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December 11 2012

Global Voices Where Every Voice Counts

Every year Human Rights Day provides an opportunity, to many of us, to highlight issues that matter to us and to advocate  human rights for all. This year the spotlight is on the rights of  people - the poor, the  marginalized and the disingenuous, women and  youth and those across the gender spectrum. Every one has the right to be heard and the right to participate.

The idea that every voice counts is one that is very close to the  notion of Global Voices as a platform and as a community. As netizens unite to have their voices heard when the world's authorities argue  on who should run the internet, we decided to ask our  diverse community to participate and speak out on issues that matter to them and look back at issues we have covered over the year bearing in mind that every voice counts.

Global Voices community members make their #VoiceCount

Global Voices community members make their #VoiceCount. Image collage by author.

With Syria and Gaza plunging into information by pulling the plug on the internet, the right to access remained one of the most pertinent issues. Our special coverage included Syria,archiving online reactions to Syria's internet blackout and the resurgence as parts of Syria regained connectivity, protests in Bahrain and Yemen amid media blackout, conflict voices from Caucasus and Sudan revoltsin-depth coverage of Russia's protest movements,bearing witness to Egypt's historic presidential elections and the aftermath and the intense elections in Venezuela, seeking indigenous voices representing 370 million people that speak more than 4000 languages, a spotlight on the forgotten voices of Myanmar's Rohnigya, keeping an eye on the worldwide #occupy movements and SlutWalks a new protest movement defending women's rights and  most importantly monitoring and defending internet freedom,  free speech and freedom to access with Global Voices Advocacy evolving in to a community determined to take a stand.

Then there were other stories that needed the world's attention as we stood true to the notion that we are reminded of today; every voice counts.Qatar's life imprisonment of a poet that praised Arab spring,Russia's crackdown on online satire, women being barred and penalized from using mobile phones in villages in India, stricter SIM card registration process hampering communication in Zambia, Pakistan's consistent pursuit to replicate the great firewall of China, Tajikistan blocking of facebook and summoning Mark Zuckerberg - a move startlingly similar to that of Pakistani authorities, Internet companies overlooking user privacy, the fight for free expression as authorities muscle in more control, we continued to speak out against impunity and for justice for threatened voices, these are the few issues global voices as a community has been able to bring attention to. As we move forward towards the end of the year, there will be a more comprehensive overview of the year through the eyes of the networked.

For now, on Human Rights Day, we stand in solidarity with people around the world and believe in every individual's right to be heard, to participate and be counted. Our commitment remains, to amplify the voices of the networked and to enable and support the indigenous communities to become a part of the larger community.



July 30 2012

Zambia: Pupils Expelled For Facebook Activities

This is cross-posted from Global Voices.

Twenty one pupils at a secondary school in rural western Zambia have been expelled over a Facebook page they ran on which vile messages against the head and other teachers were posted.

In another development, the secretary general of Zambia’s ruling party, the Patriotic Front, said it was time Zambia’s popular citizen media website, Zambian Watchdog, was closed for allegedly insulting the head of the Catholic Church in Zambia and a female traditional leader who were accused of having an affair.

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A rural school in Zambia. Photo source:

The pupils from Sesheke High School were given transfer letters to schools of their own choice after the group which called itself ‘The Sesheke High School Gossips’[it no longer exists on Facebook] used foul language against head teacher and some members of staff.

The headteacher, Lubinda Walubita, was quoted saying:

These learners have been posting information ranging from inciting others to riot, threatening to burn some teachers’ houses, passing silly comments and insulting teachers on Facebook.

Most netizens who commented on the story condemned the children for their behaviour but few others like Samantha called for leniency towards the offending pupils:

The issue with the children is not about discipline. The discipline is not instituted by hurst [harsh] punishment. What I am saying is that the government should put in place procedures to deal with ICT. What has happened will certainly happen in another school. So are we saying the same thing should be done to the pupils. I believe this is an unreasonable and hurst [harsh] kind of reaction by the head and should not be allowed in whatever sense. I wish the zambians and government can come through for the kids who are now traumatized . I know what the kids are going through now and their parents.

A reader calling himself Spyglass gave out a lesson:

The internet is not being used for progressive things by pupils only baseless and immoral activities.
Facebook was actually created for students to socialise on educational matters. Instead, pupils themselves don’t even know what better things they can share online only stupid activities.
Let us as society and the PTAs [Parent Teachers’ Associations] too support the stance by Sesheke School Admin to be non tolerant to these uncalled for acts by children.

And on the call by PF secretary general to shut down Zambian Watchdog, Wynter Kabimba, third in the ruling party hierarchy after President Michael Sata and Vice President Dr Guy Scott, accused the former ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and the United Party for National Development (UPND) of sponsoring the Zambian Watchdog, a citizen media website.

He said:

It is sad that the Zambian Watchdog has been posting insults about Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu and Chieftainess Nkomeshya… and the MMD thinks this is the way to raise their political profile.

We must protest against such immoral level of politics in the misguided name of freedom of speech or press freedom.

Most of the netizens who commented on the story disagreed with Kabimba’s threat to close the news website. Eagle wrote:

The Zambian Watchdog is our source of alternative news and views and must be allowed to operate freely. Remember that it is impossible to silence the majority, no matter what PF may try to do. We used to have the Post as the source of alternative news and views but as is common knowledge the Post is now fully owned and controlled by PF, just like the Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail, ZNBC, etc.

Another reader, Mixi, said:

Ba [Mr] Winter,

Free advice. Just pretend ZWD don’t exist otherwise you are now making them ever more popular.

Besides if you shut them down, which I doubt very much if it is possible, you will have nothing to gauge public opinion with. The Post will continue schmoozing and cozying up to the PF making you believe everything is fine.

Wrote Think 4 2moro:

I wud be glad if this WD site is closed,not bcoz it supports UPND,but, bcoz it promotes hatred,rebellion,division,encourages insults and above all its driven by evil and embraces devil’s ideas.

A few days after the September 2011 elections when President Sata took over, he instructed his then newly appointed Atorney-General, Mumba Malila to investigate websites that were operating in Zambia for allegedly spreading lies. It is not known how far the investigation has gone or what the findings are.

On 10 May, 2012, Zambian Watchdog reported that its website was a target of a sustained attack allegedly by the PF government.

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May 11 2012

The Monarchy of Bahrain: an enemy of the Internet

More than a year ago, I recall how I used to be threatened by pro-Bahraini government propagandists. Random Facebook users have threatened me after commenting on Nabeel Al Hamar’s, the Advisor for Information Affairs for the King of Bahrain, status on Facebook. I don’t live in Bahrain, and therefore, no one could arrest me for my comments, Tweets, or articles about human rights abuses in Bahrain. However, I felt concerned about my colleagues and friends in Bahrain who are risking their lives everyday for exercising their rights to freedom of expression on Facebook or Twitter or any online media.

On March and April, when the state of emergency was announced in Bahrain, and the Shield of Jazeera (a combination of troops from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) came to aid the Bahraini forces in attacking peaceful protestors, there has also been a cyber war. Pro-Bahraini government Facebook users (or thugs!) started uploading the photos of activists with red circles around their faces. Instead of questioning the ones who threaten civilians, the government of Bahrain started arresting activists whose photos appear on Facebook. One of them was Ayat Al-Qarmizi, Bahraini poetess, who was later released after months of brutal torture and ill treatment in prison. Some activists disappeared like Global Voices’ blogger Ali Abdulemam, while others were killed like the citizen journalist Ahmed Ismael.

That’s not history yet. Last week, the Bahraini authorities arrested the President of the Human Rights Centre in Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab when he returned from Lebanon at Bahrain’s International Airport. Apparently, the Bahraini government claim that Rajab was arrested because of his “insulting tweets.” I invite all to visit his Twitter page @NABEELRAJAB, and search for “insulting” material. For an oppressive state like Bahrain, using Twitter and other social media to expose human rights violations is “insulting the constitution.”

Sadly hilarious, Manama was announced as “the Capital of Arab Culture,” while it’s the place where the state kills, arrests and kidnaps online activists.  I hope that my blog post will not be considered as “insulting” by the Bahraini monarchy neither my Tweets on @YusurAlBahrani.

November 28 2011

Stop Online Piracy Act: The Fight Continues


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At a recent hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), companies and organizations that oppose the bill were branded as “pro-pirates.” The legislation's supporters in the House of Representatives, along with proponents of a similar bill in the Senate known as the PROTECT IP Act, are working hard to pass them and get some version of them signed into law before the end of the year. Among opponents, there is still hope that the loud outcry from tech giants, civil rights groups and public outcry against the bill could keep them from sailing through.

SOPA was introduced in the House of Representatives in October with the strong support of the Chamber of Commerce and film and music industry companies. The bill claims it would stop piracy online, but civic activists and law professionals have stressed it would give corporations unprecedented power to censor almost any site on the internet, thereby stifling free speech online. (Read the bill in a PDF form or an Infographic about the bill)

Here are several of reasons why people call it “draconian” law:

  1. Internet death penalty“: One provision of both SOPA and PROTECT IP grants the Attorney General  power to cut off sites from the domain name system when copyright infringement is reported. Another provision cuts off the concerned websites' money supply by forcing the payment processors and advertisers to suspend their services for concerned sites. The bill not only virtually removes the sites from the web but also decimates their mechanisms of financial support.
  2. Being Blocked and Sued for Contents Random Users Posted on the Sites:  The bills would give the government  tremendous power to blacklist sites and force Internet service providers, search engines and payment processors to block the sites without a court hearing or a trial. The House version of the bill even enables the rights-holders to sue websites for contents that infringe on copyrights but unknowingly posted by random users.
  3. Chilling Effects on Social Media: The bill holds Internet companies accountable for each and every violation of copyright committed by their users. It is not hard to imagine how the bill would put enormous pressure on influential social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook and user-generated sites including Youtube and Vimeo. They will need to proactively monitor and censor their users' activities in order to avoid legal action.
  4. Huge Burdens for Small Tech Companies: The bill would place several extra hurdles to young tech start-ups whose resources and staff are insufficient to meet all the tight standards.
  5. Stifle Free Speech Online: Considering potential legal risks, companies and websites would try to ‘play it safe’ and start to over-censor user contents.

Intense Opposition from  Tech Companies and Activists

During the past few weeks, internet giants, venture capitalists and civil rights advocacy groups have denounced the bill and they have gained momentum against SOPA and PROTECT IP.  Several large technology companies teamed up and bought a full-page advertisement against SOPA in The New York Times. US-based advocates for Internet openness and privacy, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called out to users to take action to help stop the bill with their allies. The Chamber of Commerce, however, insisted in its webpage that the SOPA is not a “blacklist bill.”

Reflecting web users’ attention to the bills, four of the top 10 searches were related to the bill at one point during the hearing day. Arstechnica lamented on the low level of debate at the hearing, while ReadWrite Web pointed out that Hollywood is outspending Silicon Valley in terms of lobbying for the bill by an enormous margin. A ‘Protect the Internet' Tumblr page was set up to help tens of thousands of users bombard their representatives with phone calls.  For an explanation of why SOPA's sister bill in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act is also bad for free expression on the Internet, see PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Remaining Questions

On various forums and community sites, net users have heated debates. Numerous comments were made under the topic, “SOPA would be the end of entertainment industry as we know it…” in one pubic forum. Net user Bammer warned the danger of criminalizing the unchangeable consumer habit:

This is a problem that should be solved by the content-creators through technology, not through the law.

Net user Chiaroscuro wrote the SOPA would cause disruption even in the market for free content.

What's worse is, SOPA is likely to make it so risky to download free content too, because as soon as the rights are bought up you're now going to be on the hook for owning copyrighted material, and they will bring dozens of cases against people, regardless of the former status of the works involved.

Net user Nekojin speculated people would find ways to circumvent the regulations:

With flash drives becoming so cheap, I honestly keep expecting to see people selling flash drives “pre-loaded” with popular software at swap meets, in the same way they used to sell floppies, then bootleg carts, then CDs and DVDs.

The opposition is unlikely to prevent SOPA from being brought to a committee vote in the US House of Representatives. The activist group Demand Progress has gathered over 100,000 names of opponents of the bills, which they are asking Senator Ron Wyden, who stands with the opponents, to read out as part of a filibuster to prevent a vote on the Senate version, the PROTECT IP Act.

June 19 2011

China: Attack on a #netfreedom Blogger

Well-known tech blogger William Long, who writes on everything from circumvention tools to where military secrecy in China meets Google Earth. Over the weekend while away from the computer, Long's QQ account was compromised and used to contact his peers [zh], and his profile picture on the platform was altered with the superimposition [zh] of the word “shooter”.

After some tests, Long discovered two flaws in Tencent's authentification procedures which likely allowed his attackers to crack his QQ password. The attacks didn't stop there, but escalated on Sunday [zh] to included a DDoS attack on servers for his blog,, large amounts of spam sent to various e-mail addresses of his, constant harassing phone calls from people who answer his callbacks but won't speak, and attempts to guess his mobile phone PIN. For the time being, Long is blogging between his Sina blog and QZone.

A gallery of Honker website defacement trophies.

Long says the attacks come in response to a blog post he published on Saturday. In the post, he doesn't touch on any of the things which typically Honkers off, but he does launch some heavy criticism their way, calling them, among other things, the cyberspace equivalent of Boxers.

Long writes:

话说几天前,我在腾讯网看了一则新闻《中国黑客元老9月推自律公约 欲重拾黑客精神》,我当时在腾讯微博里针对该新闻的评论是:“我不看好所谓‘黑客自律’,所谓的黑客早已经商业化,形成了一条黑色产业链,通过挂马、病毒来威胁网民的利益,这种环境和条件下,一个商业化的安全卫士软件比‘黑客自律’更有现实意义,更有可操作性,网民的利益是通过斗争获取到的,不是那些黑客施舍的。”

A few days ago, I saw the news on Tencent about the proposal from a veteran Chinese hacker [zh] that a pact of self-discipline be ratified at a major hacker gathering in September this year, in an attempt to bring hacking back to its roots. Among the comments, I saw that someone wrote, “I don't really see much point in so-called “hacker self-discipline”, most so-called hackers these days are commercially motivated, and there's a whole shady production line behind what they do, embedding trojans and viruses to threaten netizens' interests, and given the overall environment, any commercialized security software is far more realistic and meaningful than ‘hacker self-discipline'. Not to mention, more operable. The interests of netizens are won through fighting for them, not charity handouts from a few hackers.”


Then some from the hacking community started responding, saying there are many types of hackers, as in the traditional meaning of the word, and then there are crackers. The way I see it, there are no so-called “good hackers”, regardless of if they're hacker, black hat, honker or just one of the many people who use security exploits to launch attacks, they're all bad, and in the USA, they've been going to prison for quite some time. The legal system in China, however, is incomplete, and plagued by anachronistic views. The kind of view that says you can't 'steal' a book, you can only take it. This is what has led to hackers running amok in China, wantonly running security exploits to deprive people of their economic interests. There is no difference between these hackers and thieves and burglars.


So-called “honkers” are an even bigger freaks, a combination of extreme nationalism and anarchism, with little difference between them and the “Boxers” of old. Losers with only incompetence to show for themselves. Technologically speaking, honkers have nothing to show for all their so-called combat wins. They haven't broken into a single commercial American website (eg. Google, YouTube, Twitter, etc.), whereas even the little-known Iranian Cyber Army was able to successfully shut down service of Baidu for at least the morning of January 12, 2010 (by attacking Baidu's DNS provider). American hackers need no introduction, and even the Cisco intrusion detection systems we use probably have backdoors too.



The spirit of hacking used to be about being constructive, not destructive, about dedication and perseverance, pursuit of technology near to the point of obsession; about having independent thinking ability, a way of thinking guided by love for free exploration. Overseas, I think this is at least possible, but in China, right now, it's not. The majority of China's so-called hackers are just brainless “Boxers” and online gangsters, with no independent thinking of their own, and their only contribution to the Internet is that of destruction. In any democratic country, these people would have been imprisoned or punished long ago.


In fact, mainland Chinese media have had nothing but an endless stream of criticism of the hacking community, from hijacking accounts to planting trojans, malware and viruses like the Panda Burning Joss Sticks virus, as well as those who maliciously target services like Alipay and online banking. More recently, Chinese hackers have even begun phishing political targets overseas, bringing condemnation from the international community against China, and giving our country major diplomatic headaches. The United States has even passed legislation saying that cyberattacks are a threat to national security of the USA, allowing for military force to be used to repel such attacks. All of this just goes to show that Chinese hackers at present have lost the ability to contain themselves, and have gone from being a group who use their technical “superpowers” to threaten and attack netizens, to one of flat-out troublemakers. Anyone with an inkling of independent thinking ability already has a negative image of hackers, and now when hackers have their crimes exposed by media or netizens, they launch into juvenile hysterics like a little child and start attacking. In one sense, their own actions give validity to the accusation people make toward hackers, that they're just thugs.

On a lighter note, when Long reached out to his Twitter followers for methods to fend off a DDoS attack, the suggestion most people gave him was: just get your site blocked [zh].

May 05 2010

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