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July 30 2013

Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Border Shooting Prompts Theories, but no Answers

Last week, two Uzbek border guards were killed on the tense and poorly demarcated boundary dividing Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyz and Uzbek media have covered the event very differently, leaving little room for objective interpretations of what actually happened.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Fergana Valley, the fertile and densely populated heartland on which Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan converge, has hosted water conflicts, land disputes and inter-ethnic clashesAbout 90 kilometers [ru] of the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border has still not been delimited, creating headaches for herders in the region and increasing poverty on both sides. The Uzbek government is reported to have mined [ru] their side of both the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border and the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border. A difficult situation is further complicated by the existence of geographical enclaves and exclaves that have proved hotbeds of conflicts since the republics gained independence in 1991.

The Fergana Valley and the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Picture is taken from Google Earth 2011.

Usually, more Kyrgyz die on the border than Uzbeks. On June 20, for instance, Uzbek border guards killed a Kyrgyz citizen in circumstances that were never clarified. Despite the fact that the two sides regularly meet [ru] to discuss border issues and work together to demarcate unmarked sections of the border, shootings keep occurring.

According to Kyrgyz mass media, the blood of two Uzbek border guards was found on Kyrgyz territory – local Kyrgyz authorities claim two Uzbek border guards illegally entered the Jetizagar district of Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad region on July 23. Kyrgyz border troops subsequently demanded that the impostors retreat, the narrative runs, before their Uzbek counterparts opened fire, leading to a skirmish in which two of the offending Uzbek contingent were fatally wounded.

Coverage from Uzbek news sites and meanwhile, left Kyrgyz netizens bemused. Several articles on those two sites and one on claimed [ru] that drunk Kyrgyz border guards had drifted [ru] into Uzbek territory and simply opened fire on the Uzbeks [ru]. The author Неъматжон Мадаминов [Nematzhon Madaminov] published [ru] the following on

Сегодня на территории Наманганской области произошел очередной кровавый инцидент, виновником которого, как всегда, стали пьяные кыргызские пограничники.
Вооруженные до зубов кыргызские военные вторглись на территорию Узбекистана и открыли ничем не спровоцированный огонь по узбекскому пограничному наряду.

Today yet another bloody incident happened on the territory of [Uzbekistan's] Namangan region, and, as usual, drunk Kyrgyz border guards are to blame. Armed to the teeth, Kyrgyz soldiers invaded the territory of Uzbekistan and without any reason opened fire upon the Uzbek border guards. also mentioned the following day that Kyrgyz authorities had apologized [ru] for the murders, although Kyrgyz officials immediately denied [ru] this information. Other Uzbek news portals did not cover the incident at all.

With Uzbekistan's internet tightly restricted, and Kygyzstan's free, the majority of online reactions to the border shooting came from the Kyrgyz side of the cyber divide. Kyrgyz netizens were generally supportive of their border guards, although some called for more peace and unity with neighbors. Others were simply surprised by the Uzbek version of the incident.

One interesting discussion emerged on Akipress, a Kyrgyz media outlet. A user of the service KG.Liga said [ru]:

Молодцы наши Пограничники!!! но как ниже написано “не здоровая фигня”

Good for our border guards!!! Still, as was mentioned earlier [this] “crap isn't healthy”

Suer claimed [ru] to know some real Uzbek border guards:

У нас получается обяснимая ситуация, скорее всего правильно поступили наши пограничники. Только непонятно как узбеки наших безоружных убиваеют и ничего не обьясняют. Лично сталкивался с узбекскими пограничниками, не дай бог кому нибудь такие унижения, ведут себя хамски, вседозволенность, одним словом “животное”!

Our story makes more sense, so our border guards probably did everything correctly. Less understandable is how the Uzbeks kill our unarmed [people] and don't explain anything. I have personally met with Uzbek border guards. I hope no one will feel the humiliation [I felt] – they act with boorishness and a lack of restraint, like “animals”!

Frunze17 tried to bring [ru] some objectivity to the discussion:

Ничего хорошего, что вы пишете – “молодцы, наградить, месть”. Мы же не в состоянии войны с Узбекистаном находимся, чтобы радоваться – вот расстреляли врагов-оккупантов. На нашу территорию (если она наша, не спорная) зашли представители пограничной службы соседнего государства, необходимо было их задержать и разбираться в установленном порядке.

It's not good that you [commenters] write – “good for them, give awards to the border guards, revenge.” We are not even at war with Uzbekistan so as to be happy that we have killed enemy-invaders. If the border representatives of a neighboring country entered our territory (and it really was our [territory], rather than contested territory), we should have arrested them and investigated the incident properly.

Pessimist answered:

frunze17, когда люди с оружием в руках конфликтуют, кто быстрее среагирует тот и выживет. Награждать предлагают не за то что убил – за это не награждают, а за проявленное мужество и четкое выполнение устава. Кстати, при нападении на караул или пост, по уставу открывают огонь на поражение

frunze17, when people with guns start a conflict, the fastest to react will survive. And we want to award them not for killing – no one should be awarded for this – but for brave actions and the proper implementation of our border codes. By the way, if someone attacks a sentry or a checkpoint, those codes say: shoot to kill.

Bek2 wrote:

Давайте без эмоций. Кто такие узбекские пограничники? Во-первых, это сыны нашего тюркского братского народа. Во-вторых, это представители власти дружественного нам государства. На счет инцидента – по каждому случаю надо разбираться отдельно. Не сформировавшиеся молодые люди (и те и другие), у них в руках оружие, такие инциденты могут происходить по-молодости. Главное чтобы принимающие решения зрелые взрослые люди не поддавались эмоциям.

Let's remove the emotions. Who are the Uzbek border guards? First of all, they are the sons of a fraternal Turkic people. Second of all, [the guards] are representatives of a friendly state. Regarding the incident, every case should be investigated separately. Guys that are too young (both [from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan]) holding lethal weapons in their hands… such incidents will happen again and again because of their age. The most important thing here is to have mature and wise decision-makers who can react without emotions.

Over the course of a long series of interchanges on Akipress, an old Russian idiom was reiterated [ru] several times:

Худой мир лучше “доброй” войны.

Better a bad peace than a “good” war.

Adding a strange subplot to the event, reported on July 26 that, a controversial news outlet in Uzbekistan, had been moved to shut itself down over “hysteria” from Uzbek government officials when it ran the “drunk Kyrgyz border guards” version of the incident “without receiving accurate information on this incident from relevant bodies.” Whether this is just an excuse to shut down a site that has irritated power-brokers within the Uzbek state in the past, or a sign that the repressive Uzbek government doesn't agree with the drunk shooting theory is unclear., which also held to this version of events, is still in operation.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Student Movement in Taiwan

“The Far Eastern Sweet Potatoes” has written a review and analysis of the development of student movement in Taiwan in reaction to issues such as media monopoly and land justice against the background of cross-strait relation.

July 29 2013

Can Pirates Save the Russian Internet?

Russian supporters of internet freedom have their work cut out for them if they want to move their cause from the virtual to the physical world — last Sunday's protests against the so-called “anti-piracy law” attracted only a few hundred people out of the thousands that have voiced their opposition online.

RuNet Echo has previously written on the increasing encroachment on internet freedoms in Russia, and on what some would call creeping censorship. Last month, this trend seems to have come to a head, with the Russian parliament passing a law that is essentially equivalent to USA's SOPA [GV]. The law, which is due to come into effect on August 1, 2013, will allow any website to be shut down simply with claims that it hosts or links to copyrighted material.

"Pirate" flags reigned at Moscow's Internet freedom rally. YouTube Screenshot

“Pirate” flags reigned at Moscow's Internet freedom rally. YouTube Screenshot

The Russian Internet industry [ru] responded with shut-downs [GV], threats of an internet wide strike on August 1, petitions, and a series of protests, which were set to take place on July 28. As the protest announcement read [ru]:

Как показывает практика, власти в России редко обращают внимание на бурление в Сети. Гораздо больше их волнуют реальные люди, выходящие на улицы.

As practice shows, the Russian government rarely notices the churning of the Web. They are much more concerned with real people who walk out on the streets.

While this is a dubious proposition (considering the massive “successes” of Russian street protests over the last year), street actions were planned several weeks in advance with the support of the Russian Pirate Party [ru], RosComFreedom [ru], and the Association of Internet Users [ru], and took place in regional cities like Kazan, Tomsk and Novosibirsk [ru] in addition to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Nevertheless, they failed to bring out the crowds. The Moscow protest/concert, for example, attracted only “300-500″ people [ru], said the Pirate Party's Peter Rassudov — which is only half of the protest's VKontakte page [ru] 1,105 members.

A man dressed in skulls and symbolizing the "Death" of the RuNet leads a rally in Moscow. YouTube screenshot.

A man dressed in skulls and symbolizing the “Death” of the RuNet leads a rally in Moscow. YouTube screenshot.

Unsurprisingly, the proponents of internet freedom have had better success in their online endeavors, specifically with the petition they've filed on the Russian Public Initiative [ru] website. The petition [ru], which seeks the repeal of the the law deemed unfair, has so far been signed by 54,000 people, and reads:

Мы считаем, что данный закон направлен не столько против распространения нелегального контента, сколько против развития Интернета в России, нацелен на его разрушение, а также ущемляет интересы национальной интернет-индустрии и права интернет-общественности.

We believe that this law is aimed not so much against distribution of illegal content, but against development of the Russian Internet, is aimed at its [the Internet's] destruction, and additionally, infringes on the interests of the national internet-industry and the rights of the internet-using public.

While the number of signatures in less than a month is quite a feat, it falls short of the 100,000 needed for the petition to be reviewed, and shows signs of flagging:

A graph showing total votes for the petition seeking to repeal the "antipiracy" law. Screenshot, July 29, 2013.

A graph showing total votes for the petition seeking to repeal the “anti-piracy” law. Screenshot, July 29, 2013.

Russian techies don't give up easily, figuring out all kinds of ways to get out the vote — like a banner that any participating website can put at the top of their page (designed and posted [ru] by an anonymous user to the tech website Habrahabr). Perhaps the coming August 1 “Internet Strike” (a shutdown of participating websites) will also jar more internet users into voting. However, even if the petition reaches 100,000 votes, unless these thousands of virtual supporters can be converted into physical bodies on the streets and lobbyists in Parliament, the Russian government isn't likely to care.

July 28 2013

Trinidad & Tobago: Will Warner Win?

Austin “Jack” Warner has held many important posts in his lifetime, including FIFA Vice President (beleaguered though his tenure was) and Minister of National Security of Trinidad and Tobago. Tomorrow, he will be fighting to reclaim the title of Minister of Parliament for Chaguanas West, the post from which he voluntarily resigned on the heels of his resignations from Cabinet and as Chairman of the United National Congress, one of the political parties that forms the governing People's Partnership government. He will be contesting the by-election under the banner of his newly-formed political entity, the Independent Liberal Party.

The “Green Party”, as it is called, has been holding elaborate political rallies almost every night in the lead-up to the polls, many of which have been broadcast by mainstream media. The large crowds, questionable campaign tactics and race-centric rhetoric have prompted heated discussions on Facebook, but bloggers have also been sharing their perspectives.

aka_lol expained, tongue firmly in cheek, that the key issue in this election is box drains:

Despite all the learned talk, the Chaguanas West by-elections is not about good governance since the average citizen of this country has no idea what that means or care to Google it. The successful candidate in this election, aka voters’ choice, will be the person who the majority wants to be in charge of their most primal need, the need for proper box drains.

He continued:

In choosing a box drain leader, the people of Chaguanas West will have to go with their guts. We all know that Jack, the owner and CEO of the Independent Liberal Party’s (ILP), has listened to more box drain woes from citizens of this blessed land than any person on the planet. Because of his compassion for the box-drain-challenged, Jack is considered by many to be the foremost box drain authority in the country and probably the entire universe. I am not sure how much Kadija, the United National Congress (UNC) candidate, actually knows about box drains but she has been campaigning in the area with the Prime Minister, giving out gift boxes which might be symbolic of both future box drains and empty promises inside. Avinash, the Peoples National Movement (PNM)’s candidate, is a farmer and because of his party’s track record may prefer to build an aluminum smelter or church with state funds.

The Rag, a blog by Robin Montano, understandably had a lot to say on the election. Montano, a former senator for both the People's National Movement (currently in opposition) and the United National Congress, has joined Warner's new party as interim Chairman. The upcoming Chaguanas by-election got him talking about race in politics:

For the very first time in our modern political history the country has an opportunity to turn away from the traditional racial voting and trying something ‘new’ (and I put that word deliberately in inverted commas). The PNM has always been openly, if not blatantly, racial.

As for the UNC, well under Basdeo Panday it made a serious effort to move to the centre and be ‘all inclusive'. It's predecessor, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) was a right wing Hindu party where only Hindus needed to apply. Panday, to his great credit, was much more secular and pragmatic in his thinking…which brings us down to today. The present leaders of the UNC certainly held themselves out to be ‘all inclusive’ in the Panday mode…but since the by-election was announced, the gloves have come off and all pretence (sic) about being a national and a nationalist political organisation has been dropped. Just about every single person in the top brass of the UNC from Prime Minister Persad Bissessar on down has come out and preached a line that sounds dangerously close to saying to the people ‘vote race'.

And here is where the opportunity for the country is rearing it's head. If Jack Warner was to win in next Monday's by-election it will send a very loud signal … an almost earth shattering one … that the old way of thinking is well and truly dead. No longer can politicians come to us and say ‘vote for me because I am African/Indian'. Now they are going to have to come and say ‘vote for me because I can and will perform!’

Unsurprisingly, the post predicts that Warner will win the Chaguanas West seat, saying:

It is clear that only Mr. Warner has approached the electorate with a modern 21st century mindset. Mr. Warner has basically said ‘look, I am a performer. When I was your MP I performed and delivered those services that you required. Further, when serious allegations were made against me (all of which I deny) I resigned my seat to give you the opportunity to decide whether or not you still wanted me to represent you in the Parliament of our country'.

A Trini Speaks, a blog written in the slang of Trinidad and Tobago, was also leaning towards a Warner win:

When people wake up on de mornin’ ah July 30th, it go be tuh de realization dat Jack Warner representin’ Chaguanas West again. I tinkin’ it go only be one set ah people who go be surprised doh – Kamla an’ she peeps.

Dis is ah increasingly dutty fight Kamla havin’ wid Jack. It just happen tuh be in Chaguanas West. Yuh eh go be able tuh dodge de unparalleled bacchanal dat comin’ wid Jack’s victory doh.

The blogger took issue with the level of “electioneerin” by the United National Congress, the party of the current Prime Minister:

Who is Khadijah Ameen?

Yes, she is de UNC candidate fuh Chaguanas West.

Maybe ah should ah ask who is de UNC candidate fuh de seat. Den yuh would ah start tuh say, ‘Kaam’, den cyatch yuhself. De way Kamla been campaginin’ it look like she, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is de real candidate.

Why Kamla refusin’ tuh remember de larse election? She fuhget how she waltz over tuh de sister isle an’ try tuh take over? Actin’ like she presence alone would sway voters? She figured eef she convince dem dat cat in bag is ah good buy, dey would ah buy all de candidates she had in dem bags. Well people in Tobago eh dotish an’ Kamla end up holdin’ de bag an’ covered in whitewash.

It eh de same strategy in Chaguanas West only more personal an’ stinker? Kamla’s goal is tuh destroy Jack at all costs…She was perfectly fine tuh have him in she inner circle when he was dis hardest wukkin’ minister, buh now, she more den willin’ tuh criticize all de tings she didn’t have ah problem wid before.

He continued:

Although ah say plenty times me eh no fan ah Jack Warner’s politics, dat eh have nuttin tuh do wid he intelligence. Eef he was dotish he wouldn’t have dis bottomless pit ah money dat Kamla only now questionin’.

Jack eh just catch ah vaps an’ resign he seat den say he goin’ an’ ask he ex-constituents tuh re-elect him. He have ah plan.

The post also made the point that Warner has strong ties with his constituents. The blogger should know; he lives in Chaguanas West:

Certified or not, ah know it have someting between Jack an’ he constituents. It eh tribal politics an’ Kamla tactics eh breakin’ dat bond. Jack is dey don.

He ended by revealing who he will vote for tomorrow:

I so reach mih limit wid dis campaign. While ah not ah vengeful person ah cyar see mihself votin’ fuh de UNC/PP.

Me eh care eef he was de hardest wukkin’ minister. Not even eef he eh spend plenty time applyin’ fuh houses fuh people outside he district. Ah parsin’ on Jack. Plus he might ups an’ disappear an’ gorn. Next ting ah hear, he in ah land far away on ah multi year restricted forced vacation. From all dat hard wuk maybe?

I eh even have tuh tink about mih no vote fuh de PNM. I cyar support ah belief in tribal politics like is someting multi ethnic Trinbago cook up.

Dat leave Dr. Kirk Meighoo. Me eh know nuttin…

Buh wait.

Dat eh it?

Dat is it right dey!!

Jack go win buh ah know who I votin’ for.

If Warner does win, The Rag says it will “[change] the politics of this country for what can only be the better”. aka_lol sees it an entirely different way:

Regardless of the victor in these elections there will be fireworks on the night the results are known with the country being the biggest loser.

VIDEO: Pakistani TV Host Gives Away Babies on Primetime Ramadan Show

A TV presenter in Pakistan is under fire for giving away orphan babies to childless couples on his hit religious quiz show.

Televangelist Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain has gifted two babies so far during the month of Ramadan, in what some are describing as an attempt to boost viewership during the Islamic holy month's fierce battle for ratings. Part game show and part religious programming, Liaquat's show Amaan Ramzan on TV channel Geo News is very popular in Pakistan.

The infants were presented on the show by Muhammad Ramzan Chhipa, the head of the Chhipa Welfare Association, who told British newspaper the Telegraph, “We have lots of babies that are just abandoned, left in the garbage or other dirty places.”

One of the couples who won a baby girl were reportedly overwhelmed and moved to tears, according to news reports and tweets after the episode.

Though helping a childless family adopt an abandoned baby is certainly commendable, Pakistani social media rose in outrage, forcefully criticizing Liaquat for treating babies as prizes to be given away.

Tribune Blogs sub-editor Imaan Sheikh (@SheikhImaan) expressed her sheer shock by tweeting:

Journalist Zarrar Khuhro (@ZarrarKhuhro) was no less surprised:

Among the popular Pakistani televangelists, Liaquat is no stranger to controversy. He received heat after it was revealed several years ago that his post-secondary degrees were earned from a widely unrecognized diploma mill. In 2008, he also faced accusations of inciting violence against the minority Ahmadis after dedicating an entire show that was largely critical to the sect.

Amir Liaqat Hussain. Image via Wkipedia. BY-SA

Amir Liaqat Hussain. Image via Wkipedia. BY-SA

And in 2011, Liaquat made waves when a behind-the-scenes video of him cursing and cussing was leaked.

However, there were those who lauded Liaquat's Ramadan baby giveaway as helping bring orphan children to childless families. Hazra Mumtaz wrote in The Dawn last year on the status of infants being abandoned:

The government does not collect formal numbers on orphans in Pakistan, the only statistics available are those collected by private orphanages. Most orphaned babies are taken in by close family members. But increasingly, “abandoned babies” end up in orphanage cradles. In 2012, according to Pakistani press reports, 171 babies were abandoned at the country's largest orphanage Edhi. Another 485 newborn corpses were found dumped across the country, either because their parent's couldn't afford to raise them or because they were born out of wedlock.”

According to medical student Tahani Zaidi (@TahaniZaidi):

After the baby giveaway episode, Liaquat was back in the limelight when he invited a much-lambasted and much-ridiculed singer, Taher Shah, to his show. Shah recently made many headlines when he released a song titled “Eye to eye“, which went viral fueled by its “so bad, it's good” quality.

On the show, Liaquat made fun of Shah while he performed the song, playing with Shah's hair and hugging him throughout. During the live transmission of the particular episode, Shah could be seen visibly embarrassed, while Liaquat appeared thoroughly amused.

Taher Shah (left) and Dr. Amir Liaquat

Screenshot of the show by author. Taher Shah (left) and Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain.

This triggered yet another volly of criticism on social media, demanding that the TV host be forced to apologize to Shah. Samad Khurram (@SamadK) tweeted about the incident:

There were those who took Liaquat to task rather more severely. Journalist Omar R Quraishi (@omar_quraishi) tweeted:

Taher Shah, too, dished out an update on his official Facebook page. Whereas he maintained a calm aplomb during the show, he was evidently upset and disappointed with the treatment he received:

I'm really disappointed at today's Amaan Ramazan transmission. First they call people and beg them to come to their show and later when they manage to show up leaving all their activities, they treat them like a child. Amir Liaqat should be thankful to me for not saying anything negative about him or his show on air (which was righteous for me). Sad to see this kind of irrespective behavior done on a so called Islamic transmission.

The aforementioned events raise many questions about the role and responsibilities of private TV channels. What is the ultimate red line in the hunt for higher ratings? Are religious scholars backed by major media houses exempt from any and all ethical responsibilities, even when they're on a live show?

Three Days to Go: Telkom-Highway Africa New Media Awards 2013

Three days are remaining for submmiting entries for the 13th edition of the Highway Africa New Media Awards. Sponsored by Telkom, these are unique and prestigious awards on the continent that reward innovative use of Information Communication technologies (ICTs) in journalism that serves Africa and its citizens.

July 26 2013

Lesbian Couple Arrested After Marrying in Secret in Bangladesh

Muslim woman and a Hindu woman in Bangladesh were arrested for marrying each other in what is described as the country's first same-sex marriage despite laws criminalizing the union.

The 21-year-old and 16-year-old, who met when the older woman tutored the younger, recently eloped from southwestern Pirojpur and came to the capital city of Dhaka to marry and start living together. But one of the women's fathers filed a missing person's report after his daughter fled, and police found them living together in a rented house in the Dhaka shortly after.

Homosexual relationships including same-sex marriage are illegal and punishable with life in prison in Bangladesh or up to ten years of hard labor. Public displays of affection between friends of the same sex are common and do not raise any controversy, however, there is a strong objection to homosexuality arising from the religious traditions of the majority Muslim country. Homosexual communities exist in Bangladesh, but they are the hidden minorities (see Global Voices report).

World homosexuality Laws. Click on image to see legend. courtesy Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

World homosexuality Laws. Red indicates Imprisonment (up to life sentence) & dark brown indicates punishment up to death penalty. Click on image to see legend. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

The news made waves throughout Bangladesh's social media and caused an uproar among some.

But many welcomed the first same-sex marriage of Bangladesh. Golam Rabbani [bn] wrote on his Facebook page:

যে দুটি মেয়ে বিয়ে করেছে তাদের জন্য শুভকামনা রইলো… জীবন সুন্দর… তাদের এ সাহসের জন্য অভিনন্দন তাদেরকে… জয় হোক জীবনের…

My best wishes for these two women on their marriage… life is beautiful… congratulations for their courage… let life reign…

Diaspora blogger Avijit Roy writes on his blog many scientific articles on homosexuality. He praised the courage of these two women in a Facebook note in which he mentioned that one of them was bold enough to ask the police officer interrogating them:

একটা ছেলে যদি একটি মেয়েকে ভালো বাসতে পারে, তবে একটা মেয়ে কেন আরেকটা মেয়েকে ভালোবাসতে পারবে না?

If a man can love a woman, why can't a woman love a woman?

However, many could not accept the marriage. A lot of negative comments could be seen in the comments section of online news articles.

Blogger and Twitter user Mehedi Akram (@mehdiakram) saw this as an invasion of Western culture:

Marriage of two women! what more we will have to see. This is the domination of western culture :D

Some went further. Last year, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, an economist and Nobel laureate from Bangladesh, and three other Nobel Peace Prize laureates released a statement in which they called for the legalization of same-sex sexual relationships. After the news of the same-sex marriage of these two women had broken out, “Ulama Masayekh Sanghati Parishad”, an association of Muslim clerics accused Dr. Yunus of promoting same-sex marriage in Bangladesh and called for his arrest and punishment [bn]. They have called for socially boycotting him and announced a program of occupying Yunus Center.

Others showed tolerance. A commenter named Notun commented on a blogpost of Kanij on the Bangla blogging platform covering the news:

সমকামিতাকে আমি ভালো মনে করি না… কিন্তু এটা তাদের ব্যক্তিগত ব্যাপার… তাই তাতে আমি নাক গলাবো না…

I don't support homosexuality.. but this is their private affair… so I will not poke into their issues.

Photoblogger Pranabesh Das wrote on Facebook about the arrest of these two women and the bad publicity they are getting:

They are just unlucky to born in the wrong country in the wrong time.

This is Love. Image by MOKOtheCRazy. CC BY-NC-ND

Blogger and a student of law Rayhan Rashid opined that this unique example from Bangladesh is significant for four reasons:

(১) যে সমাজে নারীর নিজের কোনো পছন্দ অপছন্দ থাকতে নেই, সেখানে তারা নিজেদের পছন্দকেই প্রাধান্য দিয়েছেন;
(২) তারা দু'জন ভিন্ন ধর্মের, একজন তো আবার সংখ্যালঘু ধর্মের। কিন্ত তাদের সম্পর্কের কাছে সে দেয়াল দাঁড়াতে পারেনি;
(৩) ধর্মীয় গোঁড়ামীর দেশে সম-লিঙ্গের সম্পর্কের সাহস দেখিয়ে নিজের মতো করে ঘর বেঁধেছেন;
(৪) দেশের আইনে ফৌজদারী অপরাধ জেনেও নিজেদের বিবেক, পছন্দ এবং সম্পর্কের সাথে কোনো ধরনের আপোষ করেননি দু'জন।

  1. In the male dominant society where women's demands are ignored, they gave importance to their preferences.
  2. The two are of different religions, one from a minority group. But this did not challenge their relationship.
  3. In a religiously conservative society they have shown utmost courage for same-sex marriage and their choice.
  4. They haven't compromised their relationship or their conscience knowing that homosexuality is criminalized in the country.

Blogger Vaskor Abedin found that the debate on this issue had a male-dominant tone:

[...] গতকাল দুই নারীর সমকামী সম্পর্কের খবর নিয়া নিউজ পোর্টাল আর সোশ্যাল নেটওয়ার্কিং সাইটগুলিতে যেমন প্রতিক্রিয়া হইলো তাতে পুরুষালি জাজমেন্টের সেক্সিস্ট উত্তাপটা বেশ টের পাইলাম [...]

[...] Yesterday in all the debates within traditional and social media on same-sex marriage I have felt a male-dominant sexist tone. [...]

Some days earlier an Islamist leader compared women to tetul, or tamarind, in a sermon as if men salivate watching them and told women to stay at home. Renowned film maker Mostofa Sarwar Faruki mentioned this on Facebook:

If the news is true, we have the first official lesbian couple exposed here in Bangladesh. In a country where mr. Tetul Hujur [cleric] preaches girls not to mix with boys, now how this girl-mixing-girl would be seen? Eager to study the next episodes!

Many called the media irresponsible for disclosing the women's identity and pictures, fearing this could endanger their lives and they will become subject to ostracizing. Shaugat Ali Sagor wrote:

যারা নাগরিকের ‘প্রাইভেসি’ ‘প্রাইভেসি’ বলে গলা ফাটান, তারা কি … [সমকামী তরুণী] আর … [সমকামী তরুণী] এর ‘প্রাইভেসি'কেও সম্মান দিতে প্রস্তুত। নাগরিক হিসেবে তাদেরও তো ‘প্রাইভেসি’ আছে। নাকি?

Those who cry about ‘privacy’ all the time.. are they willing to respect the privacy of [the couple]? They also have privacy as citizens of the country. Right?

Journalist and writer Anisul Haque expressed his outrage at the publishing of their identities and addresses of both the women in a comment on the post of Mostofa Sarwar Faruki:

[...] I am afraid we are crossing the limit, we are violating their right to privacy by publishing their photo, name, address. will they be able to live in this society after this news? Does any journalist have the right to kill any citizen?

Boys of Bangladesh, an LGBT group, provides an update on the women on their Facebook page:

UPDATE on [the two women] : As you have already known, [the 21-year-old] is now under custody and [the 16-year-old] has been returned to her family. [The 21-year-old] was shown arrested in a case filed abduction and trafficking. [..] Of immediate concern is the protection of the two young women involved. Second, file a complaint with the Press Council against making public the identity of at least the minor. We are also trying to convene an urgent meeting to formulate a strategic response to address the immediate concerns as well as the longer term potential to gain official recognition of same sex desire and same sex relationships.

Denouncing Abuses via Social Networks in Mexico and Brazil

Cellular phone cameras have become a powerful tool for journalists and citizens in reporting requests for bribes and other excessive uses of power. In Mexico, cellular phones and social networks have also become a popular form to broadcast abuses of power, attempts at electoral fraud, and demonstrations of citizens against the police. In Brazil images of police abuse against reporters and protestors have been shared throughout numerous cities in the country.

Tania Lara in The Knight Center's Journalism in the Americas Blog writes about how journalists and citizens are using cellular phone cameras and social networks to denounce various abuses by authorities.

PHOTOS: Every Mozambican is an Independent Electoral Observer

[Editor's note: The author of this post is working with @Verdade on this project]

Wider access to mobile technology throughout Mozambique is enabling a national network of citizen reporters to monitor the electoral process leading to the African country's municipal elections in November 2013.

Collaborations between advocacy and media organizations are providing online platforms for people to report problems as well as successes in the run-up to the fall vote. During the country's two-month-long voter registration coming to a close at the end of July 2013, Mozambicans grabbed their mobile phones to send stories and reports from throughout the vast territory.

Mozambicans who are planning to vote in the elections on November 20 had from May 25 to July 23 to get a new voter ID card. A reported 85 percent [pt] of the 3,598,003 eligible voters received theirs during that period, and turnout considerably increased in the last days throughout the more than 2,000 voter registration posts spread around the 53 municipalities that are going to the polls this year.

As expected, the first phase of the electoral process met quite a few technical, structural and human challenges. Hundreds if not thousands of reports were gathered in a liveblog Recenseamento ao Minuto (Registration up to the minute) [pt] on the website of newspaper @Verdade, the most read newspaper in the country.

In the last day of the electoral registration process, at the primary school of Alabazine in Maputo, the process is moving smoothly. Photo by Miguel Mangueze for @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

“In the last day of the electoral registration process (July 23), at the primary school of Albazine in Maputo, the process is running smoothly”. Photo by Miguel Mangueze shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Reports, such as that of Nazarete Reginaldo, an observer in Beira, were included. Reginaldo took stock [pt] of the previous 60 days when the registration process finished:

primeiro os aspectos negativos constatados avaria constante das maquinas desde o momento inicial ate ao fim, isso em quase todos os postos observados.
O segundo aspecto, que também aconteceu em todos postos, foi a rejeição de outros documentos como Cédula Pessoal, antigos cartões de eleitor e presença das duas testemunhas.
A fraca afluência aos postos até a penúltima semana também é outra situação a lamentar.
Outra constatação é de vários postos onde muitos cidadãos não puderam recensear-se no ultimo dia, embora estivessem presentes até a hora prevista do fecho.
Aspectos positivos destaco o não registo de actos de vandalismo com excepção do ultimo dia, na EICB. (…)
Na EPC 12 de outubro os brigadistas sensibilizavam as pessoas de como se portarem no acto do processo. Registaram-se vários cortes constantes de energia que atrasaram o reecnseamento.

first, the negative aspects observed: constant failure of the machines [computers and printers] from the initial moment till the end, that in almost all stations observed.
The second aspect, which also happened in all stations, was the rejection [by the officials] of other [eligible registration] documents such as the Personal Certificate, old voter cards, and the presence of two witnesses.
The low turnout until the penultimate week is also another situation to regret.
Another finding is that there were several posts where many citizens could not register on the last day, although they were present until the expected time of closing.
I highlight the positive aspects of non-registration of acts of vandalism with the exception of the last day, the EICB. (…)
In the Primary School on October 12, officials sensitized people on how to behave in the act of the [registration] process. There were several and constant power cuts which delayed the registration.

Last day of the electoral registration in Nampula, APAE station. Photo shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Last day of the electoral registration in Nampula, APAE station, July 23. Photo shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The newspaper is using liveblogging platform Citizendesk, which was awarded by the African News Innovation Challenge in November 2012 and is being developed by Sourcefabric, a non-profit organization that develops open source tools for journalism. Citizendesk gathers different sources such as SMS's, posts from Facebook, tweets, photos, videos, and online content in general, allowing for “newsrooms to incorporate citizen reports into their news stream, to act as eyes and ears for the upcoming elections”, as Rebecca Chao from Personal Democracy's WeGov puts it on her article ”Journalists in Mozambique Have a New Way to Get Help Reporting on Elections”.

Messages left by passers-by in the People´s Wall of Maputo - an extensive outer wall of the building housing @Verdade Newspaper  - are transcribed to a blog and vice-versa: a selection of online messages is posted in print in the wall.

Bridging the digital gap: @Verdade posts a selection of citizen reports about the registration process in its weekly print and also in the outer wall of the building housing the newspaper. Passersby can leave their comments which will later be transcribed online.

@Verdade launched a joint newsroom in the beginning of the registration process, partnering with the Public Integrity Center and the Observatório Eleitoral (Electoral Observer) for broader access, outreach, and coverage of citizen stories from across the country. CIP has correspondents in the municipalities and has long experience covering Mozambican elections mainly through its Political Process Bulletin. Observatório Eleitoral is a watchdog from the civil society that counts on 265 observers spread around the country.

After three days trying to get her voter card, Celina Simão, from Nampula, was happy when she finally managed to get it, at the primary school of Barragem, on June 5. Celestino Armando, from Pemba, got his at the secondary school of Cabo Delgado´s capital. Click the image to see @Verdade´s photo albuns on Flickr.

After three days trying to get her voter card, Celina Simão from Nampula was happy when she finally managed to get it at the primary school of Barragem on June 5. Celestino Armando from Pemba got his at the secondary school of Cabo Delgado's capital. Click the image to see @Verdade´s photo albums on Flickr.

The challenge is to create and strengthen a national network of citizen reporters who make use of their mobile phones to share spontaneous reports of what they observe. Jessica Weiss from IJNet explains how @Verdade and partners are building community:

(…) visiting municipalities and polling stations and trying to engage community correspondents. They are also reaching out to local civic networks, community radio stations, international election monitors, taxi drivers and more to help form a web of reliable information about how the registration process is working.

Citizens are helping to answer questions such as: Are polling places open? Are officials present and voters free of intimidation? Is the equipment functioning correctly?

Last day in Maputo. Photo shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Last day in Maputo. Photo shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Citizen reporters can submit photos and videos via Twitter — the hashtag #autarquicas2013 has been widely used and the handle @DemocraciaMZ is tracking democracy related tweets — or send them by email directly to @Verdade's Flickr and YouTube channel.

So did André Salmone from the northern city of Nampula, who denounced in a video on July 22 that officials from the registration post in the city's Sports Pavilion were allegedly taking bribes from people who didn't want to wait in queue for their turn to be registered:

Citizens also reported on the civic awareness campaign which was carried out throughout the country by more than 2,000 agents trained by the government's Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE). Some criticized the campaign for not being visible, effective, or with enough quality, such as a citizen who reported a photo of STAE's poster in the municipality of Marrupa, which wasn't more than a lousy and torn handwritten paper on the wall.

Civic education agents for the electoral registration in the municipality of Catandica on June6. Photo shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Civic education agents for the electoral registration in the municipality of Catandica on June 6. Photo shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

@Verdade's side website euVoto (I Vote) [pt] gives support to those who want to participate in the “We Are All Observers” campaign by sharing tips, manuals for observers, and laws related to the elections. It also serves as a portal for those who just want to be better informed about the elections. CIP's Political Process Bulletin is there available in the shape of a blog instead of the usual .pdfs.

Primary school Mavalane "A", municipality of Maputo, June 1. Photo shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Primary school of Mavalane “A”, Maputo, June 1. Photo shared by @Verdade on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The next phase [pt] of 2013′s electoral process in Mozambique, consists of the registration of political parties, coalitions of parties or groups of citizens who want to run for elections (ongoing until August 6). At the same time, the lists of voters who registered in the 53 municipalities will be available for verification and complaints should there be any irregularity, also until August 6. More and more, Mozambican citizens are showing how to keep the process accountable.

A Jewish Russian Mayoral Candidate Even the Nazis Can Love

While Moscow's upcoming mayoral election [GV] may be getting the lion's share of attention from the Russian public and the world, September 8, 2013, actually sees mayoral and gubernatorial elections in a variety of Russian regions and cities. One of the more interesting campaigns may turn out to be in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city. Yekaterinburg's political climate differs from the rest of Russia. The ruling United Russia party performs poorly here (finishing second in the 2012 Duma elections, behind the nominally social-democratic party “A Just Russia”), and oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov did relatively well in the 2012 presidential elections, taking 18.75% of the vote, compared to his 7.98% share of the electorate nationally.

Yekaterinburg is also home to one of Russian politics’ most unusual and independent political figures, Yevgeny Roizman. A Duma Deputy from 2002-2008, an anti-corruption blogger, and the head of the highly controversial anti-drugs charity [GV], “City without Drugs,” Roizman officially announced his candidacy for mayor on Friday, July 19, 2013. Roizman is currently involved (but not implicated) in a number of legal proceedings, including the trial of his partner, Aksana Panova, the former head of the regional news network, and an investigation headed by the FSB into the illegal wiretaps on his phones.

Evgeny Roizman in an interview in November 2012, screenshot from YouTube.

Evgeny Roizman in an interview in November 2012, screenshot from YouTube.

Announcing his mayoral run on the web portal [ru] (Panova's new outfit), Roizman first claimed that he had received 12 million roubles from Prokhorov, whose “Civic Platform” party Roizman would represent, promising that the oligarch would “give as much as necessary.” Roizman then backtracked, declaring [ru] at a press conference that “we won't take and we won't spend a single kopeck of his money,” now claiming that Prokhorov had not asked [ru] him to run. “I'm not a little girl who needs to be persuaded. I've been thinking about this for several months… I made the decision,” he explained.

Unsurprisingly, readers greeted Roizman's announcement with great enthusiasm. One commenter was moved to compose a short poem lauding Roizman, whom he addressed affectionately by his diminutive “Zhenya.”

Женя, Женечка, Евгений,
Ты в работе просто гений!
Раз решил – не отступай!
Пять лет городу отдай!

Zhenya, Zhenechka, Yevgeny,
There's no work you find too heavy!
Once you've decided, don't waver!
Give the city five years of your labor!

Roizman's candidacy excited many members of the opposition, as well. Indeed, he is a nationally-known opposition figure with political experience and a large, concentrated power base, which is highly unusual in Russia. Vladimir Milov, a Moscow oppositionist, wrote a blog post on Ekho Moskvy, titled, “These Elections could be Revolutionary“:

Навальный в Москве, Ройзман в Екатеринбурге – слушайте, а чего вам еще надо-то? Вот они, выборы вашей мечты.

Navalny in Moscow, Roizman in Yekaterinburg, listen, what more could you need? Here they are: the elections of your dreams.

Not everyone shared Milov's enthusiasm. Roizman is viewed with suspicion in many quarters for his views on migrants, his criminal record (he served two years for armed theft in the mid-1980s), and his strict detox clinics, where patients are reportedly handcuffed to beds. One Yekaterinburger astutely pointed out [ru] the problems that could arise from Roizman's election:

В случае избрания Ройзмана, отношение к нему Кувайшева неизбежно будет вызывать конфликты между городом и областью, что явно не на пользу Екатеринбургу.

If Roizman is elected, his relations with [governor of the Sverdlovsk Region, Yevgeny] Kuivashev's will inevitably cause conflicts between the city and wider region, which is clearly not to Yekaterinburg's advantage.

Others’ took issue with Roizman's character, like the Yekaterinburg-based research center “Analitik,” which wrote on its LiveJournal blog:

Это неловкое чувство, когда неглупые вменяемые люди на полном серьезе считают Ройзмана достойным кандидатом в мэры Екатеринбурга. Иконы, поэзия, борьба с наркотиками, романтика с псевдо-оппозиционными журналистками – это на здоровье, каждый дрочит как он хочет. Но лично мне будет как-то неуютно, если главой моего города станет человек с мутным прошлым (и не менее мутным настоящим), тюремной ходкой в анамнезе и очень запущенными отношениями с областными властями.

It's an awkward feeling when intelligent and responsible people in all seriousness consider Roizman an appropriate candidate for Yekaterinburg's mayor. The [religious] icons, the poetry, the fight against drugs, the dalliance with pseudo-oppositionist journalists—that's all fine. To each to his own, if it pleases him. But personally I'd be really annoyed if someone with a murky past (and a no less murky present), а criminal record, and shabby relations with the regional authorities became mayor of my city.

Others are happy to look past Roizman's colorful past. As one commenter pointed out [ru] to Analitik:

В нашей стране получить судимость-легко,как насморк.
ИМХО,Ройзман-намного честнее,чем все эти ставленники ПЖиВ.

In our country, getting a conviction is as easy as catching a cold. IMHO, Roizman is a lot more honest then all the other candidates from the party of cardsharps and thieves [a common disparaging term for United Russia].

Roizman's grassroots popularity and reputation for getting things done has won him fans not only among liberals but among nationalists as well, who like his tough stance on drugs and willingness to face down the “ethnic gangs” associated with drug smuggling. Roizman's efforts have, somewhat amazingly, even won him the endorsement of the neo-nazi “People's Socialist Initiative,” whose stated anti-semitism did not preclude [ru] them from listing the achievements of Roizman, who is half-Jewish:

Чем он занимался последние годы? Решительной и бескомпромиссной, а зачастую и опасной борьбой с распространением наркотиков. Войной с этническими кланами, живущими наркоторговлей, и с крышующей их властью. В активе Ройзмана – спасенные наркоманы, посаженные наркобарыги, снос цыганских особняков… Поэтому Ройзман – это правильный еврей. Еврей, своими действиями показавший, на чьей он стороне.

What has [Roizman] been doing these last few years? Waging a decisive and uncompromising, not to mention dangerous, fight against drug distributers. Fighting with ethnic clans who survive by dealing drugs and with the authorities who shelter them. He has saved drug addicts, helped imprison drug-pushers, and demolished the Gypsies’ garish homes… For this reason, Roizman is the right kind of Jew. A Jew who has shown through his actions whose side he's on.

Roizman is a highly divisive figure. But his popularity is genuine and crosses through multiple demographics, his anti-drug charity enjoys real support in a city that has been plagued by heroin addiction, and his tenure as a Duma deputy for the Sverdlovsk region gives him a proven political record. While polling suggests that Navalny's Moscow candidacy is highly unlikely to result in his victory, Roizman has a good chance of actually winning. Like him or loath him, his candidacy means the Yekaterinburg elections may prove the most interesting to watch in the coming months.

July 25 2013

Sifting Fact From Fiction on the French Speaking Web

A recent row between a veiled woman‘s husband and the police in Trappes, a low-income suburb of Paris, was followed by numerous erroneous posts and images [fr] posted on social media websites. The blog Les Décodeurs, which strives to sift out truth from lies on the Francophone web, was quick to counter the false information.

Fabrice Florin, the French-speaking founder of NewsTrust and TruthSquad, explains the need for fact-checking initiatives:

There is a growing amount of misinformation, particularly in this political climate [..] With an expanding universe of news options, once someone finds a source of information they like or agree with, they tend to cling to it. The reason [for fact check] is to get people thinking about what they read and hear, and from there, questioning it.

Here is a review of recent events that were reviewed extensively by fact checkers in French-speaking online media.

Row in Trappes

On July 19, 2013 in Trappes, the husband of a Caribbean woman who was wearing a niqab (face veil), allegedly tried to strangle [fr] a police officer. Following the husband's arrest, 200 people protested in front of a police station destroying property, and were eventually repelled by riot police. Images posted on social media were erroneously tagged as originating from the violence during the protests. Les Décodeurs unpacked numerous errors [fr]:

Quelques personnes, en général connues pour leur activité militante, diffusent sciemment de fausses informations. C'est le cas de cette photo, diffusée par Stéphane Journot, ancien militant UMP, actif durant la campagne de 2012

Some people, known for their political activism, knowingly share false information. As is the case with this photo, shared by Stéphane Journot, a former UMP (right wing party) activist from the 2012 campaign.

Below is the erroneous tweet and photo [fr]:

you might call this racism but..look for yourself #Trappes

The photo was in fact an old image taken in 2010 in Lyon. Les Décodeurs adds that there were many similar tweets spreading, knowingly or not, the wrong information.

Fact checking on the African continent 

African nations are well aware of the importance of fact-checking initiatives. Ushahidi, the world's first crowd-mapping platform  originated from the African continent. A project called Africa Check specifically monitors information from African leaders. Their mission statement says:

We test claims made by public figures around the continent, starting in South Africa, using journalistic skills and evidence drawn from the latest online tools, readers, public sources and experts, sorting out fact from fiction.

In Francophone Africa, the focus has been mostly on election monitoring. Election monitoring initiatives, in SenegalBurundi, are well-established.  Elections are coming up in a few Francophone nations,including Mali, Togo and Madagascar. Pen Plus Bytes has dedicated a specific platform for election monitoring in Africa called the African Elections Project (AEP). The project wrote the following report on the ongoing Togolese parliamentary elections:

About 3.3 million registered Togolese voters will cast ballots today in 7,600 polling stations to select 91 Parliamentarians out of about 1,174 contesting candidates from the ruling and opposition parties. This election has been delayed for eight months amid concerns by opposition parties that the poll won’t be transparent and fair.

Sylvio Combey in Togo has already posted images of alleged fraud from his Twitter account:


8:00, A ballot box is shown to be empty in #Kanyikopé (Togo) #TGinfo #TG2013 #Nukpola #Fb

In Mali, Rising Voices (a Global Voices project) grantee Fasokan has been involved with the monitoring the upcoming Presidential elections. He wrote about the training of electoral observers [fr] :

Pendant cinq jours, plusieurs thèmes ont été abordés : la loi électorale, la charte des partis politiques, les genres journalistiques (compte rendu, portrait, interview…), les règles de déontologie et éthique du journaliste, les contraintes liées à l’exercice de la profession

For five days, several topics were discussed: the electoral law, the charter for political parties, the different journalistic activities (report, biography, interviews …), the rules of conduct and ethics of a journalist, the constraints while conducting journalistic activities

Training  for Media and Elections in Mali. Photo by Fasokan published with his permission

Training for Media and Elections in Mali. Photo by Fasokan published with his permission

Madagascar also awaits elections and concerns are already arising with false information posted on the web. During recent protests asking for a firm electoral calendar, a photo claiming that protesters were out in force was fact checked by Global Voices contributor Jentilisa.

Jentilisa wrote [mg]:

Fa maninona ho'aho ity sarin'ny tolon'ny 2009 na fony mbola tsy vita ny lapan'ny tanàna hita amin'ny “grue” manakaiky ny hazo avo ireo no miverimberina hanetanana ny tolonareo e? Sahala amin'ny hoe io no tao androany nefa tamin'ny 2009 ity sary ity?

Why is a photo from 2009 resurfacing again (and tagged as photo from recent events)? One can see with the crane in the background that it is clearly not a recent photo. This crane was there in 2009, wasn't it ?

The photo Jentilisa disputes is below:

Fact checked photo of protests in Madagascar via Jentilisa - Public Domain

Fact checked photo of protests in Madagascar via Jentilisa – Public Domain

With the worldwide growth of the web, it is critical that fact checking project becomes more mainstream and better known as well.

July 24 2013

Petition to Amend Vietnam Laws that Restrict Media Freedom

More than 60 Vietnamese bloggers signed a unity statement urging the Vietnam government to improve its human rights record and commitment as it vies for membership in the UN Human Rights Council:

The Vietnamese government also needs to review the human rights situation in their own country and the Vietnamese people also have a right to freedom of opinion and expression, including on these matters.

As advocates for freedom of expression in Vietnam and victims of human rights violations because of our activism, we view Vietnam's candidacy for the Human Rights Council as a platform for constructive human rights discussions in our country.

July 23 2013

Radio Vieques: A Key Outlet for a Struggling Community

The island-municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico now has its first community radio station, Radio Vieques 90.1 FM [es], a non-profit project created thanks to the efforts of the people of Vieques, with the help of people in solidarity with them on the main island of Puerto Rico and in the United States. Together they were able to use a cooperative model to create what will be a valuable tool for the environmental struggles of the so-called “Isla Nena”, or “Girl Island”.

Robert Rabin, director of the radio station, said the following, as reported by El Post Antillano (The Antillean Post) [es]:

Logo de Radio Vieques.

Radio Vieques Logo.

Radio Vieques será una herramienta clave para adelantar las luchas en la región por la descontaminación, la devolución de las tierras, a favor de la salud y por un desarrollo sustentable para nuestra gente y las próximas generaciones. Será también un espacio de comunicación entre la población y las entidades que bien le sirven a ésta.

Radio Vieques will be a key tool in moving forward the regional fights for decontamination and the return of lands, in favor of health and sustainable development for our people and the next generations. It will also be a space for communication between the people and the organizations that serve them well.

Desperdicios dejados por la marina estadounidense en Vieques.

Waste left by the United States Navy in Vieques. Photo taken from the Facebook page of Radio Vieques.

To fully understand what this initiative means for the people of Vieques, you must know a little something about its history. The island of Vieques suffered over 60 years of use as a United States Navy military base and an area for bombing exercises. In spite of the fact that the people of Vieques suffer an incidence of cancer that is 31% higher than the rest of the country [es], the United States government recently denied that there is any connection between the high incidence of cancer and the bombings.

In 2001, President George W. Bush ordered that the Navy leave the island, due to unprecedented activism in Puerto Rico, and the arrests of hundreds of people from all social and political backgrounds for participating in civil disobedience against the Navy. In 2003 the Navy withdrew completely and the military base was closed, but the land that it occupied went to the United States Department of the Interior, remaining in the hands of the federal United States government. Ten years later, the people of Vieques are still waiting for the United States government to carry out its responsibility of cleaning the land contaminated by the Navy.

The campaign to raise money to create the station had a large presence on the Internet for several months. An album was created using the platform Artists for Media Diversity, an organization dedicated to supporting community radio stations through the creation of virtual albums. Artists from Willie Nelson to Calle 13 contributed songs to help raise money. Radio Vieques also has a solid presence on Facebook [es] and it recently began to enter Twitter [es] territory as well.

The campaign to raise money continued on Saturday, July 20th, with a radio marathon transmitted by Radio Isla 1320 AM [es] from 10:00 a. m. to 12:00 p. m. on the radio, and until 3:00 p. m. on the Internet, Puerto Rican time (U.S. Eastern).

Cover photo taken from this video [es].

July 22 2013

Fukushima: No Place Like Home

No Time for Anger [de]’, a visualization journal by a team of Swiss media reporter and designers, illustrates Fukushima two years after the triple catastrophe of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami followed by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. Fearing radiation, some residents sought evacuation to other areas in Japan, but the data visualization by the team shows the majority of people who fled actually stayed within the region of Fukushima:

We received data sets from the prefecture of Fukushima on the number of refugees and their current location for the years 2011 and 2012. We imagined that since this was a nuclear catastrophe people would flee from the region and wish to be as far away as possible. Yet, the numbers from the prefecture of Fukushima backed by researchers at the University of Gunma showed that the reality was quite different. The majority of people who fled actually stayed within the region of Fukushima.

July 21 2013

How Vietnam Controls the Press

Asia Sentinel publishes an article written by Pham Doan Trang about the situation of journalists in Vietnam:

The press card system is a sophisticated method of controlling reporters. No card, no access. Without a press card, reporters can't hope to meet high-ranking officials, visit contacts at public offices or cover official conferences.

The State doesn't need to kill journalists to control the media because by and large, Vietnam's press card-carrying journalists are not allowed to do work that is worth being killed for

July 20 2013

South Korean Authorities Raid Ex-Dictator's Home, Seize Massive Art Collection

State prosecutors in South Korea ransacked ex-military dictator Chun Doo-hwan and his family's residence in Seoul and hauled away expensive art work and artifacts to pay for fines that the former leader owes to the state tied to a slush fund that he collected while in power.

Prosecutors, equipped with a metal detector, raided Chun and his family houses and confiscated about 350 works of art that amount to one billion Korean won (US 89 million dollars), which one local news article explained as “enough to set up a museum“ [ko]. The seizure was due to Chun's continued refusals and delays in paying fines.

Photo of ex-dictator Chun Doo-hwan

Photo of ex-dictator Chun Doo-hwan when he was in power. Public domain image via Wikipedia Commons

He owes the state 167.5 billion Korean won (150 million US dollars) charged for a huge slush fund amassed while he was in power. Chun, however, claims to be broke.

Chun seized power in a 1979 army coup and ruled until 1988. His leadership is remembered as the darkest moments for Korea's democracy, human rights and press freedom, which was epitomized by the Gwangju Massacre (or Gwangju Democratization Movement), a tragic event in which several hundred civilians were killed by armed soldiers, though some estimates put the dead much higher at several thousand.

For his crimes, Chun was tried and initially sentenced to death, but the penalty was gradually reduced over the years to life imprisonment, then later he was pardoned and freed.

Reactions online to the raid varied from sarcastic jokes and jeers, praise as a meaningful historical event, to suspicions about the timing of the seizure:

@ahnsarang: I really hope the prosecutor’s raid is little more than just a way of retrieving Chun’s unpaid fines. He stands on the wrong side of history: he rose to power through a military coup and amassed dirty money. It is a bitter irony that this guy is getting all the treatment reserved for an ex-president. By correcting this irony, we will be able to write the right history which will serve as a great lesson for future generations.

@bluejera: Chun, after self-exiling to the Baekdam temple, had regularly attended morning and afternoon prayers and services, and put on a show. [note: After he stepped down, Chun has rarely made public appearance and entered a Buddhist monastery] So I thought he made himself immersed into Buddhism, but it turns out that he even made Buddha statues another item for his hoarding. In a warehouse built by a construction company launched with his money, a national treasure-level Buddha statues were stuck inside along with other expensive art pieces.

@alreadyblues: If I were a museum director, I would consider opening a “Chun Doo-hwan President Special Exhibit” which would bring awareness to people by sharing Chun’s art taste. On the wall, I could display a clause “You haven't even suffered under me” [note: A reference to Chun’s notoriously tasteless joke, told to reporters back in 2008, that "I don't get why young people resent me. They haven't even suffered under me."]

This tweet [ko], which has been retweeted more than 260 times, even refused to use the Korean honorific term for ex-president and defended articles calling him Mr. Chun Doo-hwan.

@csj2007: There is the Former Presidents Act [that guarantees they get proper treatment and benefits]. However, since “mass murderer Chun Doo-hwan” was sentenced to a lifetime prison term for leading insurrection and rebellion, the Former President Act does not apply to him. Calling him “Mr. Chun Doo-hwan” [instead of calling him ex-president] is as generous as one can get.

However, many political bloggers and influential Twitter users explained this case is a scheme of those is power to divert public attention from the country's spy agency and the electioneering scandal it is currently embroiled in, calling Chun a decoy:

@sunnijang: Only because prosecutors already knew that expensive art pieces are stored at Chun Doo-hwan’s house, they were able to prepare anti-vibration function cars [which were used during the raid]. Previous administrations must have known about expensive properties hidden in Chun’s house, so my question is, why did this raid take place now, at this moment? Where were they?

A journalist at Newstapa, or Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, was careful to make any early judgements. Newstapa, an independent, non-profit news site, was the first one to unearth Chun's eldest son's paper company in tax havens built for tax evasion purpose, and that revelation eventually lead to full reports on the Chun family's hidden money.

Capture Image of Newstapa Chun tax haven report

Screen capture image of Newstapa's video report on the Chun familly slush fund hidden in a tax haven.
(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 KR)


@kbsmuckraker: State prosecutors raided Chun Doo-hwan's households. Is this just another political show event or a first step toward erecting justice? We will keep a close watch out on this till the end. Link to extensive report on “Koreans in tax havens”.

July 19 2013

Online Gambling No Longer Accessible from Lebanon?

Gambling sites have been blocked in Lebanon reported Blog Baladi last month:

It was brought to my attention that gambling and poker sites are no longer accessible in Lebanon. I looked up a bit online and tried opening some websites and they weren’t accessible indeed. The decision to block the gambling sites was apparently taken by the Ministry of Justice (…)

Then a few days ago on Twitter, @MoNajem raised the issue with Telecommunications Minister @NicolasSehnaoui:

@MoNajem: Under what law online gambling has been blocked in #Lebanon. Who has the right to do so? We only know u @NicolaSehnaoui to ask

The Minister replied by saying this has been done in order to comply with the law, although he also specified he disagrees with the decision.

@NicolasSehnaoui: @MoNajem The law that gives casino du liban monopoly over gambling. The order was issued by the highest judge. 1/2

@NicolaSehnaoui: @MoNajem I went to see him to plead against the decision but couldn't convince him. 2/2

He his referring to a 1995 law that gives Casino du Liban (Lebanon's only legal casino) monopoly over all gambling activities on the Lebanese territory as explained by @sygma:

@sygma: @MoNajem under decree 6919 of June 29 1995, Casino du Liban was given monopoly over all gambling activities to “protect public morals”.

Mohamad Najem ‏pointed out it could start a vicious and worrying cycle of more filtering.

@MoNajem: @sygma on Lebanese lands, and not on z online sphere. Otherwise, blocking other kind of websites will start to happen for different reasons

Other Twitter users shared their concern over what became an interesting conversation.

@walasmar highlights the dangers of applying national legislation to online space:

@walasmar: @MoNajem @NicolaSehnaoui the issue is that tomorrow he can use media law to block all blogs bcz not part of the press syndicate

And @ralphaoun warns of a potential slippery slope:

@ralphaoun: @AbirGhattas @walasmar @MoNajem now it's Poker, next it's Adult content, then Blogs, then…

with some perspective:

@ralphaoun: @AbirGhattas @walasmar @MoNajem debate in Euro Internet Forum -> only thing that could possibly be blocked is child pornography

The discussion also showed how disconnected from (virtual) reality these decisions can be…

@LeNajib: @ralphaoun @AbirGhattas @walasmar @MoNajem It's funny hearing about things getting blocked on the internet as if its possible or sustainable

@AbirGhattas: hello VPN @LeNajib @ralphaoun @walasmar @MoNajem

July 18 2013

Thailand ‘Hitler’ Chicken Story Exposed as Inaccurate

What does the Daily Mail, The Sun, Bangkok Post, Time, Gawker, MSN Money, Huffington Post have in common? They all published a story about the existence of ‘Hitler’ Fried Chicken Store in Bangkok which was recently exposed by Thailand-based blogger Matt of The Lost Boy as inaccurate. Some of these news websites have already issued a correction but the inaccurate story continues to spread online.

July 17 2013

Puerto Rico is a Key Link in Espionage of Latin American Countries

See our special coverage Snowden: The US is Watching You.

Edward Snowden's disclosures regarding the U.S. government's massive electronic surveillance program and its global reach, continue to have repercussions. The Center for Investigative Journalism of Puerto Rico (CPI) has written [es] about the role of the Island in the espionage of its Latin American neighbors.

Several Latin American and Spanish media sources originally revealed the information.

The CPI explains that at the now closed naval base in the Sábana Seca zone of the Toa Baja municipality, close to the capital city of San Juan, the NSA and the CIA (National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency) maintained a joint operation for years collecting data on the communications of citizens of Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. The classified information that Snowden has revealed offers the evidence. According to the article:

Esta operación en Puerto Rico servía para coordinar con otras oficinas en Brasilia, Bogotá, Caracas, Ciudad de México y Ciudad de Panamá mediante un programa llamado Fornsat, con el que la NSA y la CIA interceptaron miles de millones de llamadas telefónicas, mensajes electrónicos y de texto y comunicaciones por Internet privadas.

This operation in Puerto Rico served to coordinate with other offices in Brasilia, Bogotá, Caracas, Mexico City, and Panama City through a program called Fornsat, which the NSA and the CIA used to intercept billions of telephone calls, electronic and text messages, and private Internet communications.

Despite the fact that the base in Sábana Seca closed because changes in technology made it obsolete —according to the Navy—, there is still a facility in the Ingenio neighborhood that, according to the CPI, is the “backbone” of Echelon, a program with U.S. allied nations created during the 1960s Cold War “to intercept the core communications via satellites.”

On Twitter, the CPI article was spread extensively. More than surprised, people expressed the feeling that their suspicions, harbored for quite some time, regarding the Toa Baja base-still under the control of the U.S. Navy- had been confirmed:

@Nancy_Millan: El que sorprenda con esta noticia no sabe en que país vive.

@Nancy_Millan: Whoever is surprised by this news doesn't know what country they're living in.

‏@ImperioCaliban: Sabia que era cuestión de tiempo para que Puerto Rico terminara involucrado en el espionaje denunciado por Snowden…

‏@ImperioCaliban: I knew it was a question of time for Puerto Rico to end up involved in the espionage denounced by Snowden…

@LeilaMovil: El equipo de espionaje de EEUU ha estado aquí hace décadas. Esto confirma que siguen usándolo. #PuertoRico#Snowden

@LeilaMovil: The U.S. espionage team has been here for decades. This confirms that they continue using it. #PuertoRico#Snowden

@Felotrompeta: Entonces habrán algunos que justificarán y/o verán con buenos ojos estás acciones…

@Felotrompeta: So there will be some that will justify and/or see these actions with good eyes…

@rickyreys: Y no se crean q el #NSA no verifica los Data Centers de Puerto Rico

@rickyreys: And do not believe that the #NSA does not verify the Data Centers in Puerto Rico

Caricatura Kike Estrada: Desde Puerto Rico se espía mejor.

Cartoon by Kike Estrada alluding to the slogan of the Tourism Company of Puerto Rico “Puerto Rico does it better.” (Translation: “Spying is better from Puerto Rico.”)

Curiously, given the gravity and the implications of the information disclosed by the CPI, the news has not had nearly the presence that it should in the traditional Puerto Rican media. Journalist Hiram Guadalupe (@hiramgp) commented on this in a column published on July 12 on the Metro [es] website:

Llama la atención, sin embargo, la poca importancia que los medios corporativos puertorriqueños han mostrado sobre este asunto al manifestar cautela en la divulgación de esta investigación que, por su trascendencia, debería ocupar las primeras planas de informativos impresos y electrónicos.

It is striking, however, the little importance that the Puerto Rican corporate media have placed on this subject to express caution in reporting this research that, because of its importance, should occupy the front pages of print and electronic news bulletins.

Salvador Tió, writing for Kaos en la Red [es], understands that with these disclosures, it is evident that the United States’ recent attempts to resolve Puerto Rico's political status are an act of hypocrisy:

Estas actividades de espionaje que dirigen los servicios de inteligencia de los EUA en Puerto Rico constituyen una grave violación al derecho de los pueblos de Nuestra América a su libre determinación. Además constituyen la negación misma de las palabras de Casa Blanca en el sentido de que interesan propiciar un verdadero proceso de descolonixzación [sic] en Puerto Rico.

These espionage activities of the U.S. intelligence services in Puerto Rico constitute a grave violation of the right of the people in Our America to self-determination. Additionally, they constitute the very denial of the White House's words when they say they are interested in promoting a true decolonization process [sic] in Puerto Rico.

A Storify prepared by Al Jazeera on the presence of espionage programs in Puerto Rico can be found here.

Poet Aimé Césaire's Battle Continues Stronger than Ever

[All links forward to French-language webpages unless otherwise noted]

The famed poet and activist from Martinique Aimé Césaire [en] would have been 100 years old on June 26, 2013. Césaire's birthday is an opportunity to pay tribute to the champion of  anti-colonial African identity Négritude movement: a movement that is currently being shaped by a more globalized world where people come together across borders and continents, all the while attempting to protect and foster their own cultural identities.

It is as if his vision of the world back in the 1930′s along with those who fought for respect for cultural differences has become yet again a tangible reality 80 years later. Today, almost every country in the world fights a battle against racism with relative success. Still, injustices remain, the verdict in the trial for the death of Trayvon Martin can attest to this [en].

Trayvon Martin via wikipedia CC-BY-3.0

Trayvon Martin on wikipedia CC-BY-3.0

Today, human dignity is attacked in more subtle ways, such as economic hardship and profiling, highlighting the need to revisit the work of activists in the past to fight human oppression. With respect to the fight of activists, writer, French resistance member and Occupy inspiration Stéphane Hessel's successful call for outrage came to fruition to a certain extent with the Arab revolts and the protests in Brazil and in Europe.

Here is a retrospective on the life of Aimé Césaire by Yao Assogba, a sociology professor at the University of Quebec :

Né à la Martinique le 26 juin 1913, Aimé Césaire, poète et homme politique, est mort en sa terre natale, le 16 avril 2008, à l’âge vénérable de 94 ans. La poésie de Césaire est un grand cri de révolte contre la domination coloniale. Son œuvre, à la fois littéraire et sociologique, est une arme de combat contre la « chosification » des peuples noirs par la colonisation européenne. C’est un phare pour la décolonisation de l’Afrique et la réhabilitation des cultures négro-africaines. Pour bien apprécier l’influence déterminante qu’Aimé Césaire, chantre du mouvement de la « négritude », a eue sur la décolonisation et la renaissance de l’Afrique et des Antilles après la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, il faut se replacer dans la situation coloniale de l’époque.

Born in Martinique on the 26 of June, 1913, Aimé Césaire, poet and politician died in his birthplace on the 16 of April 2008 at 94 years old. Césaire's poetry is a great cry of revolt against colonial domination. His work, both literary and sociological is a weapon of warfare against the reification of black peoples by European colonization. It is a siren call for the decolonization of Africa and the rehabilitation of black African cultures. To truly appreciate the important influence that Aimé Césaire, champion of the “negritude” movement had on decolonization, and the renaissance of Africa and the West Indies after the Second World War, one must put oneself in the mindset of the colonial times.

Noel Kodia added on the panafrican news website Le Pangolin Afrik :

Après avoir découvert les lettres en Martinique au lycée de Fort de France et à Louis-le-Grand à Paris, il fonde avec Léopold Sédar Senghor et Léon-Gontran Damas en 1939 “L’Etudiant noir” qui se présente comme une suite logique d’une autre revue de l’époque intitulée “Légitime défense”. A la même année apparaît son “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” comme pour annoncer son retour au bercail dans une langue volcanique et pleine d’agressivité et qui va s’approfondir avec une colère légitime dans “Discours sur le colonialisme”. Le texte met en relief l’itinéraire du poète nègre devant son destin de colonisé dont la thématique sera le nerf directeur de l’emblématique “Discours sur le colonialisme”. Dans ce cri de douleur, il ne se voit pas fils de certains royaumes africains comme le Dahomey et le Ghana.

After discovering literature in Martinique at the Lycée de Fort de France and at Louis-le-Grand in Paris, he founded, along with Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon-Gontran Damas in 1939 “L’Etudiant noir” [The Black Student] that positioned itself as a follow up to another journal of the time, “Légitime défense” [Self-Defense]. In the same year “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” [Notes on a return to the motherland] appeared, as if to announce a return to the cradle with an explosive and aggressive language that eventually came to a crescendo in “Discours sur le colonialisme” [Discourse on Colonialism]. The text throws into relief the journey of the black poet, facing his fate as a colonized person. The raw nerve of the iconic “Discours sur le colonialisme”. In this crying out of pain, he doesn't see himself as the son of certain African kingdoms such as Dahome and Ghana.

Inscription d'Aimé Césaire, Panthéon, Paris, France

Aimé Césaire's Inscription at the Panthéon in Paris, France on Wikipedia -public domain

Aimé Césaire and the fight for human dignity

Nicole on médiapart wrote about the challenges that Césaire had to face during his life:

Les écrits d’Aimé Césaire ne lui ont pas attiré les sympathies de l’Académie française qui, globalement, est de cette droite revancharde forte de ses certitudes et qui ne renie pas la conception de la civilisation qu’elle a infligée aux colonies, et qu’Aimé Césaire n’a cessé de dénoncer avec élégance et pertinence. «…La France moutonnière aura préféré Senghor et ses mots fleuris, sa poésie de garçon-coiffeur, ses «versets», sa sotte imitation, pâlotte et ringarde, de Claudel, ses génuflexions d’acculturés et son culte imbécile d’une toute aussi imbécile civilisation de l’universelle et d’une bâtarde francophonie; au style de pur-sang, de révolté, d’écorché vif d’un Alioune Diop, d’un Gontran-Damas, d’un Césaire…Aimé Césaire restera la mauvaise conscience de ce XXe siècle, de ces générations qui donnèrent au monde le contraire de ce qu’elles espéraient. Il aura été de toutes les luttes progressistes de son temps.
Il aura écrit, avec son Discours sur le colonialisme, le livre le plus concis, le plus fort sur ce thème. Il aura bâti la réfutation la plus solide de ce système. Il aura été un écrivain supérieurement doué, un humaniste sincère, généreux. (…) Césaire fut une leçon d’honnêteté, une leçon d’amour de la langue française, un maître en écriture, un traceur de route, une école de style -lui, si parfait pur-sang littéraire- un repère».

Aimé Césaire's writings did not attract the support of the Académie Française– that self-consciously and self-confidently opposing right that refuses to revoke the idea of civilization that it foisted upon the colonies, which Aimé Césaire never ceased to denounce eloquently and precisely. “…sheepheaded France would have preferred Senghor, his affected, flowery language, his verses, his mindless imitation of Claudel, wan and ossified; his conformist kowtowing and his stupid worship of another, equally stupid civilization of the universal whole, and of a half-breed Francophone. In the manner of purebred, rebel, torn from the flesh of an Alioune Diop, a Gontran-Damas, a Césaire…Aimé Césaire would remain the thorn in the side of the 20th Century — of those generations that would give the world the exact opposite of what was expected. He would become a part of all the progressive movements of his time. He would write, with his “Discours sur le colonialisme” the most accurate and strongest book on this subject. He would fight against the strongest rebuttals of this system. He would be a more gifted writer, a sincere and generous humanist…Cesaire was a study in honesty, in love for the French language, a master in writing, a GPS, his own school of thought; he, so perfect, a real true literary thoroughbred — a landmark.

Here is a video of his speech on colonialism read by Thymslab:

To put Césaire's impact into a contemporary perspective, it is worth having the input of a contemporary writer such as Alain Mabanckou, Prix Renaudot 2006, who was interviewed by Grégoire Leménager on the blog le Pangolin:

Alain perpétue en quelque sorte le travail des pionniers dans une démarche autocritique relativement objective et un style humoristique captivant. Il s’attaque aux stéréotypes passés et présents en montrant les différentes conditions de l’homme noir selon son lieu de résidence. Le noir d’Amérique semblerait avoir mieux réussi à vivre sa citoyenneté en Amérique qu’en France et les africains de l’ouest différent de ceux du centre dans leurs perceptions de leur histoire et de leur présence actuelle au monde.

Alain carries on in some way the work of pioneers on a path of objective self-examination and a captivating humorous style. He attacks stereotypes of the past and present by showing different conditions of the black man depending on where he lives. The black of America would seem to have better succeeded in staking his claim as a citizen than in France, and West Africans are different from Central Africans in their views of their history and their modern day presence in the world.

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