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February 17 2014

February 16 2014

February 15 2014

February 14 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from Fotomovimiento taken at the Barcelona protest

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

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

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

Map of the border zone between Morocco and Spain - Wikipedia

Map of the border zone between Morocco and Spain – Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are still many questions to be answered: 

Autor Dani Gago - DISO Press

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

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

One Twitter user briefly summarises the need for accountability: 

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

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

Ending Illegal Logging and Launching Forest Carbon Credits in Madagascar

 Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

The new administration in Madagascar is seemingly making a concerted effort to curb down deforestation in Madagascar. First, new president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has made ending illegal logging of Madagascar rosewood a priority at his first executive meeting[fr]. Second, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that the Government of Madagascar has approved carbon sales with Microsoft and its carbon offset partner, The CarbonNeutral Company, and Zoo Zurich. The funds from carbon sales will be used by Makira REDD+ Project for conservation, capacity building, and enforcement activities related to conservation of Madagascar's rainforest. It is yet to be seen whether these measures will be implemented in the field. 

Bosnian Protesters Demand Bread, Social Justice and Freedom of Speech

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

Bosnia’s “Grapes of Wrath”

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

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

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

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

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

The note reads:

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

Media coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing for Balkanist, Darko Brkan formulated four suggestions:

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

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

February 13 2014

Self-Censorship in Hong Kong Claims Another Popular Radio Host

China is ranked 175 while Hong Kong is ranked 61 in the freedom of press index 2014 released by Reporters without Border.

China is ranked 175th while Hong Kong is ranked 61st in the World Press Freedom Index 2014 released by Reporters Without Borders.

“Hong Kong's media independence is now in jeopardy”, Reporters Without Borders pointed out in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The conclusion echoes the Committee to Protect Journalists’ special report on the practice of self-censorship in Hong Kong, in which Hong Kong legislator Claudia Mo commented:

Self-censorship – it's like the plague, a cancerous growth, multiplying on a daily basis […] In Hong Kong, media organizations are mostly owned by tycoons with business interests in China. They don't want to lose advertising revenue from Chinese companies and they don't want to anger the central government.

In the past ten years, a large number of newspapers columnists, editors, radio and television talk show hosts have been sacked because of their critical stance towards the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. The situation has worsened in the past two years, thanks to the new leadership of Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) adoption of a hardline position on “ideological battle”, which upped the political pressure on media organizations in Hong Kong. The political interference is exercised through replacement of senior news editors and the withdrawal of advertisements by pro-Beijing corporates.

The latest example of the poor state of affairs is Commercial Radio Hong Kong (CRHK), which sacked its most popular radio host, Lee Wai-ling, on February 12, 2014 without providing any reason. Back in November last year, Lee was forced to switch from a morning program to an evening program under the excuse of program improvement. Despite the pressure, she vowed to keep her voice heard over the radio. But now she has been silenced, as depicted by Lam Sui-bun's political cartoon.

Ng Chi-sum, a former phone-in host for Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), whose contract was discontinued in 2011 in spite of his popularity, pointed out that such “program rearrangements” are a kind of political punishment and humiliation. He shared his experience:

2004年我從香港電台早上烽煙調到黃昏,類似理由,聽過很多了。香港人收聽台的習慣,晨早上班前是黃金時段,聽眾最多,影響力最大,是兵家必爭之地。調到黃昏,聽眾立刻減少一半,擺明是要削弱你的影響力,如此調動,對節目主持人是懲罰,甚至是悔辱。
我被調到黃昏節目,絕不好過,為了平衡,他們找了幾個極左派來做我的拍檔,每次做完節目,都筋疲力盡 […] 還有向廣管局和電台的投訴攻勢,長官會不時刻意拿給我看,左派報紙一年五、六十篇的大批判文章,卻不聞不問,不發一言,不澄清不辯駁一個字都不回應。這擺明是要羞辱你,等你頂不住而辭職。

Back in 2004, I was switched from the morning to evening phone-in program at RTHK with similar excuses. Hong Kong residents are used to listening to the radio in the morning before they leave home for work. This is the peak hour with the most listeners and thus has the strongest influence [on public opinion]. It is a time slot that everyone wants to compete for. The switch will cut the audience by half and so is a move to reduce your influence. It is a punishment or even a humiliation for the host.

Political Cartoon by Lam Shui-bun.

Political cartoon depicting sacked radio host Lee Wai-ling. By Lam Shui-bun.

After I was moved to the evening, to balance the pro-Beijing voices of my co-host, I was extremely exhausted. […] In addition, I had to face all manners of complaints and attacks. My boss would hand me the articles written by the pro-Beijing newspapers to me. They published 50-60 articles within one year to discredit me. But my boss never spoke up to defend me. All these gestures are to humiliate you and to force you to resign.

Chan King-fai, a current affair commentator, observed that the political tolerance of the Beijing government has continued to shrink to the extent that even moderate critical voices have to be eliminated:

李小姐絕非火爆主持,而是擅長提問、「收風」和拆局,相比10 年前「青筋暴現」的名嘴,溫和太多了吧。同一份落差和驚訝也曾發生在較早之前,即吳志森被港台「封咪」之際:與之前的名嘴相比,「吳志森」猶如謙謙君子。但今天,隨着標準不斷滑落,他也成了必須被拔除的「眼中釘」。

Miss Lee is not radical. Her style is to raise questions, present insider views and analyze the political situation. When compared with the “hot-tempered” host ten years ago, she is too moderate. The same fate happened to Ng Chi-sum, who is like a gentleman. However, the standard [for censorship] keeps lowering and they have to be eliminated as well.

Blogger “hkcritics” asked what society could do to defend itself:

換個角度說,就是我不交代,你能把我怎樣﹖這是一個明確的信號-現時社會所有對政府施加的壓力都不能構成威脅。
被看扁了,但我們還有什麼施壓的板斧﹖包圍政總三百六十五日﹖參與佔中﹖李慧玲事件讓我們看到的香港的絕路,或者是一個溫度計,告訴我們溫水煮蛙的年代完結了,水已到沸點,政府可以對鍋裡的青蛙肆意蹂躪了。

To address the issue from another angle, even if I [the commercial radio] do not give any explanation, what can you do? This is a sign – regardless of the pressure that the public imposes on the government, it doesn't constitute a threat.

We are being looked down, what else can we do? Siege the government building for 356 days? Join the occupy central campaign? What we see here is a dead end. The thermometer tells us that the frog is no longer in warm water, the water is boiling and the government can do whatever it wants to the frog.

Lee Wai-ling talked about the political pressure Hong Kong media organization is facing today.

Lee Wai-ling talked about the political pressure Hong Kong media organizations are facing during a press conference.

Sacked radio host Lee Wai-ling believed that the incident is political in nature in a press conference on February 13. According to inmediahk.net's Facebook live-cast, Lee believes that:

她的事並不是單一事件,從《明報》換總編輯、《信報》,到《AM730》及《蘋果》被抽廣告可見。她期望香港人會醒,看清楚外面發生什麼事。今日還沉默的話,明日便會被集體沉默。

What happened to her is not a single issue. It is related to the replacement of Ming Pao's chief editor and Hong Kong Economic Journal's political reporter team, the withdrawal of commercial ads from AM730 and Apple Daily. She hope that Hong Kong people would wake up and see what's happening to the society. If they choose to remain silent today, tomorrow they have no choice but remain silent.

While some suggested that online new media can be an alternative to mainstream media, as big corporates start to withdraw advertising from independent news organizations, whether or not the commercial model of local new media initiatives can survive is in question. As for the voluntary based citizen media model, so far very few have had the resources and organizational backup to produce original news and investigative reports. Once Hong Kong's mainstream and conventional media organizations have fallen, the online media will be further ghettoized and marginalized.

Another Journalist Dies in Mexico: Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz

Mexican authorities have confirmed the murder of Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, aka “Goyo”.

The lifeless body of Jiménez de la Cruz was found in a clandestine grave on February 11, 2014, according to reports in El Universal [es] and La Jornada. [es] [Report in English by the BBC here]

The electronic version of the weekly Proceso [es] had previously reported the disappearance of the reporter, demanding answers from the authorities.

On Twitter, the hashtag #HastaQueAparezcaGoyo [es] was used to express support for the family and colleagues of Jiménez de la Cruz during the darkest hours.

The journalist Paola Rojas was one of the first to spread the word on Twitter:

The Special Prosecutor of Veracruz has confirmed that journalist Gregorio Jiménez was murdered.

The activist Jesús Robles Maloof asked for the resignation of the governor in Veracruz, where Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz practiced his profession as a journalist:

It's time that Javier Duarte is removed from the government.

On the morning of February 11, the activist shared this photo:

Twitter user Másdel131 also shared a photo from the same protest:

From the Veracruz’ government's representation in the Federal District, journalists protest

While Pertaesus asked:

The demand raised in the hashtag #HastaQueAparezcaGoyo raises another equally painful question–how long until we get our country back?

“Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists,” according to Reporters Without Borders. The organization adds that “more than 80 have been killed in the past decade, and 17 have disappeared”.  The death of Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz must be added to this number.

In Mexico there is an atmosphere of uncontrolled war and violence, ever since the previous President, Felipe Calderón, launched an attack on drugs in 2006. Judging by the death of Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, the violence in the country continues under the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto.

February 11 2014

Remembering Dr Alison Jolly, Lemurs of Madagascar Expert

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist  1937-2014- Public Domain

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist 1937-2014- Public Domain

After leading a distinguished career as a primatologist at the Berenty Reserve of Madagascar, Dr. Alison Jolly has died at home in Lewes, East Sussex, aged 76. Dr. Jolly, a PhD researcher from Yale, made her name as the first scientist to do an in-depth account of the behaviour of the ring-tailed lemur, L. catta, beginning field work in 1962. David Attenborough recently wrote : ‘not only they but the people and land of Madagascar captured her heart’. 

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

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

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

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

Photo gardaia activistes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tokyo Snowfall Sends Voter Turnout Plunging in Governor Election

As a winter storm dumped the heaviest snowfall in 45 years on Tokyo, only 46.16 percent of voters went to the polls to cast their ballots for governor on Sunday, February 9, 2014, the third-lowest turnout in

People holding umbrellas in heavy snow. Photo taken on February 8 in Tokyo by flickr user lestaylorphoto (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

People holding umbrellas in heavy snow. Photo taken on February 8 in Tokyo by flickr user lestaylorphoto (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

Tokyo's governor election history. 

The newly elected governor is Masuzoe Yoichi, former cabinet minister backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komei Party, winning 2,112,979 votes, or about 43 percent of the vote.

Twitter users shared their criticism of the low turnout. Philosopher Tatsuru Uchida [ja] expressed his disappointment:

The number of voters who went to the polls for Tokyo's governor election made me feel washed out. It seems to me that the Japanese with conventional virtue and conventional political means, are silently heading in a direction where it's like, “hey, there's a precipice ahead.”

Illustrator Nigirikopushi drew a caricature, linking the coldness of the weather and the losing anti-nuclear candidates. In the center, winning Masuzoe is holding three umbrellas representing “Walfare”, ‘”Olympics” and “Economy” while wearing a warm jacket with the Liberal Democratic Party's and Komei Party's emblems on it. On the left is a portrait of a shivering Kenji Utsunomiya, an anti-nuclear human rights lawyer who came in second place. On the right is anti-nuclear candidate Morihiro Hosokawa, who took third, standing next to his supporter, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, saying “it's cold out here”. The writing in the snow reads “anti-nuclear”:

Caricature portrait for Tokyo's governor election.

Former newspaper reporter Eiken Itagaki argues [ja] that Masuzoe may run afoul of Japan's Public Officers Election Act, saying he distributed Tokyo Olympic badges worth 3,000 Japanese yen (about 30 US dollars) each to gain support, an act that could violate the law prohibiting political contributions for campaign. The complainant is the same activist group that has filed a complaint against former Governor Naoki Inose late last year for allegedly receiving contribution. Inose claimed that it was a personal loan but he resigned over the issue. The complaint against new Governor awaits whether or not the court will take his accusation.

The post was edited by L.Finch

February 09 2014

Heavy Snowfall Brings Playtime to Tokyo

Heavy snowstorms hit Japan on Feb 8, 2014. Twenty seven centimeters of snow fell in central Tokyo, for the first time in 45 years. Moro Miya, a writer and a blogger who specializes in introducing Japanese culture to Chinese readers, collected the photos of snowmen and snow-animals that were posted by the netizens on twitter.

February 07 2014

Russian Commentator Mistakes Uzbekistan for Tajikistan at Olympics Opening Ceremony

Although this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi have just kicked off, social media users in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are already angry at Russia, the country hosting the Games.

Thousands of people in the two Central Asian nations turned on their TVs earlier today to watch the opening ceremony for the Olympics shown live on ”Russia-1“, a state-owned Russian television channel (available via satellite in the both countries). As athletes from Uzbekistan were walking into the stadium behind an Uzbek flag, renowned Russian sports commentator Dmitry Guberniev [ru] announced, “Tajikistan”. He thus confused the two countries that were once part of the Moscow-dominated Soviet Union and have had a strained relationship over the last decade.

“That moment when Uzbekistan was called Tajikistan”. Image circulating widely on social media sites.

It did not take too long for angry reactions to appear on Twitter. Below are just a select few from hundreds of tweets posted by netizens from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Many of these tweets are addressed to Guberniev (@gubernievd), shaming the commentator and demanding an apology.

Calling Uzbekistan Tajikistan? Guberniev, go perform harakiri [kill yourself]!

Guberniev, burn in hell

I hope, I believe that the commentators will be takes to a ravine nearby and executed [shot dead] any minute now

[Text in the image reads, "Here is Tajikistan". "It is Uzbekistan, you idiot!"]

Guberniev, I wish I could give you a globe and put you behind a school desk so that you learnt not to confuse Uzbekistan for Tajikistan #sochi2014problems

The commentator made a mistake when athletes from Uzbekistan were entering [the stadium]… he introduced them as being from Tajikistan… I think he should apologize!!!

@gubernievd You have to offer an apology to Uzbekistan, Dmitry. We are not Tajikistan, with all due respect to our neighbours.

What the hell is Guberniev saying? Uzbekistan is not Tajikistan! He should offer Uzbekistan an apology now!

What an opening for the Sochi Games! D. Guberniev, apologize to us, to Uzbekistan! UZBEKISTAN IS NOT Tajikistan.

@gubernievd You should at least learn your Russian Cyrillic letters. When a word ends in “-istan”, it does not always mean “Tajikistan”!

@gubernievd You called our country Tajikistan rather than Uzbekistan although the correct name was there, written in three languages.

What an idiot could confuse the national team of Uzbekistan with that of Tajikistan?

This is offensive! Uzbekistan, not Tajikistan!

Russians urgently need to study geography and flags in order to learn to tell Uzbekistan from Tajikistan. Is this the country that wants to rule [Central] Asia?

When Genocide is, apparently, a Laughing Matter

French humorist Nicolas Canteloup has come under fire for a sketch making light of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda [fr]. Following the outrage,  Mr Canteloup has yet to apologize for the sketch. Audrey Kucinskas, a blogger for the Plus asks the logical question: “can anything be a laughing matter?” [fr]: 

Rire du génocide rwandais, ça me dépasse. Vous vous souvenez qu'en 1994, plus d'un million de personnes ont été torturées, violées et assassinées ? Ça vous fait rire ? 

Joking about the Rwandan genocide is beyond me. Do you remember in 1994 when more than a million people were tortured, raped and murdered? It was a riot, wasn't it ?

The president of CRAN, Louis-George Tin believes the sketch is totally unacceptable [fr]:

Quand il s'agit des Noirs, à l'évidence, on peut tout se permettre. Mais il est temps que cela cesse. Ce soi-disant humour masque mal une forme extrême de mépris et d'abjection. Devant le crime contre l'humanité, esclavage, Shoah, Rwanda, on ne rit pas, on fait silence.

When it comes to black people, it seems that again, anything goes. But it is time to put an end to that. This so-called humor barely hides an extreme form of contempt and prejudice. When it comes to crime against humanity, slavery, the Holocaust and Rwanda, we do not laugh, we just ought to stay silent.

Puerto Rico’s Debt Downgraded to “Junk” Status

Un cuarto de dólar estadounidense, o peseta, como se le llama en Puerto Rico. La expresión

A U.S. quarter, or peseta, as it’s called in Puerto Rico. The expression “everything has gone to hell now” [in Spanish the expressions plays with the word "peseta" that means "quarter"] is commonly used to mean that the cost of living has suddenly gone up or that life has suddenly got more complicated. Image from the public domain, taken from
Wikimedia Commons.

What everybody feared finally happened: Puerto Rico’s debt was downgraded to junk or speculative level on February 4, 2014, by the rating agency Standard & Poor’s. The consequences of degradation had already been mentioned in a previous article [es] by Sergio Marxuach, the Director of Public Policy of the Puerto Rican based think tank Center for a New Economy:

… [U]na degradación del crédito de Puerto Rico a nivel “chatarra” tendría repercusiones adversas para todos los que vivimos en Puerto Rico ya que desataría una crisis financiera. Eso significa, entre otras cosas, que: el gobierno tendría poco o ningún acceso a los mercados financieros; veríamos una depreciación del valor de los bonos y obligaciones de Puerto Rico de entre 30% y 50%; la liquidez y la solvencia de las instituciones financieras y compañías de seguro en Puerto Rico podrían verse afectadas adversamente; veríamos un aumento en las tasas de interés y una contracción significativa del crédito; y aumentarían tanto las quiebras como el desempleo. Nadie en Puerto Rico estaría inmune de los efectos de esa tempestad.

Degrading Puerto Rico’s credit to ‘junk’ level would have adverse repercussions for everybody who lives in Puerto Rico because it would set off a financial crisis. That means, among other things, that the government would have little or no access to financial markets; we would see a depreciation between 30 to 50% of the value of Puerto Rican bonds and obligations; the liquidity and solvency of financial institutions and insurance companies in Puerto Rico could be adversely affected; we’d see an increase in interest rates and a significant credit crunch; and an increase in bankruptcies and unemployment. No one in Puerto Rico would be immune from the effects of this storm.

The degradation of the Puerto Rican debt comes after a series of unpleasant measures implemented by both the New Progressive Party and the Popular Democratic Party, which is currently in power. Among the measures implemented were the laying off thousands of public employees, the imposition of new taxes, and reform of the retirement systems. The Government Development Bank (BGF in Spanish) of Puerto Rico and the Department of Treasury issued a joint press release to calm the concerns of the public, but especially of investors:

Si bien estamos decepcionados con la decisión de Standard & Poor’s, seguimos comprometidos con la implantación de nuestros planes fiscales y de desarrollo económico. Creemos que la comunidad inversora reconocerá oportunamente el impacto positivo de las reformas que la Administración [del Gobernador Alejandro] García Padilla ha implantado.

Entendemos que S&P reconoce los esfuerzos significativos de Puerto Rico hasta la fecha para enfrentar problemas estructurales de mucho tiempo, según queda demostrado por nuestra significativa reforma de retiro, el incrementar la independencia de una serie de corporaciones públicas y los recientes aumentos en los recaudos.

[...]

Estamos confiados en que tenemos a mano liquidez para satisfacer todas las necesidades de liquidez hasta fines del año fiscal, incluyendo cualquier necesidad de efectivo que surja como resultado de la decisión de hoy.

While we are disappointed with Standard & Poor’s decision, we remain committed to the implementation of our fiscal and economic development plans. We believe the investment community will recognize the positive impact of the reforms that the Garcia Padilla Administration has enacted in due course.

We appreciate that S&P recognizes the Commonwealth’s significant efforts to date to tackle long- term structural issues, demonstrated by our significant pension reform, increasing the independence of a number of public corporations, and recent revenue increases.
[…]

We are confident that we have the liquidity on hand to satisfy all liquidity needs until the end of the fiscal year, including any cash needs resulting from today’s decision.

However, Cate Long, market analyst of municipal bonds for the Reuters news agency, who has closely followed Puerto Rico’s situation during the past few years indicated:

For several months, there has been a climate of pessimism in Puerto Rico with regard to the economy, if Twitter comments serve as a barometer for the national mood:

Right now we all have better credit than our government…

The ‘junk’ is here, and now the situations is verrrrrrry bad…

Things have definitely gone to hell now.

Of course, there were also humorous comments amidst the preoccupation:

We announce that for now, we will not downgrade your tweets. But the outlook remains negative.

Janizabeth Sánchez produced a Storify [es]  with more Twitter reactions.

February 06 2014

Work on the Panama Canal Grinds to a Halt

Foto de André S. Ribeiro en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons  (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by André S. Ribeiro on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

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

The GUPC (Grupo Unidos por el Canal), a Spanish-led construction group, has completely stopped work on the Panama Canal expansion project [en]. After more than 15 days of negotiations [en] the consortium decided to make good on its threat to shut down construction when its demands were not met. 

Jorge Quijano, the canal administrator, indicated that while conversations between the parties could continue, the window of opportunity was closing and that prompt action should be taken. 

It did not take long for patriotic outrage to make itself heard. 

To better understand the stakes involved, it helps to know that for Panamanians, the Canal is sacred. It was born hand in hand with the nation. More precisely, Panama seceded from Gran Colombia and became an independent country in 1903 with the primary objective of opening up the Canal. As a result, Panamanians feel this crucial stretch of water to be part of their DNA, and since it was opened, they have defended it tooth and nail. Some have gone so far as to call it “the religion that unites all Panamanians.”

This notion was reflected in social media, where politicians of all stripes showed their support for the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), which remains firm in its determination to not negotiate outside the terms of the contract.

The journalist Manolo Álvarez collected the various statements made by Jorge Quijano, who guaranteed that Panama would not let itself be blackmailed by the GUPC and that the ACP was prepared to face them in court. 

The Canal will not be subjected to any extortion by the GUPC and we will face them no matter the circumstances

Isabel St. Malo, who is running for the vice-presidency under the banner of the Partido Panameñista [en], tweeted her support for the ACP, pledging that the expansion of the Canal would be done with or without the GUPC.

We endorse the message of Administrator Quijano, we will finish this project with or without GUPC. ACP, national pride!

Martin Torrijos, former President of Panamá and son of General Omar Torrijos—the man who signed the Torrijos-Carter treaties that returned the Canal to Panama—also indicated he stood behind the Administrator and commented that if they were able to make the Canal Panamanian, then surely Panamanians would be able to expand it. 

The expansion project is ours; they will go, we will remain, as Quijano said. We will fulfill our duty to Panama. If we got it back, there's no question we can expand it. 

Popi Varela, a Partido Panameñista deputy, points out that the mistake made by Sacyr, the Spanish firm leading the GUPC, was to believe that the ACP was just like any corrupt government they could blackmail. 

Sacyr thinks they are negotiating with a corrupt government and haven't realized that the ACP is independent of the central government according to the constitution!

With its typical sarcasm, El Gallinazo requests that Panamanians not let “gringos” finish the work and that they themselves pick up the tools and complete the expansion project.

Panama needs you! Don't let the gringos finish the expansion. Grab your hammers and shovels and we'll finish this job ourselves!

Quintín Moreno opines that the GUPC should not be given any more chances and that another company should be found. 

The ACP should hire a new firm to finish the expansion; the GUPC has shown itself to be opportunistic and disloyal.

The impact is being felt in Spain, where the share price of Sacyr plummeted when news hit the financial markets. This is how Mi Diario describes it:

Shares of Sacyr fell on the Spanish stock market

R.A. Benta says that this is the beginning of the end of the Spanish “brand” and that the real question is, “Who is going to pay for it all?” 

Today Sacyr with the Panama Canal, tomorrow Saudi Arabia with the Ave [high-speed train], who's picking up the tab for these megaparties?

Quijano's statements, assuring there is still wiggle room in the negotiations, indicate the ACP believes that the GUPC can complete the work. However, when it comes to Panamanians, patience for the manoeuvres of the consortium seems to have run out. 

Moscow School Shooting: Firsthand Accounts and Mistaken Identities

PioneerBarrels

Tragedy struck a Moscow school Monday morning when a straight-A student brought two hunting rifles to class and killed his geography teacher, also shooting two police officers that tried to apprehend him (one of them later died). As is often the case in the modern era, some of the tragic story played out online.

One girl, who attends the same school, wrote a post [ru] on the social network VKontakte about what happened:

Сегодня в моей школе было вооруженное нападение, утроенное одним из учеников 10 класса. Убит учитель географии – Кирилов Андрей Николаевич (светлая память !!) [...] У Андрея Николаевича 5-ти летний сын. Мне бы безумно хотелось, что бы эта ПАДЛА оказался на месте сына учителя. Имя террориста – Гордеев Сергей. Предположительная причина – 4 в четверти по географии. Парень шел на золотую медаль. Теперь парень пойдет в тюрьму.

Today there was an armed attack at my school, perpetrated by one of the 10th grade students. The geography teacher has been killed – Andrey Nikolaevich Kirillov (bless him !!) [...] Andrey Nikolaevich has a 5 year old son. I really want that ASSHOLE do end up in the place of the teacher's son. The name of the terrorist is Sergey Gordeev. Suspected reason – a B in geography last quarter. The guy was aiming for a gold medal [valedictorian - A.T.]. Now the guy will go to jail.

Another girl, who apparently goes to a nearby school posted an Instagram selfie [ru] (later deleted) of students making faces at the camera, commenting: “f*ck.” Later that day an alleged first-hand account by one of Gordeev's classmates was was published [ru] by former Kremlin PR guru Gleb Pavlovsky on his Facebook page. The source is anonymous, and gives gory details of the murder:

Вдруг кто-то стучиться в дверь.[...] Появляется лицо Гордеева. [...] Андрей Николаевич не успел ничего сказать, как Серёга стрельнул ему в лицо. Андрей Николаевич сделал пару оборотов, сбил у художника с парты вещи и упал на пол, хлестая кровью. [...] Серёга говорит:”А теперь вопрос на оценку, почему он ещё не сдох? Я же его убил” Потом говорит:”всем два балла” и стреляет ещё пару раз в Андрея Николаевича.

Someone knocked on the door. [...] Gordeev's face appeared. [...] Andrey Nikolaevich didn't have time to say anything, Sergey shot him in the face. Andrey Nikolaevich turned a few times, knocked some art materials from the desk and fell to the floor, bleeding. Sergey said: “And now a question for a grade, why isn't he dead? I killed him” Then he says: “everyone gets a D” and shoots Andrey Nikolaevich a couple more times.

According to this student, Gordeev then took the class hostage and started talking to them about his life and his belief in god. When his mother called, he talked to her, calling himself a “psycho” and saying that he wanted to die. Later, Gordeev's father showed up, and after some negotiation managed to disarm him and free the students.

Legislative troll Vitaly Milonov memefied: The shooter was a 10th grader and a straight A student - we should ban the 10th grade and straight A students. Anonymous image found online.

Legislative troll Vitaly Milonov memefied: “The shooter was a 10th grader and a straight A student – we should ban the 10th grade and straight A students.” Anonymous image found online.

Later it became known that Gordeev's father is an officer in Russia's security forces, a fact that was pounced on by opposition bloggers. Alexey Navalny tweeted [ru] that this probably meant that the beat policeman didn't check Gordeev-elder's gun permits and storage safes. Other bloggers referred [ru] to the shooter as the “son of an FSB agent” or “son of a secret policeman,” and jokingly wondered [ru] if this mean the parliament would ban security officers from owning personal weapons. At the same time, yet more [ru] bloggers [ru] wondered [ru] why no one is mentioning the fact that the father is allegedly affiliated with the security apparatus. This led Sultan Suleymanov, an editor at Tjournal (a tweet aggregator), to sarcastically tweet:

Whew, good thing that the student's father turned out to be an FSB agent. Before that people didn't know what to hate him for — he wasn't a migrant, a nationalist, or gay

A case of mistaken identity caused some of that hate to be wrongly aimed at a different Sergey Gordeev, for a time. Journalist, blogger, and notorious internet troll, Maxim Kononenko (f.k.a. mrparker) found a VKontakte photo [ru] of a Sergey Gordeev which he posted on Facebook and tweeted. He caveated the photo, saying it was “preliminary.” Other twitter users, and later mainstream Russian media, picked it up [ru] without fact checking and ran it in publications (likely illegally because the individual is a minor). The Gordeev in question later posted a picture of himself holding a newspaper [ru] with his face on the front page, as a way to prove that he wasn't the guy. He wrote:

Ребят, вы извините дурачки 1) Я Сергей Гордеев это правда!!!!!! 2)Я не стрелял не кого (просто ошиблись, тоесть ТВ врет) 3)Если это был я я бы сейчас не фотался с газеткой!!!(Кстати сегодня был в “Комсомолькой правде” Там все прихуели когда меня увидели…….)

Guys, sorry but you are idiots 1) I am Sergey Gordeev, that's true!!!!! 2) I didn't shoot anyone (it's just a mistake, the TV is lying) 3) If it was me I wouldn't be taking photos with a newspaper right now!!!(By the way, I was at Komsomolskaya Pravda [newspaper] today, they all sh*t their pants when they saw me……)

Kononenko later apologized [ru] for his faux pas, reiterating, however, that he wasn't the one to publish the photo in mass media.

“I was so brutal because of computer games” says Stalin. Anonymous image found online.

Meanwhile, Russian members of parliament, eager as ever for something to blame, blamed [ru] guns, violent movies, video games, and American influence. RuNet funny man, poet and journalist Ivan Davydov tweeted in response:

The MPs are thinking small. To avoid school shootings, you shouldn't ban guns, you should ban schools  

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