saying you should not collaborate with other SDR networks, but for God's sake be conscious of what you are doing, use generic accounts and don't believe that VxT gave this or that message. You can imagine the number of people and interests that want to replicate what we have succeeded in doing.

I don't know how to explain it, but organized crime in my specific case won the battle, though it won it over me not society, it won it over me and my family, not the 200,000 persons who trusted [me] and the thousands that collaborated despite being afraid. I can no longer be in these trenches for several reasons that I believe it's not necessary to explain….I believe I've given everything I could and it's already obvious I'm incapable of administering the page, the reports, the risks, etc.

This is not the first time a crowdsourced citizen media initiative covering drug violence has gone silent for fear of reprisals. Recently, Ruy Salgado, author of the popular blog el5antuario.org disappeared from public view and stopped adding content to the site.  In a three-hour message, he explained that he could not go into detail about his victimization during the 42 days of silence after his disappearance “because there is no security that what happened to me will not happen again and I cannot put my family at risk” but he did refer to a “forced disappearance” caused by Mexico being “a failed narco-state.”

This conflict has forced many traditional news organizations to curb their reporting on drug violence; the Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that sixteen journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2006, mostly due to their coverage of drug-related crime and corruption. As citizen and social media users work to fill this silence and report on what they see and hear on the ground, leading figures like VxT and Ruy Salgado have become new targets for drug organizations. Global Voices Advocacy will continue to cover these threats as they progress. We invite readers who have news or information about the issue to contact us in the comments field, on Twitter, or by email.

Recent GVA and GV coverage of drug-related violence in Mexico:

April 17 2013

The Psychological Strains of Digital Activism

Iran's Green Movement began in 2009 when citizen groups accused government officials of altering outcomes in national elections. Citizens and activists gathered in the streets to protest and also relied on social networks such as Twitter to disseminate their message and coordinate action. When the government sought to control media reports of what was happening inside the country, activists used tools for circumventing blocked websites and sharing content for broader distribution to the world, often with help from supporters in other parts of the world.

This marked one of the first large-scale movements where new media served as a platform for coordination and communication between activists and played a vital role in showing the world what was happening on the ground. The following narrative comes from Cameran Ashraf, an Iranian-American citizen living in the United States who helped facilitate communication and information exchange for activists and protesters during this period.

Green Movement demonstration in Iran, 2009. Photo by Jeff McNeill. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Green Movement demonstration in Iran, 2009. Photo by Jeff McNeill. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

My blog has remained silent for quite some time. The reasons lie in the post I am about to write.

From 2009-2011 I played a pivotal role on the Internet side of the Iranian Green Movement. This brought me many opportunities, such as co-founding AccessNow, media attention (including from the Iranian government), and deep connections with like-minded individuals. It helped me frame my passions and desire to do good in the world, to understand a lot about who I was and how I saw the world. It was also psychologically devastating and something I am still coming to grips with.

There are different kinds of digital activists. Some focus on Twitter or spreading information. Others mobilize support on Facebook. A few make posters, motivational videos, or leverage other talents.  Some, and I include myself in this class, provide direct technological support to movements and activists in-country. Our team provided secured hosting to dozens of key websites, supported key reporters and activists in-country, and I facilitated more than 3 million video downloads from inside Iran, amongst other activities. I was on call 24-hours a day from 2009-2011 and can only rarely recall more than 4 hours of sleep a night.

If it sounds as if I am bragging or inflating myself, I am not – this is part of the healing process and part of coming to terms with feelings of not doing enough, not helping enough, and not being enough. There is something to geographically distant material engagement which pushes ones feelings to the margins, to the point where your body lives on the time in another land and the only thing motivating you is the pureness of help itself.

While much is made of digital activism and the ability afforded us by the Internet to help, little is made of its costs on those who do help. Because of one's extreme virtual proximity, intense feelings of inadequacy and of “not doing enough” emerge. You're doing what you can do to the detriment to your own health – but the people you support and whose digital security depends on you – are there facing all of the risks you experience by proxy. You recognize the seriousness yet at the same time the absurdity, as even mundane annoyances, such as being stuck in traffic, become extraordinary moments where you see what is “truly important” in the world. Constantly focusing on what is “truly important” means you often neglect the mundane side of what is “truly important” – your mental health, relationships with family and friends, and fun time to relax. The pleasure of normal conversations, the absurdities of daily life, the sun, stars, hugs, all slowly dissolve as you begin to live the crisis and realities of others thousands of miles away. Those anxieties become internalized and externalized in anger, irritation, lashing out – all of which I did.

It is “the cause,” after all. That movement which will make the world right, which will correct the horrific injustices you were privy to on a daily basis. It will avenge the friends arrested, tortured, or killed. You live, breathe, eat, feel, touch, anything related to it. The moments away from the computer are engaged in phone calls, texts, or in-person meetings and events. My body was in Los Angeles, but my mind was in Iran.

Being so connected to something you are disconnected to is, I believe, deeply disturbing to your psyche. Sooner or later things make sense and your mind realizes it's been seeing and reading one thing and living another. At that moment it just happens – you “go dark”. Vanish. I didn't tell anyone. I stopped replying to emails, texts, and phone calls. It was a complete breakdown which I am still recovering from. To this day I turn my cellphone face-down and keep it permanently on silent as I associate much trauma and bad news with it.

I sat silent for a year, seeing a therapist but keeping everything inside. The few individuals I confided in could only distantly try to understand, in the sort of way we empathize with someone who has lost a loved one while we are still whole. Though I didn't realize it at the time, a good friend and important activist told me four words which would slowly embed themselves within me: You did your part.

That was it. You did your part. I kept repeating those words – you did your part – day and night. It was my own Green Movement – one which stood up for myself. It was right, but it was not an epiphany. It did not cure me or bring me closure. What it did was open up a door for me to see what I did and to realize that it was what I could do based on where I was. I had done my part. I had answered the question which I had asked myself in June 2009: What will you say if your children ask you what you did when Iranians came to the streets? I could answer it now, as if I didn't know it all along: I did my part. I could remain engaged with digital activism, but in manageable ways which honor the causes I support as well as myself.

Each digital activist involved with in-country activists will encounter the stresses differently. The trauma of crisis at a distance will speak to their psychology in a unique way with unique repercussions. This is a different yet still heroic side of digital activism, far removed and hidden from the ideals of privacy, security, democracy, and human rights. It is a personal heroism which only a few see and only one person feels.

I have briefly shared my own story as a means to open a real dialogue on mental health and digital activism – something I wish I had done much sooner and which should be part of any activist toolkit and training. Each digital activist will ultimately have their own story, their own confession which allows them continue down the path to a sense of personal normalcy and wholeness. This is the start of mine.

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

Russia's #1 Netizen Heads to Trial

Pussy Riot, eat your heart out. On Wednesday, April 17, 2013, Russia’s most polarizing blogger, Alexey Navalny (often described as the opposition’s greatest hope for electoral breakthrough, should it ever happen), will stand trial for embezzling roughly half a million dollars from a state-owned timber company in the city of Kirov, home to about as many people as dollars Navalny allegedly stole. In a country constantly plagued by politicized legal proceedings, prosecuting the nation’s most prominent netizen promises fireworks.

Russia is a place that’s no stranger to courtroom outrage. Last August, Pussy Riot may have set a new standard for global scandal, but the trials against former oligarchs Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev in 2004 and 2010, as well as the “judicial murder” of investment banker William Browder’s colleague Sergei Magnitsky in 2009, have all blackened Russia’s image at home and abroad for nearly decade now. This is to say nothing of the looming trials against the more than two dozen “Bolotnoe Delo” suspects (supposedly involved in instigating acts of violence against riot police at a mass rally last year on May 6). More than half of these people have been rotting for months in pretrial detention. Others were spared incarceration, but they too await their day in court. The muscly Maxim Luzianin has already been sentenced [ru] to over four years in prison.

Alexey Navalny at a Moscow protest, 26 May 2012, photo by MItya Aleshkovskiy, CC 3.0.

Alexey Navalny at a Moscow protest, 26 May 2012. Photo by MItya Aleshkovskiy, CC 3.0.

Activists have created a website, 6may.org, to spread awareness about the still-ongoing investigation, regularly publishing sympathetic bulletins about individual suspects, and encouraging the public to donate money [ru] to their legal defense and publicity campaign. Navalny’s own “political prisoners” project, rosuznik.org, also collects crowdsourced funds for the Bolotnoe Delo accused, among others.

On what netizen support, other than his own RosPil offshoots, can Navalny rely, if he too finds himself behind bars, come the end of his trial in Kirov?

At the time of this post's publication, exactly five hundred Facebook users had pledged to attend a demonstration [ru] outside Novopushkinsky Square in Moscow, scheduled for the day that Navalny’s trial in Kirov begins. The rally—yet to be sanctioned by the city’s authorities—is being organized by “The Citizen Federation,” a movement tied [ru] to quasi-oppositionist oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and human rights activists such as Lev Ponomarev.

The comments section on that Facebook event features your standard mix of earnest support and jaundiced Internet trolling. Sergei Valuev, for instance, writes:

Я не поддерживаю Навального, потому что ему не верю

I don’t support Navalny because I don’t believe him.

Ilya Barsukov declares:

Наваленный такой же вор как и правящая псевдо элита! Стране нужен настоящий лидер- оппозиционер, но я такого пока не вижу. И видимо не увижу, т. К. Путин в своем деле профессионал

Navalny is the same kind of thief as all the ruling pseudo elite! The country needs a real leader-oppositionist, but I don’t see anyone like that. And apparently I’m not going to see one, as it seems Putin is a professional [at keeping out competition].

The group’s creator Igor Bakirov, meanwhile, has tried to stay on message:

Друзья, реально нужно чтобы на митинг пришло много много людей, приглашайте своих друзей и друзей своих друзей

Friends, we really need for lots and lots of people to come to the rally. Invite your friends and your friends’ friends!

Elsewhere on Facebook, journalist Alexandra Astakhova has launched a group [ru] titled “The Case Against Navalny Is a Case Against Us All!” The group’s self-description begins with the following fighting words:

Эта группа объединяет тех, кто понимает: уголовные дела, сфабрикованные против Алексея Навального, направлены против всех нас. Шаг за шагом преступный режим, опьяненный безнаказанностью, делает жизнь в нашей стране невыносимой, шаг за шагом подбирается к нам, к нашим друзьям.

This group unites those who understand that the criminal cases fabricated against Alexey Navalny are directed at us all. Step by step, the criminal regime—intoxicated on impunity—makes life in our country more unbearable. Step by step, it closes in on us, on our friends.

Astakhova’s group (open to the public) now boasts over 1,660 members [ru], including many prominent members, both Russian and foreign, of the Moscow press corps (and more than a few activists), such as: The Guardian’s Miriam Elder, Ekho Moskvy’s Tikhon Dzyadko, activist Ilya Yashin, satirist Viktor Shenderovich, The New Times’ Ilya Barabanov, activist Olga Romanova, Slon.ru’s Tonia Samsonova, Berlingske’s Simon Kruse, The New Times’ Yevgenia Albats, EJ.ru’s Aleksandr Ryklin, and Ekho Moskvy’s Ksenia Larina—just to name a few.

Screen capture from Oleg Kalman's LiveJournal instructions for "becoming Navalny's secret agent," 13 April 2013.

Screen capture from Oleg Kalman's LiveJournal instructions for “becoming Navalny's secret agent,” 13 April 2013.

In a photo campaign that somewhat mirrors the anti-homophobia website loveislegal.ru (an association Navalny and company would probably wish to avoid), Navalny-supporters have begun publishing photographs [ru] of themselves holding up signs that read, “The case against Navalny is a case against me!” Oleg Kalman, Astakhova’s colleague at the newspaper Vedomosti, has similarly encouraged [ru] Russians to get involved by “becoming Navalny’s secret agents” and spray-painting Navalny’s surname onto the asphalt wherever possible. (Kalman insists this is legal, so long as people keep the paint on the ground, though he also advises readers to carry out the deed at night, when nobody is looking.) “It’s not vandalism, you’re not destroying someone else’s property, and the inscription will wear off after a couple of months,” he assures his audience.

Russia’s netizens—or at least Moscow’s most active denizens—seem to be ready for a fight. Will their protests pass with a whimper or unleash a new wave of social unrest? Are Russians ready to take up Navalny’s cause? Or does the nation suffer from a crippling “political prisoner” fatigue? The sanctity of Moscow’s pavement, along with the fates of several human beings, hangs in the balance.

April 06 2013

Bangladesh: Global Voices Condemns Assault on Bloggers

The Global Voices community, comprised of bloggers, writers, and  activists from more than 100 countries, wish to express our concern about the current state of freedom of expression online in Bangladesh.

On  Monday, April 1, the Detective Branch of the Bangladesh Police detained three bloggers in Dhaka: Rasel Parvez, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Subrata  Adhikari Shuvo.  On Wednesday police detained Asif Mohiuddin, another blogger and the Home Minister revealed that seven more bloggers were to be arrested in the coming days. These men have been accused of demeaning Islam and the  Prophet Muhammad on their blogs. Days prior to these detentions, various  fundamentalist groups issued threats to bloggers and Facebook users who made derogatory remarks about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad; several  blogs have been blocked by authorities for similar reasons. On March 31, representatives of conservative Muslim clerics submitted a list of 84  bloggers to a committee formed by the Home Ministry, accusing the  bloggers of atheism and writing against Islam.

Three arrested bloggers stand with computers and police in the capital. Image by Rehman Asad. Copyright Demotix (2/4/2013)

Three arrested bloggers stand with computers and police in the capital. Image by Rehman Asad. Copyright Demotix (2/4/2013)

Global Voices wishes to condemn these acts and reminds the government of Bangladesh of its commitments to free expression online:
Article 39 (1, 2) of Chapter-3 of Bangladesh’s constitution [PDF] guarantees “freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech,” allowing only for “reasonable restrictions imposed by law.” Bangladesh is a non-religious parliamentary democracy;  if a person claims to be an atheist, he or she has the same rights as  other citizens.

In  2000, Bangladesh ratified the International Covenant on Civil and  Political Rights, thereby further asserting its commitment to free  expression under Article 19 of the Covenant, which guarantees all people the right to “hold opinions without interference” and to the right to freedom of expression. It notes that this right shall include “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers…”

We believe that there is a fine line between satire, criticism, and insulting religion. The detained bloggers should be entitled to proper legal counsel to defend their position.
Our  community believes that the free expression rights of the detained  bloggers are being unjustly violated. Furthermore, as it is widely held  that the right to free expression cannot be protected if individuals do not feel free to express themselves without fear of retribution, we worry that the rights of  those who have been blacklisted are also under threat, as they must  certainly fear retribution for their ideas at this point in time.

Global Voices is deeply concerned about these escalating threats to free expression in Bangladesh. We call for the immediate release of the  detained bloggers and urge government actors to uphold their commitments to national law and international human rights doctrine.

April 01 2013

Bangladesh Authorities Go After ‘Anti-Muslim’ Bloggers

As deadly clashes between Islamist activists and authorities continue to escalate religious tensions in Bangladesh, the country's telecommunications authority is making moves to silence bloggers deemed anti-Muslim or anti-state.

Award-winning blogger Asif Mohiuddin and three other bloggers have become the latest target of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, according to online news site Timesworld24.com [bn]. The commission recently contacted Somewhereinblog.net, the largest blogging platform in Bangladesh, requesting that the four blogs be taken down from the site.

In a report on its website, Somewhereinblog.net officially acknowledged that it had removed the four blogs in line with the government request.

The Bangladesh government formed [bn] a nine-member committee on March 13, 2013 to track bloggers and Facebook users who made derogatory remarks about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, a member of the committee, has requested information on a number of bloggers from different blogging platforms in an effort to ban certain writers considered insulting to Islam or anarchistic.

This development comes after Islamists had claimed that bloggers who support the ongoing Shahbag movement – which demands capital punishment for the country's war criminals, some of which are high-ranking leaders of the country's largest Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami – are atheist and anti-Islamic, and foster anti-social elements.

Some Islamist activists have gone so far to declare that Shahbag bloggers will be slaughtered in public. Blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was on the forefront of the Shahbag movement and wrote frequently about religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh, was brutally murdered outside his home in capital city Dhaka on February 15, 2013.

Mohiuddin, a self proclaimed atheist, has been vocal for the Shahbag movement and wrote against religion and religious politics. But whether his blogging has anything to do with inciting religious violence and hatred is yet to be proven. In January 2013, he was brutally attacked by unknown assailants, presumably for his writings. The police recently arrested four persons who revealed that they attacked Mohiuddin on instruction of a religious extremist.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle Syeda Gulshan Ferdous Jana, founder of Somewhereinblog.net said:

This is the first time in the over seven years of somewhereinblog.net that authorities have issued written instructions to discipline bloggers. The email named four bloggers, including Asif Mohiuddin's blog profile, and advised us to permanently remove all of these blogs immediately.

Mohiuddin, whose blog won the best social activism blog from the Deutsche Welle Best Of Blogs Awards 2012, has suffered backlash from his writing in the past. He was arrested in 2011 during an offline protest and police suggested that he should stop writing.

Blogger Asif Mohiuddin. Image by Siam Sarower Jamil. Copyright Demotix (10/2/2013)

Blogger Asif Mohiuddin. Image by Siam Sarower Jamil. Copyright Demotix (10/2/2013)

On March 20, 2013, Mohiuddin and seven other bloggers were sued by an individual in the northern Bangladeshi district of Natore [bn] on charges of libeling Islam, God, and the Prophet Muhammad. Another lawsuit against these bloggers in Chittagong was dismissed on March 6, 2013 for lack of evidence.

Mohiuddin commented in a Facebook note [bn] about his recent ban:

প্রায় প্রতিদিন ধর্মের পক্ষে অসংখ্য ব্লগে অসংখ্য লেখা পোস্ট হয়। অথচ অনলাইনে শুধুমাত্র “আমি প্রচলিত ধর্মে অবিশ্বাসী” এই কথাটুকু বলার অপরাধে অসংখ্য অশ্রাব্য গালিগালাজের সম্মুখীন হয়েছি।

Each day, many posts are published on religion. But when I wrote only that “I do not believe in traditional religions”, I was attacked by many.

In the same post, he called the commission's efforts to shut down blogs a dangerous precedent:

কোন ব্লগারের লেখা সেই ব্লগটির নিজস্ব আইন অনুসারে বেআইনী মনে হলে বা শর্তাবলী লঙ্ঘিত হয়েছে বলে মনে হলে ব্লগ কর্তৃপক্ষই তার সিদ্ধান্ত নেবে। ব্লগ কর্তৃপক্ষ এই বিষয়ে স্বাধীন এবং কোন লেখা থাকবে আর কোন লেখাটি থাকবে না, তা সিদ্ধান্ত নেয়ার দায়িত্ব কোনভাবেই কোন ক্ষমতাশালী মহলকে দেয়া যাবে না। ভেবে দেখুন, আজ এই অজুহাতে কারো ব্লগ সরকার বন্ধ করে দিতে সক্ষম হলে সরকার ভেবে নেবে ব্লগারদের তারা নিয়ন্ত্রণ করতে সক্ষম। তাই কাল আরেকজন ব্লগারের ব্লগও তারা বাতিল করার আবদার তুলবে। কোন সরকারই অনন্তকাল থাকবে না, আগামিতে কোন ধর্মান্ধ গোষ্ঠী ক্ষমতায় চলে আসলে পরিস্থিতি কোনদিকে যাবে?

If the writings of any blogger defies any of the rules of the blog or is deemed illegal then the blog owners can decide on that. Which posts should be published or not should be at the discretion of the blog platform, not the regulatory authorities. Just imagine, if the authorities can manage to shut down a voice by forcing the platforms to do so they can start believing that they can control the bloggers. So they will find another reason to ban another blogger. The government will change and imagine if any radical Islamist government comes to power what will happen?

In an interview with Deutsche Welle radio Mohiuddin has said that he will not give up blogging.

Stop authoritarian aggression against bloggers. Blogging is our right. Image courtesy Asif Mohiuddin

“Stop authoritarian aggression against bloggers. Blogging is our right.” Image courtesy Asif Mohiuddin

Bangladesh is a non-religious parliamentary democracy, so there is no sharia law or blasphemy law. If anybody claims to be an atheist, he or she has the same rights as other citizens. However, Under Section 295A of Bangladesh's Penal Code (1860), any person who has a “deliberate” or “malicious” intention of “hurting religious sentiments” can be subject to imprisonment.

The commission has stated [bn] that according to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Act, it can ask required information from any individual or institution who uses the Internet. However, blogging platform Amarblog [bn] published a statement on March 22, 2013 saying that it won't jeopardize bloggers’ privacy at the request of the government. It questioned the commission's legal authority to ask for blogger information as well as questioned if it has jurisdiction over Amarblog which is registered in the United Kingdom and hosted on an overseas server.

Bloggers have also doubted the legal basis for such demands.

Blogger Mohammad Munim [bn] criticized the commission on Muktangon, a community blog:

বাংলাদেশের সংবিধানে মত প্রকাশের পূর্ণ মৌলিক অধিকার সকল নাগরিককেই দেওয়া হয়েছে। [..] BTRC নামের তথাকথিত স্বাধীন এই কমিশনটির হাতে যে-কোন ব্লগ বা ওয়েবসাইট বন্ধের সুইচ থাকলেও সে-সুইচের ব্যবহার দেশের সংবিধান মেনেই করতে হবে, কোন কর্তাব্যক্তির খেয়ালখুশিমতো নয়।

According to Bangladesh Constitution, every citizen has the right to express their own opinion freely. [...] The self-proclaimed independent commission may have the switch to block any website or blog, but they will have to act according to due process as per the constitution, not at the whim of some officials.

Blogger and activist Rayhan Rashid [bn] wrote on Facebook that the government might be piggybacking off of rising religious tensions in order to broaden its power:

বিটিআরসি'র সাম্প্রতিক এই অপতৎপরতার সাথে কোথায় যেন জামাত-শিবিরের শাহবাগ আন্দোলনকে “নাস্তিকদের আন্দোলন” হিসেবে সুযোগসন্ধানী ব্র্যান্ডিংয়ের মিল আছে। জামাত-শিবিরের দরকার ছিল শাহবাগ আন্দোলনকে প্রশ্নবিদ্ধ করা, আর সে লক্ষ্যে তারা ১৯৭১ এর মতোই অস্ত্র হিসেবে বেছে নিয়েছে ধর্মীয় উম্মাদনা, আর বিভাজন-বিদ্বেষকে। সরকার বা বিটিআরসি'রও একটা সুযোগ দরকার ছিল যাকে পূঁজি করে স্বাধীন চিন্তার এই শেষ প্লাটফর্মগুলোকে কোনোভাবে নিয়ন্ত্রণের আওতায় আনা যায় – এখানেও নাস্তিকতা, ধর্মীয় অনুভুতি ব্যবহৃত হচ্ছে সুযোগসন্ধানীর অস্ত্র হিসেবে।

There is a striking similarity between the commission's recent “anti-religion” ban order and the Jamaat-Shibir branding of the Shahbag protests as an “atheist movement”. Jamaat-Shibir wanted to taint the Shahbag movement, and they did so by inciting religious tensions and enacting a division/hatred strategy. The commission or the government might have also exploited this opportunity to assert some kind of control on these free speech platforms. “Atheism”, “hurting religious feelings” keywords are being used as opportunistic tools.

Blogger Farhana Ahmed [bn] explained on Mukta Mona (Free Thinkers), a blog on freedom of expression, the reasoning behind why atheists and secular online activists are being targeted:

আমার মনে হয়, এই রকম ঘটার পেছনে দুটো বিষয় কাজ করছে। প্রথমটা অনেকটা তাত্ত্বিক, নাস্তিকদের নিয়ে ধর্মব্যবসায়ী বা অ-ব্যবসায়ী দু’শ্রেণীর এস্টাব্লিসমেন্টের পক্ষের লোকজনের মনে সন্দেহ ব্যাপক। এসটাব্লিসমেন্টের স্তম্ভগুলোর মধ্যে ধর্ম অন্যতম শক্তিশালী মাধ্যম, কখনো কখনো তা রাষ্ট্রের চেয়েও শক্তিশালী, রাষ্ট্রকেই ধর্মের মদদ নিতে হয়। এসটাব্লিশমেন্টের অন্য স্তম্ভগুলোও ধ্বসে পড়ার উপক্রম হলে মদদ মাঙ্গে ধর্মের। [..] বিনা প্রশ্নে মেনে নেওয়া, অতিপ্রাকৃত শক্তির ভয়ে ভীত করে রাখা—এইসব অস্ত্র ব্যবহার করে ধর্ম তার কার্য হাসিল করে। নারী পুরুষের পুরুষতান্ত্রিক শোষণের বিরুদ্ধে সচেতন হয়ে উঠলে, ধর্মই তাকে ঠান্ডা করে; মালিকের বিরুদ্ধে শ্রমিক যেতে পারে না, কারণ আল্লা যাকে এই যামানায় কিছু দেননি, আখেরাত তো তারই জন্য। রাষ্ট্রক্ষমতায় থাকার জন্য রাজনৈতিক দলগুলোর সহজ ব্যবহার্য অস্ত্র হলো ধর্ম।

I thinks there are two reasons behind this. The first one is theoretical, both the Islamist hardliner and practicing Muslims are skeptic about atheists. Religion is very powerful, sometimes more than the state such as when the state has to accept the help of religion. If any of those establishments are in trouble, they take refuge in religion. [..] Religion accomplishes their job by deploying instruments like blind faith, taking things for granted, and keeping people in fear. When patriarchal oppression is protested by women, religion keeps them in check, workers cannot revolt against autocratic employers as religion reminds that for those who have less in this world, there is an afterlife waiting for them. To remain in power the simplest of weapons is religion.

She continued:

দ্বিতীয় দিকটা শাহবাগের গণজাগরণ মঞ্চের প্রতিক্রিয়ার সাথে জড়িত। নাস্তিক মরলে বা মার খেলে তার প্রতি যে ঔদাসীন্য দেখাচ্ছেন আন্দোলনের সহযোদ্ধারা তাতে করে নাস্তিকরা জামাত-শিবির-হি্যবুতের সবথেকে সহজ টার্গেটে পরিণত হয়েছেন।

The second reason is the reaction to the Shahbag mass-uprising. Being labeled as an atheist is a distraction even among fellow protesters, so the atheists are becoming an easy target for the [religious political establishments] Jamaat-Shibir-Hijbut Tahrir.

Update: According to the latest reports, the nine-member committee participated in a discussion forum with the clerics community of the country. A list of 84 bloggers and Facebook users have been submitted and the committee asked from the community concrete evidence against their allegations. The committee has publicized an email account where complaints on blasphemous contents will be received.

March 29 2013

Togo: Victory for Media Freedom, but Clashes Continue

This article was written by Madeleine Bair, Human Rights Channel Curator for WITNESS.

Citizen videos of February and March protests in Togo, all in French, have been compiled via YouTube and Twitter accounts. A comprehensive selection of these videos appears on the Human Rights Channel on YouTube.

Journalists in the West African nation of Togo are celebrating a ruling by the Constitutional Court that throws out a recent law restricting media freedom. The law would have given the country's media regulatory agency the power to punish, censor, and shut down news outlets and reporters without a court order.

Togolese reporters responded to the February law with a media blackout and sit-in in front of the Presidential Palace in March. Video shot by citizen reporters and a pro-reform advocacy group captured the protests as well as the response by authorities. They reveal excessive use of force, resulting in teargas suffocation and injuries caused by rubber bullets.


[Caption translation: Togolese journalists are determined to fight for an independent press.]

With elections approaching, crackdowns on the press as well as opposition figures carry out a pattern among Togolese rulers, who have historically attempted to thwart the democratic process and cling to power. For five decades, the small country has been ruled by one party, the Rally of the Togolese People (RTP). In the 1990s, Togo adopted democratic reforms including multiparty elections. But it has yet to successfully execute those reforms, with each subsequent election marred by political disputes, violence, and repression of opposition parties.

This year has fared no differently. With elections scheduled for late March, 27 members of the opposition coalition, including the president of the National Alliance for Change, were arrested on charges related to fires in the capital city, Lomé. Protests against those arrests were also met with teargas and rubber bullets. Elections have since been postponed.

 [Caption translation: Police harass and throw teargas grenades at women.]

Despite last week’s court decision nullifying the latest press restrictions, reporters in Togo face other impediments. Freedom House describes Togolese press as “Not Free,” not due to legal restrictions but a pattern of intimidation and impunity for attacks on the press. Official and de facto censorship make online journalism ever more important. As reporter Noel Tadegnon remarked, reporters will likely turn to the web to sidestep government censorship as these conflicts continue.

(more…)

March 28 2013

South Korean Politician Moves to Repeal Biased Copyright Law

On Friday, South Korea's National Assembly will meet with advocates for and against the country's “three strikes” law that restricts the online activities of Internet users who violate copyright regulations. On March 24, 2013, Mr. Choi Jae-Cheon, a member of the Culture, Broadcasting, and Tourism Standing Committee of the Korean National Assembly, along with other twelve other sponsors, announced his proposal to repeal this provision of the law, which has been in force since 2009.

Korean National Assembly. Photo by Flickr user jeroen020. (CC BY-SA)

According to an official press release [ko], the South Korean government introduced the three-strikes copyright control regime in July of 2009. Originally nicknamed the “netizen-killing law,” the legislation stipulates that if an Internet user violates copyright law online, he or she will receive up to three warnings from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (hereafter “MCST”), which is responsible for media content policy in South Korea. If the user's behavior does not change after three warnings have been issued, authorities can disable the person's web service account or shut down the bulletin board he or she used by administrative order.

This legal procedure is different from the three-strikes copyright regulation in France known as the HADOPI law. (France and New Zealand have adopted three-strikes copyright regulations; the United States has a somewhat similar six-strikes guideline.) In France, a person's Internet access cannot be blocked until his or her case has been reviewed and approved by a judge. But in South Korea, the executive branch is the sole enforcer of the regulation, making the process less transparent and more vulnerable to arbitrary decision-making.

Since the law was enacted, the Korean government has sent 468,446 takedown notices to users and shut down 408 website accounts. The law has affected far more users than it was originally intended to — it was passed with the goal of targeting users engaging in massive amounts of illegal downloading, estimated at about 1,000 users. But in fact, according to Mr. Choi's investigation based on his team's collected data from MCST, among 380 users whose accounts have been shut down, 174 of them inflicted damages of less than US$.90. Mr. Choi argues that their punishment, which constrains their right of access to information, is much harsher than the cost they incurred. Therefore, the law not only violates legal due process — it is also inefficient from an economic perspective, and it imposes a punishment that is disproportionate to the crime.

A coalition of Korean Internet companies, experts, and civic groups including Jinbo.netIP Left, and newly formed digital rights group Open Net [ko] have all voiced their support for repealing the law. In a post [ko] entitled “Why We Can't Just Watch the Corruption of Copyright Law,” Open Net questioned the alleged economic motivations of the policy:

삼진아웃제 시행 3년이 지난 지금 정부의 주장과 달리 삼진아웃제의 규제 대상은 헤비업로더가 아니라 일반 이용자들임이 드러났습니다. 삼진아웃제 때문에 행정부로부터 경고를 받거나 실제로 계정정지를 당한 이용자 계정은 무려 47만 개나 됩니다. 2009년 당시 천 명에 불과하던 헤비 업로더가 3년만에 갑자기 급증하였기 때문일까요? 아닙니다. 실제로 계정정지까지 당한 이용자들 중 저작권 침해물을 전문적으로 유통한 사람은 거의 없습니다. 어떤 이용자는 침해액이 고작 9천원에 불과한데도 계정정지를 당했습니다. (…) 삼진아웃제를 어떻게 헤비 업로더 규제 제도라 할 수 있을까요?

Three-strikes law has been in force for the past three years. But it is already apparent that the government targeted not the heavy illegal down-loaders, but lay users. About 470,000 website accounts were warned by the government under the three-strikes law. In 2009, the government analyzed that number as only 1,000. Are we to believe that it has exponentially increased in the past couple of years? No way. Among users whose accounts have been shut down, there were none who traded copyrighted materials for commercial benefits. Some users were punished even though the amount of their indemnity was marginal, at US$0.9.

[...]

How then we can call the three-strikes law a regulation targeted at heavy down-loaders?

This and other Internet-related policies have brought together professors and activists who are forming new non-profit organizations focused on Internet rights. This emerging public coalition shows a promising sign of a new counter-force against state-guided Internet and communication policy making processes in South Korea.

March 27 2013

Oman: Online Activists Freed

On March 21, the Sultan of Oman issued a pardon for online activists and writers imprisoned after being convicted of insulting the ruler, committing “information technology crimes,” and taking part in unauthorized protests. Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said has ruled the Gulf state since 1970.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, ”information technology crimes” included “comments about the Sultan made on Facebook pages and blogs.” The release of the activists was confirmed [PDF] on March 22 by Amnesty International.

Sultan Qaboos and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison, U.S. Air Force. This image is in the public domain.

Sultan Qaboos and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison, U.S. Air Force. This image is in the public domain.

The move, which came as a surprise to most observers, runs counter to increasing attacks against online freedom of expression in the region. At least 50 Omani activists and writers were arrested in a police crackdown conducted between late May and early June 2012. They were convicted on charges such as insulting the nation's ruler, using the internet to publish defamatory material “under the pretense of freedom of expression,” and publishing harmful and provocative material in the media or on social networks.

“We are delighted that dozens of prisoners of conscience [...] are back at liberty and able to rejoin their families and friends,” a member of Amnesty International's MENA program said, adding that individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression should not have been imprisoned in the first place.

While describing the decision as a positive step, rights organizations are urging Oman to lift repressive laws and restrictions on freedom of expression.

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