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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.

July 29 2013

Cairo: “There was a non-stop sound of gunshots”

More than 100 people were killed and 1,500 injured during clashes at a sit-in by supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in the Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque area, in Nasr City, Cairo.

According to the Daily News Egypt, the Public Prosecution have started investigations into what happened late that Friday [July 27] night.

Egyptian blogger Mosa'ab Elshamy was at the scene and shares what he saw in the following tweets:






Rabaa ... After the clashes. Photograph by Mosa'ab Elshamy. Used with permission.

Rabaa … After the clashes. Photograph by Mosa'ab Elshamy. Used with permission.

On flickr, he shares these photographs from the tragedy.

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In Egypt, Young Men “Die for Nothing”

Egyptian blogger Zeinobia shares photographs and a video of an 18-year-old revolutionary artist Eissa Essam. Essam was killed during clashes on July 26 with Muslim Brotherhood supporters camped in the Rabaa Al Adawiya neighbourhood in Nasr City. Zeinobia describes Essam as the liberal son of an MB member, who was visiting his family at the sit-in when the clashes happened.

She writes:

I do not know who killed Eissa Essam for real, I know that he was shot in his back. His anti-MB friends say that he was killed by the Muslim brotherhood while his MB family says that he is killed by the police and its thugs. All I know that he was killed and his rights will be lost forever like those young men who died for nothing in the past three years. He will be another graffiti, another name used in that fight

July 28 2013

Follow the Presidential Election in Mali in Real Time

Today (July 28) is the first round of the presidential election in Mali.  To keep track of the proceedings in real time, updates are available on twitter via the hashtag #Mali2013, on the twitter accounts @Malivote (and its website)  and @angaelections (site) and  on the news group “Info élections 2013″ on Facebook [fr].

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.

What Issues do Malian Voters Care about in the Presidential Election?

Bruce Whitehouse parses out five key issues for the upcoming presidential election in Mali (July 28). As for what Malians expect from the poll, Whitehouse reports:

Voters are overwhelmingly concerned about the high cost of living, unemployment, corruption, law and order, and everyday quality-of-life questions, particularly water and sanitation. Preserving national unity and ending conflict are also concerns, but much further down the list of priorities.


July 23 2013

Two Spanish Aid Workers Freed After 21 Months in Captivity

The unexpected release of two Spanish aid workers from Doctors Without Borders, kidnapped on October 13, 2011, was announced following 21 months of captivity.

When they were kidnapped, Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut were working on starting a hospital in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world [es], located close to the Somalian border in Kenya, and home to at least half a million Somalians fleeing drought and war in their country. It is believed that the volunteers were taken to Somalia after being abducted and have remained there the entire time.

Montserrat Serra (izquierda) y Blanca Thiebaut, las dos cooperantes españolas liberadas tras un secuestro de 21 meses en Somalia. Foto publicada en Twitter por José Campos.

Montserrat Serra (left) y Blanca Thiebaut, the two Spanish aid workers freed after 21 months of captivity in Somalia. Photo posted on Twitter by José Campos.

It is also unclear if their captors were common criminals or members of a faction of Al Qaeda, though most observers attribute the incident to terrorists. Doctors Without Borders called a press conference following the news, but José Antonio Bastos, President of DWB Spain, said they could not release information on the liberation process “so as not to compromise the rest of the volunteers in Somalia nor the informants.” Neither the Spanish state nor the NGO have been addressed in the negotiations to free the volunteer workers. What has not been revealed is whether ransom was paid, the amount that could have been paid, or who has taken responsibility for the supposed payment.

Many celebrated the release of the two women, such as Beli Álvarez [es], who tweeted:

@Beli_AlvarezMensaje de cariño y bienvenida a las dos cooperantes españolas de @MSF_espana Enhorabuena a esta ong por su labor tan grande en el mundo

@Beli_Alvarez: A message of love and welcoming to the two Spanish aid workers from @MSF_espana Congratulations to this NGO for their great work in the world

Nevertheless, not all were messages of congratulations. Many netizens took for granted that the Spanish state had paid the ransom for aid workers and expressed their dissatisfaction, sometimes accusing the aid workers of being reckless and seeking their own misfortune.

burbman89 left this comment to the news, which appeared on [es]:

Vamos, que nos ha costado una pasta a todos los españoles que estas “buenas samaritanas” se vayan por ahí a darle alegría al cuerpo…. pero porque no se quedarán en casita!!!!

Come on, it has cost all of us Spaniards so much money for these “good Samaritans” to go there to make them feel good about themselves…. why won't they just stay home!!!!

In the same media outlet, 1-2-3-4 [es] blamed the volunteers for potential Al Qaeda attacks in the future:

Rueda de prensa de Médicos Sin Fronteras España para anunciar la liberación de las dos cooperantes. Imagen publicada en Twitter por MSF Prensa.

Doctors Without Borders Spain press conference to announce the release of the two volunteer workers. Image published on Twitter by DWB Press.

(…) los islamistas comprarán armas con los millones de euros que les hemos regalado. Armas con las que los islamistas secuestrarán a mas occidentales y con las que asesinarán a un montón de africanos. Armas con las que cometerán atentados.

El daño causado por estas “cooperantes solidarias” es incalculable.

(…) the Islamists will buy weapons with the millions of euros that we have given them. Weapons with which the Islamists will kidnap more Westerners and murder many Africans. Weapons with which they will carry out attacks.

The harm caused by these “aid workers” is incalculable.

In his column, “The state is no longer what it was” [es], in La Gaceta magazine, Rafael Bardají says that [es]

[los cooperantes] Ya no son elementos neutrales a los que se respeta, sino que son una pieza más en los conflictos. Y eso es algo que afecta no sólo a su seguridad personal sino a todo el Estado (…). Pagarles por lo que hacen y pagar por la liberación de sus miembros es amoral e insostenible.

[the volunteer workers] Are no longer neutral elements that are respected, but rather another piece in the conflicts. And that is something that affects not only their personal security, but that of the entire State (…). Paying them for what they do and paying for the release of their members is amoral and unsustainable.

In the same vein, Ricardo Peytaví shares his opinion in his column “Altruism that we all pay for” [es] in the online newspaper El Día

Lo único que quiero es saber cuánto me cuesta todo esto en parte alícuota, habida cuenta de que este mes he pagado en impuestos más de un tercio de mis ingresos brutos. (…) cualquier ciudadano de este país se ha convertido en pieza fácil para todo facineroso que desee ganar dinero fácil.

The only thing that I want to know is how much this all costs me in terms of the share, given that this month I have paid over a third of my gross income in taxes. (…) any citizen of this country has become an easy piece for everything criminal that wants to make easy money.

Nonetheless, there have also been many netizens and bloggers who are pleased with the happy outcome of the kidnapping, and praised the work of the volunteers and the organization in a community so vulnerable like that of the refugees. Belén de la Banda spoke about this on the blog 3500 millones [es]:

Blanca, Montse y sus compañeros de profesión son los referentes morales que estamos necesitando en estos tiempos de incertidumbre y desconfianza. (…) nuestra sociedad debería buscar el modo de que sientan también nuestro abrazo, para agradecer el esfuerzo ímprobo y valioso de un trabajo que les ha llevado a esta situación extrema. Porque personas como ellas hacen que nuestro país y nuestro mundo sean mejores.

Blanca, Montse, and their colleagues are the moral examples that we need in these times of uncertainty and mistrust. (…) our society should look for a way to feel our embrace, to acknowledge the enormous effort and valuable work that has led them to this extreme situation. Because people like them make our country and our world better.

And 1358 left this comment [es] on the news appearing on El País [es]: 

Las cooperantes, a su llegada a España tras su liberación. Imagen de la web de RTVE.

The volunteers at their arrival to Spain following their release. Image from the RTVE website.

Me uno a aquellos que SE ALEGRAN por la vuelta a casa de estás dos Personas y como CONTRIBUYENTE me PARECE MUY BIEN si es que se ha tenido que pagar por su liberación. La vida, incluso de aquellos que nos caen mál no tiene précio y mucho mejor gastarse el dinero (si es que se ha hecho) en PERSONAS que no en juegos de indios y vaqueros para que cuatro VAGOS jueguen y se crean chonvaine en “misiones” de “paz” y “reconstrucción”.

I am joining those who ARE HAPPY for the return home of these two People and as a TAXPAYER it SEEMS VERY GOOD to me if their release has had to be paid for. Life, even the lives of those who we do not like, has no price and it is much better to spend money (if it has been done) on PEOPLE than on cowboys and indians games so that four SLACKERS play and believe themselves to be chonvaine on “missions” of “peace” and “reconstruction.”

Regardless of the controversy that has been created around the payment of their rescue, the good news is that Montserrat Serra and Blanca Thiebaut are with their families, safe and sound. The DWB doctors and psychologists that have tended to them since their release have advised that they be given some time to recuperate and adapt to day to day life once again, meaning people will have to wait some time before they can talk about what they lived through these 21 months in captivity. They have only been seen getting off the plane in the Madrid airport, extremely skinny and appearing exhausted, but smiling. Hopefully they have a speedy recovery and return to their normal lives soon.

July 22 2013

Visit to Israel Gets Filmmaker “Cleansed” from Iran's Cinema Museum

Iranian film maker, M. Makhmalbaf, at JFF, photo courtesy of JFF official website

Iranian film maker, M. Makhmalbaf, at Jerusalem Film Festival, photo courtesy of JFF official website

An internationally renowned Iranian filmmaker, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, outraged many Iranians by accepting an invitation to the Jerusalem Film Festival in Israel this month.

Makhmalbaf, who is also a Green Movement activist and a former revolutionary, has divided Iranians over whether his attendance is a step towards healing “rifts and distances” between the nations, as he stated, or is an absolute disregard for Palestinian human rights, as his critics say.

Makhmalbaf participated in the Jerusalem Film Festival with his new movie, The Gardner:

The conversation is still hot and fresh among Iranians in social media and has prompted petitions signed by activists, academicians and journalists within the diaspora. The virtual world became a battleground for discussions about Makhmalbaf's trip.

First, an open letter signed by a group of “Iranian scholars, artists, journalists and activists” was published [fa] lamenting the director's neglect of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel:

We cannot in good conscience stand by Mr. Makhmalbaf and his decision which will inevitably validate the Israeli occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing. We ask not only that Mr. Makhmalbaf stand with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, but that he be a messenger of liberation for everyone, including both Palestinians and Iranians.

Then, another group of activists and academics penned a letter [fa] in support of the director's visit to Israel lauding his “brave action” as a peaceful gesture towards “conveying the message of friendship”:

We condemn the politics of war whether it is advanced by officials of the Islamic Regime or some officials in Israel. Instead, we endorse, support and welcome, the position of Mohsen Makhmalbaf that instead of a military attack, Iran’s “democratic forces” should be supported. Just like Mohsen Makhmalbaf, we are unafraid to stretch out our hands in friendship with the citizens of Israel and believe that art can be a tool that brings people together regardless of people’s racial, linguistic and political differences.

The polarisation was not limited to academia. In social media the subject of the director's visit to Israel was hot among the netizens too.

Samareh, looks at the criticism with a pinch of salt and a bit of cynicism, commenting on Balatarin, an Iranian link sharing website:

Makhmalbaf took a great measure going to Israel and speaking of peace. He showed that the Iranian nation is different from the Iranian regime which is a big blow to the clerical government. One reason [for such harsh criticisms] is a by-law from the ministry of intelligence to all its footmen: “Tarnish Makhmalbaf's name immediately, only make sure that this is done from the position of the Islamic Republic's enemies to divide the opposition. If, in the meantime, you had to swear to the Islamic Republic there is absolutely no problem with that.

Iranian blogger, Adel, expresses his disdain, seeing a big distinction between what artists do from the realm of politics and, thus, dismissing what Mohsen Makhmalbaf did as futile from the very beginning:

If we are a bit realistic, we will see that the political discourse of artists oftentimes does not have any effect on politicians; Especially Israeli politicians who do not even listen to their American counterparts! Now which cause is Mr. Makhmalbaf is trying to serve? If he wishes to bring the two nations closer to peace, its actual outcome will not be anything other than bringing out a racist government from isolation.

Following this trip, the Islamic Republic's deputy minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Javad Shamaghdari, ordered all Makhmalbaf's memorabilia to be “cleansed” from the Iranian national museum of cinema and a cleric has renounced him as an apostate.

One thing is for sure in this heated conversation: that just like any other debate in the Iranian context, Mohsen Makhmalbaf has brought out the colourful sphere of Iranian society that is unlike what many may wish to think.

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

July 19 2013

Public Safety in Venezuela: ‘Safe Homeland’ to the Rescue?

[All links lead to pages in Spanish.]

The most recent video from the band Famasloop, titled “The Choro Dance,” has sparked controversy due to its graphic footage, but mostly for depicting one of the most troublesome issues facing Venezuelan society: the high level of civil insecurity in the country.

Produced by Alain Gómez and directed by Carl Zitelmann, the video depicts the violent reality of life on the streets of the Venezuelan capital.

On July 15th, the same day that Famasloop released its video on YouTube, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) called for advances in the so-named “Plan Patria Segura” (Secure Homeland Plan), a government program launched in May of this year that promises to resolve the issue of violent crime:

@NicolasMaduro: Llamo a Gobernadores y al pueblo a asumir el protagonismo de Patria Segura coordinando con el MinistroRodriguezTorres y la FANB [Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana]. Avancemos..

@NicolasMaduro: l call upon government leaders and citizens to play a greater role in Patria Segura, in conjunction with Minister Rodriguez Torres [Miguel Rodriguez Torres, Venezuelan Minister of the Interior] and the FANB [Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, or Venezuelan National Armed Forces]. We need to move forward…

The statistics of insecurity

Venezuela is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world. By the year 2012 and the start of 2013, five of its cities were included among the fifty most violent worldwide, according to a study conducted by Seguridad, Justicia, y Paz [Security, Justice, and Peace], a Mexican NGO.

Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is ranked third on the list, with 3,862 officially registered deaths. Barquisimeto, with 804 murders, is in ninth place. Further on, we find Ciudad Guayana in 20th place, with 578 murders, Valencia in 31st place with 997 deaths, and Maracaibo, ranked 39th, with 784 murders. The ranking is scaled according to the number of violent deaths in proportion to the number of inhabitants, and the figures generated allow for an analysis of the overall public security level in the countries included in the sampling.

The report also adds that “it is very probable that the absolute figures and the death rate in Caracas are higher, but we haven't found a way to discern the exact truth. At any rate, it remains a fact that Caracas is one of the three most violent cities in the world.”

Guardia Nacional Bolivariana (GNB) durante celebración 202 de la independencia de Venezuela. Foto de Santi Donaire, copyright Demotix.

Guardia Nacional Bolivariana (GNB) [Bolivarian National Guard] during  a celebration of the 202nd anniversary of Venezuela's Independence. Photo by Santi Donaire, copyright Demotix.

The NGO's statistics seem to coincide with those published by the organization Observatorio de la Violencia, which conducted an investigation of murder rates in the country during the year 2012 and the first six months of 2013. According to the results, Venezuela recorded 21,692 violent deaths during this period, a rate of almost 72 homicides for every 100,000 residents. This figure is three times that of countries such as Mexico, which shows a rate of 22 deaths per 100,000 residents based on data from the year 2012. With 28,946,101 inhabitants, according to the Official Census carried out by the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Venezuela [National Statistics Institute of Venezuela], the country shows one of the highest crime rates in the continent.

The Venezuelan government, however, reveals more conservative figures regarding the issue. According to government reports, during the year 2012 a total of 16,000 homicides were recorded, representing a rate of 54 murders per 100,000 residents, and nearly 14% more than in the previous year.

‘Patria Segura', the Safe Homeland Plan

The problem of civil insecurity has taken a recent turn: after the Venezuelan government had repeatedly insisted that the “public's sense of insecurity is greater than the actual criminal statistics”, President Nicolás Maduro now classifies civil insecurity as the “most significant problem” confronting Venezuela.

“If we don't tackle this problem, we will have accomplished nothing. We can't just continue to do nothing. We have to resolve this, and so I call the entire country to action,” the president stated during a “must-carry” radio and television broadcast.

According to the official web portal of AVN [Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, or Venezuelan News Agency], since May 15th of this year, 3,000 members of the FANB (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana) have been posted in Sucre and Baruta in the state of Miranda, considered to be the most dangerous in the country, as well as in the Caraquenian parishes of Sucre, El Valle, Antímano and El Recreo.

The Patria Segura Plan is the twenty-first of its kind to be implemented to deal with the problem of civil insecurity, and it has drawn criticism due to the deployment of members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) for purposes of policing and public safety.

However, President Maduro explained that “for quite some time they have been assessing various ways to utilize the civil-military union, as promoted by the Bolivarian Revolution, to raise our capacity for protection, patrolling, surveillance, and support and auxiliary services, so that we can guarantee safety.” Maduro also pointed out that they have been designing this specialized plan for months.

Venezuelan citizens, however, have mixed feelings about the new security plan, especially since the deaths of two women in the state of Falcón, who died after being shot by a group of Bolivarian National Guard members in what has been called an “error” and an “excess” in the fulfillment of their duties –an incident that has heightened the debate over the fitness for duty of the military personnel in charge of public safety.

Juan B. Gonzalez (@jgonzal25), sociologist and public policy consultant, comments:

‏@jgonzal25: Cuando uno escucha que llegará la Misión Patria Segura, se acuerda de lo que pasó en Falcón, en Petare y en Tachira y dice: Que culillo!! [temor, inquietud]

@jgonzal25: When people hear that the Patria Segura detail is coming, they think about what happened in Falcón, in Petare, and in Tachira, and say to themselves, “This is terrifying.”

Alicia Colman (@hichadoda) describes her feelings during the recent action of the Guardia Nacional Boliviarana:

@hichadoda: Ahora no le tenemos miedo a los malandros [delincuentes] sino al la GN [Guardia Nacional], Patria segura

@hichadoda: We aren't so afraid of criminals any more. Now we're afraid of the Guardia Nacional. Safe Homeland, indeed.

Nevertheless, some citizens consider the intervention of the Guardia Nacional a necessary part of the solution to the public safety problem.

Luis Jose Aguilera M (@luisjoseaguiler) comments on Twitter:

@luisjoseaguiler: El gran esfuerzo que hace nuestro presidente, con el Plan Patria Segura, se consolidara aun más, con la conciencia y apoyo del poder popular

@luisjoseaguiler: The great effort put forth by our president in activating the Safe Homeland Plan would be even further strengthened with popular consciousness and support.

Tweeter @lumpen12 publicly supports the efforts of President Maduro and the Safe Homeland plan:

@lumpen12: Adelante Presidente Maduro con el Plan Patria Segura y el gobierno de calle apoyo TOTAL de su pueblo

@lumpen12: President Maduro, keep up the good work with the Safe Homeland plan and street government initiative. Your people support you 100 per cent.

In spite of the various criticisms and shows of support, however, the Safe Homeland plan continues to be unsuccessful in solving the serious public safety problem in Venezuela.

Liliana Ortega, director of the Committee for the Families of Victims of the events of February and March of 1989 (Cofavic, an organization dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights), has criticized the government's plan, pointing out to BBC Mundo that “in Venezuela it's crucial that all forms of control over the public order be placed in the hands of civilians, and that those specific functions be diverted from the military.”

Ortega insists that “it's clear that there is an increase in reports of alleged human rights violations made when the Armed Forces are utilized to control the public order or to guarantee public safety;” this is yet another problem that the Venezuelan government needs to deal with.

Pakistani Journalist Takes on Taliban Militant for Malala

Celebrated around the world for her bravery, she has been called a CIA spy, a western stooge, and even a liar at home.

Even after her bold speech at the UN, demanding free education for all children from world leaders, teen activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, continues to be a divisive figure in Pakistan.

Following her speech, a Taliban militant wrote Malala an open letter urging her to return home and continue her education at a Islamic school or madrassa. He was promptly taken down by a Pakistani journalist in another open letter who advised him against picking a fight with Pakistani women.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistan teen who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, at the United Nations on Friday. Beside her at left, is Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, and Mr. Vuk Jeremiae, President of the General Assembly. Image by Nancy Siesel. Copyright Demotix. (12 July 2013)

Malala Yousafzai at the United Nations. Beside her at left, is Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, and Mr. Vuk Jeremiae, President of the General Assembly. Image by Nancy Siesel. Copyright Demotix. (12 July 2013)

The open letter from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militant Adnan Rasheed claims that 16-year-old Malala was attacked by the Taliban because she maligns the group, and not because she was pursuing an education. In a letter circulated to Pakistani journalists through the Pakistani Taliban media cell, Rasheed writes:

First of all please mind that Taliban never attacked you because of going to school or you were education lover, also please mind that Taliban or mujahideen are not against the education of any men or women or girl. The Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smear campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative.

Award-winning author and Pakistani journalist Mohammad Hanif writes his response to Rasheed in the Guardian's opinion section, “Dear Taliban leader, thank you for your letter to Malala Yousafzai::

 I write to thank you in response to the generous letter you have written to Malala Yousafzai. Thanks for owning up that your comrades tried to kill her by shooting her in the head. Many of your well-wishers in Pakistan had been claiming the Taliban wouldn't attack a minor girl. They were of the opinion that Malala had shot herself in order to become a celebrity and get a UK visa. Women, as we know, will go to any lengths to get what they want. So thanks for saying that a 14-year-old girl was the Taliban's foe.

Hanif adds:

The government practically handed over the valley to your comrades, but their rule didn't even last for a few weeks because they ordered all women to stay home.

There was only one lesson to be learned: you can fight the Pakistani army; you can try and almost kill Pakistan's commander-in-chief, as you so heroically did; you might wage a glorious jihad against brutal imperial forces. But you can't pick a fight with the working women in your neighbourhood and hope to win. Those women may never get an audience at the UN but everyone – from cotton picker to bank teller – cannot be asked to shut up and stay home, for the simple reason that they won't.

The Edequal Foundation, an educational charity founded by Shahzad Ali and based in north London which supports teachers and students demonstrated in a show of support for Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban. Image by Peter Marshall. Copyright Demotix (20 October 2013)

The Edequal Foundation, an educational charity, based in north London protests in support of Malala Yousufzai. Image by Peter Marshall. Copyright Demotix (20 October 2012)

Zubair Towali, who lives in Malala's hometown the Swat valley in Pakistan, explains in a blog post:

The conspiracy theories regarding Malala are most unfortunate and they are many. One posits that she is a tool in the hands of the American/Jewish lobby. This line of “reasoning” says that her ‘abrupt fame’ has been fuelled and guided by elements out to conspire against Pakistan.

A Pakistani Twitter user Saqib Ali Kazmi responds:

Some Pakistani Twitter users still have their doubts though. Ahmed Bilal tweets:

#Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed, regardless of his atrocities has presented a valid point in his letter to #Malala.There I said it. #Pakistan — Ahmed Bilal (@ABWDXB) July 18, 2013

And some take their own message from the letter, like Pakistani musician Salman Ahmad, who tweets:

Khuldune Shahid, a finance correspondent for ePakistanToday, tweets:

But even Shahid feels compelled to defend Malala in his piece the “Epicentre of the Malalaquake”:

The Taliban’s conflict with Malala, much like their combat against all their adversaries, is a clash of religious teachings and humanistic viewpoints. [..]The Taliban devoutly follow antediluvian theologies, while Malala stands for enlightenment.”

Supporters of Pakhtoonkhawa Students Federation are protesting against an attack on Malala Yousaf Zai by Taliban during a demonstration at Peshawar press club.  Image by PPI Images. Copyright Demotix (18/10/2012)

Supporters of Pakhtoonkhawa Students Federation are protesting against an attack on Malala Yousaf Zai by Taliban during a demonstration at Peshawar press club. Image by PPI Images. Copyright Demotix (18/10/2012)

Shahid's conflicting viewpoints and the vitrole against Malala could be a symptom of Pakistan's larger identity crisis. Journalist Huma Yusuf writes in the NYT's Latitutde blog about the Malala Backlash:

These virulent reactions seem odd in a country that purports to value education and women’s rights. But that is simply a sign that Pakistan is still struggling to figure itself out — to figure out how to participate in the modern, global economy as it comes to terms with its colonial past, to reject Western pressure while coveting international approval, to strengthen its democratic institutions as an Islamic republic.

Rafia Zakaria, a columnist with Dawn, a leading English daily in Pakistan writes: 

if she returned, Malala Yousafzai, like other Pakistani heroines before her, would have to deal with the crude judgments of a society where lip service to education is permitted, but the freedom owed to educated women is denied.

In his open letter Rasheed also says he is writing to her in his personal capacity, and not as a Taliban member: “all my emotions were brotherly for you because we belong to same Yousafzai tribe.” Meanwhile, Taliban leaders have told the BBC they have nothing to do with the letter Adnan Rasheed wrote and that “his letter will be examined” [ur].

Rasheed was broken out of jail in 2012 by the Taliban, where he was awaiting his death sentence for attempting to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf in 2003. He is a former member of the Pakistan Air Force.

60 Deaths during Fights in Nzérékoré, Guinea

Guinee News reports the latest tally, 60 deaths, from the killings in Nzérékoré, Guinea [fr] :

Les cinquante deux corps qui étaient non identifiables ont été enterrés dans une fosse commune hier. Les autres corps reconnaissables ont été remis à leurs familles.

52 non-identified bodies were buried in a mass grave yesterday. The other bodies were returned to their families.

July 17 2013

South Korea Suspects North Korea Was Behind June Hacking Attack

South Korean investigators suspect North Korea has carried out a series of cyber attacks on June 25 that temporarily hobbled the presidential office websites and major media sites, pointing out the fact that an IP address used in the attack matched one used by North Korea in previous cases. North Korea Tech blog explains in more detail.

Judges Go After Soldiers Suspected of Slaughter in Guinea

[All links lead to French-language websites unless otherwise noted. This article was written before the recent events in Guinea.]

The head of presidential security in Guinea is the latest person formally accused of having a hand in the brutal crackdown [en] by security forces on an opposition protest in 2009, in which of at least 157 people were killed and countless women and girls were raped.

On September 28, 2009, soldiers opened fire on opposition demonstrators protesting against military head of state Dadis Camara and his intention to run for president during the January 2010 election.

Following the massacre, Camara and members of the junta denied any responsibility for the killings. The international community sanctioned the junta [en] with an arms embargo and a travel ban, and froze any bank accounts owned by the officers in charge at the time. A year later, Camara was shot by soldiers [en] in his entourage.

A few weeks after the massacre, Camara ordered an independent investigation by a commission composed of 31 members. However, families of the victims have asked human rights organisations to look into the massacre [en] and the alleged clandestine burials performed by the military.

Investigating judges opened prosecution against Colonel Claude Pivi, the head of presidential security, on June 27, 2013 after hearing the previous day's testimony from the high commander of national police General Ibrahima Baldé. Pivi appeared in court the next day to hear the charges against him, and was due to appear in court again on July 4, but he did not respond to the judges’ summons.

Blogger Assanatou Baldé expressed her delight on

L’heure de rendre des comptes est arrivée pour Claude Pivi alias Coplan.

The time to settle scores has arrived for Claude Pivi alias Coplan.

Human Rights Watch presented charges against this high-ranking official from President Alpha Condé’s government who was decorated in 2011:

Le suspect, le lieutenant-colonel Claude « Coplan » Pivi, est le ministre guinéen chargé de la sécurité présidentielle, un poste qu'il occupait déjà au moment des crimes de 2009. Selon les médias, Pivi a été inculpé de meurtres, viols, incendies, pillage, destruction d’édifices et complicité. Conformément au droit international, Pivi est présumé innocent jusqu’à ce qu’il soit jugé et reconnu coupable.

The suspect, lieutenant colonel Claude “Coplan” Pivi, is Guinean Minister for Presidential Security, a post he occupied at the time of the 2009 crimes. According to the media, Pivi was accused of murder, rape, fire-raising, looting, destruction of buildings and complicity. To conform with international law, Pivi is to be presumed innocent until judged and recognized guilty.

Website published a press release in conjunction with many human rights organisations in Guinea. The introduction read:

Depuis le début de l’instruction, les victimes que nous accompagnons dans cette procédure craignaient que Claude Pivi, en raison des fonctions qu’il occupe et de sa place dans la hiérarchie militaire, échappe à la justice. Hier, les juges d’instruction ont apporté un premier élément de réponse en l’inculpant formellement.

Since the start of the preliminary investigation, the victims that we are accompanying in these proceedings fear that Claude Pivi will escape justice due to the positions he occupies and his place in the military hierarchy. Yesterday the investigating judges produced an initial response by formally accusing him.

Sarifou Barry reported in an article on website the words of Dr Thierno Maadjou Sow, president of the Guinean Human Rights Organisation (OGDH):

Nous considérons du point de vue des principes que c’est quelque chose de très important surtout dans la lutte pour le respect des droits de l’homme et aussi dans la lutte contre l’impunité qui est le terreau des crimes. Il ne faut pas oublier qu’il y a eu des personnalités qui ont été inculpées déjà dans cette affaire mais malheureusement, cela n’a rien donné. Ces personnes occupent encore des postes extrêmement importants au sein de l’administration. Vous savez, dès après les crimes commis, le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU, les organisations de défense des droits de l’homme avaient déclaré que ces crimes commis étaient des crimes contre l’humanité.

We will be considering this from the point of view of the principle that this is something very important, especially in the fight to respect human rights and also in the fight against the impunity which sowed the seeds of these crimes. It must not be forgotten that there were officials who had already been accused in this affair but unfortunately, this has led nowhere. These people still occupy extremely important posts at the heart of the administration. You know, just after these crimes were committed, the UN Security Council and human rights defence organisation had declared these crimes to be crimes against humanity.

Asmaou Diallo,  the president of the Association of Victims, Parents and Friends of September 28 (AVIPA), and who was also interviewed by Sarifou Barry, expressed her feelings in the same article in the following terms:

C’est la réaction d’une victime qui crie toujours à ce qu’il y ait justice dans cette affaire. Si le colonel Claude Pivi a été inculpé, cela nous fait du bien mais ça ne suffit pas. Il ne s’agit pas seulement d’inculper et de laisser par la suite le dossier dans les tiroirs. Cette inculpation nous remonte quand même le moral mais, nous voulons plus. Nous voulons que tous ceux qui ont été inculpés dans ce dossier, quittent leurs postes de responsabilité pour qu’ils se mettent à la disposition de la justice.

It is the reaction of a victim always crying out for justice in this affair. If Colonel Claude Pivi has been accused, that does us some good, but it is not enough. It is not a matter of just accusing and then afterwards leaving the case in a drawer. Anyway, this indictment takes us back to the moral issue, but we want more. We want all those accused in this case to leave their positions of responsibility so they can be brought to justice.

This article inspired some lively comments from readers. For example, Ardho underlined the courage of the judges who accused Colonel Pivi and other high up members of the security forces:

Je pense qu'il faut encourager ces juges qui vont lentement dans des conditions que nous connaissons tous, mais qui entreprennent des actions importantes dans cette procedure… Nous esperons que le gouvernement prendra ses responsabilites aussi en ecartant ces maboules des postes de responsabilite qu'ils occupent.
I think we must encourage these judges who are going slowly in conditions we all know, but who are undertaking important actions in these proceedings… We hope that the government will take responsibility as well as getting these lunatics out of the positions of responsibility that they occupy.

In their previously mentioned press release,  the Guinean Human Rights Organisation expressed similar worries:

nos organisations expriment leur préoccupation quant à la sérénité de la procédure judiciaire et la sécurité de ses acteurs ou des victimes qui ont témoigné dans ce dossier, en raison du poste qu’occupe M. Pivi aujourd’hui. Comme nos organisations l’avaient recommandé concernant le colonel Moussa Oumar Tiegboro Camara, inculpé en février 2012, ou que le commandant Sekou Resco CAMARA, Gouverneur de Conakry, inculpé dans une affaire de torture en février 2013, qui ont tous deux été maintenus à leur poste, nous recommandons aux acteurs concernés de prendre toutes les dispositions afin garantir l’indépendance et l’impartialité du processus judiciaire en cours, dans le respect du droit à un procès équitable. Nous les invitons donc à envisager la mise à l’écart de ces hauts responsables, mis en cause pour des faits d’une exceptionnelle gravité.

Our organisations express their worry concerning the equanimity of the judicial proceedings and the safety of actors or victims bearing witness in this case, because of the post that Mr Pivi occupies today. As our organisations had recommended [independence and impartiality] for Colonel Moussa Oumar Tiegboro Camara, accused in February 2012, and Commander Sekou Resco Camara, Governor of Conakry, accused in a February 2013 torture trial, but both kept their posts, we recommend that those concerned take all provisions to guarantee the independence and impartiality of the ongoing judiciary process with respect to the law and an equitable trial. Therefore we invite them to consider sidelining these high-ranking officials, called into question by facts of an exceptionally serious nature.

Almamy Camara wrote the following in an article on

L’organisation internationale Human Rights Watch (HRW), a appelé ce mercredi 3 juillet à la suspension des accusés de leurs fonctions gouvernementales et invite les autorités à protéger les juges ainsi que les victimes dans le dossier du massacre du stade du 28 septembre, en 2009. Cet appel fait suite à l’inculpation du ministre de la Sécurité présidentielle, Claude Pivi dit Coplan par le pool des juges d’instruction le mercredi dernier.

The international organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) this Wednesday July 3 called for the suspension of the accused from their governmental duties and invited the authorities to protect the judges as well as the victims in the case covering the Stadium Massacre of September 28, 2009. This appeal followed the indictment of the Minister of Presidential Security, Claude Pivi AKA Coplan, by the pool of investigation judges last Wednesday.

Boubacar Bah expressed his doubts on the continuation of this affair in an article published on, which deals with the impunity with which the other people in charge of the national security forces by the same Guinean justice as Colonel Pivi:

Mais pour des observateurs avertis, quelque soit la volonté du pool des juges d’instruction à éclaircir ce dossier, s’il n’y a pas de volonté politique, tous les efforts seront vains. Des soupçons forts sont portés sur le Président Alpha Condé qui ne souhaiterait pas du tout se débarrasser de Claude Pivi et de Tiegboro. Notamment parce que ces deux hommes puissants du temps du capitaine Dadis, lui avaient apporté tous leurs soutiens à l’occasion de la présidentielle de 2013. En prélude aux législatives de 2013, Alpha Condé ne veut pas perdre son électorat de la Guinée Forestière dont sont originaires Pivi et Tiegboro. Entre la justice pour les victimes du 28 septembre et la campagne pour les législatives, Alpha Condé a choisi la deuxième.

But for informed observers, whatever the will of the pool of investigation judges to shed light on this case, if there is not political will, all efforts will be in vain. Strong suspicions rest on President Alpha Condé who it is believed does not want to be rid of Claude Pivi and Tiegboro at all. Notably because these two powerful men from the time of Captain Dadi, had brought to him all their support during the 2013 presidential election. Before the 2013 general election, Alpha Condé does not want to lose his Guinean Forestry electorate of which Pivi and Tiegboro are originators. Between justice for the victims of September 28 and the general election campaign, Alpha Condé has chosen the second.

Commenting on an article in, Mr Sylla wondered:

Comment voulez vous qu'il est une justice dans un zoo. En tout cas sa sera pour la première fois alors attendons de voir mais sa m'étonnera que justice soit faite .déjà il est venu avec ces gardes du corps pour une simple interrogation chose qui n'est pas admissible dans des pays civilisés et de droit .Alors le jour du jugement si jugement ai il viendra avec tout le camp vous dis que ce pays est un zoo .
How do you expect justice in a zoo. In any case it would be the first time so let’s wait and see, but I will be astonished if justice is done. he came already with his bodyguards for a simple questioning, something which is not admissible in civilised countries or by law. So the judgement, if there is a judgement will come with the whole military camp. I tell you, this country is a zoo.

To measure the dangers to which the judges brave enough to accuse Colonel Pivi have exposed themselves, here is his reaction as reported in another article by Boubacar Bah:

lorsque le Pool des juges d’instruction a informé Pivi de son inculpation dans le dossier du massacre du 28 septembre, l’officier a piqué une colère noire. “Si les gens pensent qu’ils peuvent m’humilier comme ça dans ce pays, ils se trompent. Nous, nous avons servi ce pays”, aurait rouspété Coplan.

When the pool of investigation judges informed Pivi of his indictment in the case of the September 28 massacre, the officer had a tantrum. “If people think that they can humilate me like that in this country, they are fooling themselves. We served this country.” Coplan is reported to have complained.

Pivi's supporters have mobilized to express their support for him during the investigation.

The international community and Guinean supporters of human rights must apply pressure to President Alpha Condé for protection of the judges as well as the witness and so that all officials accused of crimes or figuring on the lists of individuals suspected of crimes against humanity are relieved of their positions and judged.

July 16 2013

Artists Capture a Bloody Ramadan in Syria

Mubarak, (blessed) kareem (generous) or peaceful, are the usual words that come to mind during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting when families and communities joyfully come together to pray and break their daily fasts.

But for artists depicting the holy month in Syria – blood, violence and helplessness are the only words that seem to fit. Since protests first began in March 2011 during the Arab Spring, Ramadan in Syria has not been mubarak, or kareem, and especially not peaceful.

What is really going on in Syria? Nobody can really tell. But what everyone can see are the countless people being killed, dozens kidnapped and hundreds forced to flee their homes everyday.

Ramadan in Syria according to Osama Hajjaj

Ramadan in Syria according to Osama Hajjaj

The UN recently said that the Syrian conflict is “drastically deteriorating” with up to 5,000 people dying every month. And it seems Ramadan this year will be no different than any other month. It might even be worse. Both camps seem to have turned a deaf ear to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's plea to stop violence. To add insult to injury, food and medicine prices are soaring. According to The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA):

@Sana_English: #Syria‘s Health Minister: Decision to raise medicine prices intended to preserve medicine security

Homs is under siege, so is Aleppo and many other cities across the war-torn country.

Syrian Amal Hanano summarizes the situation in one of her tweets:

@AmalHanano: On the 1st day of Ramadan, #Aleppo is starving. Dollar is up to 300 Syrian Pounds. No food or medicine to be found. #Syria

Even religious buildings have not been spared.

@GotFreedomSYA Mosque I could once see from our balcony in Syria is now burning to ruins. One of many Mosques the Assad regime is destroying in Ramadan.

Syrian artists also to depict the situation through many works of art, available online.

Here's how Tammam Azzam draws the famous Ramadan Crescent or moon:

Ramadan Kareem from Tammam Azzam

Ramadan Kareem from Tammam Azzam

And here's sad Suhoor (the meal people have before they start their fast at dawn) by artist Hicham Chemali posted on “Syrian Revolution Caricature” Facebook Page:

There is no one left to wake up for the Suhoor in Syria

There is no one left to wake up for suhoor (meal at sunrise before the daily fast) in Syria


A Ramadan Crescent dripping blood along side a full moon made of the names of Syrian towns. Photo posted on Art and Freedom Facebook Page

Maher Abul Husn sees a Ramadan Hazeen (Sad) in Syria. A Ramadan Crescent dripping blood alongside a full moon made of the names of Syrian towns. Photo posted on Art and Freedom Facebook Page.

See how Bashar [Syria's president] is distributing Food for the Iftar.

During the month of Ramadan a Cannon is used to remind people it is time to break their fasting and have their iftar meal.

During the month of Ramadan cannons are fired to indicate to people the time to break their fast and have their meal. In this caricature, posted on Basma Souria Page (Syrian Fingerprint), Bashar is seen bombing Syrian towns and cities

From Jordan, caricaturist Osama Hajjaj also sympathizes with the plight of his Syrian neighbors and brothers.

But despite everything, Syrians still resort to humor, even if it is black, to carry on with their lives. This photo is going viral on Twitter and on Facebook.

We apologize this year from the Arabs for not broadcasting "Bab Al Hara" The Neighborhood's Gate" series (one of the post popular Series in the Arab World, usually aired during Ramadan) because Bachar hasn't left any Hara (Neighbourhood)

We apologize this year to Arabs for not broadcasting “Bab Al Hara” [The Neighborhood's Gate] series (one of the popular series in the Arab world, usually aired during Ramadan) because Bashar hasn't left any Hara (Neighbourhood)

All photographs in this post are used with the permission of the artists.

VIDEO: Historic Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque Bombed in Syria

Protect Syrian Archaeology posted photographs on its Facebook page [en, ar] and videos on YouTube, recording the moment the historic Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque (7th century) was bombed in Homs, Syria.

Homs – Results of the bombing of Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque#حمص – أثار القصف الذي تعرض له مسجد الصحابي خالد بن الوليد”

This 5-minute video takes you inside the mosque as a fire rages in some parts of the building and this 8-minute video captures destruction from outside, with smoke rising from the building:

The video is dated July 9, 2013.

July 14 2013

How Closing Account of Money Transfer Organisations Threatens Peace in Somalia

Laure Hammond explains how a recent decision by Barclays Bank to close the accounts of 250 money transfer organisations working around the world will have a particularly severe effect on Somalia’s efforts to emerge from two decades of conflict.

July 11 2013

Reform Underway for the Army in Congo ?

Congo Siasa posits that a slew of new promotions (list here) are signs that important reforms are underway for the Congolese army:

According to the official plan, the county will be split into three Zones de Défense, based in Kisangani, Lubumbashi, and Kinshasa. Each zone will have three rapid reaction brigades, two defense brigades, and a share of the 20 regiments [..] But it does not provide remedies for the root problems of the army: parallel chains of command, rampant racketeering and embezzlement, and impunity

July 10 2013

Several Blasts Shake Buddhist Temple In Northeastern India

The Mahabodhi temple complex, a Buddhist pilgrimage site in northeastern India, was hit by multiple explosions, leaving two people believed to be Tibetan monks injured.

Eight blasts rocked the Bodh Gaya temple in the south of Gaya district in the state of Bihar between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Sunday, July 7, 2013. Two live bombs were also recovered at the blast site. One man was detained not long after the bombings, and five more suspects were picked up by the Indian national investigation agency on July 9.

Security experts say that the explosive devises could have been made from ammonium nitrate or potassium permanganate, both of which are widely available and are commonly used in bomb-making.

The disaster has been heavily politicized. The Bharatiya Janata Party called for a statewide strike the day after the blasts protesting the government's failure to fight terrorism. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee suggested that the violent acts were a “game plan before elections to disturb states, regional parties and also to plan to murder some political leaders”.

The attack was condemned by Buddhists in India and its neighboring countries. The temple is one of the four main pilgrimage sites of the Buddhists.

Bangladeshi Buddhists protesting the terror attack on Mahabodhi Gaya in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (8/7/2013)

Bangladeshi Buddhists protesting the terror attack on Mahabodhi Gaya in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (8/7/2013)

Sri Lankan-Canadian journalist and blogger D. B. S. Jeyaraj compiled Buddhist majority Sri Lanka's reactions. He reminded that there has been a historic connection between the Mahabodhi and Sri Lanka so they are also concerned:

With the advent of Turkish rule in the 13th century the Mahabodhi temple fell into a state of neglect and was virtually in ruins.


Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Sri Lanka’s Anagarika Dharmapala the devout Buddhist revivalist began reclaiming the Mahabodhi Temple for Buddhists.

Subhash Gatade at Kafila blog suggested that one should look beyond the usual suspects:

One expects added caution on part of any of the experts / commentators for another important reason as well. It has been widely reported how in two of our neighbouring countries – namely Burma and Sri Lanka – Buddhist extremists have unleashed a wave of terror against the hapless Muslims. And any such news without proper confirmation that Bodh Gaya, has come under attack of Jihadi terrorists, can make matters more difficult for the minority Muslims there.

Protest rally of Buddhists in Kolkata. Image by Suman Mitra. Copyright Demotix (7/7/2013)

Protest rally of Buddhista in Kolkata. Image by Suman Mitra. Copyright Demotix (7/7/2013)

Myanmar blogger Chan (@mydaydream89) lamented the lack of worldwide attention to the explosions:

@mydaydream89: Nobody gives a damn to #Buddhism. If that #India #MahaBodhi blast was in #US or at a famous church or mosque, the world will be screaming.

Subodh Khanna ‏(@subodh1945), a retired medical representative from Kanpur, wrote:

@subodh1945: “seems blast is to announce to world they can strike anywhere in india -And wat a soft state india is” — subodh1945

Dr. Archwordsmith ‏(@docsaystruth) criticized the usual response to these kinds of disasters:

@docsaystruth: Condemn, criticize and compensate…… story after every blast in india @drrakeshparikh @abcul

Intra-urban Displacement in Medellín, Colombia

[...] ultimately, every one of the thousands of people displaced within Medellin faces the same grim choice: Lose your house, job, and community — or lose your life.

James Bargent in In Sight Crime writes about intra-urban displacement -”when victims are displaced to a different part of the same city”- in Medellín, Colombia.

July 09 2013

Vigilante Justice & Race Riots in Provincial Russia

A bar fight that broke out last weekend between two young men in a small town of Pugachev in Russia’s central Saratov region, ended with racial violence. The victim, 21-year-old Ruslan Marzhanov, a town local of Tatar extraction, died of knife wounds in the hospital on Saturday, July 6. The suspect, 16-year-old Chechen Ali Nazirov, was later detained for the murder.

What should have been a tragic, but routine case, quickly morphed into something else. The murder underscored long-standing ethnic tensions between the native Russian population and the town's North Caucasian diaspora. After the funeral, which was held the day after Marzhanov died, hundreds of locals marched into a Chechen neighborhood, demanding that the Chechens “leave.” Several people were reportedly injured in the brawl that ensued, although the police maintain [ru] that they were able to prevent the violence.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the victim was reportedly friends with local Chechens. Azamat Mitsaev, a Moscow resident involved with youth city government, reported [ru] on his Facebook that Marzhanov's Chechen friends were the ones who took him to the hospital, and were also apparently the ones to find Ali Nazirov and turn him over to the police, having first “beaten him up.”

The acting Governor of Saratov Oblast, Valery Radaev, urged the people to remain calm, saying [ru]:

Неконтролируемая стихия может повлечь за собой цепную реакцию, в результате чего не исключены новые невинные жертвы. Мы не имеем права такого допустить! [...] кровная месть и национальная ненависть – не способ решения проблем, а бомба замедленного действия”

An uncontrolled force of nature [like a popular uprising] can lead to a chain reaction, resulting in new innocent victims. We cannot allow this! [...] blood feuds and national hatred are not a way to solve problems, but a ticking time bomb.”

His entreaties fell on deaf ears — when Pugachev Mayor Stanislav Sidorov walked out to speak with the crowd that congregated in the town square Monday, he was heckled, reports [ru] Twitter user Liudmila Rossenko:

Главу облили водой. Народ ликует #Пугачев

The Head [of Administration] got water poured all over him. The people are happy #Pugachev

Pugachev Head of Administration addressing the crowd moments before getting a bottle of water poured on his head. YouTube screenshot.

Pugachev Head of Administration addressing the crowd moments before getting a bottle of water poured on his head. YouTube screenshot.

According to locals this was not the first time the Chechens had caused problems. The BBC’s Russian Service quoted [ru] the chairman of the regional branch of the opposition RPR-PARNAS party:

У меня родственники там живут в Пугачеве. Не первый раз у них, четыре или пять убийств уже было. Дагестанцы, чеченцы облюбовали город Пугачев. Эти конфликты у них происходят последние два года все серьезнее и серьезнее. И встает вопрос, почему власть в это до сих пор не вмешивалась?

I have relatives living in Pugachev. This is not the first incident, they've had four or five murders already. Dagestanis, Chechens have taken a fancy to the city of Pugachev. These conflicts have, over the past 2 years become more and more serious.  And the question arises, why don’t the powers that be intervene?

Marzhanov's mother emphasized this point [ru]:

Я не имею претензий к чеченцам, у меня претензии к власти, которая допускает и потворствуют их беспределу.

I have no complaints about the Chechens, I have complaints about the government, which allows and indulges their lawlessness.

Marzhanov's mother addressing the crowd and speaking about her son's military service. YouTube screenshot.

Marzhanov's mother addressing the crowd and speaking about her son's military service. YouTube screenshot.

The Kommersant [ru] newspaper reports that in the meantime, residents of Pugachev have come together in a working group, which will establish “people's patrols” to patrol the town streets along with the police. The people have “lost faith” in the regional government, and seem ready to resort to “vigilante justice.”

The situation is exacerbated by episodes of mass hysteria. For example, a video posted on YouTube [ru] Monday alleged that the authorities had sent armored personnel carriers (APCs) to Pugachev because of the escalating protests. The video, which now has over 200 thousand views, turned out to be a fake, shot last month during local military exercises. This did not prevent it from fooling many bloggers, including the popular opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who used the apparent establishment of martial law as an excuse to sarcastically blog “this is what ‘stability’ looks like.” [ru] Navalny later removed the video from his blog.

Meanwhile, in response to appeals from the local government, the Investigative Committee (Russia's federal investigative agency) agreed [ru] to launch an inquiry into events in Pugachev. This seems to indicate that the federal government is concerned that the situation could still spin out of control. But, perhaps, this is a case of too little, too late. Vigilante justice may still prevail.

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