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January 16 2014

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

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

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

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

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

The three proposed laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freezing civil society’s electronic wallet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 18 2013

Dozens Detained on Human Rights Day in Cuba

“We salute the party congress.” A 2011 pro-government rally in Havana. Photo by Reno Massola, labeled for reuse.

On Human Rights Day this year, somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred people — including punk rockers, intellectuals, dissidents, and a pair of Argentine tourists – were detained in Cuba.

Several were taken into police custody outside the home of Antonio Rodiles, the embattled organizer of Estado de SATS, an independent intellectual forum with a strong web presence. Rodiles held a small, two-day human rights conference at his home in Havana that became a hub of activist and police activity on December 10 and 11.

Twitter users reported that throughout Havana opposition activists trying to make their way to Human Rights Day events were stopped and detained by state security officials. Conflicting accounts have made it difficult to confirm precisely how many people were detained. According to friends of Rodiles, state security officers surrounded his home the night before the event began, stopping participants en route to the house.

The next morning, organizers were faced with a new obstacle: teenagers. A group of secondary school students arrived outside Rodiles’ home and remained there throughout the day, playing games, singing songs, and reciting political slogans.

Artist and opposition blogger Lia Villares described an absurd scene of bloggers, activists, friends and family gathered inside Rodiles’ home and attempting to focus on their conversations, while students loudly sang and chanted patriotic slogans outside. Villares suspected the students were brought to the site by State Security, in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the event. She tweeted:

They’ve brought a group of secondary school students in front of the house, typical manipulation, the S.E. [state security] doesn’t show its face, it uses minors instead

Some hours later, she continued:

#DDHHCuba2013 the high school students recite poetry and do skits about children’s rights, shouting “fidel” they sing a chorus

Upon exiting the house, several participants were arrested, including Rodiles. Boris Larramendi, a Cuban musician based in Spain who performed at the event, told Diario de Cuba:

Llevaban rato allá afuera, pensábamos que no iban a hacer nada (las autoridades) delante de todos esos niños, pero de pronto miro y veo que hay una molotera, que les están dando golpes y que los están arrastrando.

They stayed outside for a little while and we thought they weren’t going to do anything in front of all those kids, but then I look and I see there is a whole mess of people, that they’re hitting and dragging people away.

Among others arrested were bloggers Calixto Martinez and Walfrido López and filmmaker Kizzy Macias. Multiple sources reported on the arrest of political punk rock musician Gorki Aguila, who has been detained and imprisoned several times in recent years. Other arrests took place around the city, but it has been difficult to track and verify reports. The Miami Herald estimated that over 150 arrests took place in total, and reported on December 12 that police had freed all of those taken into custody on December 10 and 11.

Arrests were not limited to Cubans — two Argentine tourists, both active PRO (right wing) party supporters who had heard about the event online, were arrested shortly after arriving. A group of college students from the US, traveling the world with the academic tourism program Semester at Sea, somehow found their way to the event but were spared detention.

Yohandry Fontana, a mysterious online figure regarded by many as the digital voice of state security, tweeted that Rodiles was arrested for “attacking children” on the street.

I confirm that Antonio Rodiles was detained for attacking and insulting children who were playing in the street, as part of their play time.

Although friends of Rodiles documented the event on camera, the resulting video is somewhat overproduced, making it difficult to determine the veracity of the footage.

Iroel Sanchez, an outspoken pro-government blogger, wrote a long post decrying activists and foreign media who portrayed the circus outside Rodiles’ home as an injustice. He described the organizers of the forum as “those who ask for a stronger blockade, who depict themselves as terrorists and receive technology and money to deliver falsehoods about Cuba.” 

In a similar vein, Yohandry Fontana later tweeted:

Antonio Rodiles es un pagado por la Fundación Cubano Americana (terroristas) para provocar violencia en #Cuba #DDHHCuba

— Yohandry Fontana (@Yohandry8787) December 11, 2013

Antonio Rodiles is paid by the Cuban National Foundation (terrorists) to provoke violence in #Cuba #DDHHCuba

Rodiles has been a target of state security for some time and has been arrested in the past. There is some evidence of Rodiles communicating and sharing information with US government agencies that sponsor “democracy development” programs in Cuba, a controversial activity that is forbidden by the Cuban government. Fontana's allegation that he is associated with the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, a longtime advisor and supporter of conservative federal lawmakers in South Florida, is not a baseless claim. But the character of Rodiles’ advocacy efforts and the tone of the intellectual debates he convenes are not entirely consistent with those of Miami's old-guard exile community. Rodiles’ messages are often rooted in international human rights doctrine – freedom of expression and access to information are hallmarks of his discursive style.

While many of the island's most prominent human rights activists are now known to receive support from the US government, there are those who genuinely want change but do not want to associate with foreign interests. It is this small minority that may prove most interesting in Cuba's near political future.

October 11 2013

GV Face: Fighting for an Open Internet in Brazil

Do you care about free speech on the Internet? What about your privacy online? What if your government created a law that could protect these rights, rather than threatening them?

Brazilian digital rights advocates have been working for years to pass the Marco Civil da Internet, a one-of-a-kind law that would protect key rights and freedoms on the Internet.

US government surveillance programs have brought new momentum to the issue, galvanizing support from civil society and even Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff.

This week on GV Face, our Advocacy Editor Ellery Biddle (@ellerybiddle) talks with leading experts on the issue, including GV author Raphael Tsavkko @Tsavkko, Carolina Rossini (@carolinarossini) and Joana Varon (@joana_varon) an original author of the bill.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

August 27 2013

Russia's Political Firebrand: What Makes Navalny Tick?

Until a few years ago, Alexey Navalny was all but unknown outside Moscow’s small political intelligentsia. But today he may be the most prominent independent critic of the Russian government. In Russia, a nation where Internet use is rapidly rising, Navalny has demonstrated that blogging and social media are powerful political tools. Not surprisingly, Russia’s political establishment has taken note of the upstart blogger. Navalny could well lose his freedom before the summer ends.

In June 2013, Navalny was convicted on embezzling timber from a state-run company while working as an advisor to the Governor of the Kirov oblast. But critics argue that his heavy sentence is the work of Kremlin-orchestrated political repression. Building support through his blog’s large audience, Navalny has defended his innocence online, urging readers to download the full archive of his case’s materials (contained in a 1.7GB downloadable file), which he argues exonerate him. Navalny is also facing public criticism — many of his detractors have mobilized blogs and websites of their own (sometimes designed to mimic the aesthetic of Navalny’s work) to propagate his guilt.

Alexey Navalny at a campaign rally. Photo by Alexey Ruban (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Alexey Navalny at a campaign rally. Photo by Alexey Ruban (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

After a brief incarceration following his sentencing (punctuated by a massive street protest in downtown Moscow), the Kirov authorities released Navalny, pending his appeal. If his sentence is upheld, he’ll face five years’ jail time, and the prospect of becoming Russia’s most famous political prisoner. In the meantime, Navalny is a candidate in the Moscow mayoral election, running on a platform of anti-corruption and economic liberalization. (The mysterious conditions under which Navalny was released from jail led many to believe that officials intervened on his behalf, to ensure that he could participate and thus “legitimize” the competition.) Recent polls show Navalny gaining support, though still trailing incumbent mayor Sergei Sobyanin by at least 40 points.

Navalny the Entrepreneur

Alexey Navalny was born in 1976 in Butyn, a town just outside of Moscow. His parents have owned and operated a small furniture factory since the 1990s, an atypical situation in Russia, where entrepreneurship is incredibly low—a result of 70-years-long central planning, Soviet bureaucracy, and rampant corruption. As business owners and members of the middle class, the Navalnys have arguably suffered a great deal from corruption in Russian law and order. Understandably, Navalny’s advocacy as a blogger—and now as a political candidate—has focused on fighting corruption and promoting transparency and economic liberalism.

Navalny, who has a law degree, is a part-owner in his parents’ company, and has helped establish several foundations and institutions since the late 1990s. Since 2011, some of Navalny’s critics have explored whether or not he became certified as a lawyer by hiring himself to fulfill Bar-mandated work experience requirements.

Political Activism and Party Politicking

Although Navalny is now known as a blogger-turned-politician, he was involved with politics long before becoming a LiveJournal sensation. In 2000, he joined the liberal opposition party Yabloko. During the early 2000s, he worked with a similar party, The Union of Right Forces (SPS). Navalny says he joined these groups as a way to push back against Russia’s new electoral laws, which he believed were designed to prevent opposition groups from winning seats in parliament.

Navalny was expelled from Yabloko in December 2007, officially on the grounds that his nationalist views clashed with the party’s values. Navalny, for his part, maintains that he was voted out due to his criticism of Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinksy, following the party's disastrous performance in the 2007 Duma elections. In a 2011 interview [ru] with Russian GQ magazine, Navalny defended himself and explained that liberals risk permanent irrelevancy in Russia if they make any issue “taboo”:

The failure of our national democratic movement is tied up in the fact that they consider some topics of conversation dangerous to discuss in principle, including the topic of internethnic conflict. At the same time its a major issue of today. We have to admit that migrants, including those from the north Caucasus, often come to Russia with their own set of values.

Despite national indications that Russians widely share his contempt for low-wage-earning migrant workers, Navalny’s nationalist views have been a major liability for the aspiring politician, whose Moscow intelligentsia base is wary of engaging social tensions that often provoke dangerously racist energies.

Blogging for Corporate Accountability

Navalny is a minority-shareholder in several major Russian companies, including oil and gas companies like Rosneft and commercial banks like Sberbank and VTB Bank. He says he first purchased these shares as an investment, but soon became irritated by the low dividends they paid—a fact he ascribed to corruption within the companies. Taking advantage of his shareholder status, Navalny scoured corporate records for evidence of corruption and shared the information on his blog, revealing what he said were clear examples of misappropriation of funds and other forms of corruption. In a 2010 interview with Global Voices, Navalny explained how he used his blog to help coordinate a campaign against corruption at VTB Bank involving the procurement of drilling rigs.

I announced that there were some disturbing facts that I had been investigating. With the help of the blog, I put together other shareholders of VTB Bank who wrote the complaint with me. With its help, I found leasing specialists, experts in drilling rigs, etc. Via the blog, I found other insiders who told me about what is happening now with these drilling rigs. In other words, I fully coordinated the campaign via my blog.

Navalny initiated similar campaigns with Rosneft, Surgutneftegaz, and Gazprom. Inspired by the idea of using the Internet to coordinate an anti-corruption campaign, Navalny then created an organization dedicated to uncovering corruption in state procurements: RosPil [ru].

By law, all state procurements must be posted online [ru]. At Rospil, volunteers search these records for suspicious tenders involving overpriced and/or unnecessary purchases. They then refer a team of professional experts to the most dubious cases, for additional analysis. If the experts consider the tenders to be likely corrupt, RosPil’s legal team issues a complaint to Russia's Federal Antimonopoly Service. According to Navalny, salaries for RosPil's expert team are funded entirely by donations collected online. RosPil claims [ru] that, over two years, its appeals have been responsible for the investigation and/or cancellation of approximately 1.8 billion USD in questionable procurements.

Fighting the “Party of Crooks and Thieves”

Navalny's anti-corruption activities have won him accolades at home. (Russian newspaper Vedomosti listed him as its “Man of the Year” in 2009.) By coining the meme “A Party of Crooks and Thieves” to describe Vladimir Putin’s dominant political party, United Russia, and through his memorable speeches during the 2011-2012 winter protests, Navalny has become the de facto leader of the country’s protest movement. For all his success as an activist and a netizen, however, federal investigators did more than anyone to cement Navalny’s status as a freedom fighter and a household name.

Alexey Navalny at a Moscow rally in March 2012. Photo by Bogomolov.PL. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Alexey Navalny at a Moscow rally in March 2012. Photo by Bogomolov.PL. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This fame has not brought him universal acclaim. Polling suggests Russians are deeply ambivalent [ru] about Navalny, even if they think [ru] his court case was politically motivated. While his mayoral campaign (which features daily stump speeches throughout Moscow) has demonstrated the disappearing barrier between Russia’s online and offline worlds, Navalny’s odds of winning the election are slim, and a five-year prison sentence looms in the autumn. Despite this, he has drawn together a broad coalition of supporters and mounted a serious run for political office. (Even the Kremlin-friendly think tank, the Civil Society Development Foundation, recently complimented [ru] Navalny for his “very active” effort.) This is an accomplishment in itself and may signal a slowly growing competitiveness in Russia’s public life.


March 12 2013

World Day Against Cyber Censorship

March 12 is World Day Against Cyber Censorship. International press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders organized the first World Day Against Cyber Censorship in 2008, calling on activists, movements and organizations around the world to participate by reminding their constituents of the importance of protecting free expression online.

Image by RSF, published with permission for reuse.

Image by RSF, published with permission for reuse.

The Internet and social networks have been conclusively established as tools for protest, campaigning, and circulating information, and as vehicles for advancing human rights and democratic values. The aim of the day is to defend human rights online, promote Internet accessibility for all, and expose enemies of Internet openness — along with governments that are gradually becoming more controlling over how their citizens use the Internet.

Reporters Without Borders will mark the day by releasing its annual “Enemies of the Internet” report at 12:01am (Paris time) on March 12. This year's report focuses on Internet surveillance and describes not only the actions of governments with repressive online surveillance regimes, but also examines the role of corporate actors in this area.

The Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression posted the following video [ar], calling out activists and bloggers to blog, tweet, and to spread the word about the day:

We know that other groups are actively participating in the day as well. Please post comments here, or tweet at @Advox and tell the community how you're honoring World Day Against Cyber Censorship!

January 02 2013

WCIT and its Relationship to the Internet: What Lies Ahead

This third part (see the first part here and the second here), concludes the analysis [es] by the Vía Libre Foundation after the the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) which took place in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) between December 3 and 14, 2012.

After the WCIT and Beyond (third part)
By Enrique A. Chaparro

World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012. Photo by itupictures on Flickr, under Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

VIII. The new ITR

The possibility of consensus fell through, the new ITR was passed with the support of most of the Latin American countries (except for those that have Fair Trade Agreements with the U.S.), thereby breaking the informal CITEL (1) agreement. A number of local media notoriously at odds with the government (Clarín, La Nación, La Voz del Interior) took advantage of the opportunity to shamelessly misinform, showing (as if more evidence were needed) their ignorance in these matters.

Thus, we have a brand new ITU, which will take effect in 2015. Since it is an international treaty, it must be approved in each case according to the legal mechanisms of each country. Many signers (and those who didn’t sign), including Argentina, created exceptions, as is usually the practice. In the not too distant future, the Executive branch will send it to Congress for approval. The final acts of WCIT 2012 are available on the ITU website.

Now, after all the hoopla created, what can we say about the ITR?

In general terms, with respect to the issues we’re interested in, the new ITR is better than the 1988 version. Though the improvements are purely declaratory, they recognize some important issues:

It incorporates the issue of human rights (Preamble);

It expressly excludes the regulation of the issue of content (Art. 1.1);

It incorporates a new article (8A) urging states to adopt best practices for energy efficiency and electronic waste.
It includes a new article (8B) promoting access to handicapped people.
It makes an attempt (weak, restricted and short range) to move in the direction of universal access by declaring the right of states to access international telecommunications services (Preamble).

The result of the process has been generally satisfactory, in that it doesn’t promote the proposals that could potentially mean a danger (as we saw above, very amplified by an intense publicity campaign).

The treaty expressly establishes that the references to ITU-T Recommendations in the text are not mandatory;

The definitions of “telecommunications” and “international telecommunications” did not change, and the new term “ICT” was not incorporated.

The treaty does not make any mention, express or implied, to the Internet. In any case, the ambiguity of scope remains the same as it was in 1988.

None of the regulatory proposals regarding “cybersecurity” were incorporated.

There was no trace of ETNO’s proposals about “sender pays” or quality of differentiated services.

Provisions for numeration are limited to references about numeration resources specified in the ITU-T recommendations, and do not extend to nomenclature, numeration or identification beyond that.

There are some potentially problematic issues, though their seriousness has been seriously exaggerated by some sources:

The incorporation of article 5A regarding network security and robustness. The wording (2) is too general, which allows multiple interpretations. But the worry expressed is legitimate, and the safeguards built into the treaty – see item 1 above – appear to be sufficient to ensure that there will be no legal basis for a repressive interpretation. The practical reality, as noted is another matter; and even without this clause, repressive regimes will continue to censor and monitor in the name of “security”.

The incorporation of article 5B regarding unsolicited bulk electronic communications. The wording is careful to not make any mention of the Internet. Given the safeguards imposed in the Preamble and in Article 1.1, its scope is limited: at best, it authorizes anti-spam mechanisms that do not work on content (and yes, it is possible to establish this type of mechanism) (4). Moreover, in many countries there are laws that prevent access to content without proper judicial safeguards, which further reduces the framework of possibility for this rule to work (5). Again, reality is another thing.

The approval of a resolution (PLEN/3), “Fostering an Enabling Environment for the Internet.” This resolution, which is not part of the treaty and as such is not binding, can be seen as a minimal concession to the members who pushed for a bigger part by the states, via the ITU, in management of the Internet. The ability this will have in shaping the future of the Internet can be considered negligible: all it says is that a majority of members states of the ITU want to keep discussing the issues of “governance” of the Internet in the ITU (6). Calling it a “Trojan horse” designed to empower Russia or China is at best–and assuming good faith–an exaggeration.

As an indirect result, this WCIT yielded another small positive result: due mostly to the pressure of social organizations, the transparency of the process, which still remains obscure, improved significantly.

IX. In the meantime…

While many organizations, many of them aligned with our positions, concentrated on this process, and invested an enormous amount of effort and resources, there were other actions much less publicized, with impact limited to academic circles that follow in detail the “governance” of the Internet and which constitute attacks on fundamental freedoms.

The GAC (Governmental Advisory Committee) of ICANN and its attacks on freedom of expression: the GAC is one of the groups that forms a part of the complex web of ICANN (7). The policy of assigning new top-level domains (TLD) allows for “early warnings” about the applications for new TLDs; this equivalent of veto power in the hands of the GAC has been used to block names that some states, led by the U.S., do not like, outside of any procedures or any adherence to international law. Thus, recently there have been a large number of early warnings against proposed TLDs. The majority of these objections don’t come from Russia or China, but from Australia, which with the argument of dealing with terms with “excessively negative connotations” and that they “lack sufficient mechanisms to address the potential for a high level of defensive registrations” (8), it has rejected the TLDs of .sucks, .gripe, .fail, .wtf and others. The argument of defensive registration is ridiculous, given that it doesn’t appear the $20 registration cost is going to have much affect on the costs for a corporation with enough minions to protect itself from a .sucks domain. But the other argument is plainly an attack on freedom of expression: an Internet user can write here “Australia sucks!”, he can publish it in a book; and can even try to register….but he will not be able to register australiasucks. The basis in law? None, great, thank you.

At the end of November, the board of ICANN conceded to the International Olympic Committee, the Red Cross, and another set of intergovernmental organizations extraordinary powers for the registering of names under the new TLD. An arbitrary decision of the board, not based on any policy or process, undoing with one hand its previous ruling by the other hand, dismissing a process of ongoing policy development, and reversing a decision of ICANN’s own work group in charge of domain name policies, the GNSO Council.

Another concession to the trademark empire, but also an example of ICANN’s failure in becoming a legitimate institution for the generation of policies, which in practice belies the alleged “bottom up process” and shows that in reality what weighs in decision-making is the lobbying capacity of certain groups.

Another example of ICANN dynamiting their own processes and bowing to pressure from powerful groups: after heavy lobbying, the President of ICANN, Fadi Chehadi, caved in to demands by a trademark interest group to call a closed meeting in Los Angeles, which also, because of short notice about the event, had very uneven representation deciding on the requests of the lobbyists. The result, however, was not as bad as expected, but the whole process was another nail in the coffin of the alleged “transparent and democratic management” of ICANN.

How many cries of alarm, certainly legitimate, from well-meaning sectors would have brought to light facts like these three, if they had been carried out by an agency in the United Nations system?

X. Lessons learned and strategies for the future
There are helpful lessons amid this turmoil. The first is that even social organizations above suspicion can be led (for reasons often attributed to naivety) to positions that have nothing to do with their principles, which lead to being unable to differentiate them from positions taken by certain governments and corporations.

The second is that it is essential to take a deeper political reading of what is happening in international forums. This time, looking from the point of view of organizations that advocate the observance of human rights in all areas, there was no major damage in terms of consequences, nor loss of credibility for social organizations, a good number of which unintentionally played the game for a long time that one of the disputed sectors tried to play. A combination of smell, good instincts, reading habits, disproportionate media reactions and various trolls, meant that at the end of the process some organizations were able to discern that the outcome of the WCIT was far from serious enough to merit the theatrical bang by the U.S. and its allies.

In fact, some organizations have reached less alarmist conclusions that are not consistent with the analysis presented here. “Access” makes its diagnosis of the “the good and the ugly” of WCIT in terms we do not share, and is a good example of such a position (10).

Regarding the ITR itself, and at the local level, Congress must deal with it at some point. At best, it would be ideal to deposit an interpretive reserve letter for articles 5A and 5B, that says something like “Argentina understands, in line with the general principles set forth in the Preamble and Article 1.1 of the ITR, that in no case does a member state have the right to interpret Articles 5A and 5B as authorization to intervene in telecommunications, impose any restriction on freedom of expression, or act upon telecommunication content without law and specific order of a competent judge.”

This safeguard is much more important in laying the groundwork for Argentina’s position with respect to fundamental values (and both the government party as well as the opposition should be in agreement on this) than for any practical effect it might have. In all likelihood, these issues of the ITR in practice will be harmless (and the reserve will not in any way alter the actions of states which violate freedom of expression and privacy).

Moreover, we must continue to insist on the need for greater transparency in the ITU’s processes in general, and before our government in the need to integrate societal representation in processes like this.

The enormous public relations stunts surrounding the WCIT 2012 process which has raised dust for some time, has managed to set up something that Milton Mueller aptly called “ITUfobia”, and has served as an effective deterrent to prevent system stakeholders, particularly social organizations dealing with issues of freedom and fairness on the Internet, from discussing the real issue: how to build new “governance” institutions that are minimalist, open and effective, and legal principles applicable worldwide that regulate and limit the power of states and private sector actors to abuse users. This is Vía Libre’s commitment in all areas in which we work.

1. CITEL is a sort of “mini-UTI” formed within the Organization of American States (OAS).
2. “41B. Member States shall individually and collectively endeavour to ensure the security and robustness of international telecommunication networks in order to achieve effective use thereof and avoidance of technical harm thereto, as well as the harmonious development of international telecommunication services offered to the public.”
3. “41C. Member States should endeavor to take necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communications and minimize its impact on international telecommunication services. Member States are encouraged to cooperate in this sense.”
4. It is likely that users would appreciate it if cell phone operators stopped sending unsolicited messages unrelated to their service, and if call centers stopped insisting on trying to sell you anything over the phone.
5. In Argentina, Article 5 of Law 25520. [INT]
6. The resolution is brief and does not say much. It can be seen in its entirety on the ITU website. The main part says:
The World Conference of International Telecommunications (Dubai, 2012) (…) resolves:
to invite Member States
1. to elaborate on their respective positions on international Internet-related technical, development and public-policy issues within the mandate of ITU at various ITU forums including, inter alia, the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and ITU study groups;
2. to engage with all their stakeholders in this regard, instructs the Secretary-General1. to continue to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role in the development of broadband and the multistakeholder model of the Internet as expressed in § 35 of the Tunis Agenda;
2. to support the participation of Member States and all other stakeholders, as applicable, in the activities of ITU in this regard.7. 108 countries of the UN are represented in the GAC, three of these generally not known (Cook Island, Niue, and Taiwan), one absolute theocracy (the Vatican), three administrative subdivisions of other states (Monserrat, Hong Kong and Bermuda), the European Commission and the African Union Commission.
8. “Defensive registration” is to preemptively register a domain name that could represent negative publicity for a company, but cannot be disputed based on the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (extra regulatory framework imposed by ICANN), for example
9. GNSO: Generic Names Supporting Organization, the ICANN group in charge of policies on generic domain names.
10., WCIT WATCH: Analysis of the new ITRs, part 1 [es] y part 2 [es].

December 31 2012

WCIT and its Relationship to the Internet: Issues and Challenges

The second part (see the first part) of the analysis [es] by Vía Libre Foundation, takes up the issues and challenges posed by the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai (United Arab Emirates).

After the WCIT and Beyond
By Enrique A. Chaparro

VI. Conflicting Positions

World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai. Photo by itupictures on Flickr, reproduced by Creative Commons license ((CC BY 2.0).

No one will be surprised if we say there are sectors (government and private) that see communication only or primarily as an opportunity to generate income; others for which the scope of communications should be subordinated to state politics, and then others, like us and other social organizations, who believe that the fundamental issue is public service and unrestricted access.

All of these positions are confronted and intertwined in every forum related to telecommunications, whether or not the Internet is included. The WCIT is not immune to this, and in fact we are aware of the existence of various positions. The most interesting were:

(P1) That of the United States and the European Union (EU), who made sure the ITR 1988 was not touched except for cosmetic changes. This posture was supported by countries linked to the U.S. by political alliances and FTAs, the Tier 1 networks of the United States, Australia, Japan and India, and large companies with Internet-based services, of which Google is the most prominent. This position is akin to the majority of the EU (and therefore I encompass them into one), that the ITR is no longer necessary and that the issue should be left to free market action (1);

(P2) A sum of proposals from China, the Russian Federation, the Arab world and some African nations, who wanted the explicit inclusion of the Internet in the ITR (2), a greater involvement of ITU member states in the management of the Internet, including issues of “cybersecurity”, and a “guarantee of no exclusion” to Internet access for all states.

(P3) That of large European telecommunications operators (including Tier 1 networks in Europe) grouped in ETNO, whose main agenda was to increase profits, based on the fact that they are the ones who provide the infrastructure that makes the Internet possible. The most “dangerous” of their proposals was the option to negotiate guidelines for quality of service freely between operators, which when applied to the Internet automatically destroys net neutrality (3), and the idea of making the method of “sender pays” widespread (which you will easily understand how much this was disliked by corporations like Google, Facebook or Twitter).

Strong campaigns were woven ahead of time around these positions, to enhance their own and discredit others. The main argument of the supporters of (P1) in favor of the classic “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” (4) against the supporters of (P2) argued that state control over local Internet implied threats to freedom of expression and information, and the right to privacy (5). The campaign against proposal (P2) (and to a lesser degree, against (P3), which because of its technical intricacies appears harder to explain) reached a global scale, driven not only by state supporters of (P1), but also by corporations such as Google, especially active, the media and NGOs usually concerned with civil liberty issues in the Internet.

VII. Progress

That campaign was not only very intense in the days before the WCIT, but kept up during the conference and was reflected in the catastrophic media headlines and doomsday articles (6). The intensity of the campaign led to the president of the ITU, Hammadoun Touré, agreeing at the beginning of the conference that the ITU would not deal with issues and decisions relating to the Internet, as had historically happened in the ITU, but that they would be agreed upon by consensus.

The supporters of proposal (P2) insisted on this, presenting a draft of its most extreme position to test the waters, then withdrawing it to present something a little calmer, which they also withdrew. The situation appeared to bog down.

With all moves aimed at incorporating Internet issues explicitly to the ITR failed, the last drafts before the final session seemed to get pretty close to proposal (P1), except for some small details. The text that moved toward the final meeting contained no mention of the Internet, and they had added two extremely important safeguards:

In the Preamble, the statement that “The Member States affirm their commitment to implement these regulations in a manner that respects and sustains their obligations to human rights” and

In Article 1.1, the statement that “These regulations do not address aspects of telecommunications related to content” (7)

But the day before the last [session], the United States and its usual allies (the UK and Canada) stirred things up. What made the U.S. “angry”, along with all the media that usually parrots the U.S. government, and the big corporations shouting disaster–Wall Street Journal (8), Forbes (9), going through CIO Magazine (10) or AOL Government (11)?

Apparently, it was because of the incorporation of Articles 5A and 5B. Too much, upon analysis, to generate a move that, according to the New York Times (12), was pre-arranged. Another factor is that on Wednesday, the consensus broke down and a vote was taken about an Internet resolution (13), but a main irritant seems to be the inclusion of a statement about the rights of member states to access international telecommunications services.

Why would such a seemingly innocuous statement (14) placed in the preamble be so serious for the U.S. and its allies? This statement, which was previously proposed as part of Article 3 is consistent with a proposal of the Arab states in the recent WTSA: T09-WTSA 12-C-0064 (15). If approved, it prevents (de jure, of course, which in practice is another matter), the United States from arbitrarily blocking access to international telecommunications (and by reasonable extension, the Internet) to or from countries considered “enemies” without formal declaration of hostilities. By way of example: An internet user in Iran cannot access Google services such as Analytics (16), cannot register domains on GoDaddy, cannot connect to Android Market or Appstore, cannot get an SSL certificate for an .ir site, etc., etc.

Let’s revisit the claims of the U.S., its allies and major corporations arising from (P1):

It avoids any progress that means transferring Internet regulatory issues from the realm of U.S. domestic law to international law.

It avoids any progress that implies universal service obligations.

It avoids any rate regulation.

The first and third objectives can be considered a “done deal”. The second as well, to a large extent, although the right of access statement leaves a loophole. Chances are this is at the root of the media show and scandal. Everything else a giant PR maneuver by the U.S. and its allies that managed to involve, frankly, a large number of social organizations that defend human rights in cyberspace.

Not that it’s wrong or bad to speak up against the possibility that governments not known for their respect of freedom have an international legal instrument enabling them to control its citizens’ action, but let’s see what happens in reality:

The ITR is applicable to international telecommunications services. But to access these services, a user must necessarily pass through a national service (17). And the national sphere is reserved to the respective states.

Nothing suggests that international telecommunications regulation stops the actions of censorship and surveillance of states seeking to do so.

Nothing indicates a priori that the scope of international law is worse for the Internet than the domestic law of the United States.

That the ITU, and consequently its member states, has a bigger role in that which results in being indispensable in regulating the Internet is not a good idea. In particular, because of its procedures which are not very transparent in the adoption of standards, and for its historical ineffectiveness. That the regulative issues of the Internet are governed by a “one state = one vote” mechanism is even worse.

But in the current state of affairs, ICANN–which is responsible for these issues (and others which would not need regulation, but even so it has dealt with) (18) — commits atrocities which make the ones ITU could commit pale in comparison (more about this in the section “Meanwhile…”, below).

Apart from these questions, it’s important to note that the ITU has no sanction power to enforce any of the rules issues, which means the alleged “threat” is an idle one: states who want to comply will, and those who don’t, won’t, without any consequences. As has happened so far. And unlike ICANN or WIPO, which thrive and grow fat on tariffs generated by the sectors that monitor (19), ITU’s finances depend on membership fees, the sale of standards documents, and donations. Its economic power is more than limited. Finally, the role of the ITU as a standardizing body has been declining since the 1980s, which in turn coincides with the downturn in technical quality of its subcommittees, in a downward spiral process. Only rules about radio from ITU-R have significant importance today in standardization.

1.  Interestingly, “free market” is not the position of the United States, which in 2008 indicated the need for review of the ITR.
2. Reading the existing ITR allows an exact interpretation that international connections among Internet service providers is tacitly included, as defined in Art. 2.2.
3. In order to understand more clearly: Under this form of organization, carrier X could have agreements for preferential quality of service with service provider Y, so that all traffic going through X to Y has higher priority relative to that going to Z, P, Q, or other services competing with Y.
4. Hypothesis that implies that today managing the Internet works fine, and as we will see later, is at least partially false.
5. It’s likely that China or Saudi Arabia, having the power, would censor its citizens’ access to the Internet. But it’s absolutely certain that they would do it, with or without ITR’s authorization, so the objection in most cases is purely rhetorical. And they do so with the express and voluntary cooperation of corporations that have headquarters in apparently democratic countries.
6. On December 6, Techdirt published an absurd article. Whether due to ignorance about how the ITR is applied, or in bad faith, either way it offends the concept of the word “journalism”. An excellent example of this campaign is this article in Vanity Fair from May, entitled “World War 3.0”.
7. (7) Translated directly from the original in English. The official version in Spanish, therefore, may be slightly different.
8. L. Gordon Crovitz: “The U.N.’s Internet Power Grab”, Wall Street Journal.
9. Larry Downes “Why is the UN Trying to Take over the Internet?”, Forbes Magazine.
10,. Stephen Lawson “Controversy erupts at WCIT over resolution on Internet”, CIO Magazine, 13 Dec 2012.
11. Kevin G. Coleman “UN Agency Opens International Internet Traffic To Government Scrutiny”, ”AOL Government”, 14 Dec 2012.
12. Eric Pfanner, “Message, if Murky, From U.S. to the World”, ”The New York Times”, 15 Dec 2012.
13. This deals with Resolution PLEN/3 (Dubai 2012), which we address below. Conference resolutions are not binding, unlike the ITR itself.
14. “These Regulations recognize the right of access of Member States to international telecommunication services.”
15. WTSA is the World Assembly of Telecommunications Standards, a technical and political decision-making mechanism of the ITU. The latest WTSA was held in Dubai, just before the WCIT. The reference text is available here.16. Doing so will display the message: “We’re unable to grant you access to Google Analytics at this time. A connection has been established between your current IP address and a country sanctioned by the U.S. government. For more information, see”
17. Except for very limited exceptions, like direct satellite access… but these fall under the regulatory authority of the radio-electric spectrum of the states.
18. Furthermore, in the regulatory process, ICANN has managed to create weak or strong hierarchies, and therefore adjustable, resources that are not, by design, from the Internet, for example propelling the establishment of a “safe” infrastructure for domain names (DNSSEC) or for authorization of source routing (ROAs).
19. According to its financial statements in 2011, ICANN gets $65 million in fees paid by registries and registrars of domain names, and a net profit of $15 million (almost 20% of net profits).

December 27 2012

WCIT and Its Relationship to the Internet

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is the United Nations agency specializing in information and communication technologies - ICTs.

From December 3 to 14, 2012, the ITU organized the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) in order to review the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs).

The Vía Libre Foundation analyzes the issues of this important conference in the article entitled Después de la WCIT y más allá [es] (After the WCIT and Beyond), the first part of which we present below.

After the WCIT and Beyond
By Enrique A. Chaparro

I. Preliminary remarks and necessity
We have long maintained that certain aspects of the Internet that require some form of regulation should be managed in a way that's minimalist, democratic and respectful of human rights. In keeping with this position, we believe that a significant intervention by the ITU would bring more harm than good. But that does not turn us ipso facto into defenders of ICANN, an organization that needs deep reform, democratization and reduced authority.

Nor do we trust the good intentions of authoritarian governments (read, for example, Iran or Saudi Arabia), but neither does that necessarily generate confidence in seditious “democracies” (like the United States, which holds the world record in incarcerated people, both in absolute and relative terms, and the systematic use of torture, kidnapping and murder of those deemed political enemies). And of course a reasonable skepticism about government doesn't imply a confidence in corporations. That said, let's get to the point.

II. Introduction
The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), like any international diplomatic conference, is a complex web of interests and a morass of overlapping poker games. Each side has its agenda, its objectives, its minimum and maximum positions, and strategies to achieve results. That's the game, and those of us looking in from the outside, but who may be affected by the outcome, must proceed with caution so as not to get involved in spite of ourselves in some of these strategies. In this particular conference, there has been a lot of “lapwing strategy” (translator's note: South American bird that lays its eggs in one place but throws its voice to sound to predators like it's somewhere else) that, in the light of the evidence, has involved–in general unwittingly–social organizations concerned with the defense of cyberspace liberty and Internet users “on the ground”.

Continuing this process, we take into account our principles regarding the issues under discussion: that communication is a fundamental right, and therefore, communication infrastructure should be considered an essential public service; that this infrastructure should be free of censorship and restrictions to privacy; and that there must be a guarantee that the regulated aspects of the Internet are kept to a strict minimum, and managed openly and democratically.

III. What is the ITU?
The ITU is an agency of the United Nations system, and predates it, emerging in 1934 as a merger of the existing International Telegram Union founded in 1865) and the International Radiotelegraph Union, in order to coordinate international radio, telegraph and telephone traffic. As we will see, it is much more than a “technical organization”.

The ITU has a unique feature among multilateral organizations of the UN system, to admit members outside the states (although only members have the right to vote) which usually means lobbying by big telecommunications companies and other pressure groups.

IV. What is the ITR?
The ITR agrees on technical standards for telecommunications (through its technical arm the ITU-T, formerly CCITT), and for radio (via ITU-R), and two key treaties that provide the political framework for international communications traffic: the RR, Radio Regulations, as amended (2008) was approved by the WRC (2), and the ITR, International Telecommunication Regulations. These treaties are reviewed from time to time to ensure they are more or less abreast of technological developments.

The ITR in effect was adopted at a WCIT in Australia in 1988. At that time, the Internet was little more than an academic experiment on connectivity in heterogeneous networks, the great wave of privatization of phone services had not reached the crest, the cell phone was in diapers (3)… For years, many member states noted the need for an update.

The object of the WCIT of 2012 in Dubai was to review the ITR and produce a new version, if necessary. Being an international treaty, it is subject to the principles of international law (in particular, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1968). We note this to emphasize the importance of the instrument, which is not a simple technical rule.

V. And what does the Internet have to do with all of this?

Although not obvious by the mythical character it has acquired in recent times (4), the packets exchanged by the Internet are moved by the physical infrastructure of international telecommunications. But by design, the Internet was conceived differently than traditional telephone and telegraph communications: the voluntary joining of autonomous networks, and a small set of standards that guarantees interoperability.

Consequently, and given that its origins primarily involve the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense of the United States, issues of the Internet requiring regulation remained de facto outside the sphere of the ITR.

Of course, there are things on the Internet that should be regulated. There isn't any other choice, when we're talking about administering scant resources with alternative uses. And other shortages, implicit in the design of the Internet, were invented along the way.

The history of the administration of these transitions is very interesting, and will be worth telling another day. It's enough to know for now that today it is in the hands of ICANN, which acts by delegation of the United States Department of Commerce (5).

The U.S. government has stated, on numerous occasions and at the highest levels, that there are certain critical aspects of the Internet the control of which it does not intend to give up, such as control of the root servers of the domain name system (DNS). Moreover, as ICANN is a non-profit corporation registered in the United States, it is subject to the laws of that country.

1. “[…] but they are like the lapwings / to hide their little nests / their cries are in one place / while their eggs are in another” — José Hernández, El gaucho Martín Fierro, Canto XII
2. World Radiocommunications Conference, Geneva, 2007
3. The first public cell phone network was inaugurated by NTT in Japan in 1979. In the United States, the first network “1G” from AmeriTech, appeared in 1983.
4. Clarke's Third Law maintains: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
5. Of the plutocracy of ICANN and its processes, we will talk another time. For now, it can be said that its relationship with the U.S. government is defined by an instrument which, if set up 300 years ago, could be labeled as a ‘letters patent'.

November 14 2012

Madagascar: Journalists and Blogger Prosecuted over Rosewood Trafficking Report

Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) reports that four journalists and a blogger are prosecuted for defamation and  ”complicity in spreading false news” [fr]. The charges against the reporters were submitted by Mamy Ravatomanga, a billionaire who owns several news outlets and is the former employer of the Minister of Communication. Blogger Alain Rajaonarivony and several newspapers reported that Mamy Ravatomanga is involved in illegal rosewood logging [fr] that threatens the survival of Madagascar rain forest.

October 23 2012

Syria: Cartoonist Detained for Criticizing Assad

This post is cross-posted from Global Voices Advocacy.

Syrian cartoonists who dare depict Bashar Al-Assad's character are paying a heavy price. Earlier on August 25, 2011, Ali Ferzat, the 60-year-old famous cartoonist was dragged and beaten by three masked men, who then also broke his hands.

“Freedom to Akram Rslan.” Source: ArabCartoon

Akram Rslan, is another Syrian cartoonist who works in the government-run newspaper Fedaa [ar]. He was detained on October 2, 2012, after publishing a cartoon critical of the Syrian President, as reported by blogger The-Syrian blog [ar]:

كان من الغريب بقائه خارج أقبية الأمن، رغم أنه استمر في نقد النظام و قمعه، و وصل إلى شخص الرئيس، وهو لم يتخفّى وبقي في سكنه وفي وظيفته، في جريدة الفداء الرسمية، التي تصدر في حمـاة. مؤخراً ؛ فقد النظام صبره و قام باعتقاله من مكان وظيفته، يوم الاثنين 2/10/2012، ولا يوجد أي معلومات عنه

It was only a matter of time before [Rslan] was arrested as he continued to criticize the regime and its oppression, going so far as to attack the President himself. [Rslan] did not hide and he remained in his home and at his job in the Hama-based Fedaa newspaper. The regime eventually lost its patience with him and arrested him from his workplace on Monday, October 2, 2012. Since then, there has been no information about him.

The blogger also publishes the cartoonist's biography and a selection of his work, including the one cartoon that is believed to have caused his arrest (see below). The cartoon illustrates an infamous slogan often chanted by Assad's henchmen, the “Shabiha,” who claim they prefer to burn the country than to leave power:

أكرم رسلان، 1974، صوران–حمـاة، خريج الآداب 1996، و للأسف الكثير الكثير، من جنود ثورتنا، يفضلون النضال بعيداً عن الضجة و الأضواء و نجهلهم قبل الاعتقال أو الاستشهاد!! الحريـة لـ الفنان أكرم والتالي عينة من آخر أعماله، علماً أنّ الصورة الأولى هيَ سبب اعتقاله

Akram Rslan, born in 1974 in Soran-Hama, is an 1996 literature graduate. He is one of the many, many members of our revolution who prefer to struggle away from the media and the limelight, and whom we know little about until they get arrested or martyred. Freedom for the artist [Rslan] Akram. Following is a selection of Rslan's work, including the cartoon (the first one) that caused his arrest.


“Assad or burn the country” by Akram Rslan.

The Doha Center for Media Freedom has condemned the detention of the cartoonist, issuing the following statement:

The centre urges the Syrian authorities to release Rslan immediately and to put an end to the ongoing targeting of journalists and critics of the Assad regime. The government must do more to ensure that members of the media are protected and do not face intimidation, harassment or detention as a result of carrying out their work.

The website ArabCartoon has also condemned the arrest.

A campaign to free Akram Rslan has been launched on Youtube under the banner: “Freedom to Akram Rslan”.

This post is cross-posted from Global Voices Advocacy.

October 06 2012

Cuba: Yoani Sánchez Released After 30 Hours in Custody

At 9pm EST on Friday, October 5, acclaimed Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez and bloggers Agustín Díaz and Reinaldo Escobar (Sánchez's husband), were released from police custody in Havana, Cuba, after having been detained in the eastern city of Bayamo the previous day. Shortly thereafter, Sánchez tweeted,

@YoaniSanchez: #Cuba Acabamos de ser liberados!! 30 horas de arresto y muchas anecdotas que contar :-(

@YoaniSanchez: #Cuba We've just been released!! 30 hours of arrest and many anecdotes to tell :-(

Blogger Yoani Sánchez. Photo by Andre Deak and republished under Licence CC-BY-2.0.


Sánchez and her colleagues had traveled to Bayamo hoping to witness and report on the trial of Angel Carromero, a Spanish national accused of vehicular manslaughter after a car crash that killed renowned democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá and activist Harold Cepero. Carromero traveled to Cuba in July to meet with human rights activists on the island. Sánchez tweeted that her intention had been to cover the trial.

@YoaniSanchez: #Cuba Mi intencion era totalmente periodistica. Asistir al juicio a @angelcarromero y reportar desde #Bayamo a traves de mi cuenta #Twitter

@YoaniSanchez: #Cuba My intentions were purely journalistic. To attend the trial of @angelcarromero and report from #Bayamo using my #Twitter account.

After being released, Sánchez reported that she was attempting to follow news of the Carromero trial online. She tweeted that the arrest was “nothing” compared to what the Payá family has experienced.

@YoaniSanchez: #Cuba The saddest and most significant thing is the drama that the family of @oswaldopaya has lived. Our arrests are nothing compared with their loss.

October 05 2012

Cuba: Blogger Yoani Sánchez Arrested

Award-winning Cuban blogger and human rights activist Yoani Sánchez was arrested last night in the eastern province of Bayamo, where she had traveled to attend and report on the trial of Angel Carromero, a Spanish national accused of vehicular manslaughter after a car crash that killed renowned democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá and activist Harold Cepero. Carromero traveled to Cuba in July to meet with human rights activists on the island.

Yoani Sanchez. Photo by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

Yoani Sanchez. Photo by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

Author of the blog Generacion Y and editorial director of the collective blog Voces Cubanas, Sánchez was arrested along with her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, an independent journalist, and blogger Agustin Diaz. Very few details are known about the arrests. The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom advocacy organization, has called for the immediate release of the three bloggers.

The original source of this information remains unclear, but several media outlets have indicated that Yohandry Fontana, a pro-government blogger, first reported the story [es]. Fontana described Sánchez as attending the trial in order to create a “media circus.”

Yoani Sánchez fue detenida ayer en la ciudad de Bayamo, lugar a donde viajó para intentar una provocación y show mediático que perjudicara el buen desarrollo del juicio que se seguirá mañana contra el ciudadano español Ángel Francisco Carromero Barrios

Yoani Sánchez was detained yesterday in Bayamo, where she had traveled intending to provoke a media circus and to interfere with the judicial process that will take place tomorrow against Spanish citizen Ángel Francisco Carromero Barrios.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo [es], also a well-known blogger and a close friend of Sánchez’s, tweeted soon after that he suspects Sánchez’s cell phone has been confiscated.

‏@OLPL: Movil 52708611 de @YoaniSanchez fue cortado, por eso ella no pudo denunciar arresto.

@OLPL: The mobile phone of @YoaniSanchez was cut off, this is why she couldn’t report on her arrest.

Foreign media outlets reported receiving an automated message saying that Sánchez’s cell phone, which she uses regularly to communicate with supporters and journalists outside of Cuba, had been disconnected. Sánchez has been detained by police in the past, but never for more than a few hours. In a 2010 incident, Sánchez was detained but was able to communicate with friends and family via SMS.

On Twitter, supporters from around the world are tweeting about the arrest and using the hashtag #YoaniLibre.

Ernesto Hernández Busto, blogger at Penúltimos Días [es], tweeted:

No hay nadie con un poco de vergüenza en el @PPopular que condene detención de Yoani Sánchez por hacer su trabajo de periodista indep? #Cuba

Is there no one with any shame in the @PPopular (People’s Party) who will condemn the detention of Yoani Sánchez for working as an independent journalist? #Cuba

On Facebook, Jose Conde wrote,

Cuban authorities arrest Yoani Sanchez for speaking her mind. I guess not much as changed en la isle…sad and disturbing.

More information about Sánchez’s arrest will be posted on Global Voices’ Cuba page as soon as it is known.

January 10 2011

Egypt: A blogger lost his job because of his blog

By Tarek Amr

Mohamed Maree is not the first Egyptian blogger to loose he job because of what he writes in his blog, as he has been preceded by Founon and Ahmed El Droubi, but he is the most recent one to loose his job because of his writings. Zeinobia elaborates more on the issue: “Maree was working in a pharmaceutical company for two and half months when suddenly the administration of that company decided to terminate his contract because the company found out about he has got political activities and his views are against the Egyptian government”. She then wonders: “Do we have to blog anonymously in order to keep our jobs!!?”

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