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Keep track of Berkman-related news and conversations by subscribing to this page using your RSS feed reader. This aggregation of blogs relating to the Berkman Center does not necessarily represent the views of the Berkman Center or Harvard University but is provided as a convenient starting point for those who wish to explore the people and projects in Berkman's orbit. As this is a global exercise, times are in UTC.

The list of blogs being aggregated here can be found at the bottom of this page.

August 26, 2016

3 Major Reasons Drupal 8 is Worth the Investment

Saying a modern nonprofit or business needs a website is like saying the tires on your car need air. Deny it and you’re going to have a bad time. Given the significant tasks required of your website, from fundraising and ecommerce to PR and campaigning, the tools you use to power it and the interface through which your team will interact with the site should be given important consideration.

Lucky for you, one of the most widely used content management systems (CMS), just got a major update. Drupal 8 brings too many new features to discuss fully here, but you’ll be happy to know the end product is one that’s worth the investment.

Here’s why:

One – The content authoring experience is more efficient

Drupal’s admin interface has evolved over the years, and we’re happy to see it continue here. For starters, the new interface is streamlined, mobile-friendly, and by emphasizing simplicity, it makes the process of creating content and managing your site more efficient. Then comes Quick Edit, a tool which allows you to edit content directly on the page, without having to switch to the admin panel. Lastly, some under-the-hood improvements to how Drupal 8 caches portions of your site, means that logged-in users — whether they login just to access a community or special resources, or it's your staff managing the site and adding content — will likely see a significant boost to performance. These improvements just underscore how the experience for content authors and editors means your team takes less time, and less clicks, to update content on Drupal 8.

Two – The improvements for developers means easier maintenance

A number of new features in Drupal 8 are developer focused. There’s Twig, a new templating engine, some commonly used modules are now included by default in Drupal 8, and there’s better support for things like accessibility and multilingual support. Unless you’re a developer, you’re not likely to ever see these changes first hand, but you will experience them.

These improvements for developers mean maintenance tasks will largely be much easier (and occasionally faster) for developers to complete. This saves you money on regular support, and allows you to devote that time and resources into other areas, like digital strategy or building new features.

Three – Migrating is easier than it's ever been

If you’ve been through a redesign of a website, you know that one of the most daunting tasks is getting all of the content you want to keep migrated and configured properly inside your new website. In this area, Drupal 8 has seen a major leap forward.

Drupal 8 can read the database from a Drupal 6 or 7 site, and pull in configurations and other settings in addition to the actual content. Practically speaking, this removes what was previously a major task for content migrations: writing all of the code that retrieves and assembles the existing site’s content. Now, Drupal 8 assembles it for you. In some cases, this could cut the time to do a content migration in half.

We’ve been enjoying building new projects in Drupal 8, some of which we will be able to share with you soon. Until then, if you have questions about Drupal 8 that you’d like us to touch upon, or if you’re wondering if Drupal 8 can work for you, get in touch.

by Peter Sax at August 26, 2016 03:42 PM

August 25, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Bangladesh and Ethiopia Flip the Switch on Internet as Political Tensions Rise
Protest in Ethiopia's Oromo region. Photo from Abdi Lemessa's Facebook page. Used with permission.

Protest in Ethiopia's Oromo region. Photo from Abdi Lemessa's Facebook page. Used with permission.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Bangladeshi Internet users have experienced several waves on service shutdowns and website blockages in what the Communication Regulatory Commission described as a government-enforced “drill.” Since early August, authorities have blocked 35 news websites, many of which represent critical positions within the country’s political climate.

Citizens are struggling to see how these shutdowns are likely to have a positive impact on public safety, says Global Voices’ Zara Rahman, in a country where freedom of expression is increasingly under threat.

The Internet was also reportedly shut down yet again in Ethiopia as violence marred protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. About 100 people were killed when security forces fired live bullets at demonstrators over the weekend of August 6. Tests by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) confirmed the Internet was likely blocked during that time, though it remains unclear whether this occurred in all regions or across all types of networks in the country.

In Oromia, the Internet has become an important tool for protesters to disseminate information about their movement, which opposes a plan to expand the capital Addis Ababa into the region’s farmlands, a move that would likely displace thousands of local farmers. Coverage from the country’s mostly state-owned media has pushed misinformation or ignored the situation altogether. In an effort to control the dissent, state-owned telecommunication monopoly EthioTelcom has blocked social media platforms including Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger in Oromia in the past.

In Colombia, sharing just might be a crime

Colombian graduate student Diego Gomez, who is battling criminal charges that he violated copyright by sharing a thesis on the Internet, is likely to receive a verdict in the coming days.  In an effort to support Gomez’s case, Colombian digital rights NGO Fundacion Karisma launched the Twitter hashtag #CompartirNoEsDelito, which translates to “sharing is not a crime.” The copying and distribution of copyrighted works without permission in Colombia can carry a sentence of up to eight years in prison.

Peru buys millions of dollars worth of surveillance equipment

Peru purchased USD $22 million in technical surveillance equipment to spy on its citizens’ communications, according to the Associated Press. Government documents indicate that the “Pisco Project” (a name that refers to the popular Peruvian liquor) allows the government to intercept phone calls, text messages, emails, chats and Internet browser history. It can track up to 5,000 people and record up to 300 simultaneous conversations.

The National Intelligence Service of Peru also authorized a payment for Skylock, a tool that allows law enforcement officials to find and track any phone inside the country. Payments for these technical tools were made to the American-Israeli company Verint, which is also present in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

Criminal charges and social media in Iran

The wife of prominent labor activist Najibeh Salehzadeh is awaiting a verdict in the Iranian state's case against her, in which she is accused of “insulting” Iran's Supreme Leader and compromising national security through a post on Facebook in early June. Salehzadeh has denied the charges and says she does not even have an account on the social media site, which is banned in Iran. Human rights activists believe the case was fabricated in an effort to intimidate her husband, Mahmoud Salehi, a prominent labor activist who has been arrested and imprisoned on a number of occasions in Iran for engaging in peaceful protest activities.

According to an announcement by Gerdab, the cyber division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, it has summoned, detained, or warned over 450 administrators of social media groups in recent weeks. This is part of an ongoing crackdown that started in March 2015 that the Gerdab called “Ankaboot” (“Spider” in Persian) to implement broad-scale social media monitoring to curb immoral activity.

Journalists face legal challenges over child trafficking exposé in India

Indian journalists who dug up evidence that the right-wing Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS) allegedly trafficked children have themselves become the target of a police investigation and online abuse. The investigative piece published by Outlook news site, titled Operation #BabyLift, reports that RSS broke Indian and international laws by trafficking 31 tribal girls between the ages of 3 and 11 in order to “Hinduise” them.

An assistant solicitor general and a spokesman for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is a political offshoot of the RSS, had earlier lodged a criminal complaint against Outlook editor Krishna Prasad, as well as journalist Neha Dixit and Outlook publisher Indranil Roy, for inciting hate against different ethnic groups. Prasad has since been fired. Journalists and free speech advocates fear this case and others like it will lead to increased self-censorship in India.

Pakistani legislators approve cybercrime bill

Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a new controversial cybercrime bill, which will soon be signed into law by President Mamnoon Hussain. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 has been criticized for restricting freedom of expression and access to information, and is likely to be misused by authorities, according to National Assembly member Naveed Qamar.

Security through opacity? Paraguay promotes censorship to protect kids

A draft law under consideration in Paraguay, titled “On protection of kids and teenaagers from dangerous internet content,” seeks to install filters that would block content considered “dangerous” to young people on publicly accessible internet networks. This could result in increased censorship and make it difficult for adults to access age-appropriate material, and has been widely criticised for its potential impact on freedom of expression in Paraguay. The bill has passed Paraguay’s congress and now awaits a signature by the president, though under Paraguayan law he still has the opportunity to veto the bill.

New Research

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by Netizen Report Team at August 25, 2016 08:03 PM

Wife of Persecuted Labour Activist Goes to Trial Over Facebook Post
The wife of a prominent labor activist has been charged with posting “insulting” content on Facebook even though she insists she is not a member of the social media site, which is banned in Iran. Image from ICHRI and used with permission.

The wife of a prominent labor activist has been charged with posting “insulting” content on Facebook. She says she does not use Facebook, which is banned in Iran. Image from ICHRI and used with permission.

A version of this article was originally published in two parts on the website of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. You can find them here and here

The wife of prominent labor activist Mahmoud Salehi was charged with posting “insulting” content on Facebook in early June. Yet she insists she does not the social media site, which is banned in Iran.

In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Najibeh Salehzadeh explained:

They told me that during a trip to France I had posted material on Facebook against the Islamic Republic and the supreme leader but I don’t have Facebook and I traveled to France to accompany my husband, who had been invited by a large labor organization in Europe.

Salehzadeh told the Campaign she was summoned to Branch 2 of the Prosecutor’s Office in Saqqez, a city in Iran’s Kurdistan Province, on June 6, 2016 and charged with “propaganda against the state” and “insulting the supreme leader.” Her trial is now awaiting verdict after appearing at Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in the city of Saqqez in Iran’s Kurdistan Province.

According to the indictment, a woman named “Sanaz” had posted two items on Facebook with Salehzadeh’s mobile phone number printed on the bottom of at least one of the postings, yet prosecutors have never shown Salehzadeh the “evidence.” The alleged postings were identified by Iran’s Cyber Crimes Police Force (FATA), which then opened the case against Salehzadeh.

“I said in court that it does not make sense for me to use a false name on Facebook and then give out my real phone number to the public,” she said.

Salehzadeh told the Campaign that many people came to know her cell phone number in 2007 when her husband was first detained and she gave interviews regarding his situation.

Salehzadeh’s husband, Mahmoud Salehi, is a prominent labor activist who has been arrested and imprisoned on a number of occasions in Iran for engaging in peaceful protest activities. On September 28, 2015 he was sentenced to nine years in prison for “participation in opposition assemblies and propaganda against the state.” He is currently free on bail and seeking medical treatment for kidney disease.

In a post on Facebook, Salehi insisted on staying away from Iranian politics.

The honorable case judge has said that my wife and I had spread propaganda against the Islamic Republic [while we were ] in France. For your information, the video recording of my speech to the representatives of 50 labor unions in France is available, and the honorable judge… can see clearly that the conference had nothing to do with the Islamic Republic or anyone’s sacred beliefs.

Independent unions are not allowed to function in Iran, workers are routinely fired and risk arrest for striking, and labor leaders are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.

by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran at August 25, 2016 05:51 PM

WikiLeaks: From Collateral Murder to Collateral Recklessness
Wikileaks Van on Capitol Hill

Image by WikiLeaks Mobile Information Collection Unit via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

When pro-transparency website WikiLeaks published over 61,000 documents from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they exposed communications and classified information providing valuable insight into the inner workings of Saudi foreign policy. They also published at least 124 private medical records and other information belonging to private citizens, according to an August 23 report by Associated Press.

Two of the medical reports named teenage rape victims. Another document exposed the identity of a Saudi citizen who was arrested for being gay, which AP called “an extraordinary move” for a country where gay people are routinely subject to social exclusion, imprisonment, torture and even death.

Many people immediately took to social media to voice their outrage. Joey Ayoub, Global Voices’ MENA Editor, wrote that for some people, the leaks could be a matter of life and death.

Historian and archeologist Sara E. Palmer called it doxxing, referring to the practice of publishing someone's personal information (such as address, phone number, state ID number) without their permission, often with a malicious intent.

WikiLeaks rose to fame in April 2010, when they released gun-sight footage of two US Apache helicopters in Baghdad from July 12, 2007 airstrike that killed around 12 people, including two Reuters journalists. The video was called “Collateral Murder“, and it instantly became front-page news, elevating WikiLeaks to international fame.

This penchant for exposing abuse of power, corruption and lack of transparency has earned WikiLeaks many supporters. In the past, representative of the organization emphasized their efforts to protect private citizens from undue harm that could result from such leaks.

“We have a harm minimization policy,” Assange said in a seminar in Oxford, in July 2010. “There are legitimate secrets. Your records with your doctor, that's a legitimate secret.”

But as the organization has faced increasing pressure, as well as increasing success, more examples have emerged demonstrating a disregard for the privacy of individuals who are not public figures.

On July 22, 2016, they published thousands emails from the servers of the Democratic National Committee in the US that revealed internal democratic party efforts to undermine the campaign of Bernie Sanders in favour of Hillary Clinton's campaign. However, they also included full names, addresses, phone numbers, passport details and social security numbers of a number of party donors. Two of the people named told AP that they were targeted by identity thieves in the aftermath of the leaks.

In another instance, WikiLeaks released hundreds of emails from Turkey's AKP party, the party of current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The emails were combed by Turkish journalists and activists, who found that they were largely devoid of any “newsworthy” information. Beyond this, Turkish new media scholar Zeynep Tufekci reported:

WikiLeaks also posted links on social media to its millions of followers via multiple channels to a set of leaked massive databases containing sensitive and private information of millions of ordinary people, including a special database of almost all adult women in Turkey.

It's also worth mentioning, as Global Voices Advox project reported last year, that at least some of WikiLeaks’ indiscriminate mass leaks have included malicious files that can put any viewer of the documents leaks at risk. Both the AKP leaks and the Hacking Team emails released in 2015 contained malicious software.

Human rights advocates have sought to hold WikiLeaks to account for these acts. Following the Afghan War Diary leak, Amnesty International and other human rights groups requested that WikiLeaks redact the names of Afghan civilians working as U.S. military informants from files they had released, in order to protect them from repercussions.

Assange's response to the human rights groups was, “I'm very busy and have no time to deal with people who prefer to do nothing but cover their asses.” As more and more people come under threat from Wikileaks’ policy of indiscriminate leaking, it remains unclear whether Assange could see the inherent hypocrisy in that statement. What is clear however, is that WikiLeaks no longer has the popular support it once had.

by Tara at August 25, 2016 01:24 PM

August 24, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Independent TV Station and Two Community Radio Stations Suspended Amid Disputed Elections in Zambia
Image of the press release from the Independent Broadcasting Authority announcing the suspension.

Image of the press release from the Independent Broadcasting Authority announcing the suspension.

Zambia's Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) has suspended the broadcasting licences of the country's biggest independent TV station as well as two radio stations for “unprofessional conduct posing a risk to national peace and stability” before, during and after the 2016 elections.

The broadcasting regulator justified its actions against Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Itezhi Tezhi Radio by pointing to section 29 (1)(j) of the IBA Amendment Act of 2010, which states that “the IBA board may cancel a broadcasting license if the cancellation of the license is necessary in the interest of public safety, security, peace, welfare or good order”.

Immediately after IBA issued a statement about the suspension, reports surfaced that officials from the Zambia Information and Communication Authority accompanied by police officers confiscated an analogue transmitter from Muvi TV.

Biased coverage by the country's public broadcaster, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, made Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Itezhi Tezhi Radio the main avenues for opposition politicians to communicate with voters.

Zambians voted in the general elections on August 11, 2016. The incumbent, Edgar Lungu, was announced the winner. However, the main opposition candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, has challenged the results in the Constitutional Court.

Media bodies such as Panos Institute Southern Africa, International Press Institute, MISA Zambia and the Media Liaison Committee have condemned the suspension.

As election day was approaching, The Post newspaper, Zambia's largest independent daily newspaper, saw their offices locked up and their printing equipment seized by the Zambia Revenue Authority because of outstanding taxes alleged to be at K68 million (US$6.1 million). The move was condemned by media organizations, activists and opposition politicians, who argued that the tax body was used to silence the paper during elections.

‘Close some, scare the rest’

On Twitter, Zambian human rights activist Laura Miti accused the government of trying to silence media coverage of Hichilema's petition against the election results:

Thandayo, a Zambian IT consultant, wondered about President-elect Edgar Lungu's motivations:

Some on Twitter defended Muvi TV, despite their personal distaste for the station's coverage.

Elias Munshya, a Zambian blogger and lawyer based in Canada, tweeted:

He added (GRZ stands for the “government of the Republic of Zambia”):

Twitter user Miles quipped:

‘Democracy isn't just voting’

@PackMuchi challenged the ruling party (PF) assertion that public broadcaster ZNBC is more professional than Muvi TV:

In an opinion piece on citizen media site Zambian Watchdog, David Kapoma made the case that Zambia “is slowly becoming a court room”:

We all must be careful when we speak out on issues of national interest. Those who transmit our views to the nation and the general public are the target at the moment. […]

We have since entered a different period in Zambia. Here it’s no mercy. You mess up with the authority, you face the consequences.

The controversial Zambian musician Pilato said the following on his Facebook page:

IBA may in their shallowest imagination think they are doing President Lungu a favor but in broader perspective they are killing his good name. Democracy isn't just voting, voting is just an event. President Lungu risks going down in history as being a low voltage dictator who shut down media institutions that chose to give platform to opposing views. IBA should be reminded that the same charges they laid against the private media institutions can also be laid against ZNBC and by every interpretation of the terms used, the public media institutions are guilty. With the closure of the key private media institutions, our country has become vulnerable to rumours, speculations and propaganda.

Chinganzule noted that the “crime” Muvi TV committed was to provide a counter-narrative to the ruling's party's election message:

Be honesty and real,what security breech has Muvi TV committed.All they have done is to counter the lope sided reporting of issues which is always inclined in favour of PF led tribalism campaign against [the opposition] UPND by state controlled media houses .People do you think all Zambians are gullible or blind to deduce the real situation here?

‘I thank the law for putting them in their rightful place’

Some Zambians, however, are in support of the IBA's decision.

Mpombo, for example, wanted the IBA to go further than simply suspending the stations:

But the IBA is also abrogating the same clause they’re quoting which says cancel not suspend Let them follow the act expenditiously if these idiots have abrogated it let their licences be cancelled go ahead & do it don’t apply the law half heartedly you may end up commiting a crime yourself the other word for cancel is ban or stop not suspend […].

Tonga said stations causing division in the country should be closed:


And Kazim thanked the IBA for the suspension:

This is a very welcome move by IBA I mean why should a few over zealous and overly ambitious idiots threaten the peace of our nation by airing some biased statements all for the sake of their personal gain.We are tired of this lunacy and I thank the law for putting them in their rightful place.

by Advox at August 24, 2016 03:02 PM

August 23, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
Supporting Feyisa Lilesa, a remarkable athlete and protester

At the end of the Rio Olympic men’s marathon, silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa did something extraordinary, important and dangerous. As he crossed the finish line, he crossed his wrists in front of his forehead in a gesture that’s halfway between “hands up, don’t shoot” and “X marks the spot.”

The gesture is sign of defiance that has become a symbol of Ethiopia’s Oromo rights movement. An unprecedented wave of protests in Ethiopia by Oromo and other ethnic rights groups is rocking Ethiopia, which is one of Africa’s most repressive states. By showing support for the protesters in his native Oromia, Lilesa has brought international attention to a movement that’s been violently suppressed by the government, with over 400 civilians killed.

He has also put himself and his family at risk. Defiance of the Ethiopian government can lead to imprisonment or to death. Ethiopian colleagues of mine at Global Voices served eighteen months in prison for the “crime” of learning about digital security, so they could continue to write online about events in their country. Fearing arrest or worse, Lilesa has decided to remain in Brazil, and may seek asylum there or in the US. A GoFundMe campaign has raised almost $100,000 to contribute to his legal and living expenses. But the real challenge may be reuniting Lilesa with his wife and children, who remain in Ethiopia.

The Olympics have an uneasy relationship with protest. While states threaten boycotts of each others’ games – and occasionally follow through on those threats – athletes who bring politics into the arena have been sharply sanctioned. When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute after winning gold and bronze in the 200 meters in 1968, both were suspended from the US Olympic team, expelled from the Olympic village and sent home. (Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist, who supported their gesture and wore a Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity, was not sanctioned, but was shunned by his country’s Olympic committee and never raced again.) While the Olympic movement does not appear to be taking action against Lilesa, unfortunately, that’s likely the least of his problems.

I wrote two weeks ago about my fears that attention to the Olympics and the endless US political campaign would distract people from these protests in Ethiopia. I argued that international attention may help protect the lives of Ethiopian activists, as the government will be forced to face the consequences of how they treat their dissenting citizens. Lilesa has helped ensure that the Olympics would include a healthy dose of Oromo rights. Now it’s time to do our part and ensure that Lilesa and his family don’t pay for his actions with their lives.

I gave to support Feyisa Lilesa’s relocation fund, and encourage you to do so as well. Here’s hoping he can return home someday soon to an Ethiopia that makes space for dissent. Unfortunately, that’s not the Ethiopia the world has now.

by Ethan at August 23, 2016 06:58 PM

August 22, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
In India, a Nationalistic ‘Witch Hunt’ Targets Journalists Who Exposed #BabyLift Trafficking Operation
Screenshot from Outlook Magazine

Screenshot from Outlook magazine

Journalistic exposé Operation #BabyLift, a groundbreaking investigative piece about child trafficking by the Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS) in India, was published by Outlook magazine on July 29, 2016. The 11,000-word article, which went viral, explores how Operation #BabyLift broke Indian and international laws by trafficking 31 girls — between three and 11 years of age — from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat in order to ‘Hinduise’ them.

What happened next was quite extraordinary. The journalists who broke the story have since become the target of an investigation, with an onslaught of vilification, defamation and threats being hurled against them.

A criminal complaint for inciting hate against different ethnic groups has been lodged against an independent Indian journalist, Neha Dixit, as well as Indranil Roy and Krishna Prasad, the publisher and editor of Outlook magazine. The complainants are Subhash Chandra Kayal, an assistant solicitor general of the government of India at the Gauhati High Court, and Bijon Mahajan, a spokesman for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is a political offshoot of the right-wing RSS.

Now, instead of a follow-up on the trafficking issue, Dixit and Outlook magazine are being trolled and their patriotism and journalistic ethics are being called into question. Neha Dixit has been intimidated online and there is a fake Facebook account in her name.

Journalist Neha Dixit's fake profile on Facebook

Journalist Neha Dixit's fake profile on Facebook

Pictures of Dixit's husband are also being shared; he is being labelled as a Naxalite, a member of a violent guerrilla group in India.

Free speech under Indian law

The complaint against Dixit and Outlook was lodged under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, whereby it is an offence to promote disharmony and enmity between different ethnic groups. This section has been used against renowned literary figures, artists and freethinkers such as Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses, which is banned in India; M.F. Hussain, a Muslim painter who liberally drew on Indian mythology and in 2006 was booked for her painting of a nude Hindu goddess; and Indologist Wendy Donegar for her critical historical work The Hindus: An Alternative History. In Donegar's case, Penguin had an out-of-court settlement, and the book, though not banned, was voluntarily recalled from India by the publisher.

The Delhi Union of Journalists and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have both condemned this “witch hunt” against the reporters. A group of like-minded journalists, activists and academics have also issued a statement to condemn the attacks on Dixit and Outlook magazine:

Journalists are particularly vulnerable, as their investigative reports that reveal RSS organizations’ strategies to attack minorities, Hinduise tribals and created hatred between communities, are themselves targeted as ‘inciting communal hatred’.

Rebuttal published, editor fired

The RSS issued a press release denying these accusations. It called the Outlook article “baseless” and said it was “defaming the organisation”. A rebuttal to Dixit's piece, also published in Outlook and entitled ‘Conjured Crime’, was written by Monika Arora, a supreme court advocate and a member of RSS:

None of these Indian and international guidelines are violated by RSS outfits. The parents have given their consent to the RSS outfits to take their children for education – then how on earth are the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 or other laws are applicable in this case?

A few days after publishing the rebuttal, the news magazine fired its editor, Krishna Prasad, sharing the news with employees through an email. Earlier, Prasad reacted to the First Information Report (FIR) lodged against him and told media watch website The Hoot:

Threats against journalists may be an occupational hazard but what we are seeing today is a more serious attempt to shoot the messenger. The country is fast hurtling down a fascist mode and this fiction of public narrative of demonizing journalists is dangerous for free speech.

There were instant reactions on Twitter:

‘This climate of impunity and fear will lead to greater self-censorship’

Veteran journalist Pamela Philipose — senior fellow with the Indian Council of Social Science Research, recently appointed public editor for news site The Wire and former director and editor-in-chief at the Women’s Feature Service — shared her perspective about the removal of Outlook's editor and the pressure on Indian media houses and journalists:

This climate of impunity and fear will lead to greater self-censorship on the part of individual journalists and enormous pressure being brought to bear on managements to clamp down on independent reportage. For instance, while it was claimed that the change of the editor-in-chief at Outlook was a decision that had already been taken, the timing of the announcement clearly indicates an anxiety on the part of the management to appease the powers-that-be.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International is also facing sedition charges in India over holding an event about Kashmir — territory in the north of the country where dozens have been killed by Indian security forces recently while protesting the death of a separatist leader. The group's India office, which is at present closed because of security concerns, was attacked by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) workers armed with petrol can bottles. ABVP is a nationalist student organisation affiliated with the RSS.

Kuldip Kumar, an Indian journalist, suggested that the country has “reached a stage where a Hindu’s nationalism is never in doubt even if he debunks the Constitution, glorifies Gandhi’s assassin and mourns India’s independence; but the nationalism of Muslims and Christians is always suspect”. In a recent article, he deconstructed the influence that the RSS is enjoying under the current BJP administration:

The RSS is enjoying political power and the BJP, its subsidiary, enjoys a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha [lower house of Indian parliament] – it is in power in as many as eight states. This power has rekindled the RSS’s dreams and aspirations, although even now it knows that refashioning India into a Hindu nation is not such an easy task.

The case of Indian secularism and free speech is not clear. According to its constitution, the country is a secular republic with freedom of expression, but the same constitution also prohibits anything that hurts religious or ethnic sensitivities. There are many journalists, artists and authors who are suffering for asking critical questions about free speech. Is the space for liberal free thinkers in India shrinking?

by Annie Zaman at August 22, 2016 12:33 PM

August 18, 2016

August 17, 2016

Development Seed
Machine Learning at State of the Map US

A couple weeks ago, I talked at State of the Map US about our “skynet” experiments, using deep learning with satellite imagery and OpenStreetMap data to develop algorithms for automated mapping. Thanks to everyone who came to my talk–I’m really grateful for the positive feedback and excited by the great ideas that you shared!

The video and slides are available, but here’s the “tl;dr”:

Can deep learning get us to highly accurate and complete automated road detection?

Almost certainly.

Do you need to have hundreds of thousands of dollars and a dedicated research lab full of experts to do it?

Definitely not!

skynet Here is the somewhat longer version.

Conversations at State of the Map and afterwards made it clear that there is a lot of interest and activity right now around using computer vision and machine learning for mapping:

  • The DeepOSM team is using a lean, fast neural net to estimate the likelihood of “road registration errors” in OSM.
  • Facebook gave us some good insight into their internal efforts at automated mapping.
  • Dale Kunce suggested that Dar es Salaam has been sufficiently mapped by the Missing Maps effort to provide good training data. As soon as I got home I started working with this and have already been getting promising results in East Africa: Skynet results in Dar es Salaam (left: input image, © Mapbox Satellite; middle: OpenStreetMap data; right: our model).
  • We had some great conversations with the World Bank on how to apply this to their own efforts.
  • There were thoughtful (and mildly controversial) reflections in blog posts from Mike Migurski and Tom Lee about the broader implications of “robot mapping.”

There’s much more to do here, but it finally feels like deep learning is starting to become accessible to us as a community interested in real, practically useful results. Within the next few weeks, a few people working on machine learning for road mapping are going to jump on a hangout. If you are interested to join, please ping me on twitter. I’m excited to see what we can build.

Meanwhile, we’ve been working to clean up the code and docs from our experiments, in the hopes that others in the community can replicate our results and take them farther. Check out the readmes for skynet-data and skynet-train. If we did it right, you should be able to start training your own neural net to extract features from satellite imagery with little more than an AWS account, and an hour of setup, and 🐳docker run .... If not, drop us a line, or open an issue or PR!

cover and card photos by @tatsvc

by Development Seed at August 17, 2016 12:00 AM

August 12, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Russian Officials in Crimea Shut Off the Internet at the Ukrainian Border
Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Russian officials shut off Internet access in northern Crimea, near the border town of Armyansk, where Moscow claims to have prevented an armed incursion by Ukrainian spies, according to Olga Kovitidi, Crimea's representative in the upper house of the Russian parliament and a member of the Federation Council's committee on national defense. Kovitidi told the independent television network Dozhd that Internet access has been disabled in the area to assist police in their efforts to apprehend armed “saboteurs” who allegedly infiltrated from mainland Ukraine.

Shutting off Internet access was “for security reasons,” Kovitidi explained. “This was to ensure that certain special forces… so there would be no infiltration… For security reasons, these measures were necessary, and people understand why.”

As early as August 8, two days before Russian officials publicly accused Kyiv of orchestrating an armed incursion of “saboteurs,” there were reports of widespread Internet outages across northern Crimea, particularly along the border with Ukraine. According to Russia's Federal Security Service, the first of two skirmishes with Ukrainian intelligence agents occurred on the night of August 7, outside the border town of Armyansk, where the Internet reportedly stopped working the next day, along with withdrawals from local ATMs.

On August 9, the telecom “Krymtelekom” responded to reports of Internet-access disruptions in areas along the Crimean border, blaming the outages on regular maintenance work. In a press statement, the company said it planned to restore Web access by August 10, though reports of Internet outages continue.

It remains unclear how exactly the Russian authorities managed to shut off Internet access in Armyansk and the surrounding area, whether Krymtelekom or other telecoms were involved in the decision, and whether the government is still actively disabling the Internet in this region.

by Kevin Rothrock at August 12, 2016 01:44 PM

August 11, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
When attention matters: Ethiopia crushes dissent in Oromia

As an advocate for Americans to pay more attention to international news, I often get the question, “Why bother? What can I do?”

It’s a good question. Most of the time, there’s very little actionable in international news. Understanding the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff might be useful if you’re an investor in emerging markets, but it’s unlikely that your attention can change the shape of events in Brazil.

That might not be the case in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is Africa’s third most populous nation, and is near the top of the league table in repression as well, with at least ten journalists in prison for exercising their rights to report freely. The former prime minister, Meles Zenawi, ruled from 1995 to his death in 2012, and his successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, looks awfully secure in his job as the ruling EPRDF and its allies won all 546 parliamentary seats in the last election.

Oromo protesters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

While Ethiopia is populated by dozens of ethnic groups, most senior members of the ruling party are of Tigray origin, a group that represents about 6% of the population, but which led the guerrilla war that defeated the Derg, the communist military junta that ran Ethiopia from 1975 to 1991. Many Oromo (34% of the population) and Amhara (27% of the population) feel marginalized by the Tigrayan government, a situation that has grown more tense as the government has announced plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa into traditional Oromo lands and farmers feared their lands would be seized.

Protests have been ongoing since November, but they turned bloody this weekend as the Ethiopian security forces used live ammunition to disperse crowds, killing as many as 100. (This, unfortunately, is standard procedure in Ethiopian crowd control – sadly, I’ve been writing about it for more than a decade.) Human Rights Watch reports that up to 400 have been killed by the government and tens of thousands arrested in protests thus far.

Of course, it’s hard to know what’s actually going on in Ethiopia. As protests have heated up, Ethiopia shut down the internet in provinces where people have taken to the streets, hoping to disrupt organizers. (This isn’t hard, as there’s one ISP and one telephone company in Ethiopia.) A shutdown earlier this year, which coincided with protests spreading into the north of the country, was evidently done for the benefit of university students, to keep them from cheating on exams. Given the government’s tendency to arrest reporters or bloggers and imprison them for years (Ethiopian bloggers affiliated with Global Voices were held for 18 months in prison), the exact details of what’s happening in Ethiopia can be very hard to pin down.

So here’s where you ask, “So what? What can I do?”

Well, international opinion actually matters to Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a military ally of the United States, and we send nearly a billion dollars in aid, mostly development and food aid per year. Shamefully, Addis Ababa is the diplomatic capital of Africa, home to the African Union. As human rights abuses get out of hand in Ethiopia, the US has limited aid in the past, and the AU occasionally threatens to grow a spine. The UN is now asking to put observers in Ethiopia, which the government is resisting.

The biggest help the world can give the Ethiopian government is ignoring what’s going on. It’s summer, it’s hot, the Olympics are on, and Trump says something insane every other day. There’s not a lot of space in the daily newspaper for a crackdown in Ethiopia. But international attention is one of the few ways to keep Ethiopia’s insanely repressive government in check.

So please follow what’s going on in Ethiopia. We’re writing lots about it on Global Voices. OPride offers moment to moment updates on protests in Oromia. NPR, BBC and Al Jazeera are all actively covering the story, even if most US media has adopted the “all Trump, all the time” format. Reward their stories with your attention, talk about Ethiopia on social media and help other people pay attention to this story. There’s not much you can do to prevent Ethiopia from crushing a rebellion, but you can make it hard for them to do it silently, unwitnessed by the rest of the world.

Global Voices author Endalk is mapping protest deaths in Oromia on this interactive map. Warning, some of the images are disturbing.

by Ethan at August 11, 2016 06:58 PM

August 09, 2016

Ethan Zuckerman
Protected: The village of peace… and of coca leaves

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by Ethan at August 09, 2016 10:45 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Technical Difficulties and Allegations of Corruption Leave Mexicans Concerned About New Transparency Agency
Oscar Guerra, one of seven INAI commissioners. Image shared on Flickr by Malova Gobernador, used under Creative Commons license.

Oscar Guerra, one of seven INAI commissioners. Image shared on Flickr by Malova Gobernador, used under Creative Commons license.

Between a malfunctioning website, a poorly received anti-sexting campaign and serious allegations of corruption, Mexico’s new public transparency agency has seen nothing but stormy skies since its official launch in May 2015.

When the constitutional reform regarding access to public information in Mexico entered into force, everyone knew the implementation process would not be smooth. Since its creation up until today, issues continue surrounding the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data, the new watchdog of transparency and protection of personal information (privacy) in the country, known informally as INAI.

The right to access public information in Mexico has been fomented and safeguarded since 2002 when a citizen body (known as IFAI) was created to facilitate citizen access to public data through a semi-autonomous agency. But this was formally dissolved when the new reform began and was substituted by the INAI, which eventually emerged with a new line-up of seven commissioners, originating mainly from the political class.

Like its predecessor, the INAI serves as a protector of the fundamental rights included in its name, promoting public knowledge of those rights and also acting as an authority to resolve disputes that arise, for example between a person requesting access to public information and a governmental office refusing that access.

The dysfuntional transparency platform

In May 2016, we reported on the new tool launched by the INAI to allow for any person to access available government information or request information that was not previously available. The intention was that anyone (regardless if they are a Mexican citizen or not) could access government information online, from basic information such as salaries and benefits of public servants, to current and relevant documents such as those related to the investigation of the case of 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa.

Shortly after the new system went online, users and experts pointed to a number of flaws in the platform that seriously hindered transparency. Many of them took to Twitter to demonstrate these system failures.

Commitment to transparency is not just preached, it is practiced. Serious failures in #TuPlataformaMX (Your Platform) require course corrections.

Transparency expert Renata Terrazas denounced the failures of the “modern” tool released by the INAI:

La realidad ha sido otra, la plataforma ha fallado desde el día uno y a dos semanas, muchas personas no han logrado hacer solicitudes, no pueden acceder a las solicitudes que realizaron con antelación por lo que no pueden revisar las respuestas de las autoridades, no pueden meter recursos de impugnación, entre tantas otras fallas que, sin importar sean técnicas o no, obstaculizan el ejercicio de un derecho.

El problema de la falla de la plataforma no es menor. No es un tema tecnológico simple que no permite realizar una actividad, se trata de un error técnico que deriva en la violación de un derecho, y de manera muy lamentable, la violación proviene de aquellas instituciones que tienen como mandato velar por ese derecho.

The reality has been another story, the platform has failed from day one and in just two weeks, many people have not been able to complete requests, they can’t access requests made in advance so they’re unable to review responses from the authorities, they can’t submit resources to challenge requests, among many other failures, regardless if there are technical problems or not, this is impeding the exercise of a right.

The failure of the platform is not a minor issue. It’s not a simple technical error that is prohibiting activity, it’s a technical error that results in the violation of a right, and deplorably, the violation is originating from the institutions that are mandated to ensure that right.

Days before publishing her article, Terrazas shared these images on Twitter:

Come on @INAImexico I can't access my requests or solicit more information.

The control of sexting, another problem afflicting the INAI

Questions have also emerged regarding the the scope of privacy and protection of personal information, another of the fundamental rights that INAI is responsible for ensuring. In July, 2016, the INAI together with other institutions, launched a campaign against sending and receiving sexually explicit messages between mobile devices, an activity better known as ‘sexting’. The regional newspaper El Debate reported on the initiative:

El Instituto Nacional de Transparencia Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos Personales (INAI), PantallasAmigas, y representantes de las instituciones públicas y privadas que colaboran, lanzaron la campaña “Pensar antes de sextear. 10 Razones para no realizar sexting”, que tiene como fin alertar sobre los riesgos que implica dicha práctica…

The National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI), PantallasAmigas (Friendly Screens) and collaborating representatives of public and private institutions launched the campaign “Think before sexting. 10 reasons not to sext,” which aims to warn about the risks of this activity…

The INAI spread the campaign via Twitter with the following graphic:

Thinking about sexting? Keep these 10 things in mind.

*On the image:

1. There is another person involved that you now depend on

Shared control

2. People and relationships can change


3. Protection of digital information is complicated

Stored on your cellphone

4. The distribution of digital information is uncontrollable

A split second

5. An image can provide much information


6. There are laws that criminalize actions linked to sexting

Who cares

7. Sextortion can happen if the sexted image falls into the hands of blackmailers

New friendships

8. Internet is fast and powerful

Without restraint, without limit

9. Social networks facilitate information to people nearby

Closer than farther

10. There is serious risk of cyberbullying if the image of sexting is published on the Internet

With all confidence

The initiative was criticized for containing sexist, chauvinistic overtones and undermining digital rights, as attorney Gisela Perez de Acha warned in the digital publication Horizontal:

“Pensar antes de hacer sexting” es el ejemplo perfecto de una política pública fallida, moralista y desigualitaria. En vez de buscar condiciones de igualdad y sancionar a los que nos agreden sexualmente (sea en casos de violación o por difusión de nuestras imágenes íntimas) reproduce los mismos estereotipos de género. Culpar, castigar o censurar a las mujeres que se salen de los roles, espacios y atributos “apropiados” en función de su sexo; a aquellas que no son “recatadas, sumisas y buenas esposas”, valida la violencia.

“Think before sexting” is the perfect example of a failed moralistic and inegalitarian public policy. Instead of seeking equality and punishing those who sexually assault us (whether in cases of rape or diffusion of our intimate photos) it reproduces the same gender stereotypes. Blame, punish or censor women who break away from the “appropriate” roles, spaces and attributes based on their sex; those who are not “demure, submissive and good wives,” this validates violence.

In an open letter, the author referred to the digital right to share these messages:

Tenemos derecho a sextear. A tomar fotos o videos íntimos, explorar nuestros cuerpos con la cámara de teléfono que nos acompaña a todos lados; a descubrir nuestro mejor ángulo y elegir a quién mandárselo. En la era digital, el sexo es más que un mero intercambio de fluidos. No tenemos que seguir los estándares “eróticos” o “pornográficos.” Si son nuestros desnudos, son nuestras reglas. Y, entonces, el sexting es un ejercicio de autodeterminación que forma parte de nuestros derechos sexuales: el conjunto de derechos humanos que reconocen la capacidad de expresar nuestra sexualidad sin discriminación.

We have the right to sext. To take intimate photos or videos, and explore our bodies with the camera phone that we carry everywhere; to discover our best angle and choose who to send them to. In the digital age, sex is more than a mere exchange of fluids. We do not have to follow the “erotic” or “pornographic” standards. If they are our nudes, then we make the rules. And sexting is an exercise of self-determination that is part of our sexual rights: combined with human rights that recognize the ability to express our sexuality without discrimination.

The website Animal Político gathered expressions of a group of activists regarding the campaign sponsored by INAI:

Tras su difusión en redes sociales, el llamado de las autoridades a no hacer sexting provocó críticas como la de la organización Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, que considera que la campaña apela a la moralidad, y tiene un enfoque inadecuado.

After being broadcast on social media, the call from authorities to stop sexting provoked criticism such as that from the organization, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (Network in Defense of Digital Rights) who considers the campaign an appeal to morality with an inappropriate approach.

Doubts about the integrity of the commissioners

Lastly, legal professionals have questioned the integrity of the INAI commissioners. Just this past July 2016, the trade magazine El Mundo del Abogado (World Attorney) published an editorial entitled “Something is rotten in the INAI“, focusing on a case of alleged corruption and opacity involving the commissioners.

Something smells rotten at the @INAImexico El Mundo del Abogado pins it down. If it smells rotten, it is.

In addition, the magazine referred poor management of budgets at the INAI:

More wasteful spending than ever in the new INAI.

The body responsible for ensuring transparency in Mexico is an essential component in the fight against corruption, but it can only fulfill this duty if it follows the same principles that underpin its existence.

by Advox at August 09, 2016 07:26 PM

Dear Hong Kong Activists, Please Stop Telling Everyone Telegram is Secure


Written by Jason Li and Lokman Tsui. The original version of this post, written in Chinese, was published on on 4 August 2016. English version is published on Global Voices under a content partnership agreement.

At this year's annual July 1 march in Hong Kong, protest leaders made a big push for mobile chat app Telegram, but for all the wrong reasons. The rally has taken place every year since the UK relinquished power over Hong Kong to China in 1997.

While we marched across Hong Kong Island, voices on a megaphone kept shouting, “download Telegram, it is more secure than WhatsApp!”

A civic group, Citizen Data, urged protesters to download Telegram and activate its geolocation function so that we could “check-in” to the protest.

As we passed the booths of various political and civil society groups on the road, they told us to befriend Telegram bots (automated Telegram accounts that perform simple functions, like image searches or RSS-like updates.) One bot allowed attendees to signal their participation at the march. Another polled voters about their top picks in the upcoming Legislative Council elections.

While we marched across Hong Kong Island, voices on a megaphone kept shouting, “download Telegram, it is more secure than WhatsApp!”

While these new grassroots-organizing tools can seem exciting, they were misleading protesters about one piece of crucial information: Telegram is not more secure than Whatsapp. In many circumstances, it's worse.

Telegram first made waves on the tech scene as a fast, user-friendly “free and secure” messaging app way back in 2013. Data security, specifically its encryption features, were highlighted by tech media as one of its big selling points

Despite its reputation, many conversations on Telegram are not end-to-end encrypted — in other words, not secure. And to make matters worse, the company has developed a reputation for problems with its technology that have led some users to have their information and messages exposed, in some cases to other users.

Over the past year, Global Voices has reported on multiple instances of Telegram users running into serious trouble with the app's security. Telegram users in Russia — some of them journalists and activists — have reported that their accounts were hacked. Another user in Ukraine reported receiving private group messages through her Telegram app for a group that she was not part of. And there has been concern in Iran about the company's compliance with government requests for certain material — bots mainly — to be blocked on the platform.

What's the problem with Telegram?

Telegram's encryption technology is not entirely open source — this means that security experts outside the company can’t see all the details of how it was made. Industry best practices hold that encryption technology should be open source and fully accessible to the public, so that they can be independently tested and verified by other programmers and security researchers. So even though Telegram says their messaging technology is secure, there's no way to know this for sure. You just have to trust them.

In contrast, apps like Signal and ChatSecure have published their code online, so that anyone with technical know-how can review (and critique) it publicly.

Even if you do trust Telegram, its security features are limited.

  • Only “New Secret Chats” in Telegram are secure. By default, conversations on Telegram are not protected by end-to-end encryption. This is only guaranteed if you turn on “New Secret Chat” before beginning a conversation. Many people we spoke with were not aware of this discrepancy – they think that all communication within Telegram is “automatically” secure.
  • Group chats have no end-to-end encryption support. There is no “secret chat” option for conversations involving more than one person.
  • Conversations with bots are not end-to-end encrypted either. There’s no indication that any conversations or interaction with bots is end-to-end encrypted.

Researchers also have confirmed that the app collects users’ metadata — information about who they communicate with, and when — making it relatively easy for Telegram users to monitor each other’s communication habits.

Returning to Hong Kong, it's easy to see how these problems could be exacerbated in a protest situation. If an app is easily hackable, all of the information that promoters were urging protesters to share — including their locations — could potentially be exposed to the wrong person, or to government authorities. Location data is very sensitive as it can be traced back to a particular user and jeopardize personal safety.

Anyone doing political activism in Hong Kong knows that the consequences of this kind of breach can be severe.

Ironically, WhatsApp, which was criticized at the march, automatically applies end-to-end encryption to all of its conversations, including its group chats. (This feature was only rolled out earlier this year in April.)

Not only does WhatsApp encrypt all of its messages, it does so using the open source, publicly documented Signal protocol developed by a non-profit groups called Open Whisper Systems. Unfortunately, WhatsApp itself is not open source, so there is no guarantee that the protocol has not been tampered with during implementation. So far though, there is no evidence of foul play, and the team from Open Whisper Systems have written publicly about their partnership and implementation process. But it is certainly no worse than Telegram, which has not made its technical code public.

For maximum, assured security, we recommend using Open Whisper System’s Signal Private Messenger app. Signal is open source from top to bottom — they are entirely transparent about the technology they use for encryption, and everything else. But because it's a not-for-profit, open source project, it lacks the bells and whistles (such as stickers), and the user base of commercial chat apps like Telegram and WhatsApp. For many Hong Kongers, Signal doesn’t appeal for these reasons. Many choose instead to use WhatsApp, which is a safer alternative to Telegram. While it lacks some of the privacy protections of Signal, it is the only widely-used chat app that uses an open and peer-reviewed encryption protocol.

Telegram was not wrong in promoting its security features back in 2013 – end-to-end encryption in mobile chat apps was rare back then. Since then, however, other chat apps have caught up and in many cases surpassed its security features. This isn't to say Telegram doesn't have its merits – neither Whatsapp nor Signal have support for channels (public groups) or bots, and Telegram does have a handy, Snapchat-like, self-destruct feature for conversations. But to recommend Telegram, without reservation, to protesters and activists is simply irresponsible.

Thank you to Citizen Lab and Professor Jedidiah Crandall for helping us out with some background research for this article.

by at August 09, 2016 04:52 PM

August 05, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Justice as Usual, or Attack on Free Speech? Debunking Singapore’s Contempt-of-Court Bill
Amos Yee and Roy Ngerng, Singapore bloggers who have faced legal cases for expressing their political views online. Photo from Facebook page of Roy Ngerng.

Amos Yee and Roy Ngerng, Singapore bloggers who have faced legal cases for expressing their political views online. Photo from Facebook page of Roy Ngerng.

Have you ever tweeted about a court case while it was still in progress? Or written a story arguing for a person's innocence while they were still on trial?

Under a new bill in Singapore, these activities could get you in trouble with the law.

The Singapore Parliament is now deliberating the proposed Administration of Justice (Protection) bill which aims to clarify the meaning of “contempt of court”. The bill defines this as an umbrella term, covering prejudicing court matters, disobeying court orders, and scandalizing the courts. It also provides penalties appropriate for these actions.

The government claims the bill will strengthen the justice system but human rights groups fear it will codify a more arbitrary regulation of free speech. The bill was filed at a time when a growing number of Singaporean Internet users have been actively commenting on state policies and criticizing the actions of authorities. Cases like the prosecution of teen video blogger Amos Yee and death row inmate Kho Jabing  attracted plenty of comment prior to court rulings.

While Singapore's mainstream media is strictly regulated, the state is enforcing a so-called ‘light touch’ approach to Internet regulation. But bloggers decry it as a euphemism for censorship. Activists have cited previous cases when bloggers and critics were sued by the government for disrespecting the courts, defaming authorities, or criticizing government policies.

The second reading of the bill will be held on August 15. When the bill was tabled last month, Law Minister K. Shanmugam emphasized the timeliness of adopting this measure. He said the bill will promote the independence of the courts:

[…] contempt laws do not affect discussions on policies, and people are free to criticize judgements after a trial has concluded. However, what is “not right” is the public expressing views on an accused’s guilt or innocence, which may influence court proceedings.

But activists are worried that the bill will further stifle free speech in Singapore because it provides a vague definition of contempt of court. They say the bill contains several provisions that would criminalize the action of a person commenting on a case pending in the court.

For example, any action that “poses a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined” is deemed contempt of court.

In a later statement, Singapore's Minister of Law gave an example of the policy in action:

Let’s say your son has been killed by someone, or you believe your son has been killed by someone. That person is facing charges. You say in anguish that ‘This person is a murderer, and that he has killed my son and he ought to hang.’ Now strictly speaking, that’s contempt, but I think it will be unlikely that any attorney-general will prosecute such a person. People will give some latitude.

The Community Action Network believes this definition can restrict the work of advocacy groups:

The Bill says you are in contempt of court if what you say or do has a “real risk of prejudice” to the outcome of the case. You are also in contempt if your “motives” are found to be “improper” But what does all this really mean in practice?

The Bill also allows the police to arrest and detain you. This is disproportionate, considering that the offender has not caused any harm to society, in the way that a robber, shoplifter, murderer or cheat has.

This new law will end up stifling civil society advocates, many of whom base their campaigns on injustices suffered by vulnerable individuals. How can we as social change makers even launch our campaigns, start the process of reform when such a blunt instrument hangs over our heads?

Speaking at a forum on the bill, activist Jolovan Wham pointed out that advocacy on issues like the death penalty could be outlawed under the bill, as the issue deals with death row inmates who more often than not have cases pending in court. In the recent case of Kho Jabing, the window between the conclusion of his final appeal and his execution was about three hours.

The definition of “publication” which refers to the “dissemination, distribution, exhibition, provision or communication by oral, visual, written, electronic or other means to the public at large or a member of the public” is also seen by some groups as overboard.

Talking to another person about a pending case or commenting about the issue on social media can be used as evidence in the filing of a contempt case. The Community Action Network explains how this provision will affect Internet users in Singapore:

This means that even if you don’t publish the offending the article, but it was published by someone else in another country, you could be in contempt of court simply by sharing an article on Facebook and Twitter.

Proponents of the bill might argue that the bill does not criminalize the publication of statements if they are “fair and accurate” and in “good faith”. But critics assert that this provision is still vague and can be interpreted in various ways. For example, if a news website publishes a story without airing the side of authorities, will the government consider the story ‘fair and accurate'?

Activist writer and Global Voices contributor Kirsten Han said the bill will have a “chilling effect” that can “further entrench a culture of self-censorship.”

While tensions between the offense of contempt and the principle of free speech will always exist, the broad and wide-ranging language used in the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill gets the balance wrong. Leaving people confused over what can or can’t be said will have a chilling effect, whatever the intention of the law, further entrenching a culture of self-censorship and passive citizenship that’s detrimental to Singaporean society in the long run.

Some activists have launched an online campaign named ‘Don't Kena Contempt’ to educate the public about the dangers of the proposed bill:

We recognize the importance of fair trials, judicial independence and compliance with court orders, but the bill goes far beyond these goals. There is still a lack of clarity regarding what is or isn’t contempt of court, and the legal tests used in determining whether something is or isn’t contempt are troublingly low.

The campaign is urging authorities to delay the passage of the bill and to hold extensive public consultations about the measure.

by Mong Palatino at August 05, 2016 05:57 PM

Japanese Police Are Spying on Muslims, Despite The Constitution
Kobe Mosque

Kobe Mosque. Image by Flickr User Pete Ford. CC BY 2.0.

Police in Tokyo have monitored the activities of Muslims in Japan, based on their religion alone, since at least 2008. A court case challenging the constitutionality of this surveillance program was recently denied.

On May 31, 2016, Japan's Supreme Court dismissed the case questioning the legality of conducting surveillance on and profiling Muslims in Japan, even though surveillance based on religion or ethnicity is generally illegal under Japan's constitution, which enshrines the right to privacy, equal protection under the law, and freedom of religion. This marked the culmination of several years of lawsuits by the same group of plaintiffs in different courts, resulting in a variety of judgements.

The fact that Tokyo police were conducting surveillance of Muslims first became public in 2010, when over 100 internal Metropolitan Police Department documents were leaked online. The documents included the names, addresses and other personal information of Muslims residing in Japan. The surveillance dated back several years prior to 2010, and was apparently motivated by security arrangements for the 2008 G-8 summit held in Japan.

According to English-language newspaper Japan Times:

The leak revealed that the police had compiled detailed profiles on 72,000 Muslims, including personal information such as bank account statements, passport details and records of their movements. The leak also showed that police had at times planted cameras inside mosques and used undercover agents to infiltrate Islamic nonprofit organizations and halal grocers and restaurants.

Following the leak, 17 of the Muslims named in the documents sued the government and police in order to have the spying declared illegal. In 2014, Tokyo District Court agreed that the leak had violated the plaintiffs’ right to privacy and awarded them ¥90 million (about US $900,000) in compensation. However, the court also ruled that the intelligence-gathering was “necessary and inevitable” in order to protect Japan against the threat of international terrorism, despite constitutional protections for freedom of religion and equal protection under the law.

In the 2014 court case related to the leak, the plaintiffs alleged:

The Metropolitan Police Department and the National Police Agency had, as of 31 May, 2008, assessed and digitalized the personal information of ‘roughly 12,677 individuals’ equaling ‘roughly 89 percent of the 14,254 foreign nationals from Muslim countries registered in Tokyo,’ and later, by the time the Hokkaido Toya Lake summit convened in July of that year, had ‘profiled roughly 72,000 individuals from OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) countries (assessment rate of 98 percent).’

Earlier in 2016 the group asked the Supreme Court of Japan to rule on the legality of the surveillance. On May 31, the Supreme Court dismissed the case, while upholding the decision to award compensation to Muslims affected by the leak.

On the Center for Constitutional Rights blog, Igeta Daisuke, one of the plaintiff attorneys involved in the case, described the extent of the surveillance program in more detail:

Police agents were stationed undercover in mosques all over the country, and the surveillance program extended to almost every other center of Muslim life, from halal shops to what the police bizarrely deemed “Islam-related” organizations that included Doctors Without Borders, UNESCO, and other prominent NGOs.

Further documentation of the surveillance program indicates that police regularly approached Muslim residents of Japan, asking them to provide information about and effectively spy on other members of their community. This reportedly affected their relationships with their friends, neighbors and family, leaving psychological wounds.

With no census data available, it's estimated that there are about 100,000 people who identify as Muslim residing in Japan. Some of these people are Japanese citizens, while others are non-Japanese students and permanent residents with deep ties to the country.

On July 9, the Otsuka Mosque (Majid) joined a volunteer event in a park in Ikebukuro (in Tokyo). We helped provide 320 servings of curry to about 150 homeless people. A number of university students joined us to help out as well. Thanks to everyone who played a part today!

Thanks to the Silk Road trading route, Japan been connected with predominantly Muslim regions of the world for more than a thousand years. However, it was not until the end of Japan's long period of isolation in the 19th century and the opening of the country when a larger local Muslim community started to develop.

By 1935 a mosque had been established in the major western trading port of Kobe. The Tokyo Camii mosque was established in 1938. The postwar years have seen migrants arriving from Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia and other Muslim countries. Some come to study in Japanese schools, while others arrive as temporary workers. Today there are mosques in every region of the country.

It's hard to say whether or not the actions of the Metropolitan Police and the National Police Association are indicative of Japan's attitudes towards Muslims. For example, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government recently launched this guide book aimed at Muslim travelers:

In November 2015, following the Paris attacks, a meme circulated on the English-language Internet about a list of supposed restrictions by Japan that effectively bans Muslim immigration. The meme was later debunked. Muslims are allowed to visit, reside in and even become citizens in Japan. Leading politicians including Prime Minister Abe Shinzo have also stressed the importance of tolerance. Nevertheless, the police monitoring program continues.

For now Japan's tolerant attitude towards Islam may have more to do with the fact that there are relatively few Muslims living in Japan. It's difficult to say if the attitudes held by police towards Muslims are an exception to Japanese public opinion, or a symptom of a deeper social stigma.

by Nevin Thompson at August 05, 2016 05:36 PM

August 04, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Bangladesh Shuts Down the Internet, Then Orders Blocking of 35 News Websites
Dhaka at night. Photo by Ishtiaque Mahmood Rohan via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Dhaka at night. Photo by Ishtiaque Mahmood Rohan via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

The Bangladesh Daily Star reported on August 4, 2016 that Bangladesh's Telecommunication Regulatory Commission had ordered the country's International Internet Gateway operators to block access to 35 news websites.

No further details about the blocking have emerged thus far, but the list of sites is long and includes some that represent critical positions within the country's current political climate. A full list of the domains ordered blocked, as reported by the Daily Star, appears below.

Websites ordered blocked:

This comes on the heels of an Internet shutdown that took place early in the morning on August 2, when Internet access in a commercial area of Dhaka was cut off for 3.5 hours as part of a government-enforced “drill” to test the capabilities of telecommunications agencies in the country. The national telecommunications agency indicated that it was part of a series of test shutdowns that will soon take place across the country.

The “Internet shutdown drill” was announced on August 1 and presented as a security measure. This comes following the brutal attack in early July at the Holey Artisan Bakery, where 20 hostages were murdered as part of a terrorist attack that came at a time when violence is increasing in the country

In addition to the Internet, other services were also cut. Mobile phone operators reportedly tested their ability to shut down voice calls and ISPs were also asked to block certain web pages. It is unclear whether these are the same sites that were ordered blocked on August 4.

The Chairman of the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC), Shahjahan Mahmood, clarified on August 3 that this exercise was the first in a series of temporary Internet shutdowns, saying “As part of the ongoing exercise, all sorts of Internet connections will be suspended for a short period anytime at any place in the country,”

Ahsan Habib Khan, vice-chairman of BTRC added that these future blackouts are likely to take place during the night, and on holidays.

Citizens are struggling to see how these shutdowns might have a positive impact on public safety, but the pitfalls of this strategy seem self-evident. Bangladeshi citizens expressed dismay and anger on social media, with one Facebook user writing:

And wtf is this?? Without any prior notice or with such a short notice?? Do they have any idea how people work and how it may affect their work?? Imagine the situation – an area suddenly went offline around the most critical time and most of the people don't even know about it and you can't even use your cell phone data to communicate with someone to inform about the situation cause your entire area is f**ed up!

On Twitter, digital rights group Access Now called these actions “misguided”, as part of their global campaign against internet shutdowns, #KeepItOn.  

This is not the first time networks have been deliberately shut down in Bangladesh. In November 2015, the Bangladeshi government blocked social media sites including Facebook, Viber and Whatsapp for almost four weeks.

On the first day of that ban, Internet access was cut to the entire country for roughly 75 minutes. Immediately afterwards, Mahmood said it had been a mistake and the shutdown was the result of a “misunderstanding.” 

This new push to curtail citizens’ Internet access is extremely worrying, particularly in Bangladesh where freedom of expression is increasingly under threat, both online and in everyday life.

In 2011, the United Nations declared Internet access to be a fundamental human right. Just four weeks ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday passed a nonbinding resolution condemning countries that prevent or disrupt access to the internet.

Despite these repeated violations of digital rights, the government’s claims of moving towards a “Digital Bangladesh” continue.

by Zara Rahman at August 04, 2016 10:37 PM

Netizen Report: In China and the Middle East, Pokémon GO is Not All Fun and Games
Pokemon decal on a train in Japan. Screencapture from YouTube video by 週に一度は撮り鉄を。 (Japanese trains!), labeled for reuse.

Pokemon decal on a train in Japan. Screencapture from YouTube video by 週に一度は撮り鉄を。 (Japanese trains!), labeled for reuse.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Media outlets have discussed some of the risks of playing the chart-topping augmented reality game Pokémon GO, including reports of players getting into car accidents, falling into the ocean or subjecting themselves to unwarranted police attention. But the game also carries substantial and unique risks in parts of the world where it is not officially available for download.

The game uses Google Maps data to superimpose characters from the Pokémon series into your geographic surroundings. As you walk, your smartphone uses GPS to track your position in the world, and it will know if you get close to one of these characters. You can then capture the character on your phone screen, train it, and then deploy it in the “augmented reality” battlefield that is Pokémon GO.

For example, it is not easy task to catch Pokémon in China. As Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam explained last week, the game is technically unavailable in China’s App Store, which is heavily censored, so Chinese players are climbing the Great Firewall in order to access the game. Some have reportedly spoofed their locations, flooding Japanese servers and taking over the gym at the Yasukuni Shrine, which is devoted in part to memorializing Japan's World War II dead. In response, other religious sites in Japan such as the Izumo Shrine have banned the game.

In Iran, Pokémon GO is technically unavailable for download. Gamers nevertheless are using virtual private networks to download the game, but they have also encountered a general scarcity of characters in major cities like Tehran.

And government ministers in Egypt, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have issued stern warnings about gamers approaching or photographing government buildings, particularly those that are significant to state security. Kuwait interior ministry undersecretary Suleiman al-Fahd said in a statement that the ministry “informed security men to show zero tolerance to anyone approaching such prohibited sites, deliberately or not.”

Learn more about Pokémon GO around the globe on Global Voices’ new podcast

Turks criticize WikiLeaks for promoting links to private citizens’ data

As the fallout continues following an attempted coup in Turkey, WikiLeaks promoted and linked to nearly 300,000 files it called “emails from Turkey’s ruling party.” But these files actually contained private information on female voters in 79 Turkish provinces as well as sensitive information for millions of members of the ruling AKP party, including election monitors. The Turkish government responded by blocking Wikileaks in Turkey, while Turkish netizens quickly realized the leaks contained little of public interest.

In a piece for Huffington Post, Turkish scholar Zeynep Tufekci criticized the leak:

I’ve long been critical of the AKP’s censorship practices in Turkey and will continue to speak out. But there is not a single good reason to put so many men and women in such danger of identity theft, harassment and worse – especially after the country was rocked by a bloody coup targeting this political party.

UAE sets new, stricter rules on VPNs

The United Arab Emirates federal government will soon tighten existing laws on virtual private networks (VPNs) and other censorship-dodging tools by criminalizing anyone who “uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third­ party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.” Many VPNs make it technically difficult, if not impossible, to monitor a user’s traffic and behavior. So how would authorities know if people were using VPNs for criminal purposes? Authorities haven’t spoken to this issue. For now, users have little choice but to wait and see how the law is implemented.

Mexican indigenous groups snub corporate giants, launch their own telco

For the first time in Mexico’s history, the Federal Institute of Telecommunications has issued a license to operate a telecommunications network for social indigenous use. The new Indigenous Community Telecommunications Network will be managed by and for indigenous communities in 356 municipalities in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz.

Environmentalists in Macedonia weather email impersonation scandal

Macedonian activists suspect local authorities used emails in order to impersonate an environmental activism group in an attempt to thwart efforts to stop a government development projects. The Macedonian ruling party VMRO-DPMNE has a history of organizing counter protests and fake accounts in order to discredit activist groups and citizen media.

WhatsApp still in limbo in Brazil

After Facebook failed to comply with a court order requesting the content of WhatsApp messages in a criminal investigation in Brazil, the Federal Public Ministry of the Amazon froze 38 million reais – US $11.7 million – in funds in Facebook’s local bank account, the sum of the daily fines imposed by a judge for not handing over the data. Should the two entities remain at an impasse, the service may once again be blocked in Brazil.

New Research

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email


Ellery Roberts Biddle and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at August 04, 2016 09:32 PM

Anonymous Eritrea: Communicating in a Paranoid State
Eritrean diaspora on social media. Photo by Yonatan Tewelde, used with permission.

Eritrean diaspora on social media. Photo by Yonatan Tewelde, used with permission.

Written by Abraham T. Zere 

A few months ago an Eritrean acquaintance called me to discuss an article he wanted to write for PEN Eritrea’s website. He had worked as a journalist in Eritrea, where we’re both from, before fleeing the country nearly ten years ago.

He had recently spoken out (under a pen name) about his former colleagues who were languishing incommunicado in detention centers in Eritrea, a story that was then covered by various media including The Guardian, in partnership with our organization.

Before I could congratulate him on this, he began discussing safe ways to send the article. He said he wanted to write the article anonymously. He lives in the United States under a grant of political asylum.

I gave him both my email address and an official email address for article submission. “But email is not safe,” he replied. “Eritrean security can crack it.” He explained that he wanted to avoid imperiling family members back home.

I countered that it was unlikely that Eritrean security would bother to hack the email accounts of two relatively unimportant Eritreans living in the US. This is an unfounded fear that exaggerates the reach of Eritrean security, I said. I explained that PEN Eritrea is trying to fight such inherent fear and discourages authors from writing anonymously or under pen names unless the person is at great risk, say from inside the country. It is our policy to request that all contributors to take full responsibility for what they write. We also require contributors’ email addresses to be included for publication.

A culture of fear that goes beyond borders

My colleague is not alone. His is a pervasive fear that has been inculcated among many Eritreans. They have experienced one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships, a place where the populace is subject to mass surveillance. Once they flee the country, it can take years for expatriate Eritreans to fully comprehend what was happening to them. Many live under extreme paranoia, suspecting conspiracies around every corner.

I frequently encounter Eritreans living safely in the West, with political asylum, who feel they can’t even “like” social-media posts that are critical of the regime back home. Instead they prefer privately writing or calling the individual whose post they wanted to react to. They fear the regime is tapping everyone’s social media account.

And their fears aren’t entirely unfounded. It is public knowledge that the prime job of Eritrean consular offices and their surrogates throughout the diaspora has been reduced to watching who’s associating with whom, in order to report when somebody with “incorrect” associations returns to Eritrea. This practice has imperiled many Eritreans when they went home to visit family members. As Tricia Redeker Hepner discusses in her book “Soldiers, Martyrs, Traitors, and Exiles: Political Conflict in Eritrea and the Diaspora” (2009) the trend also extends to audio recording by their compatriots via hidden devices to report to the state security back home.

This innate fear has been cultivated by the ruling elites’ longstanding tradition of ignoring the rule of law and behaving irrationally and unpredictably. At any point, a torturer might turn into the victim. The steady flow of arbitrary arrests and intimidation of journalists, in particular, and the populace in general, has resulted in a total disregard for rule of law. Such incidents, as common as they are, erode the confidence of the people to the point where they can’t trust any government institution. This tradition has also fostered an inherent culture of fear and mistrust among citizens.

This culture of paranoia has created the impression, among many, that the Asmara regime has the power to spy on every Eritrean in any corner of the world. The regime has successfully portrayed itself as omnipresent—which is fundamental to its survival.

Asmara, Eritrea's capital city. Photo by Yonatan Tewelde, used with permission.

Asmara, Eritrea's capital city. Photo by Yonatan Tewelde, used with permission.

Silencing independent media

These dynamics are compounded by a lack of credible information coming out of the country, which has also played a major role in cultivating mistrust and fear. Alongside the regime’s long tradition of severely punishing state and independent journalists—the last accredited international correspondent was expelled in 2007— there is no independent source to confirm the veracity of any information.

When seven of the country’s private newspapers were banned in 2001 amid a political crackdown, 12 journalists were taken into custody. This swift action was followed by the raid and ban of the educational Radio Bana in February 2009, and the jailing of about 50 journalists and staff members. These assaults on both state and independent media have crippled free flow and exchange of information. News sources today are limited to the state media’s monotonous propaganda organs, which make nationals wary of any information coming through the official line.

The Eritrean state media, which was mostly institutionalized under the longest-serving propaganda minister, Ali Abdu (who later fled the country), is characterized by a lack of accountability and a habit of character assassination. The Ministry has absolute power to put down anyone they perceive as having even slight differences of opinion, or for really any reason at all.

Many Eritrean citizens became victims of character assassination in the national media under Abdu and his “hit team.” Public figures such as artists, political leaders and athletes were typical prime targets. Naturally, these attacks were published under pen names, although it was not difficult to know who was the mastermind behind the curtain.

Anonymity abounds. But what about accountability?

This tradition of character assassination and using pen names to attack anyone who expresses a contrary or different opinion has been adopted by Eritrean social and mass media in the diaspora, both pro- and anti-regime. Fake accounts and pen names are common, making it nearly impossible to tell who is who. Not surprisingly, pro-regime attacks have the effect of silencing many critics who fear the consequences of speaking against their country’s government.

On one side, there are there regime loyalists who vigilantly troll on social media with fake Facebook accounts and Twitter handles. Characteristically, these regime cheerleaders will use Eritrean flag or an emblem of that sort as their profile images, and will use account names such as “Eritrea Never Kneel Down,” “Hands Off Eritrea,” or “Eritrea Not for Resale.”

Dissident voices are mercilessly countered by anonymous users. This normally involves intimidation and in some cases extends even to death threats.

The opposition camp is not immune from such practices either. Many regime opponents employ similarly abusive language and fabricate information to destroy people on the other side.

The tradition of anonymity and character assassination is manifested in independent websites as well. It’s common among Eritrean independent media to use pen names to destroy someone in the opposite camp. Or else—in the name of freedom of expression—individuals will combine abusive language with an absence of facts and often get away with it.

In this extremely polarized political environment, most topics are reduced to simplistic, back-and-forth arguments between “opposition” and “pro-regime.” And predictably, many websites on both sides continue to publish anonymous articles to avoid accountability. These practices erode credibility and cultivate a tradition where it is nearly becoming impossible to discern reality from made-up facts. In the end, these interdependent practices only serve to damage collective intellects, leaving institutions in tatters and prolonging the life of the dictatorship.

Abraham T. Zere is the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile.

by Guest Contributor at August 04, 2016 06:39 PM

Development Seed
Get the best open satellite imagery from one interface

Sentinel-2 data is now available in the Astro Digital Imagery Browser. Now you can quickly search for, publish, and download the best open satellite imagery from NASA and ESA in one interface. The interface is powered by the Astro Digital API which recognizes that users just want the best data and don’t always care what satellite it comes from.

Sentinel in Astro Digital Imagery Browser

Like our previous work with Landsat, this is built on top of powerful, open source processing tools we’re creating for working with Sentinel-2 imagery.

Truly open truly works. This was only possible because AWS made Sentinel-2 data programmatically accessible.

by Development Seed at August 04, 2016 12:00 AM

August 03, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Bad Laws Are Contagious: Demystifying the UAE’s New Information Tech Law
Dubai construction workers, 2008. Photo by Paul Keller via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Dubai construction workers, 2008. Photo by Paul Keller via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

This post was guest authored by Amin Jobran, who works as the MENA region outreach manager with the Internet censorship research group ASL19.

The United Arab Emirates federal government will soon pass an amendment that could criminalize the use of VPNs and other censorship-dodging tools. Violators could face astronomical fines of up to 545,000 USD and possible jail time. What does this law mean? How might it affect online expression in the MENA region?

UAE law already bans the use of VPNs and other circumvention technologies in specific circumstances — the chief purpose of the new amendment is to extend the law to anyone who “uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third­ party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.” (Federal Law No. 12/2016, Article 1, United Arab Emirates.)

Stakeholders on various sides of the issue are struggling with the ambiguity of the language used in the amendment. In response to their complaints, the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority issued a follow-up statement vowing that the law will not affect economic interests, and promising that business can continue to use VPN technology on their internal networks, as long as they don’t misuse it for criminal activities.

But the TRA statement does not talk about unlicensed and unorganized services. Would using a VPN on a public network be considered illegal? Is using a VPN to access a service that is not licensed, like Viber for example, be considered a crime in itself? Answers to these questions will depend on how the government interprets and enforces the new amendment.

Part of a regional trend

In its broadest interpretation, the law could affect everyone using a VPN or other circumvention tools, even those who aren’t accessing illegal content, banned services (such as certain VOIP providers), or engaging in truly malicious criminal activities.

This is no small matter in the UAE, where VPN use is widespread at universities, businesses, airports and private homes. Many Emiratis use VPNs to hide their IP addresses to protect against data theft through cyber attacks. And recent policy changes — such as the blocking of VOIP services — have made VPNs more vital than ever, especially for working class users.

A VPN (aka virtual private network) is a tool that lets you to create a secure connection to another network in a different physical location. So someone in the UAE, for example, might connect to a VPN located in Canada. This allows them to bypass Emirati censors and use the Internet as if they were in Canada. It's an important tool for people who live in countries whose governments restrict access to certain websites and services.

Preceded by a wave of VOIP blocking in various Arab countries, the new law comes as no surprise for those familiar with digital policy in the region. In the last six months alone, the UAE blocked snapchat for its video feature, Morocco blocked VOIP calls, and Saudi Arabia blocked Whatsapp calling, Facebook messenger calling features, and Facetime for iPhone.

These governments justify their decisions on security and economic grounds. Free VOIP services naturally make customers less likely to use paid international calling features through their local telecom service providers. This means loss of revenue for national, often state-affiliated telecom companies. With rising tensions surrounding violent extremism in the region, MENA governments are also wary of VOIP and certain messaging apps because of their security features — tools like WhatsApp, which now features end-to-end encrypted messaging, make it difficult for governments to monitor users’ communications.

There are also market and policy factors in play. Etisalat and DU are the UAE’s only two ISPs. Both are licensed to provide VPN services, but these are centralized and unencrypted VPN services that eliminate the user’s ability to protect their privacy. This is especially problematic, given that Emirate Investment Authority (EIA), a sovereign wealth fund for UAE federal government, owns 60% of Etisalat shares and 39.5% of DU shares, the only two telecom companies operating in the country. This overlap of interests and power between state and corporate entities all but ensures that state authorities will have relatively easy access to VPN user data.

And this power dynamic is not limited to the UAE. Etisalat is present in four Arab countries, while Zain (34.4% owned by the Kuwaiti government), the other major regional telecom giant, is present in eight Arab countries. This indicates that they have major influence over Internet policy in these countries as well. So the new laws passed in the UAE can be exported, one way or another, to other countries in the MENA region.

Implementation is everything

Beyond enabling VOIP usage, VPNs have important accessibility and privacy functions, such as accessing blocked content and adding a layer of security to Internet browsing.

These features are important for users but could also have critical implications for the new law’s implementation. In practice — as with an encrypted messaging app — it is often impossible to track a user’s activities when he or she is using a VPN. A developer with a major open­ source VPN explained to ASL19: “Many types of VPN traffic can be detected by a network operator. If the VPN is using appropriate encryption, ISPs should not be able to easily identify what the user is doing through the VPN.”

This means that while Emirati Internet service providers (ISPs) can see if a customer is using a VPN, they cannot easily determine what services or websites that customer is accessing. Simply put, it may be impossible for authorities to determine whether or not a person is using a VPN for “criminal activity.”

How can civil society push back?

In light of the increasing threats to digital access, online free expression and privacy in the MENA region, civil society must organize and work to defend the rights of Internet users. While the impact of such advocacy might fall on deaf ears in some countries, it has proven effective in other instances. When VOIP services were blocked in Morocco in January 2016, users’ boycotted telecom companies, launched online initiatives and started using VPNs to circumvent the blocking. Telecom companies rescinded their decision a few weeks later.

But the blocking was restored some months later, after telecom regulator ANRT upheld the ban in a controversial decision, ruling that VOIP services do not have licenses to operate in Morocco. ANRT’s decision was based on an outdated law from 2004 criminalizing the use of VOIP services for commercial purposes, not personal ones. Following the decision, there were calls from the public asking the king to intervene, but the ban remained.

At ASL19, an organization providing information access solutions for users in countries where surveillance and censorship are prevalent, our staff monitored the situation and began working to distribute circumvention tools. We saw a strange drop in the usage of some tools following the second ban. After investigating and receiving many comments on social media, we learned that users had fears about the prison sentence in the 2004 decree that regulates VOIP use, even though the law only applies to the commercial use of VPNs.

The Morocco case is indicative of the need to raise public awareness of digital rights. Educating Internet users about their digital rights — and their rights to organize, speak out, and demand stronger services and accountability from local telcos — will be critical in shaping the future of the Internet in the MENA region.

by Guest Contributor at August 03, 2016 04:52 PM

Macedonian Activists Suspect Ruling Party Used Emails to Impersonate Environmental Activists
Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Photo by Alexandar Vujadinovic via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Photo by Alexandar Vujadinovic via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The citizen-led initiative Ohrid SOS, which fights harmful urbanization projects in and around Macedonia's ecologically rich Lake Ohrid was recently the target of an impersonation attempt. Ohrid SOS activists suspect local authorities were involved in the incident.

Early on the morning of July 26, a local journalist alerted Ohrid SOS of an email sent to his media organization from an email address similar — but not the same as — the official Ohrid SOS email. The email contained a press release asserting that Ohrid SOS  “fully supports the efforts of Nikola Gruevski to protect the lake, who as a leader of the largest party in the country made this promise and so it will be done.” This couldn't be further from the truth.

In fact, Ohrid SOS is fighting to stop a government project to build three tourist development zones and a luxury housing complex on the shores of Lake Ohrid, along with a marina inside Studenchishte Marsh, which serves as the lake's natural filter. Both domestic and foreign scientists agree that these developments would put serious pressure on the ecosystems of Europe's the oldest lake and could lead to long-term ecological degradation of the area, which is home to an estimated 200 unique species. Ohrid SOS is a group comprised of environmental activists, scientists and concerned locals.

The original text of the email follows:

False email sent from Used with permission from OhridSOS

False email sent from Used with permission from OhridSOS


The Citizen Initiative Ohrid SOS fully supports the efforts of Nikola Gruevski, the president of the VMRO DPMNE political party, to build a collection system for the village of Radožda.

We believe that this commitment should be strongly supported and seen through to the completion to protect the lake in this part of the coast and the Citizen Initiative Ohrid SOS fully stands behind these efforts of Nikola Gruevski, who made this promise as a leader of the largest party in the state.

The Citizen Initiative Ohrid SOS also appeals to the public for more attention on the issue that Struga Municipality allows individuals to cut down the reed belt on that side of the lake in broad daylight, and all this is tolerated in silence by the mayor of Struga, Zijadin Selah.

Ohrid SOS citizen initiative informs the public that in a previously sent reaction we made a mistake when mentioning the local government as a sponsor of the off-road “adventure” event.

We apologize to the public for this unwanted mistake and for the consequences it caused, stemming from the fact that certain people in the administration of this institution have led us to the wrong conclusion.”

The sender/s of the email, who is unknown at this point, also used Ohrid SOS official logo and signature.

The Citizen Initiative Ohrid SOS published a statement the next day rejecting the false statements made in the press release:

We would like to inform the public that certain individuals and groups have falsely represented themselves as OhridSOS. Namely, yesterday on 25 July 2016 at 11:52 pm late evening, several media received an email from containing a press release signed by OhridSOS.

We hereby declare that email was not sent from the Citizen Initiative OhridSOS, nor members or supporters of the initiative. OhridSOS has only one official communication email which is

The citizen initiative OhridSOS publicly disassociates from all statements, press releases and emails sent from any email different from We demand an urgent recantation from all media that have published the false press release so far.

We warmly recommend to Ohrid Municipality officials and the ruling party that instead of dealing with false representation — which is a crime in this state — that they instead focus on the more serious issues in the municipality, like the spill out of fecal water inside Lake Ohrid in the middle of tourist season (video here) that is endangering the health of visitors to Ohrid region.

OhridSOS official statement

OhridSOS official statement

In this statement Ohrid SOS activists also wrote that due to the content of the false letter and the various mentions of the VMRO DPMNE political party, they suspect that this was done by a member of the ruling party. Ohrid SOS further suspects that the letter was sent by a current employee in the municipality of Ohrid, which has targeted them in the past.

The incident did not end there. Another false press release sent out from that same email — — that afternoon, saying that they are the only Ohrid SOS, that they have already registered the name and the NGO and will sue the real Ohrid SOS for using the name. English translation appears below screen shots.

Press Release

Dear media and citizens of Ohrid

Please note that the official email through which the NGO Citizen Initiative OhridSOS will communicate with the public is

We inform the public that there is already a procedure in official institutions for the registration of the NGO Citizen Initiative OhridSOS and that anyone who abuses the name and logo of the NGO Citizen Initiative OhridSOS falsely presenting themselves to the public as NGO Citizen Initiative OhridSOS will be adequately treated in institutions.

People with a dubious past or practice of misrepresentation and falsification of signatures that have already been prosecuted for such crimes cannot be exponents of ecology in Ohrid and will therefore be completely excluded from the NGO Citizen Initiative OhridSOS, ie they cannot be included due to reputational concerns and crimes they are suspected of having committed. Such a political affiliation will only compromise the honest intentions of environmentalists.

We inform the public that people who are currently usurpers of our Facebook page and blog (since we cannot yet determine who is falsely representing the social networks of NGO Citizen Initiative OhridSOS) will be reported to law enforcement authorities and will have to return in our possession or deactivate these Facebook accounts and the blog.

In days to follow OhridSOS will alert about more environmental problems for which you will receive regular, official press releases signed with the signature and stamp of the NGO Citizen Initiative OhridSOS.

With respect,
Activists of the citizen initiative OhridSOS

But a search for OhridSOS and variations on the name in the Central Registry of the Republic of Macedonia (seen below) yields no such information. The name is unclaimed and available for registration. The actual OhridSOS group is a volunteer citizen organization and therefore does not require registration.


This is not the first time the Macedonian ruling party VMRO-DPMNE has done this. In the last two years they have organized a contra-camp to a protest camp, a contra-protest to a citizen protest and a couple of new media that popped up out of the blue using the same combination of names only in reverse: NovaTV and the very recent TVNova, RadioSlobodnaEvropa and brand new RadioSlobodnaMakedonija.

In late June 2016, there was an off-road tour organized inside protected red zones of Galichica National Park, which abuts the lake. The mayor of Ohrid municipality, Nikola Bakracheski, gave his public support at the opening of this event. OhridSOS responded with a harsh press release, criticizing the event and the support from Ohrid municipality and the officials at National Park Galichica, who are supposed to protect the park. OhridSOS suspects this press release may have triggered the impersonation incident, in an effort to discredit the group and other activists.

by Advox at August 03, 2016 04:11 PM

Links for 2016-08-02 []

August 03, 2016 07:00 AM

August 02, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
‘This Is a 99.99 Percent Democracy’ and Other Orwellian Newspeak by Thailand's Junta

army camp

This edited article by Kornkritch Somjittranukit is from Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement. The Thai army grabbed power in 2014 and continues to control the government despite its pledge of restoring civilian rule once political and electoral reforms have been implemented. A constitutional referendum is scheduled on August 7 but critics believe the draft constitution will only reinforce military rule in the country.

Thailand’s junta has long puts its faith in the power of language, using carefully-chosen words and phrases to describe and promote its activities. Here are a few examples of how the junta has reframed and redefined political terminology of Thailand over the past two years.

1. It is an ‘attitude adjustment session,’ not detention.

The term “attitude adjustment” was the very first example of newspeak by the junta. After the coup was staged, the junta repeatedly summoned people to military camps, mostly politicians, media personnel and activists seen as a threat to it. The military has the power to detain them for up to seven days. Neither media nor lawyers are allowed into the camps. It is basically arbitrary detention without charge or court oversight. The detainees are lectured by military personnel about the necessity of having the junta in power.

2. It is not a ‘military visit’, it’s just a ‘coffee talk’.

In some cases, the junta authorities, mostly soldiers, have approached individuals, including journalists, academics and politicians, who have criticized the junta regime. This is an alternative form of intimidation since an official summons for attitude adjustment usually triggers public outrage.

Generally, such visits take place in a public cafe or restaurant and the military will treat its guests to coffee or tea. Therefore, the junta always says that what they do is not intimidation, but rather just a chilling ‘coffee talk’.

Pravit Rojanaphruk, a senior reporter who was invited to a so-called coffee talk with the military, shared his experience:

Although they (the junta personnel) treated me well and politely, it is anyway ‘polite’ intimidation. It makes me feel that the freedom of expression and criticism against the government which we used to have under elected governments has gone.

3. They are not ‘junta opponents’. They are ‘influential figures’.

On 29 March 2016, the junta issued NCPO Order No. 13/2016 which grants the military police-like powers to crack down on local mafia and ‘influential figures’ across the countries. The order immediately raised international concerns since it is equal to extra-juridical power.

When it came into practice, the public increasingly condemned the order since the so-called ‘influential figures’ who were prosecuted under the order are mostly junta opponents including community rights advocates, human rights defenders, and social activists.

4. It is not silence, it is ‘reconciliation’.

Any attempt at criticism of the junta, the draft constitution, or the referendum is prohibited. The junta’s silencing method is pretty interesting. It rarely bans or shuts down the media directly, but rather issues a variety of laws making the media too paranoid to do their work freely. For instance, whenever reports on the anti-draft charter campaign are published, the ‘Vote No’ message on a campaigner’s t-shirt is usually deleted out of concern that the message could breach the controversial Referendum Act.

The closer to the August referendum, the more intense intimidation gets. In the past month, the junta has set a new standard of intimidation by arresting a journalist, summoning a journalist’s wife, prosecuting an activist’s mother, and pressing charges against children under the legal age. However, all of these violations of human rights practices were justified for the sake of so-called “social reconciliation.”

5. Do not call them ‘activists’, call them ‘lawbreakers’.

The junta is obsessed with the laws and orders they have written themselves. They usually issue regulations with severe punishments to prohibit people from sharing opinions against them. This is to make sure the country will move forward peacefully and silently. In only two years, a variety of authoritarian regulations, including NCPO Order No. 3/2015, the Public Assembly Act and the Draft Referendum Act, were issued. The junta has just approved an amendment of the controversial Computer Crimes Act to increase punishment and surveillance measures. The junta even once used the Public Cleanliness Act to press charges against pro-democracy activists when it could not prosecute them under more authoritarian laws.

Is this a human rights violation? No, do not call it that. The junta justifies these authoritarian practices, saying that it does not have to care about the human rights of those who break the law.

6. It is not an authoritarian regime, it is a ‘transition period’.

“Transition period” is arguably the most common term in the junta’s newspeak. Whenever the junta faces public criticism, it usually repeats this term to remind the public that this is not a normal political climate where people can freely express their ideas. However, the junta never explicitly explains where exactly the ‘transition’ is going to end – in democracy, semi-democracy, a full military regime, or the era of the new throne.

7. This is not a dictatorship. This is a 99.99 percent democracy.

On 23 March 2015, Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta head, accepted that Thailand under the junta regime is not fully democratic. However, compared with the political situation in neighboring countries, he said, Thai politics was far better and could be called a 99.99 percent democracy. Prayut insisted that

Our country nowadays is 99.99 per cent democratic. I never prohibit anybody from criticizing me, just don’t oppose me. If you were in other countries, you would be probably in jail or executed by shooting.

8. It is not a ‘kickback’. It just a ‘consultant’s fee’.

On 10 November 2015, General Udomdej Sitabutr admitted to the media that there were kickbacks paid in the construction of Rajabhakti Park, a park with seven statues of the prominent past kings of Thailand. As a Chairman of the Rajabhakti Foundation, Udomdej accepted that officials had asked the foundries hired to make the seven statutes to give them kickbacks. However, Udomdej said that all the kickbacks had already been donated to the project, The Nation reported.

However, a self-investigation by the Royal Thai Army concluded that there were no kickbacks in the construction process. There were only huge ‘consultant’s fees.’

9. It is not a ‘foolish cost.’ It is a ‘fairly expensive cost for knowledge’.

From 2005 to 2009, British businessman James McCormick sold the Royal Thai Army hand-held bomb detectors called GT200. He also sold similar devices called Alpha 6 which were claimed to sniff out narcotics. The devices, which were later discovered to do nothing, cost 900,000 baht to 1.2 million baht each. A total of 772 devices were purchased. When the deals were done, Thailand had spent more than 1 billion baht (28 million US Dollars), reported Khaosod English.

In June 2016, after the British court sentenced McCormick to 10 years in jail for selling the bogus devices, the Thai public demanded a serious investigation to find the officials responsible. The Thai media usually refers to the wasted billion baht as a ‘foolish cost’ (kha ngo).

On 22 June 2016, Wissanu Krea-ngam, Deputy Prime Minister, told the media that the government will sue the vendors for compensation. However, he asked the media to avoid using term ‘foolish cost,’ but rather a ‘fairly expensive cost for knowledge.’

by Prachatai at August 02, 2016 06:01 PM

August 01, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
South Sudanese Journalists Face Increasing Threats as Political Violence Peaks
Alfred Taban. Image shared widely on Twitter, by the Association for Media Development in South Sudan.

Alfred Taban. Image shared widely on Twitter, by the Association for Media Development in South Sudan.

Amid the sudden return of violent internal conflict in South Sudan, media veteran and former BBC correspondent Alfred Taban was arrested on July 16 by agents from South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS). Shortly before his arrest, Taban called for the removal of both President Salava Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar in an editorial Taban wrote for the Juba Monitor, where he serves as editor-in-chief.

The long-standing tensions within South Sudan’s so-called “transitional” government reached a boiling point earlier this month when misinformation concerning a meeting between President Salva Kiir and the Vice President Riek Machar triggered an armed conflict that lasted for several days and left hundreds dead. Many are comparing it to December 2013, which marked the beginning of a new period in South Sudan’s history of increased political instability, despite having maintained relative peace since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between South Sudan and Sudan in 2005.

On July 22, Taban was charged with ‘publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to Southern Sudan’ and ‘undermining the authority of or insulting the president’. Journalists and human rights advocates in the region have been advocating for authorities to release Taban and drop all charges against him, with many using the hashtag #FreeAlfredTaban. Taban was released on bail on July 30.

Taban's arrest attracted the attention of the international community with several demands to the South Sudanese authorities, among others to either charge those who’ve been detained, or to release them. Taban’s detention has raised particular alarm, as he was once a member of the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), the entity that has now detained him.

In March of this year, Taban highlighted the paradox in an conversation with The Intercept:

The same people — the leaders — who would have me arrested today are the people I was arrested with [back then]. It’s as if we struggled for nothing.

One journalist reminded Global Voices that though Alfred Taban is one of South Sudan’s most prominent journalists, he is not the only journalist who has been detained by NSS and held without charge:

You should also know that we have (another) journalist inside for almost two years George Livio. He was arrested during the problems in Wau then referred to Juba. Since then he is [has] been there.

In August 2015, a young journalist named Moi Peter Julius was shot in the back with a pistol at close range by an “unknown gunman.” The killing took place shortly after President Salva Kiir had threatened to kill journalists for reporting “against the country.” A few days later, the president’s spokesperson withdrew the statement, saying that Kiir did not mean it “that way.”

The media and civil society have long struggled to survive in Sudan and South Sudan, but the impact of the conflict that erupted in 2013 has made working in media even more dangerous. The government released a set of quasi-official (and thus unclear) guidelines of what journalists “should” (and by default, should not) report on. In 2014, officials banned journalists from citing political or militant sources opposing the government.

‘Access the Internet anywhere you are’ says this Vivacell billboard, posted in the small village of Morobo on the border with Uganda in 2015. Only a small minority of South Sudanese have decent Internet access. Photo by Pernille Bærendtsen.

‘Access the Internet anywhere you are’ says this Vivacell billboard, posted in the small village of Morobo on the border with Uganda in 2015. Only a small minority of South Sudanese have decent Internet access. Photo by Pernille Bærendtsen.

Though South Sudan has passed bills on public broadcasting and media oversight authority in order to ensure citizens’ access to information, the bills have not been implemented. In the meantime, authorities have implemented the National Security Service (NSS) Act of 2014, which Amnesty International described as follows:

The NSS Act of 2014 grants the NSS sweeping powers to arrest and detain, without ensuring adequate judicial oversight or safeguards against abuse of these powers….The law effectively gives a carte blanche to the NSS to continue and extend its longstanding pattern of arbitrary detention, with total impunity.

Alongside increasingly restrictive legal measures, journalists report that they receive threats, often from a person calling from an unknown number telling them to stop writing.

This difficult media climate alongside a slow but steady increase in Internet and mobile phone use has led citizens to rely more heavily on major social media platforms, chiefly Facebook, for information. While this shift has had some positive effects, it also has increased the potential for the spread of misinformation and political propaganda.


James Gatdet post


Many are attributing the July 8 violence to a message sent by Vice President Riek Machar’s spokesman James Gatdet Dak (and later posted on Facebook, see above), in which Gatdet falsely suggested that Machar had been detained while at the presidential palace. Machar was in fact meeting with the president. Some believe that it was this rumor that first caused Machar loyalists to open fire outside the palace.

The South Sudanese diaspora, which in some cases tends to divide along ethnic lines, has also played a significant role in contributing to such narratives on social media. One such sample is the narrative which gradually built up on social media in the last days of December 2013, that 25,000 of ethnic Nuer militia fighters, ‘The White Army’, were marching to attack the ethnic Dinka in Bor Town. The narrative was not accurate, but it spread massive fear in local communities surrounding Bor.

According to the #defyhateproject there is a dominant current trend of hate speech inciting to violence. This sample of hate speech is reproduced with the permission of #defyhatenow project, which anonymises samples.

An anonymized sample of hate speech, used with permission from the #defyhatenow project.

On July 10, South Sudanese security and development analyst Jok Madut Jok, who is also co-founder of the Sudd Institute, wrote on Facebook:

Listen folks, South Sudanese in the Diaspora, please stop commenting on social media about what is going on in Juba right now. You know no shit about this….just try to find your relatives on phone, check on them to see if they are safe, help them in whatever way you can, and then shut the fuck up. You are not helping whatsoever. I'm not trying to suppress your individual rights to speak all you want, but only asking you to weigh what you say, and do so with a conscience… Every misinformation you peddle will most likely cost us another life. Is it not enough that our leaders have caused us this pain, do you have to add salt to injury?

Matthew LeRiche, a lecturer in conflict, security and development, describes how social media is affecting local conversations and perspectives on the conflict:

Many people in South Sudan, especially youth facing major difficulties in accessing information, are turning to Facebook as a primary source for news and information – and in many cases as their only source. They then pass this information onto others via very effective local word of mouth channels, [which have] greater scope and velocity due to mobile phones. The comments particularly by those in the diaspora, but also many media and other commentators, are then filtered back through communities.

LeRiche goes on to describe how these information flows can sometimes lead to misinformation or even stoke further tension or conflict:

Such sources, especially those with education in the West are seen as authoritative by many back in South Sudan. People then act on whatever information they have since they are in active survival mode and there are few opportunities for verification. The action taken is at best antagonism and at worst overt acts of violence. This dynamic also grants justification to many to act on sentiment or desire that might have been curtailed without a supporting narrative.

South Sudanese journalists have spoken against hate speech, as well as religious leaders, and on July 23 a group of activists got together in Nairobi under the #defyhatenow hashtag in an initiative to combat social media hate speech. The event was initiated by a collaboration between r0g_agency for open culture and critical transformation in Berlin and the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO) in Juba.

Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index ranked South Sudan at 111 at its independence in 2011, now it has moved to 140 out of 180 this year. Freedom House rates South Sudan “not free.”

by Pernille Baerendtsen at August 01, 2016 05:02 PM

July 29, 2016

July 27, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Playing Pokémon Go in China Is Not Easy, but Many Are Still Risking It
Screen capture from Youtube.

Screen capture from Youtube.

Pokémon Go has not been officially released in China, but Chinese players are finding creative ways to access the record-breaking augmented reality game, which has captured the imaginations of millions of mobile users around the world.

The game uses Google Maps data to superimpose characters from the Japanese Pokémon video game series into your geographic surroundings. As you walk, your smartphone uses GPS to track your position in the world, and it will know if you get close to one of these characters. You can then capture the character on your phone screen, train it, and then deploy it in the “augmented reality” battlefield that is Pokémon Go.

Launched on Apple's App store in select countries on July 6, 2016, it was developed by US-based Niantic Labs. The game is technically ‘unavailable’ in China's App store, but some people have found ways to download and play it anyway.

Here are six things that make it hard — and risky — to play Pokémon Go in China:

1. App stores are heavily censored in China.

To be displayed on Chinese app stores, all online games — including Pokémon Go — have to be approved by the censor board. Since Pokémon Go has yet to receive such approval, fans have to register their phone with an overseas Apple ID in order to find and download the Pokémon Go app.

2. Pokémon Go users have to climb the Great Firewall.

To register a gamer account, players need a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to climb over the Chinese Internet filter or the so-called Great Firewall and access the game server. The gamer also needs to register a Google account, as Google services are also blocked in China.

3. Most players have to spoof their GPS location.

Since the game's GPS features are locked in most part of the country, players have to spoof their GPS location. In early July, many Chinese players set their location to Australia, leading to numerous server problems.

4. A few players use the game for making patriotic statement.

After the game launched in Japan on July 22, Chinese players spoofed the location again, which resulted in some technical problem. Moreover, a few of them used the game for making political statement. According to TechAsia, Pokémon Go's Japanese servers have reportedly been flooded with Chinese players and one of them appeared in the Yasukuni Shrine, a politically sensitive site to enshrine war dead who served the Emperor of Japan during wars from 1867–1951:

A post that reached the top of Reddit’s massive Pokémon Go subreddit, for example, complained about high-level Chinese players monopolizing Japan’s Pokémon gyms. Some even used the game as a form of nationalist protest. A photo posted with the Reddit thread shows the gym at the Yasukuni Shrine being dominated by a player with a high-level Dragonite nicknamed “Long live China!”

As Yasukuni Shrine is the most well known site among Chinese, it is quite natural for Chinese players to visit the site. Though only a small number of the players would use the game to make political statement, such act is likely to attract huge attention and generate antagonistic relation between peoples in the virtual world and fueling extreme nationalist reactions in the real world.

5. Pokémon characters roam free in Xinjiang and Dongbei

The game is not as much fun if you cannot actually interact with the real world environment. In some parts of China, including Xinjiang and Northeastern region (Dongbei), the game's GPS has not been locked and players can actually capture Pokémon characters in these regions. Of course, if you are not a local resident, you have to travel there to play the game.

A gamer @chekailiuhai shared some tips on playing the augmented game in Dongbei on Weibo:

玩pokemon 虽然东北不是封锁区 开数据或wifi就能玩 但是小精灵特别少 如果开vpn在家溜达两圈就能逮到3只

Playing Pokémon Go. Though Dongbei is not inside the locked region, if you just access the game with local connection or wifi, the number of Pokémon is very limited. If you use VPN, you can capture a few just by walking around at home.

6. Chinese gamers can face significant political risks.

As some has pointed out on popular Chinese microblogging site Weibo, using a VPN in Xinjiang can result in mobile services being cut off completely.

Also, since the game launched on July 6, a conspiracy theory about Pokémon Go has been circulated on social media, claiming the game is an US government-sponsored project aims at collecting sensitive geo data.

For example, the Communist Youth League from Henan province posted an article quoting various sources commenting on the companies behind the game's GPS technology on Weibo on July 25:

但是,游戏的技术基础GPS,追根溯源来说,是来自CIA和美国国家地理空间情报局。这两家机构可不是慈善机构,其中的交易,笔者对此的分析推测应该是游戏以使用该技术获取的地理数据作为交换 […]

However, the GPS technology of the game comes from CIA [IN-Q-Tel] and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. These organizations are not charities and I can induce that the game developer will handover the geo-data [to the US agencies] in exchange for the game's technology.
On July 11, the three provinces in Dongbei and Xinjiang unlocked the game's GPS, some players claimed that some characters are located only a yard from the Shenyang military base. Dongbei is a region where there is a large number of military organizations and Xinjiang is a sensitive region. Why were these areas the first to unlock in China?

According to a local gamer @lizexipablo, Dongbei and Xinjiang was ‘not unlocked’ on July 11. He says he has been accessing the game since its launch. He elaborated that the game developers have drawn a GPS locked zone according to this map:

pokemon map

Even though the conspiracy has little evidence to back it up, as geolocation technology is used in many mobile apps, it still received some echoes online. Charles Liu from Nanfang quoted a netizen comment from Weibo:

Then, when war breaks out, Japan and the US can easily target their guided missiles, and China will have been destroyed by the invasion of a Japanese-American game.

Given the spread of extreme patriotic sentiment targeting foreign brands, Chinese gamers playing Pokémon Go may also risk being labelled traitors and subjected to bullying or attacks online or offline.

All this begs the question: Is there a safe way to play Pokémon Go in China? Under such political circumstances, the safest way to play the game is to spoof the location and hope that others think you are ‘performing patriotism’ on overseas servers. However, given the massive population of Chinese gamers, the minority of nationalist trolls has already caused resentment and anger in other countries. The most reasonable solution is to wait for an official launch of the game inside China. Niantic Labs is also applying for the game’s trademarks in China. But ordinary netizens don't think Chinese authorities will let the game enter the country.  A Chinese Twitter user explained:

I think Pokémon Go should be locked in mainland China. Just imagine one day Nintendo's server had some technical problem and released a Mewtwo [a Pokémon character] at Tiananmen Square. Then a large number of gamers would chase after Mewtwo carrying Xiaome's mobile chargers [which are not very safe and could explode if over-heated]. Do you think the police officers would believe that they were chasing after the characters? They would think that the group of people were about to launch a terrorist attack!

by Oiwan Lam at July 27, 2016 02:50 AM

July 26, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
So Long, Phone Companies. Mexico’s Indigenous Groups Are Getting Their Own Telecoms.

Rhizomatica members demonstrate how to operate a communal cell phone. Image from Rhizomatica Wiki under Creative Commons license.

Members of the Mixe, Mixteco, and Zapoteco people will soon have their own mobile cellular telephone network that will allow at least 356 municipalities in the States of Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz, to access mobile-telephone services and the Internet.

The new services are the result of a July 5 plenary resolution by the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones, or IFT (Federal Institute of Telecommunications), that granted for the first time in Mexico's history two licenses to operate a telecommunications network for social indigenous use to the nonprofit organization Telecomunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias A.C. (TIC A.C.) (the Indigenous Community Telecommunications).

On that topic, the Federal Institute of Telecommunications stated:

Con estas concesiones se habilitará a su titular [TIC A.C.] a prestar servicios de telecomunicaciones para la promoción, desarrollo y preservación de sus lenguas, su cultura, sus conocimientos, promoviendo sus tradiciones, normas internas y bajo principios que respeten la igualdad de género, permitan la integración de mujeres indígenas en la participación de los objetivos para los cuales fue solicitadas las concesiones y demás elementos que constituyen las culturas e identidades indígenas.

These two licenses will enable Indigenous Community Telecommunications to provide telecommunications services for the promotion, development, and preservation of their languages, culture, and knowledge, promoting their traditions and norms based on principles that respect gender equality and allow the integration of indigenous women into the participation of the objectives for which the licenses were requested along with other elements that make up the indigenous cultural identities.

According to Redes por la Diversidad, Equidad y Sustentabilidad, A.C. (Networks for Diversity, Equality, and Sustainability Nonprofit Organization), the network Telefonía Celular Comunitaria, (Communal Cell Phone) (which has been acquired, managed, and operated since 2013 by the Villa Talea de Castro community in the northern mountain range of Oaxaca) is directly responsible for this effort to provide connectivity to indigenous communities at affordable costs.

Talea de Castro

Photo taken in Villa Talea de Castro, courtesy of Daniela Parra and used with permission, REDES AC.

As Global Voices previously explained, prior to 2013, the 2,500 inhabitants of Villa Talea de Castro relied on high-cost landline phone booths. After the large cell phone companies repeatedly refused to provide them with service, the community got together and—with the technical and legal assistance of the NGO Rhizomatica—it managed to install its own local cellular network, providing the community with “unlimited local calls and messages, long distance and international calls at a cost of up to 98 percent less than [that] offered by other telephone service providers.”

Once the cellular network went into operation, the local radio station (“Dizha Kieru,” or “Nuestra Voz” in Zapotec language) together with Rhizomatica started to explore new ways to promote citizen journalism and community communication. This project was supported with a small scholarship from Rising Voices in 2013, in accordance with the announcement of the winners for that year:

La estación de radio, junto con la organización Rhizomatica, formará a los residentes locales para convertirlos en recolectores de noticias comunitarias a través del reportaje en persona o a través de mensajería de texto o llamadas de los ciudadanos. El equipo de Dizha Kieru, que administra tanto la radio como la estación GSM reunirá, sintetizará, editará y enviará los reportes noticiosos a los residentes dos veces al día a través de mensajes de texto masivos […]

The radio station, together with the organization Rhizomatica, will train local residents to become community news gatherers through in-person reporting or through collection via SMS or phone calls from citizens. The Dizha Kieru team, who run both the radio and GSM base-station will collect, synthesize, format, and send out the news reports to residents twice a day via mass SMS […]

This first local cellular network functioned as a pilot project that was then replicated in other communities. The following video recounts the initial stages of this project:

According to the statement issued by Networks for Diversity, Equality, and Sustainability, the 16 rural and indigenous communities that up until that time formed part of the community telephone network, formed a co-op with Rhizomatica and created the Telecomunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias, A.C. (Indigenous Community Telecommunications nonprofit organization), in order to take the next step toward getting the licenses from the IFT and operating a telecommunications network for social indigenous use, which was recently authorized.

Rhizomatica marked the authorization with a celebratory tweet:

Erick Huerta, a TIC A.C. consultant and member of the IFT Advisory Council, recognized the long battle that the towns and indigenous communities have had to fight in order to acquire, manage, and operate their own network:

Este hecho histórico es sólo un pequeño paso de un sueño que empezó a realizarse hace muchos años y que se construye día a día en las comunidades indígenas de nuestro país quienes, bajo sus propios principios, generan formas de atender sus necesidades con sus recursos, en esquemas de colaboración y apoyo mutuo, invirtiendo la lógica de dependencia por la de autonomía.

This historic act is just one small step towards a dream that started to take place many years ago and that is created one day at a time in the indigenous communities of our country who, from their own principles, generate ways to attend to their needs with their resources, in collaborative frameworks and mutual support, exchanging the logic of dependence with autonomy.

This is how the Indigenous Community Telecommunications network came to be the new telecommunications service provider managed both by and for the indigenous communities. With that it is hoped that instead of seeking economic profit the objective will be to serve the people, encouraging Internet access for the communities, supporting their dynamics, processes, and full exercise of their rights. A network that, without a doubt, goes beyond technology.

For more information, visit the Networks for Diversity, Equality, and Sustainability website to read about community cellular networks and the Rhizomatica Wikipedia page.

by Giovanna Salazar at July 26, 2016 08:40 PM

July 21, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: What do Zimbabwe, Kashmir, and Turkey Have in Common? Internet Censorship.
New York City in a blackout following Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alex Perkins via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

New York City in a blackout following Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Alex Perkins via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Reports of Web censorship — ranging from blocking specific websites and entire social media platforms as well as overall Internet blackouts — have been so widespread over the last two weeks that we’ve decided to dedicate this Netizen Report to the trend.

Zimbabwe: #ShutdownZim protests spark WhatsApp shutdown

Protests across Zimbabwe over an escalating economic crisis have brought on a new wave of censorship in the country: Zimbabweans have reported not being able to access WhatsApp, which was used to organize and circulate images of the protests, and the telecom regulatory authority issued a public notice warning users they were being closely monitored and could be “easily identified,” according to the Washington Post. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and radio station STAR FM also received a warning from the CEO of the Broadcasting Authority not to “broadcast programs that incite, encourage, or glamorise violence or brutality” and to avoid “broadcasting obscene and undesirable comments from participants, callers and audiences”. The government is rumored to be working on licensing an Internet gateway for the country, a mechanism that would force all traffic to pass through a single portal that would be operated by the government and allow authorities broad access to Internet traffic and user data.

Kashmiris report total suspension of Internet and mobile amid unrest

Amid unrest over the July 8 killing of Kashmiri rebel leader Burhan Wani, Internet and mobile services were shut down for at least six days. Thousands of Indian soldiers. Thousands of Indian soldiers are patrolling the streets, and have used tear gas and pellets on protesters. Several Kashmiris have also reported having their social media accounts suspended in what free expression advocates Baba Umar and Nighat Dad suspect might be a campaign by trolls to flag their accounts.

Turkey’s coup attempt sees a 50% drop in Internet traffic

Meanwhile, during the attempted coup in Turkey, Internet users reported having trouble accessing a range of websites and services including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. CloudFlare reported an approximately 50% drop in Turkey’s total Internet traffic during the unrest. Yet what at first appeared to be at least a partial blackout typical of past periods of unrest in Turkey soon turned on its head, as President Erdogan turned to Twitter — which he described in 2013 as a “menace to society” — and Apple’s FaceTime in order to address the country. Websites continue to be blocked in the aftermath of the attempted coup, with the Turkish site Engelli Web (Disabled Web) reporting that a judge approved the censorship of 20 websites. And following Wikileaks’ release of nearly 300K emails sent to and from officials of the AKP, Erdogan’s party, Wikileaks was blocked too.

Ethiopia: #OromoProtests trigger broad social media censorship

Ethiopian telecommunication company EthioTelecom blocked social media platforms including Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger for at least two months in December 2015 and January 2016 in Oromia, where students are protesting government plans to expand the capital city Addis Ababa into neighboring farm lands in the state. The telco also reportedly plans to enforce a new price scheme for VoIP data usage in order to more heavily regulate data plans and what kinds of apps users can operate on their devices. And it intends to track, identify, and ban any mobile devices not purchased from the Ethiopian market, making it easier for the company to track data sent to and from subscribers on the network. The protests in Oromia, which began in November 2015, have become a series of the largest and bloodiest demonstrations against the Ethiopian government in a decade, with at least 400 people killed, more injured and thousands jailed. Facebook and Twitter have been critical for spreading information about the protests.

Brazil: WhatsApp is down, briefly

WhatsApp was also briefly blocked in Brazil for the third time in less than a year following a court order from a judge after failing to surrender user data to police. The Supreme Court accepted an appeal that brought the service back online four hours later, calling the lower court’s decision “not very reasonable and not very proportional.”

Iranian leaders are not so sure about Pokemon, but might stop blocking Twitter

A group of Iranian hardliners have demanded the government stop blocking Twitter, in an unexpected change of tune from a group who typically stand at the forefront of policies curtailing freedom of expression. The group wants to use Twitter to counter Saudi Arabian propaganda, which they argue is part of a “psychological operation” against Iran. Propaganda concerns have increased since the recent attacks in Nice, France.

Iranian officials also have responded to Pokemon Go, pledging to censor the game if the developers do not agree to cooperate with Iran’s National Foundation for Computer Games, which has censored multiple games in the past. They say they will seek to keep the game's data servers inside of Iran, along with cooperation with the government to prohibit the game from targeting locations that could be of national security concerns. The request to keep servers inside the country might be seen as an extension of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace’s demand that all foreign messaging companies, within one year, move the data they hold about Iranians onto servers inside the country or face censorship.

In other news, Iran has put Apple on notice, stating the company has just a “few days” to register or “all iPhones will be collected from the market,” according to a report by Tasnim News. Due to sanctions against Iran, Apple had previously not officially entered the Iranian market. Smugglers, however, have brought iPhones to Iran. A 2015 report suggested there were about 6 million iPhones in circulation in the country at that time. This new ban would not affect existing iPhone owners, but would ban further sales of the phone on the market.

Nicaragua might get rid of its ‘Internet tax’

The Nicaraguan government is considering a repeal of its Internet tax in order to improve national connectivity. Currently the government charges a 20% tax on mobile terminals, resulting in high costs for Internet users. The announcement followed meetings between government officials and  entrepreneurs in the telecommunications sector to explore ways to improve infrastructure.

US and EU shake up international data privacy agreements

The US government is considering a new agreement to allow other countries to directly serve demands for user data and wiretaps on US technology companies, rather than having to participate in the often slow mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) process, wherein the US judiciary must be involved in issuing approval for data requests.

The European Commission adopted the EU-US Privacy Shield, a new framework intended to replace the now-defunct Safe Harbor agreement under which Europeans’ personal data can be transferred to the US and vice versa. Though technology companies seem generally happy with the deal, which allows them to continue their trans-Atlantic business, privacy groups have expressed reservations, saying the safeguards fail to sufficiently protect users’ data and can be easily undermined.

New Research


Mahsa Alimardani, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Laura Vidal and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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by Netizen Report Team at July 21, 2016 08:36 PM

Turkey Adds Wikileaks to a Long List of Blocked Websites
Cartoon rendering of Erdogan riding an email into a pillar of democracy. Cartoon by Carlos Latuff/Wikileaks.

Cartoon rendering of Erdogan riding an email into a pillar of democracy. Cartoon by Carlos Latuff/Wikileaks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn't mind sharing pictures from his daughter's wedding or from his various visits and meetings with international leaders.

But he does seem to mind when his emails as well as thousands of other internal emails sent and received within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) make it into public eye.

Shortly after Wikileaks released 294,548 such emails into the public, the site was blocked countrywide.

The announcement of the leak read as follows:

Today, 11pm Anakara Time, WikiLeaks releases part one of the AKP Emails. AKP, or the Justice & Development Party, is the ruling party of Turkey and is the political force behind the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Part one of the series covers 762 mail boxes beginning with ‘A’ through to ‘I’ containing 294,548 email bodies together with many thousands of attached files. The emails come from “”, the AKP's primary domain. The most recent was sent on July 6, 2016. The oldest dates back to 2010. It should be noted that emails associated with the domain are mostly used for dealing with the world, as opposed to the most sensitive internal matters.

The material was obtained a week before the attempted coup. However, WikiLeaks has moved forward its publication schedule in response to the government's post-coup purges. We have verified the material and the source, who is not connected, in any way, to the elements behind the attempted coup, or to a rival political party or state.

A Turkish official told Al Jazeera that their primary motive in blocking the website was to bar local access to sensitive information, such as the personal contact data of public officials, and of private citizens who had emailed government agencies.

It is not difficult to imagine that Erdogan was also seeking to block public access to his own communications with this move.

The government has developed a reputation as one of the world's most block-happy, making regular requests to Facebook and Twitter to suspend anti-AKP and Erdogan accounts.

In the last three or so years the space for independent media in the country has shrunk markedly, with pro-opposition papers and media delving into the conflict in the Kurdish-speaking east teetering on the brink of extinction.

But the relative value of the leak in Turkey's current context is still being questioned by Turkish netizens.

Lack of interest in the leaks may also be due to the fact that many people are still struggling to make sense of happenings in Turkey after the drama of the failed military coup.

Not to mention the time and patience it takes to parse through 294,548 apparently unremarkable emails.

by Arzu Geybullayeva at July 21, 2016 05:33 PM

As Constitutional Referendum Nears, Thailand Intensifies Censorship
As Thailand authorities ban public reading of vote-no documents, activists post photo from toilet. Photo and caption by ‏@sunaibkk

As Thailand authorities ban public reading of vote-no documents, activists post photo from toilet. Photo and caption by ‏@sunaibkk

Thailand’s military-backed government has authorized the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to shut down TV and radio stations which are found guilty of broadcasting programs that threaten national security. Furthermore, the junta gave NBTC officials immunity from legal accountability.

Human rights groups believe this ruling aims to prevent activists and other political forces from campaigning against the approval of a draft constitution in a national referendum scheduled for August 7.

Several media networks have signed a joint statement expressing concern about the ruling:

The excessive expansion of authority to limit the press freedom and the people's rights to information through the NBTC as a tool might result in the media doing their job in fearful environment and eventually result in the people's failure to receive correct and well-round information.

The statement was signed by the National Press Council of Thailand, Thai Journalists Association, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, and the Online News Providers Association on July 15.

The army grabbed power in 2014, but its leaders promised to restore civilian rule once electoral and political reforms were implemented. Two years later, the army is still in control of the government. Protests are banned, media is strictly regulated, and dissenting politicians or journalists are given ‘attitude adjustment’ sessions in army camps.

The junta drafted a constitution as part of the normalization process, but critics have pointed out that it contains provisions that will reinforce military control in the bureaucracy.

Activists and academics cannot launch a vigorous information campaign about the constitution because the government has outlawed any discussion that would persuade the people to vote in favor or against it. The junta insists Article 61 of the 2016 Referendum Act only seeks to stop the spread of malicious and wrong information about the constitution, but activists assert that it legitimizes the crackdown on free speech.

In the past several weeks, activists have been arrested for distributing flyers that encourage the public to reject the draft constitution.

A plainclothes police man searches the desk of a journalist at the Prachatai office. Photo from Prachatai

A plainclothes police man searches the desk of a journalist at the Prachatai office. Photo from Prachatai

Last week, journalist Taweesak Kerdpoka and several activists were detained after police found information materials about the constitution in their car.

They have since been released. But police then raided the office of Kerdpoka, who works for independent news website Prachatai, a Global Voices partner. Prachatai reported on its website that the police seemed to be searching for evidence to link the news organization to activist groups campaigning against the constitution.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance emphasized the importance of the media in providing a balanced information about the proposed constitution:

Amid a tightly controlled media and political environment, the media plays a very important role in keeping the public informed about all aspects of the document that will serve as the framework of their country’s governance. Unhampered media reportage of different views and activities is essential for Thai citizens to attain a balanced view about the draft charter’s merits and flaws, in order to vote according to their conscience.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is urging the Thai government to stop intimidating the media sector:

If Thailand's military junta wants its referendum to be seen as credible, it must stop harassing journalists covering the campaign and let information flow freely to the public.

iLaw, a group promoting civil liberties, insists that the Article 61 ban on information that “influences” voters one way or another undermines the credibility of the referendum:

We have observed that public discussions on the Draft Constitution and on the Referendum are unusually muted, even though day of the Referendum is rapidly approaching. People are afraid to speak out, or to take part in debates, or to carry out campaign activities. This atmosphere is not conducive to a free and fair referendum, and therefore the results are unlikely to be fully accepted, either in Thailand or abroad.

by Mong Palatino at July 21, 2016 02:09 PM

Chinese Reformist Magazine Shuts Down to Resist Authorities’ Hostile Takeover
Du daozheng standing in front of a calligraphy written by Chinese president Xi Jinping's father Xi Zhongxun. The calligraphy is a gift which praises Yanhuang Chunqiu's publication work in 2001. Photo from Bowen Press.

Du Daozheng standing in front of a calligraphy written by Chinese President Xi Jinping's father Xi Zhongxun. The calligraphy is a gift which praises Yanhuang Chunqiu's publishing work in 2001. Photo via Bowen Press.

“Better to be a broken jade than an intact tile.” With that Chinese idiom, which means death is preferable to dishonor, the publisher of Yanhuang Chunqiu announced on July 17 that the reformist magazine would cease publication.

Founded in 1991, Yanhuang Chunqiu was partly state-affiliated, but nevertheless initiated discussions in China about political reform, including “intra-party democracy,” congressional reform and relaxing the government's control over the media.

Authorities’ tolerance for the magazine, however, has waned in recent years amid President Xi Jinping's tightening grip on power and aggressive ideological campaign. On June 12, the China Academy of Art, which comes under the Ministry of Culture, removed all of the magazine's directors and assigned six new people to take over its management. The magazine's editorial committee attempted to file legal charges against the Academy for violating previous agreements, but the effort failed.

Things then escalated dramatically in the days that followed. On July 15, authorities broke into the magazine's offices, seized all the property including bank accounts and changed the password for the magazine's website.

Founder and publisher Du Daozheng condemned the takeover of Yanhuang Chunqiu in the statement announcing the end of operations:


[The China Art Academy]'s announcement of the magazine's new leadership has violated citizens’ freedom of the press, which is protected by Article 35 of the Constitution, and has broken the previous contract, which ensured the editorial committee's autonomy in managing, publishing and financing the magazine.

After Yanhuang Chunqiu's editorial team discussed the matter, everyone agreed that from today onward (July 17), the magazine would cease to operate. Any other person publishing under the name of Yanhuang Chunqiu has no relation to this editorial committee.

All three directors removed by the Academy have strong links to the Chinese Communist Party, suggesting that the decision to intervene came from the party's top leadership.

Du, 73, is the former head of the state press ministry. Hu Dehua is the son of former Chinese Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang. And Li Cheng is the daughter of Li Zhuan, the former chief editor of People's Daily, which is the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

Attempt after attempt to intervene

Since 2013, the party has made several attempts to intervene in the magazine's editorial autonomy. In January 2013, the magazine's website was taken offline for more than two weeks. The block came after a high-profile incident of censorship at the Guangzhou newspaper Southern Weekly in which authorities replaced discussion of constitutionalism in favor of praise for the Chinese Communist Party. Observers believed that the move against Yanhuang Chunqiu was meant to prevent the magazine from spreading their proposals for political reform in support of their liberal friends.

In September 2014, the magazine's supervision was re-assigned from the Chinese Yinhuang Culture Research Institution to the China Academy of Art under the Ministry of Culture, a change which the editorial committee resisted. They appealed to the magazine's advisory committee, which is composed of senior party members, for support. Eventually, the magazine was allowed to retain partial editorial autonomy, but had to accept the stationing of content supervision staff appointed by the Academy.

In February 2015, the Academy banned the magazine from publishing its spring festival editorial and forbade the editorial committee from organizing its annual spring festival gathering. In June of that year, the extreme leftist wing within the Chinese Communist Party launched an attack on the magazine's “anti-party” mistake in narrating the history of the party, and its chief editor was forced to leave. In May 2016, censorship authorities stopped the printing of the magazine's feature on the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution — the violent purge of people deemed anti-communist during the 1960s and 70s — at the presses.

Moreover, a number of the magazine's editors and advisers have been harassed for their characterization of Chinese history. Hong Zhenkuai, former chief editor of the magazine, was sued in July 2015 for “defaming” the Five Heroes of Langya Mountain — a group of soldiers glorified for refusing to surrender to invading Japanese warriors during the Sino-Japanese War in 1941. They are said to have killed themselves instead by jumping off a cliff. Hong had pointed to historical records that indicated two of the heroes actually died from accidents.

And 93-year-old Chinese Communist Party historian He Fang was put under a party-led disciplinary investigation for criticizing former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in May 2016.

‘Xi's government wants to educate its officials into “fools”‘

Following the announcement of Yanhuang Chunqui's shutdown, one of the magazine's former managing editors quoted current Chinese President Xi Jinping's own words, as spoken to party magazine Quishi, to explain what has happened to China's media sector:


[Xi said] ideology and the public sphere are divided into three color zones: red, black and grey. Red is our territory and we have to defend it; black represents the negative side and we have to use our swords to minimize its influence; as for grey area, we have to take it over and turn it into the red zone.

Yanhuang Chunqui must then fall into the grey area, according to the ideological battle that Xi is waging.

Currently, the term “Yanhuang Chunqiu” is blocked from search on popular Chinese social media site Weibo. On Twitter, @Zodiac4698 commented on the magazine's “outspokenness”:

Yanhuang Chunqiu should not be considered outspoken. It is just an official channel for party leaders and officials to understand the history of the Chinese Communist Party. The crackdown on Yanhuang Chunqiu and today's takeover indicates that Xi's government wants to educate its officials into “fools” like the rest of the society. Party members and officials should remain naive.

Political cartoonist @thomasycwong gave the situation a humorous spin, imagining how Xi Jinping successfully can make a desk bow to him:

Hey, Yanhuang Chunqui, a bunch of bookworms who know nothing [about politics]! I can make a desk bow to me!

by L. Finch at July 21, 2016 07:41 AM

Links for 2016-07-20 []

July 21, 2016 07:00 AM

July 20, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
PokéStops or Stopping Poké? Iran Reacts to the Pokémon Go Phenomenon
The author of this post imagines playing Pokémon Go in Tehran, holding the game up to a picture of Azadi Tower.

Post author Mahsa Alimardani imagines playing Pokemon Go in in front of Azadi square in Tehran, holding the game up to a picture of the monument. Screencapture by Mahsa Alimardani.

Pokémon Go has become a worldwide phenomenon with over 30 million downloads since its release on July 6, 2016 in selected countries.

The game uses Google Maps data to superimpose characters from the Pokémon series into your geographic surroundings. As you walk, your smartphone uses GPS to track your position in the world, and it will know if you get close to one of these characters. You can then capture the character on your phone screen, train it, and then deploy it in the “augmented reality” battlefield that is Pokémon Go.

Despite the fact that the game is only available in certain places, the craze has drawn in many players from other countries, including Iran, who have used VPNs to download the game.

How has Iran — the country with one of the most restricted Internet environments in the world — reacted to Pokémon Go?

Finding Pokémon in Tehran is not easy

Many Iranian users have commented on the difficulty of finding Pokémon around cities such as Tehran. A Reddit user in Iran asked the Pokémon Go Reddit feed on 10 July if others have been locating creatures in Tehran.

Hi, I have a quick question. I'm in Iran right now and I was wondering if pokemon go will work? I'm in the middle of Tehran so it's a big city but I can't find any information if the app even works here. I have 4g mobile data but I haven't seen anything special on the map. Thanks

Respondents to the post theorized that the application is blocked, but others noted that they had occasionally come upon some characters, and even indicated Poke stops in Tehran parks or gardens in the city of Shiraz. One Twitter user reported finding Pokemon by the historic Blue Mosque in the city of Tabriz.

A neighbourhood with Pokemon in #Tabriz…Kabood Mosque.

Another Twitter user in the city of Karaj described feeling happy that Pokémon had given him an excuse to go outside and move.

Tonight I went to hunt Pokemon, it's a very amusing game :)) at least I now have excuse to move since I barely do

A female Twitter user in Tehran jokingly complained that life has become difficult now that she has to hunt for Pokémon while being on the lookout for the country's morality police, who arrest and fine women for improper hejab.

It's quite difficult to be in the streets and be focused on both hunting Pokémon and on the lookout that gasht ershad don't hunt me. Life has become hard :))

Notable Iranian game developer Mohammad Mehdi Behfarrad offered some deeper analysis on the appeal of the game, theorizing that it might not have broad appeal in Iran for a number of reasons, including the nation's unfamiliarity with the Pokémon series that has been around since 1995.

نکته اصلی درباره بازی پوکمون داستان اصلی پوکون است که از فضا و ویژگی‌های داستانی آن به بهترین شکل در طراحی بازی استفاده شده است. به تعبیر دیگر داستان واقعی شکل‌گیری پوکمون در قالب تکنولوژی AR تبدیل به یک بازی سرگرم‌کننده شده است که طبیعتا برای مخاطبان هم جذاب است. آدم‌ها اساسا به دنبال تجربه‌های تازه هستند و طبیعتا در کنار هم قرار گرفتن این ظرفیت‌ها توسط کمپانی معتبری همچون نینتندو تبدیل به یک اتفاق می‌شود…از آنجا که داستان اصلی پوکمون خیلی در ایران شناخته شده نیست،‌ شاید سرعت برقراری ارتباط مخاطب ایرانی با این بازی مانند نمونه‌های دیگری مانند.

The main point about the Pokemon is the story and the best usage of the features of the story in the AR [augmented reality]  structure of the game. On the other hand the conversion of the story into this new entertaining technology is what attracts the masses. People are looking to new experiences and naturally when this comes together with a reputable company like Nintendo in this capacity it turns into an event…From knowing that the main Pokemon story is not very known in Iran, it may not have the same speed in connecting with the Iranian players.

Will Pokémon meet authorities’ demands?

Authorities have also commented on the game. Hasan Karimi Ghodosi, the director of the National Foundation for Computer Games (NFCG), said that he has been in talks with the game's developers. In the past, the NFCG has issued bans on games such as “1979 Revolution” a game depicting struggles of resistors of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as well as “Battlefield 3” a game that involved a US military invasion of Tehran.

Ghodosi explained to Mehr News Agency (an organisation owned by the Islamic Dissemination Organisation) on July 17 that the status of the game in Iran would depend on the game developer's cooperation with authorities.

درباره بازی پوکمون ما یک مکاتبه ایمیلی با سازندگان این بازی داشته‌ایم  با این مضمون که اگر قرار است این بازی در ایران توزیع و عرضه شود حتماً باید از فیلتر بنیاد ملی بازی‌های رایانه‌ای بگذرد و هماهنگی‌های لازم در این زمینه صورت گرفته باشد و در غیر این صورت ناگزیر از فیلتر و جلوگیری از عرضه بازی هستیم.

We had a communication through email with the developers of Pokemon Go and with the issue that if the game wants to come to the Iranian market it has to pass through the filtering of the National Foundation of Computer Games along with their cooperation, otherwise we have to filter and block this game in our market.

He further explained that the NFCG already had two conditions for the developer's of the game, which they had not communicated to them yet. These include keeping the game's data servers inside of Iran, as well as cooperating with the government to prohibit the game from targeting locations that could be of national security concerns.

The request to host servers inside the country might be seen as an extension of the demand from this past May by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace to all foreign messaging companies that they have a year to move the data they hold on Iranians onto servers inside the country or face censorship.

برای عرضه این بازی دو شرط را مدنظر داریم که البته هنوز به صورت رسمی به سازندگان بازی اعلام نشده؛ یکی اینکه باتوجه به حجم اطلاعات ثبت شده کاربران در فضای این بازی، سرور اصلی آن حتماً باید در ایران باشد و دوم اینکه نقاط تفریحی و مقاصد هدف‌گذاری شده در سراسر کشور برای تگ شدن در این بازی هم باید با هماهنگی و همکاری بنیاد مشخص شود. نباید نقاطی برای کاربر معین شود که از لحاظ موازین و قوانین کشور منعی برای حضور کاربر در آنجا وجود داشته باشد. مانند مراکز نظامی و امنیتی.
اگر سازندگان این بازی به دنبال ورود رسمی به ایران هستند باید این موارد را مدنظر داشته باشند اما با توجه به نامه‌نگاری‌ای که داشتیم آنچه از واکنش آن‌ها برمی‌آمد به صورتی بود که احساس نمی‌کنیم در شرایط فعلی برنامه‌ای برای ورود به ایران داشته باشند. بازار بازی‌های رایانه‌ای ایران همچنان برای بازِی‌سازان و شرکت‌های جهانی یک بازار پیچیده و ناشناخته است و به همین دلیل کمتر به دنبال ورود به آن هستند، به خصوص که درباره این بازی در همین محدوده فعلی بازار عرضه هم سازندگانش سود سرشاری را عاید خود کرده‌اند.

To supply this game in the country, we have two conditions that are not formally announced to the original game makers. Firstly, with attention to the information users register within the game, the original server has to be located in Iran and second all the targetted locations in the game for tagging around the country has to be coordinated and cooperated with the National Foundation of Computer Games. There should not be locations that users are prohibited to be in, like the military or national security locations.

If the game makers want to officially enter the Iranian market they have to comply with our rules but from their correspondence we see that they don’t have any plans to enter the Iranian market. Iran’s gaming market is a complicated market for developers and global companies and for this reason they are not looking into entering our market.

The director of the NFCG himself recognized that Pokémon Go's developer's were unlikely to cooperate with their demands, and would continue to operate as they have been inside of Iran for the past few weeks, with downloads through VPNs, which are ubiquitous in Iran.

by Mahsa Alimardani at July 20, 2016 11:03 PM

July 19, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Iranian Hardliners Want to Stop Blocking Twitter — to Defeat Saudi Propaganda
A picture of Twitter being written into the ancient Persian Cyrus Cylinder in a animation film for Farsi Twitter, highlighting the platforms effects in Iran.

A screenshot of Twitter being written into the ancient Persian Cyrus Cylinder in an animation film for Farsi Twitter, highlighting the platforms importance for communications in Iran. Watch the video here.

A group of Iranian government hardliners, who typically stand at the forefront of policies curtailing freedom of expression, are demanding that Iran stop blocking Twitter.

This sudden change of tune has very little to do with the rights of Iranian users. Rather, they are making this move in an effort to ensure Iranian dominance in a so-called Twitter war with Saudi Arabia.

The group first took this new position in an article on Tabnak News, a conservative news website founded by former Revolutionary Guards’ commander (and current member) Mohsen Rezaee, in a piece entitled: “Has the time come to remove the filter on Twitter in order to enter into a  “online battle”? The unnamed author reasoned that Twitter's international appeal justified the move:

وییتر یک رسانه کارآمد و یک بلندگوی به شدت قوی در سطح بین‌الملل است که پیش از مسلط شدن سعودی‌ها بر آن، باید توسط ایرانی‌ها کنترل شده باشد. انتظار می‌رود برای حضور وسیع کاربران ایرانی در این «نبردآنلاین» که بخواهیم یا نخواهیم رسماً آغاز شده، بستر لازم در این دوره زمانی فراهم شود و قدرت عمل در اختیار تعداد بالای کاربران ایرانی قرار گیرد.

Twitter is an efficient media and a extremely strong microphone on the international level and before Saudi takes it over it must become controlled by Iranians. The necessary conditions should be provided for Iranian users during this period since the online war is official started whether we like or not.

The Tabnak article argues for the removal of censorship to obstruct a so-called “psychological operation” perpetrated against Iran by Saudi Arabia.

عربستان سعودی، یک عملیات روانی را در توییتر علیه ایران به راه انداخت و با هشتگ #ایران_تدعم_الارهاب_بفرنسا، کوشید تا به استدلا‌ل‌های مضحک حملات نیس را به گردن ایران بیندازد.

Saudi Arabia, has commenced a psychological operation against Iran on Twitter with the hashtag #Iran_Supports_Terrorism_France, trying to blame the Nice attacks on Iran with ridiculous arguments.

These concerns are nothing new, as Saudi Arabia and Iran have a long history of tensions in the region. While Saudi Arabia is often the leader in the Sunni sectarian side of regional tensions, the majority-Shiite Iran leads the other side. This past January, Saudi cut diplomatic ties with Iran when its missions in the country were ransacked following the execution of Sheik Nimr, a Shiite leader who advocated for Shiite rights in Saudi Arabia. Conflicts between the two nations also have escalated with the proxy combatants that both countries maintain in the Yemeni civil war. And last year, Global Voices documented the ongoing social media campaigns of Saudi-led Twitter accounts that fueled Kurdish tensions in Mahabad.

The Tabnak article does mark a departure from the ongoing contrast between the relatively moderate administration of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and more conservative factions of the Iranian government. However, it should be noted that Tabnak and Rezaee form into a hardline faction that are often critical of other hardliners, such as those close to the former conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Before Rouhani came into office, the government's position on Internet content was often articulated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In one speech, he said:

Today, there is Internet, satellite, and many other communication platforms for easy communications. Various thoughts compete to dominate the minds of Muslims. Today however, we are at a battlefield and face a real campaign to influence our minds. This war and campaign is not a disadvantage. In fact, it is to our advantage. I am certain that we will win the war if we enter the battlefield and do what we have to do, taking out and using our ammunitions, which are our Islamic thoughts stored in our barracks of divine studies. We have to do this.

Rouhani came into power in 2013 with promises of increasing freedoms online. While a conservative majority in other parts of the Iranian government has made this promise difficult to keep, they have had some victories.

In January of 2015 they prevented the filtering of popular messaging applications such as Whats App and Viber by blocking the decisions of the hardline judiciary in implementing their filtering rulings. In January of 2016 they also brought the CCDOC (Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content) towards a decision not to filter Telegram. This was no small feat, given that the CCDOC is managed by the judiciary (not to be confused with Iran’s Ministry of Justice), which is typically a conservative body.

Iranian Internet users have often wondered why these decisions have not been extended to unblock Twitter and Facebook, platforms that were censored following the 2009 Green Movement.

The Tabnak article continues, specifically highlighting Twitter “Trends” as a reason for Saudi Arabia's success in dominating Iran on Twitter:

به نظر می‌رسد با توجه به شرایط کنونی و فعال شدن عربستان سعودی در توییتر برای ایجاد جنگ روانی علیه ایران از طریق «ترند» کردن موضوعات ضدایرانی، باید در این مقطع درباره رفع مسدودیت توییتر در کشورمان بررسی‌هایی توسط نهادهای تصمیم‌گیرنده صورت پذیرد.

It seems that considering the current situation and the active presence of Saudi Arabia on Twitter for the psychological warfare against Iran through “trending” anti-Iran issues, we must at this time gather the deciding organizations to considering the unblocking of Twitter.

The feature of Twitter “Trends” that amplifies certain social media campaigns does not in work in Iran, since the Iranian government blocks the platform, which prevents Twitter from tracking the geolocation of trends inside the country.

It is unclear how far Tabnak's call to re-open Twitter will go. Tabnak founder Mohsen Rezaee himself has been a member of Facebook since his 2013 bid to run for President and on Twitter since 2015.

In a Facebook post from earlier this year, Rezaee stoked Saudi-Iran tensions with this statement to his followers:

روزی كه #اسرائیل، دوست امروز #آل‌سعود از ایران شكست بخورد، همه مردم منطقه فریاد زنده‌باد #ایران سر خواهند داد».

The day that #Israel, today's friend of the Al Saud's are defeated by Iran, the people of our region will celebrate with cries of “long live Iran”

A follower responded to Rezaee's post, mocking the fact that he had circumvented Iranian laws and censorship for religious reaons:

ضمنا شما برای استفاده از فیلترشکن حجت شرعی دارید دیگه؟

The day you use a circumvention tool for religious justifications?

The irony of Iranian officials belonging to social networks that are blocked in the country has long been acknowledged by Iranians.

In its conclusion, the Tabnak piece argues that the only dangers Twitter poses to Iran are through Saudi-led efforts:

حقیقت آن است که توییتر دارای ابعاد اخلاقی منفی نیز نیست و تنها ابعاد امنیتی برای آن متصور بود که با توجه به تحرکات اعراب ضدایراتی، این ابعاد پررنگ‌تر می‌شود.

The truth is Twitter does not have a negative moral dimension just a security dimension that was magnified through a anti-Iranian movement led by Arabs.

Previous official reasons given in 2009 linked Twitter to foreign efforts to promote “sedition” with the Green Movement protests.

This is part of a new tide of political figures previously inclined to condemn and censor media such as Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan who took to social media to counter the recent coup.

by Mahsa Alimardani at July 19, 2016 03:32 PM

July 15, 2016

Network-Centric Advocacy
Disruptive Networks of People Root Change in the Power of Humanity not Violence.

Absolutely brilliant, grounded and sharp insights from David Haskell at DreamsinDeed published over at SSIR. His insights on working with people in hard places is among the best I have ever come across.  I love his view of leaders he calls "dreamers in hard places".

 "Dreamers in hard places" are under valued, under appreciated, under the radar, and under represented in the leadership of our world and our work.  In fact, the way we structure movements demonstrates that we fear "dreamers from hard places" participation at the levels of governance and power.  Most of the best leadership in traditional organizations can't even interact effectively with people that are genuinely squaring off abuse and trauma spread by government and industry.   

David's body of work is inspiring and the approach is network-centric to the core.  His team builds networks to support dreamers in hard places. 

 What sets a dream apart from a good idea? We apply four tests:

  • A dream is celebrated by the poor, and unsettles the powerful.
  • A dream invites everyone to the table, including those we don’t like.
  • A dream requires that everyone change, starting with the dreamer.
  • A dream is worth bleeding for, not just working on.


Some of the questions his work leads to includes  "Do our models include people not like us?", "Do the poor celebrate your arrival?", "Does the answer also make sense to people that are only educated at the school of hardknocks?", "Have we created a microphone so the smallest voice is heard?", "How does this strategy draw in opposition to be a part of the solution?", "How does this put the last first?"

How many of the strategies and campaigns that you ever worked on pass these questions?  Are you working on dreams? Are you pushing power to the edge?  Does your work make sense to the people most impacted by the problem?  Are they working with you on the solution?  Are you seeking diversity of people to support your work or are you working to diversify who you work with so you can serve broader agendas?

by Marty at July 15, 2016 12:52 AM

Will AI turn on polluters? AI for Advocacy. The days of hiding behind complexity are numbered.

 There are issues with AI that all of us need to think about.    Surprisingly, I am not seeing the business community publicly concerned as it ought to be that AI is a serious threat to abusive and polluting multi-national corporations.  AI that has the best of ethics still might be a ruthless opponent for polluters.  AI will not play games for long.

The tools and services are getting to the point that open data will soon be reconnected in new ways.  For example, air pollution ontology grows to include the EPA the entire toxic release inventory, relative risks, science about global and human threats, then the sources, points of exposure, the companies behind the pollution, etc.       The happy news is that pollution data will no longer be isolated from all the other public data.  

As we unleash efforts to have machines to process environmental (human rights, gun violence, etc) insights new language algorithms breakdown news, court data, public notifications, water and air monitors, government data on pollution, spills, risks, financial records, SEC reports, executive pay, lobbying activity, FOI reports, Wikileaks, and open social graph references.  Associations of events, data and actors will be discovered and exposed.  We can expect new complete pictures of facts, exact sources, and new insights to take shape.  

The days of hiding behind complexity are numbered.  The bigger the company, the more public data there is on that company. All their permits for water and air discharges, new building activities, employment complaints,  news, inspector reports on an agency website, etc.  The size and complexity of supply chains, politics, and subsidiaries used to take thousands of hours of research to uncover. No more! 

I have spent many years talking with people that have dedicated thousands of hours understanding data, doing research to understand how systems create environmental, justice, political and public health consequences. From my first projects with the Georgia River Network, to the use of, to,, some heroes of mine  have even spent entire careers threading together unstructured and structured data sets to find the ways that expose how companies are tied to wells, superfund sites, politics or cancer clusters.   

Machine learning is advancing quickly.  Programmers and even increasingly less technical users, will be guiding machines to review data and understand patterns.  Tools are getting very quick at identifying events, objects, locations, interactions and dependencies.  They are soon going to be learning and uncovering patterns that demonstrate liability.

AI will likely be among the best new allies for the advocacy community.  AI will be a new source of public outreach providing trusted answers that cut through spin, public relations efforts, brand loyalties, manipulation and political lines.   

Are we that far away from the day when  Viv, Siri and Cortana all go beyond  "it is a yellow air day " and instead responding  "Don't go outside today because the Duke Energy coal plant has made your air dangerous."?  

t is not a new Terminator movie but Duke Energy vs. Siri promises to be an interesting fight.  I know which corner I am in.


by Marty at July 15, 2016 12:50 AM

July 14, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Ethiopia Locks Down Digital Communications in Wake of #OromoProtests
Photo published on EthioTube page titled "Pictures from Oromo Protest - Winter 2015". No attribution or further context appears on the site.

Photo published on EthioTube page titled “Pictures from Oromo Protest – Winter 2015″. No attribution or further context appears on the site.

When students in Ginchi, a small town 75 km west of Addis Ababa, organized a demonstration in November 2015, US-based opposition media activist Jawar Mohammed, began posting minute-to-minute ‘live’ updates of the protest on his massively popular Facebook page, which has over 500k followers.

What started as a small-scale student protest over Ethiopian government's plan to expand Addis Ababa into adjacent farm lands of Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest constitutionally autonomous state, evolved into a series of largest and bloodiest demonstrations against Ethiopian government in a decade leaving at least 400 people killed, many more injured, and thousands jailed.

Along with Jawar’s live updates about the protests on Facebook, netizens saw a flood of digital photos, videos, blog posts, and tweets on other social media platforms coming from inside Ethiopia, mostly under the hashtag #OromoProtests.

For over a decade, the Ethiopian government has been violently cracking down on protesting students in Oromia, but these incidents have never garnered the online attention they did this time around. With scant coverage by foreign media from the front lines, and silence and misinformation coming from Ethiopia’s largely pro-government media outlets, the Internet emerged as the main channel used to disseminate information about protests. Jawar’s Facebook page and Twitter feed became the official-yet-unofficial story of the protest, leading diaspora writers to identify Jawar as a key shaper of public opinion on the events.

Though these networked communication dynamics are commonplace in many parts of the world, they are novel in Ethiopia, where Internet penetration hovered just below 5% in 2013, which is the last time that Internet access data was collected there by the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency.

The steady stream of #OromoProtests content triggered various attempts by the government to limit digital traffic and block telecom services in Oromia.

In a bid to quell the growing role of social media in magnifying the stories of protests and to regain the upper hand, Ethiopia’s state-owned telecommunication monopoly EthioTelcom blocked social media platforms including Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger in Oromia for at least two months. Around the same time, EthioTelecom also announced plans to begin charging customers for using popular voice over internet protocol (VoIP) applications such as Viber, Facebook messenger, Skype, and Google hangouts.

According to local media reports, EthioTelecom plans to enforce a new price scheme for VoIP data usage by deploying technologies that will more heavily regulate data plans and what kinds of apps operate on devices of each subscriber active on EthioTelecom network. In an unprecedented move, EthioTelecom also announced a plan to track, identify and ban mobile devices that are not purchased from the Ethiopian market. This move will allow EthioTelecom to keep a track of exactly what data is being sent to and from each subscriber active on the network. It remains unclear exactly how this technology will work, but it unquestionably demonstrates EthioTelecom's intention to take full political advantage of its monopoly.

Despite being one of the poorest countries in terms of Internet penetration in Africa, #OromoProtests garnered wall-to-wall coverage by the US based Ethiopian diaspora satellite television stations, particularly OMN and ESAT. Both stations picked various stories of #OromoProtests from social media and rebroadcast them to millions of Ethiopians living off the grid of mobile phone infrastructure.

To top all this off, on the heels of the protests, the parliament passed a stringent computer crimes law that looks very much like an effort to criminalize protest-related online speech and to more effectively utilize digital communication as a tool of public surveillance.

In a critical piece about the new law, the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote,

Ethiopia's prosecutors have long demonized legitimate uses of technology, claiming in court that the use of encryption, and knowledge of privacy-protecting tools is a sign of support for terrorists….By criminalizing everyday actions it ensures that anyone who speaks online, or supports online free expression, might one day be targeted by the law…. [This regulation] will intimidate ordinary Ethiopian citizens into staying offline, and further alienate Ethiopia's technological progress from its African neighbors and the rest of the world.

According to reports, the new legislation further limits already-diminished digital rights such as freedom of expression and privacy, criminalizing and levying severe punishments for defamatory speech online. The legislation also obliges service providers to store records of all communications along with their metadata for at least a year.


Read Global Voices’ special coverage of Ethiopia's #OromoProtests.

by Endalk at July 14, 2016 03:15 PM

Development Seed
Maintain a common user experience across websites with Design Systems

We use Design Systems to help us more efficiently organize and reuse design assets and code across sites that share elements.

We often create and tie together multiple websites, building what feels like a single site to its end user. Doing this makes our projects easier to maintain, allows us to develop in an extremely agile manner, and gives us the freedom to use the technology that best suits each task.

For instance, we built a number separate sites for OpenAerialMap, a tool that provides humanitarians with satellite and drone imagery. We built a separate site for the imagery browser, the data uploader form, and the documentation, just to name a few. Building a site for each of these facets allowed us not only to select the tech stack that best fit the needs of the project, but also prevented us from building a monolith app whose maintenance would be complicated. However, maintaining a consistent design language and interactions across all of them became a real challenge.

We found ourselves copying and pasting code between sites, creating a codebase that was hard to maintain. To cope with this we built Design System, a centralized module to contain all shared elements across sites.

OAM Uploader Form
OAM Docs
OAM Browser
These are all separate websites, but we manage the design and user interactions in one place.

Design System

Building on the approach we took for Collecticons, and drawing further inspiration from Foundation, Bootstrap, and this great article by Salesforce, we used methods for distributing code through a package manager, e.g. node package manager (NPM) or Ruby Gems. This allowed us to take all of our shared elements across sites, and turn them into an installable node module that can be included in each website that makes up a project. The three main elements that make up the Design System are:

  • scripts that can be included like any node module;
  • styles that can be loaded as a whole or as individual components and;
  • images which are common throughout the ecosystem and include logos and other branding elements.

Instead of copying and pasting code across websites, using node packages let us store all shared elements in one place and make those elements easily accessible and readily available to each and every site. For example, if we wanted to update the logo, we’d only have to change it in one place for it to be automatically updated on all other sites the next time they build.

Finally, having one repository for all shared elements, allows codebases to be more easily maintained and standardized, helping developers get started on new products, which is especially important for open source projects.

Although we’re still testing out this approach, using OAM, we think having a centralized design system, like the one we’ve shown here, is a great solution for complex and/or open source projects. Want to help? Give the Design System a try and send any suggestions or recommendations our way. We’re always looking to improve our workflow. A quick look at the docs is all that’s needed to start building. For more tech-savvy users, an example of its usage can be found in the OAM Docs gulpfile.

by Development Seed at July 14, 2016 12:00 AM

July 12, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Imprisoned in Iran for Posting Jokes on Facebook, A Computer Engineer Awaits His Appeal Verdict

Image of “Symbolic Prison Cell” in Iran from Babak Farroki. Image taken from Flickr under CC By 2.0.

A version of this article was originally published on the site of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Soheil Babadi has waited nearly a year for a ruling on his appeal against his prison sentence. Babadi was imprisoned in Iran in 2014 for posting jokes on a satirical Facebook page.

Authorities have meanwhile refused to release him on bail or allow him to receive medical treatment outside of Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj (west of Tehran) where he has been held in Ward 12—where political prisoners are kept—since October 1, 2014.

An informed source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that Babadi’s appeal was filed more than 10 months ago, and that the Appeals Court last looked into his case in April 2016, but “the case judge has neither issued a verdict nor agreed to release Babadi on bail.”

“Those in charge of this case have deliberately prolonged Babadi’s prosecution,” added the source. “Now he needs to go on medical furlough [temporary leave] to get treatment for his kidney problem, but the officials refuse to allow him until he gets a final verdict.”

Political prisoners in Iran are routinely singled out for harsh treatment, which often includes denial of medical care.

Emam Naghi Facebook page

Banner image from Emam Naghi Facebook page.

The 39-year-old computer engineer was arrested on May 22, 2012 after allegedly posting jokes on the “Campaign to Remind Shiites about Imam Naghi” Facebook page (seen above), which satirizes political and religious issues while focusing on Ali al-Naghi—the tenth Imam according to Shia Islam. The page, which has nearly 33,000 fans, gained popularity after the song “Naghi” by musical artist Shahin Najafi went viral in early May 2012 and at least two senior theologians issued fatwas calling for Najafi’s death for insulting Naghi.

After his arrest, Babadi was held for more than 200 days in Ward 2-A of Tehran’s Evin Prison, which is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). During that time he was tortured and denied basic rights, according to an open letter he wrote from prison on September 7, 2013.

“In May 2011 I posted ten short pieces of satire on a Facebook page called the ‘Campaign to Remind Shiites about Imam Naghi’ without using any insulting words,” said the letter. “A year later I was arrested by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization without a warrant and held in Ward 2-A, the IRGC’s exclusive detention center, and beaten and interrogated for 24 hours.”

Babadi continued: “Then someone named Ghena’atkar (from Branch 3 of the Security Court) formally read the charges against me, including ‘insulting the Prophet Mohammad,’ ‘insulting the sacred,’ ‘assembly and collusion,’ ‘insulting the supreme leader,’ ‘propaganda against the state,’ ‘membership in a group planning to overthrow the state’ ‘and acting against national security’—all for writing ten jokes on Facebook.”

“I was interrogated while blindfolded in the corner of a room,” he added. “The agent wanted me to confess to the charges against me, and when I refused he severely beat me. I was constantly under psychological pressure as the agents probed into my personal life and tried to accuse me of sexual relations with friends and relatives, even with my sister-in-law, and even of homosexual relations with one of my friends, Mostafa. But they didn’t succeed and kept me in solitary confinement for 225 days.”

The practice of forced “confessions” in Iran, including those elicited under torture or the threat of torture, has been well documented by international human rights organizations.

Soheil Babadi, the imprisoned Facebook users convicted for posting jokes. Photo taken from ICHRI and used with permission.

Soheil Babadi, the imprisoned Facebook users convicted for posting jokes. Photo taken from ICHRI and used with permission.

Babadi indicated in his letter that his basic rights were denied primarily because his jokes were turned into a security case. During his interrogation his back was injured after severe beatings, he was held incommunicado for months in solitary confinement, and he was detained for a year before his first trial.

Babadi was first charged with “insulting the sacred” and “insulting President [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad],” and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison, 74 lashes and two years in exile in the city of Beshagard near the southern port of Bandar Abbas.

In a second trial in September 2015 Judge Mohammad Moghisseh of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Babadi to an additional seven years in prison for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “insulting the supreme leader.” Branch 26 of the Appeals Court has yet to issue a verdict on the appeal against Babadi’s sentence.

All of the charges against Babadi relate to his Facebook posts. If Article 134 of Iran’s New Islamic Penal Code is applied to his case, his combined sentence could be reduced to seven-and-a-half years in prison and he could be released on probation after four years.

by International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran at July 12, 2016 01:52 PM

July 11, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
A New Species of Beetle Named After President Xi Is Blacklisted on Chinese Social Media
Image from Hong Kong non-profit independent media The Stand News. (Non-commercial use)

Image from Hong Kong non-profit independent media The Stand News. (Non-commercial use)

A Chinese scientist recently published an article on Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific journal for animal taxonomists, about the discovery of a new beetle species from Hainan Island called Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii. While the “xii” part of the name might just look like Roman numerals, it's actually a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The scientist, Wang Cheng Bin, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the department of ecology at the Czech University of Life Sciences, wrote in his article (via China Digital Times):

The specific epithet is dedicated to Dr. Xi Jin-Ping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, for his leadership making our motherland stronger and stronger

It is not uncommon for scientists to pay homage to state leaders in their naming of new species, such as Aptostichus barackobamai, a species of trapdoor spider named after the 44th president of the United States, and Mandelia mirocornata, a Mandelia mirocornata named after Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa.

But the naming of this new bug after Xi has been deemed a “sensitive” issue in China, and the Chinese translation of the name (習氏狼條脊甲) has been banned from search on social media site Weibo. The search notice from Weibo states:

Screen capture of Weibo search result.

Screen capture of the Weibo search result for “Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii.”


According to related law and policy, the search result of “Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii” cannot be shown.

The word “bug” has a negative connotation in Chinese culture. Furthermore, the scientific description of Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii says it resides underneath rotten trees and eats rotten things, imagery associated with corruption in Chinese literature.

The ban on the term quickly became a running joke online. A Weibo user sarcastically praised the effectiveness of web censors:


The check on sensitive terms is so advanced. The post about the new bug named after XXX on [major social media platforms] Weibo, Duban and Ren Ren was deleted instantly. Should we say that XXX is not happy about the bug being named after him? An act of ass kissing now turns into ass kicking…

The sensitive nature of the name is perhaps best captured in a poem titled after Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and circulated on social media. It was written by Zhang LIfan, a well-known writer and historian:


The Metamorphosis
Confusion between ass kissing and advanced hacking [of meaning],
Name draws boundless imagination.
Natural-born dragon species,
Driving the dream in the air now turns into bug.

by Oiwan Lam at July 11, 2016 08:43 PM

Chinese Censors Are Making Sure Social Media Only Shows Positive Flooding News
Disaster relief soldiers carrying sand bags and eating buns. Screen capture from CCTV.

Disaster relief soldiers carrying sand bags and eating buns. Screen capture from CCTV.

Social media has played a key role in the aftermath of disasters that have struck China. Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, China's Twitter-like Weibo was used for coordinating disaster relief work. And after last year's Tianjian explosion, as local media pushed superficial coverage or ignored the event altogether, Web users published and spread first-hand photos and updates.

Social media is a place for victims of a tragedy to express their sorrow and seek each other out for support. It's also a place for citizens to publish their own observations and reporting — even if China's strict censors end up deleting them.

That's what's happening at the moment with news related to widespread flooding, affecting 26 provinces. So far, around 1.5 million people are displaced and 180 have been killed. The Chinese Communist Party believes that disaster news should be positive and in alignment with their ideology, thus the lack of critical or hard-hitting information.

Many netizens have complained about the deletion of flooding news on Weibo. A Weibo user from Anhui province wrote:


Anhui saves the country [the province, which is located midstream of the Yangtze River, is a flood discharge location], but no one is there to save Anhui. I called my family, even though the rain has stopped for three days, the water level remains high and local armed police officers are still performing rescue operations. Sometimes, when I make a comment about the terrain in Anhui, the comments got deleted. This is ridiculous, for many  years Anhui has sacrificed for downstream cities and the province does not have equal development opportunities. Now that we are flooded, we can't even comment about it?

His complaint received many echoes in the comment section:

- 都要积极向上乐观装傻,瞎讲什么大实话!小心人家让你话都没地方讲
– 我们这边也是 虽然晴天 但是水位不退 有时候还涨 不下雨 但是大家都开心不起来了 发消极的微博还被删评论冻我账号 真无语了

- We are required to be positive, optimistic and naive. Shut our eyes and talk about the Big Truth! Be careful, they might ban you from speaking.
– We are the same here. The rain has stopped but water level remains the same. Sometimes it even gets higher. People are unhappy. Whenever I say anything negative, my comments are deleted and my account suspended. I am speechless.

Banned news outlets outside China reported that the floods in Anhui have killed a few dozen people. Hundreds of flood victims demonstrated on July 8 against state-owned Chinese Central Television's (CCTV) interview with local disaster relief officials who claimed that the floods only affected two major streets.

Of course, news about the protest could not be found on Weibo. What did circulate widely was news about the People's Liberation Army's heroic and self-sacrificing contribution in disaster relief work. A CCTV reporter summarized the channel's video report on the subject in a Weibo post and added screenshot photos. It was then republished by major news outlets and “civilization volunteers” — Communist Youth League of China members who promote the party's message online:


Salute to the most adorable people! In heavy terrain, they moved the sand bags without rain clothes and their bodies were covered with mud. Each sad bag weighs 60 catty [about 36 kilos] and they each carried 300 of them and had to move to and fro 600 times; the water and buns were mixed with rain and this is their daily diet… wherever there is danger, the disaster relief fighters show up. Salute!

Many netizens were not touched by the propaganda. Below is a sample of the skepticism found in the comment threads:

每次看见这样的事迹,我是真心怀疑,官方宣传用这种模式的所谓“感动”来置换事前的防灾准备不足,以及救灾组织工作不力,是真正在吃那些一线官兵的人血馒头。回回百年不遇,年年感动中国! 宣传部门的人,最厉害的地方,就是能把一场灾难变成一件感人至深的好事,责任问题可以隐藏的悄无声息!

- Whenever I read these kinds of accounts, I feel doubt. The official propaganda turns the fact about lack of disaster relief equipment and coordination work into a “touching” story. Such an act is using the frontline soldiers’ sweat and blood [for political purposes]. Every time they frame the disaster as the most serious one in 100 years, every time they use the disaster to pull at China's heartstrings. The propaganda is good at turning a disaster into a positive story and making human errors invisible.
– The most adorable people are respectful. But how come in this strong country there is no back-up team giving them warm water and meals?
– You can't even give them a sausage? And you make this into news? You can't take care of the people who protect the country, this is self-shaming.

On Twitter, opinion leaders were more vocal in criticizing the censorship and propaganda on the floods. Wu Zuolai, a current affairs blogger, argued that the official spin on the news could make people stop donating to disaster relief work:

Sina's news portal has been turned into CCTV. However big the disaster, the first headline is about President Xi, followed by the premier. The floods in the south, which have caused countless deaths and injuries, becomes secondary news. But people also change, no matter how “sensational” the reports are, no one donates. Because it is not the people's matter [but the party's matter]. The Chinese Communist Party has 80 million members, if each of them donates 100, it would manage to collect 8 billion for a birthday party. People don't have to take part in it.

And Gao Yu, a prominent Chinese journalist who is under house arrest for leaking a party document, discussed the issue of government accountability:

Now Wuhan [in Hubei province] is all flooded and the number of people affected has reached 30 million. Yet [former Chinese Premier] Li Peng and his family can still enjoy their summer. The reason is that disaster relief work has followed the same pattern for 67 years [since the establishment off the People's Republic of China in 1949]: the people's army are fighting floods with buns as their meals; the leaders make a show appearance on the front lines; the truth about lives and property lost is covered up; sin and responsibility are transformed into glory in the media.

Former Chinese Premier Li Peng is a key person behind the construction of the controversial Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. The project was designed to be able to cope with once-in-a-millennium floods. However, in reality, the project changed the climate along the Yangtze, causing serious droughts in the summer of 2006 and the spring of 2010. And when water discharges from upstream dams, downstream provinces suffer from widespread flooding.

Moreover, the reclamation of inland lakes and wetlands for luxurious property development projects has further obstructed water discharge during floods. But under the current censorship system, criticism that associates development projects with the floods are labelled as spreading rumors, and the only “big truth” about the floods is the heroic People's Army under the leadership of the party.

by Oiwan Lam at July 11, 2016 08:38 PM

#ShutDownZim: Will Social Media Protests Drive Zimbabwe to Build a ‘Great Firewall'?
Photos of downtown Harare, empty on July 6. Shared on Twitter by @Lean3JvV.

Photos of downtown Harare, empty on July 6. Shared on Twitter by @Lean3JvV.

Zimbabwe's nationwide “shutdown” last week — a boycott of work, shopping and public institutions — was one of the biggest and most successful in recent years. It left streets, shops, banks and malls deserted in the capital city of Harare.

Protesters are demanding government accountability in the face of unpaid wages, corruption and lack of jobs as Zimbabwe's economy sits on the brink of collapse. The country has been in a currency crisis since 2009 and unemployment is estimated at 80 or 90 percent. Recent cash shortages have forced citizens to queue for days to withdraw money from the banks. Civil servants in Zimbabwe have not been paid since June this year, but members of the security forces are always paid on time with the government living in fear of violent political overthrow.

Many are also calling for the resignation of 92-year-old Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, when the country gained full independence from the UK.

This isn't the first time Zimbabwe has staged a “shutdown” over government dysfunction, but it is the first time that political parties and civic organisations have mobilized protesters using social media.

On Twitter, Facebook and the social messaging platform WhatsApp, activists used various hashtags such as #ShutDownZim#ZimbabweShutdown, #ThisFlag, #‎ShutDownZimbabwe2016‬ and #ZimShutDown to organise the shutdown.

A screenshot of a YouTube video of Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire launching his onlin movement #ThisFlag.

Screenshot from a YouTube video of Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire, who started one of the key organising hashtags for protests against president Robert Mugabe, #ThisFlag.

The hashtag #ThisFlag became a particularly powerful tool in the fight against the Mugabe regime and his ruling ZANU-PF party after it was launched on April 19, a day after Zimbabwe's Independence Day, by patriotic anti-corruption pastor Evan Mawarire, pictured above.

Since April 2016, social media platforms increasingly have become the most potent tools for Internet-based, non-partisan political activism in the country. This in turn has triggered fears that the government will move to ban social media platforms in the near future. Last Wednesday's shutdown suggests that citizens are right to be concerned.

On the morning of the July 6 shutdown, WhatsApp was not accessible. This is not trivial — local sources report that WhatsApp accounts for 34% of Internet data in Zimbabwe. The government denies blocking it, but scores of users think otherwise.

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) last week also issued a warning that underlined punishments for “subversive or offensive telecommunication messages”:

We are therefore warning members of the public that from the date of this notice, any person caught in possession of, generating, sharing or passing on abusive, threatening, subversive or offensive telecommunication messages, including WhatsApp or any other social media messages that may be deemed to cause despondency, incite violence, threaten citizens and cause unrest, will be arrested and dealt with accordingly in the national interest.

The warning came after Mugabe's announcement in April, wherein media quoted him saying Zimbabwe could learn from China as it seeks to stop the “abuse” of the Internet.

Despite the unavailability of WhatsApp over public networks, some netizens were still able to share information using virtual private networks (VPNs).

At the level of Internet infrastructure, it is rumored that the government is working on licensing an Internet gateway for the country, which would be operated by the government and would absorb the multiple Internet gateways operating in the country at the moment. A draft copy of the new National ICT Policy articulates a government goal of establishing a single infrastructure that all Internet service providers use and a national fibre backbone that would allow government authorities broad access to network traffic, and presumably to user communications data.

If the burgeoning protest movement is to continue, more citizens will need to become tech-savvy as the government looks to tighten legislation and technical mechanisms regulating online activity.

by Ndesanjo Macha at July 11, 2016 08:34 PM

July 08, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
China Bans News Sourcing From Social Media
The Great Firewall of China. Image from Digital Trends.

The Great Firewall of China. Image from Digital Trends.

China's Cyberspace Administration, the top level Internet regulator, has banned news outlets from citing social media messages as sources. The new policy is part of an ongoing crackdown on “fake” news and rumors.

All media outlets received an official notice of the ban in early July, according to press release posted on the Administration's website late on the evening of July 3. The press release, which quoted several cases of “fabricated news” circulated online, said authorities had penalized one dozen online news outlets including Sina, Caijing, Tencent, and NetEase and forced them to delete a number of columnists’ accounts due to their use of social media sources.

The notice stressed:

要求各网站始终坚持正确舆论导向,采取有力措施,确保新闻报道真实、全面、客观、公正,严禁盲目追求时效,未经核实将社交工具等网络平台上的内容直接作为新闻报道刊发。[..] 各网站要落实主体责任,进一步规范包括移动新闻客户端、微博、微信在内的各类网络平台采编发稿流程,建立健全内部管理监督机制。严禁网站不标注或虚假标注新闻来源,严禁道听途说编造新闻或凭猜测想象歪曲事实。

All websites must adhere to the correct guidelines on channeling public opinion and adopt measures that ensure the news reports are true, comprehensive, objective and fair. The race to break news stories by using unverified facts distributed via social media platforms is forbidden. […] All websites should take responsibility for managing mobile news services as well as Weibo, WeChat and others to make sure that editorial flows are being monitored. Websites are strictly prohibited from quoting from unnamed or fake news sources and fabricating news based on hearsay, guesswork or imagination.

Two days later, commentary published by state news agency Xinhua advocated even more severe punishment for media outlets that failed to implement the new policy. The post has been widely distributed on social media, with many messages echoing the negative impact of fabricated news on the society.

The Cyberspace Administration mentioned various stories that included “false” news, with headlines such as:

  • Two killed and ten injured in bus arson in Changsha
  • After Wei Zexi incident, Letters and Complaints Bureau sets up a green channel for about 100 patients suffering from the same illness
  • Shanghai girl runs away from Jiangxi village during Lunar New Year
  • Daughter-in-law from city flips the dinner table in hometown village during Lunar New Year

The first two news items were fabricated from pre-existing news stories. For example, the bus arson was rewritten from a news report back in 2010.

The latter two cases were short stories published online to stimulate discussion about gender relations in China, but were then mischaracterized by media outlets as real incidents.

There are certainly cases in which journalists have failed to verify facts taken from social media, but what the Cyberspace Administration intentionally ignores is the positive impact of sourcing news from social media.

Take the Wei Zexi incident, which was sourced from social media. Wei was a 21-year-old college student who died in April of synovial sarcoma, but not before his family spent thousands on a phony treatment that exacerbated his condition. They had based the decision on what they thought was a search result on Baidu, the dominant Internet search engine in China, but was actually an advertisement. This particular story, which included video testimony from Wei taken shortly before he died, led to widespread discussion about the problem of search engine advertisement practices and the disorder of the Chinese health system. Eventually, the Cyberspace Administration stepped in to tighten the regulations on advertising on search engines.

Chang Ping, a prominent Chinese journalist who now resides in Germany, pointed out that though some “fabricated” stories are indeed spread by online media outlets, most of them are just sensational local news that have little to no consequences when compared to government-fabricated news that affect the country's development:


From a historical perspective, media outlets that are close to government have a higher tendency to fabricate news. The track record of state-controlled media outlets is even worse. For example, the China Daily, Xinhua News and Chinese Central Television have been producing lies that claim that 10,000 catty of wheat were grown on one mu [0.667 hectare] [during Mao Zedong's socioeconomic program called the Great Leap Forward], the June 4 massacre never happened in Tiananmen [in 1989], that promote the glory of the People's Collective Communes, the glory of the China Dream, the dictatorship of the proletariat [Maoist political theory during the Cultural Revolution] and rule by law [under current Chinese President Xi Jinping].

Since April 2015, the Cyberspace Administration has been introducing a series of policies to tighten control of online portals and news sites. Blogger Lanjinger compiled a timeline:

• 4月28日国家网信办发布“约谈十条”,网站存在未及时处置违法信息情节严重等9种情形的,企业相关负责人将被约谈,约谈整改不力的网站将被吊销许可证。9种情形将被约谈,并约谈了百度、腾讯。
• 去年10月24日,国家网信办召开各界人士座谈会,讨论“全面推进网络空间法治化。
• 今年5月6日,国家互联网信息办公室依法批准了人民网、新华网等6家中央重点新闻网站157个地方频道的开设申请。
• 6月21日,国家网信办召开全国跟帖评论专项整治视频会议,部署集中治理跟帖评论存在的突出问题,指出,跟帖评论乱象扰乱信息传播秩序、破坏网络舆论生态,人民群众深恶痛绝,必须下大力气整治。
• 6月28日国家互联网信息办公室发布”APP管理规定”,加强对移动互联网应用程序(App)信息服务的规范管理,促进行业健康有序发展,保护公民、法人和其他组织的合法权益。

• April 28, 2015: The Cyberspace Administration announced “10 rules for interviews.” The rules demanded that website administration attend “an interview” with authorities after the sites fail to manage illegal information. There are nine scenarios listed in the rules and for those sites which fail to improve their management after the interview, their business license can be cancelled.
• October 24, 2015: The Cyberspace Administration held a roundtable with representatives of the industry to discuss “the implementation of rule of law on cyberspace.”
• May 6, 2016: The Cyberspace Administration granted six state-controlled websites including Renminwang and Xinhua Net permission to operate provincial news channels. [The local news licensing system has made illegal other provincial news channels operated by all other portal websites. The six licensed sites are Renminwang, Xinhua, China Radio International, China Daily, Guangmingwang and China National Radio.]
• June 21, 2016: The Cyberspace Administration held a national video conference on the clean-up of news comment threads to draw up a plan in dealing with news comments on social media. The authorities said the news comments on social media have disrupted the order of online information distribution, the online opinion ecology. People hate such phenomena and more management effort is needed.
• June 28, 2016: The Cyberspace Administration announced the app management regulation to tighten management of Internet applications, to enhance the healthy development of the sector and to protect the rights of citizens, legal entities and other organizations. [The regulation demanded real-name registration of app users. There are more than 4 million applications on app stores in China.]

The current crackdown on online news and social media news comments is consistent with the broader ideological struggle under President Xi Jinping, who wants to restore the Chinese Communist Party's leadership in both new and conventional media.

by L. Finch at July 08, 2016 03:03 PM

July 07, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Why Did Facebook Remove a Post Criticizing Singapore Police?
Teo Soh Lung and Roy Ngerng, another activist who has been investigated for political activities. Photos from International Service for Human Rights and The Heart Truths (Roy's blog).

Teo Soh Lung (left) and Roy Ngerng, another activist who has been investigated for political activities. Photos from International Service for Human Rights and The Heart Truths (Roy's blog).

When Singaporean police interrogated political activist and civil rights lawyer Teo Soh Lung, and searched her apartment and electronic devices without a warrant, Soh Lung spoke up. She wrote about the May 2016 incident on Facebook, and her lawyer posted video of the search on YouTube. The posts went viral.

But Soh Lung's most recent Facebook post about the incident met a different fate: censorship. Soh Lung reported that her post (see below) denouncing abuses of power by police in Singapore was removed by Facebook for ‘violating community standards.’

Teo Soh Lung received a notification that her post criticizing the Singapore police was removed on Facebook for violating community standards. Photo from the Facebook page of writer Kirsten Han

Teo Soh Lung received a notification that her post criticizing the Singapore police was removed on Facebook for violating community standards. Photo from the Facebook page of Singapore-based blogger Kirsten Han.

Police had investigated Soh Lung along with fellow activist Roy Ngerng “for publishing several online articles and postings that may be tantamount to election advertising” on the day prior to election day to “reflect rationally on various issues raised at an election before heading to the polls.” Campaign advertising is also banned on election day. These restrictions apply mainly to online news outlets, not individuals. Soh Lung and Ngerng suspected that they were targeted by authorities because of their previous political activism.

Teo Soh Lung published her most recent post on the Facebook page of Function 8, a socio-political website, describing her encounter with police in late May. Her post (some of which is pictured above) continued:

The police have robbed me of my properties and gravely inconvenienced me. They have mined my data. They have seen and read all my private documents and know who are my friends. They have invaded my privacy. They have committed a crime. I am angry. But where is my recourse? We do not have a national human rights institution which our so called less developed neighbors have – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

This is my Singapore. This is your Singapore. We are a police state. For the slightest irritation, Singaporeans run to the police. But when the police commit a wrong, where do we run to?

According to Function 8, the post was mysteriously removed from Facebook:

Latest post by Soh Lung in this page was automatically unpublished by facebook!! Those people who shared that post also have theirs removed automatically from their walls.

Soh Lung was also banned from posting on Facebook for one day. After signing back on Facebook, she confirmed that her post was blocked:

I have joined rank with Andrew Loh. My latest post on F8 facebook and which I shared here has been removed by facebook. It is titled “Police Terror”.

Indeed, this is not the first time a post criticizing Singapore authorities has been censored on Facebook. Soh Lung cited the case of blogger Andrew Loh whose post criticizing the policies of the Singapore government was also removed on Facebook. He was also blocked from accessing Facebook for three days. Subsequently, Facebook apologized for the ‘accidental’ removal of the post and the three-day blocking of Andrew Loh from the social networking site.

Soh Lung has been given no further information about why her post was removed. Facebook's automated message states that it violated the company's “Community Standards,” but did not specify which of the standards was violated.

Soh Lung re-posted the message on her personal page:

I am testing if there is a computer glitch on FB side since I don't know where to write to in order to complain about the removal of my earlier post.

Singapore-based blogger and Global Voices author Kirsten Han suspected that other users might have complained or reported the post using Facebook's “Report Abuse” mechanism. She is worried that it could be a “new tactic to silence” criticism in Singapore:

It's bizarre that Facebook would remove a post about police powers and due process in Singapore because it violates community standards – what standards have been violated here? Then again, it's not the first time – I had a post removed ages ago, and it happened to Andrew Loh recently.

It is possible that the post was removed because it was reported by a large number of people….If this is the case, then it's troubling how this could be a new tactic to silence.

Facebook policy documentation asserts that the company does not remove posts based on the volume of abuse reports that they receive. Any post that has been reported for abuse is said to be reviewed by a real person, who determines whether or not it violates the Community Standards.

It is possible that Soh Lung's post was removed in keeping with Facebook's standards regarding “Attacks on Public Figures.” Their policy on this issue reads:

We permit open and critical discussion of people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience based on their profession or chosen activities. We remove credible threats to public figures, as well as hate speech directed at them – just as we do for private individuals.

Did the company read Soh Lung's post as a “credible threat”? Her reference to a friend pledging to “set her dogs on the police” might have justified this move. On a different note, given that the company is on increasingly high alert regarding terror-related activities on the platform, it is possible that Soh Lung's use of the word “terror” may have triggered the response. Either way, Soh Lung hopes that her future speech on the issue remains online, for all to see.

by Mong Palatino at July 07, 2016 12:55 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Tax Evasion or Political Journalism? Private Newspaper’s Battle With Zambian Government Continues
A screenshot of The Post newspaper headline announcing the shutter.

A screenshot of The Post newspaper headline announcing the shutter.

In a new twist following the seizure of assets belonging to the country's main independent newspaper on June 21 2016, Zambian police arrested and released on bond The Post's owner Freddy M'membe, winner of the 1995 CPJ International Press Freedom Award; his wife Mutinta Mazoka M'membe and its managing editor Joseph Mwenda, for allegedly attempting to make forced entry into the newspaper's premises. The officers allegedly beat them up before taking them to the police station.

The three went to The Post's offices to take possession of the instruments necessary to the running of their business, after the Tax Appeals Tribunal ordered the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to allow the newspaper to resume operations — a ruling which the ZRA ignored. ZRA claims that The Post owes outstanding taxes estimated at K68 million (US$6.1 million), dating back to 2009. The newspaper disputes this amount and has been asking the authorities to reconcile their figures.

The Post is known for its investigative reporting and criticism against successive governments. Some netizens, local and international media organisations and donors have expressed their suspicion about the timing of the arrests and seizing of assets. The United States government released a statement saying that the closure of the newspaper only weeks before these important elections in Zambia is of deep concern. Come August 2016, Zambians will be going to the polls to vote in its general elections; the newspaper has been the main platform for the opposition candidates, as the public media is owned and controlled by the government.

Speaking on behalf of the police, Acting Spokesperson Ray Hamoonga denied reports that the M'membes and Mwenda were beaten up by the police, challenging critics to obtain medical reports from the hospital and, if incriminating, report the incident to any police station in the country. He added one caveat however, saying that the police are allowed to use minimum brutality on individuals who resist arrest.

But his statement has not inspired confidence. Many Zambians routinely question the professionalism and neutrality of the country's police, and often remind them that they are not a force but a service. Zambia's police used to be known as the Police Force, but to change the attitude of the public and foster better working relations, the name was changed to Police Service — therefore, the police fall under a public service entity.

Moses Munsaka wondered what minimum force entailed:

The men and women in Uniform should be challenged on the issue of using minimum force. How much is minimum? Can that be measured? No need for self defence (sic). If the people were emotionally and psychologically abused, what more do the men and women in uniforms require from the trio. Please act professionally and not politically. You are a service and not a force. Maintain professionalism. Just concerned.

Sylvester Chisanga observed:

Very funny but sad at the same time. Its not possible for the Zebras to report to the Lions about the brutal behaviour of Lions on the Zebras and expect to be positively assisted! The lions will simply be happy to use the Zebra's meat as ‘Colgate’ for cleaning their teeth with.

Charles Nalishebo complained:

which police are they going to report to coz zambia police is being controled (sic) by pf [the ruling Patriotic Front]. we no longer trust police coz they are de (the) most corupt people

Wrote Bwalya Katongo:

We are back to one party brutal state! And it will be too late for carders (sic) to realize this!

However, not everyone is on the side of The Post newspaper. Some netizens feel that M'membe is putting on a show to win public sympathy. Mike Mubanga said:

Only a fool would say that Mmembe was beaten by the police. Is that how a person who has been by the police looks like. He is just mocking that cadre who was beaten at woodlands police.

In Zambia, anyone who supports a particular political party is called a ‘cadre’ — especially those who are visibly active. Mubanga's Facebook comment highlights one example of the level of violence that the country has been experiencing in the lead-up to its August elections — and infers that the editor's claim that the police beat him undermined the stories of those who were actually beaten by the police for their political engagement.

Mubanga later responded to this comment, saying:

He has been advised to get a medical report and the report the assault to the police. If he was really beaten he was going to do that because he claims to be lawyer and he knows how to deal with an assault case.

Brian L. Kasoka attributed the entire saga to a miscalculation on the part of the newspaper's owners:

Mmember's Bitterness Has Gone Too Far Hence Taking Him To Police Custrd (custody) How I Wish He Was Listening To Othr People's Advise, The Post By Now Could Have Been Opened.

Among many, the feeling on the ground is that The Post should pay the money it owes. The ongoing struggle lies in making people aware of the importance of having sustainable independent media that can communicate an unbiased perspective — in this election year and beyond.

by Isabella Mukanda-Shamambo at July 07, 2016 01:36 AM

Swastikas and Porn or: How Russian Cops Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet Crackdown
“The War Room” scene from the 1964 classic “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

“The War Room” scene from the 1964 classic “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

When the news website MediaZona reported in January 2016 that Russian police pad their solved-crime statistics by targeting young men who share pornography on social networks, it seemed like the quintessence of how Russia’s onerous new Internet regulations misallocate the country’s law-enforcement resources. But now this problem has a new perfect example, and it has to do with the Web’s other favorite obsession: Nazis.

Last month, a court in the Rostov region convicted a police officer of abusing his authority and forging evidence. According to his trial, Detective D. Eliseev reached out to a local man named A. Minaev on January 16, 2015, asking him to find someone in town who would agree to publish a swastika on their Vkontakte page, on the promise that the punishment would be the absolute minimum fine. (It’s unclear what monetary reward Eliseev offered in exchange.) Minaev had some experience in this sort of thing, having been fined twice the year before for sharing “extremist content” online, including images of swastikas.

Three days later, Eliseev asked Minaev to come to his office, where the detective told him that police were preparing to charge him with publishing a video online that allegedly violated Russia’s laws against extremism. Eliseev warned him that he would be jailed for at least 15 days, unless he accepted a strange deal: post another swastika online and accept a fine of 1,000 rubles ($15), which Eliseev promised to pay himself. When Minaev agreed, the detective took the man’s laptop, loaded his Vkontakte page, published a picture of a swastika, and then handed back the computer. Afterwards, Eliseev wrote up a police report and took a statement from Minaev, drafting the documents with the next day’s date.

Unbeknownst to the detective, however, Minaev recorded the whole exchange with a hidden microphone. A few days later, Minaev went to the district attorney’s office, which he learned wasn’t building any case against him. Prosecutors then convinced him to file charges against Detective Eliseev, and a new criminal investigation was underway.

Eliseev wasn’t out of tricks, though, and he soon persuaded Minaev to drop the charges, with the help of a little financial incentive. He even gave Minaev another microphone, asking him to record his next conversation with the prosecutors. Finishing this comedy of errors, Minaev then told the prosecutors about the microphone from Eliseev, and the district attorney outfitted him with yet another recording device (now the third one in Minaev’s arsenal), which he used to tape one last conversation with the detective.

According to the judge, Eliseev wanted to advance his career and win bonus pay by faking “time-consuming inspection work.” Nevertheless, he remains a free man. On June 17, 2016, a Rostov regional court sentenced Eliseev to two years and three months of probation, then granting him amnesty on the spot.

The human rights agency Sova, which tracks different kinds of hate crimes, says Detective Eliseev’s approach to policing extremism is typical in Russia. “Law enforcement officials on the ground are interested primarily in improving their quantitative measures,” the group writes.

by Kevin Rothrock at July 07, 2016 01:34 AM

Development Seed
Development Seed Summer BBQ!

Summer is here, so it must be time for a Development Seed summer BBQ. The whole team is in town and we are going to celebrate with our good friends, half smokes, and the finest blue ribbon beverages. Come by our new(ish) home in Blagden Alley on Wednesday, July 20.

We’ll kick things off around 5:30. Bring friends and loved ones. Furry friends are always welcome!

We’ll keep the food and beverages flowing. Help us out by letting us know if you plan to join the fun!

by Development Seed at July 07, 2016 12:00 AM

July 06, 2016

July 05, 2016

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: The UN Condemned Internet Shutdowns. But Does it Matter?
Microsoft Bing data center. Photo by Robert Scoble via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Microsoft Bing data center. Photo by Robert Scoble via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Notorious “Internet enemies” like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia approved a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council that condemns Internet shutdowns and “human rights violations committed against persons for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms on the Internet.” The resolution is non-binding, meaning it cannot be enforced as law.

The resolution was hotly debated by the 47-member council, with the aforementioned states – along with South Africa, India, Indonesia and others – pushing back against language surrounding Internet shutdowns. Ultimately, with key support from certain member states and civil society groups, it is now approved. The resolution will provide a concrete benchmark and accountability mechanism that advocates can use in efforts to promote online rights in the policy arena.

But what does it mean for Internet users and digital activists in countries where shutdowns and threats for online speech are the norm? For those working in the area of online access and rights, the list of current UN HRC members inspires concern.

The council includes several countries that are known for mandating platform and Internet service shutdowns in the face of political strain – aside from Russia and China, there's Bangladesh, where Facebook and WhatsApp were blocked for three weeks in 2015 in an effort to quell public instability. There's Ethiopia, where state persecution of journalists and online human rights advocates are commonplace and where multiple social media platforms in the Oromo region have been blocked this year in response to student protests. There's Venezuela, which has experienced a smattering of platform shutdowns and wholesale Internet blackouts since opposition protests peaked in 2014. Beyond these member states like Cuba, Ecuador, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Vietnam have abysmal records when it comes to human rights violations against online activists and media workers.

While the resolution provides a strong policy standard for what constitutes “good behavior” by national governments around the world, the distance between policy and practice may remain great.

Satirical “Street Children” stuck behind bars in Egypt

Four members of a satirical web video group in Alexandria, Egypt have been behind bars since May 10, 2016, on accusations of undermining national stability. The Ministry of Interior described them as “instigators against the ruling regime” after the group, called “Street Children” posted a video that mocked President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and called for him to resign. Their lawyer, who works with Cairo’s Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, said they had also been accused of spreading “false news,” despite the fact that the videos are clearly in jest. The video received more than one million views on Facebook before their page was deactivated.

Founder of protest reporting outlet detained in China

Lu Yuyu, founder of citizen media outlet Not in the News (非新聞)went missing on June 15, along with his girlfriend. Chinese human rights advocates reported on June 26 that Lu and his girlfriend Li Tingyu are being detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

The citizen news outlet reports and distributes news of mass demonstrations in China via Blogspot, YouTube and the Twitter account @wickedonnaa since 2013. Not in the News also keeps track of the scale and number of incidents, the number of arrested demonstrators and the reasons behind the demonstrations through its monthly statistics report. It recorded 28,950 incidents in mainland China in 2015 and 9,869 incidents in the first quarter of 2016.

China bulks up on Internet governance

A draft security law presented before the standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress increases unspecified social responsibilities for network operators by requiring them to “comply with social and business ethics” and “maintain supervision by both government and public.” It is unclear when it may be passed.

Meanwhile, Lu Wei, the official in charge of overseeing cybersecurity and online censorship, unexpectedly stepped down from his post as director of the Cyberspace Administration of China. His deputy, Xu Lin – known as a loyal supporter of President Xi Jinping, will take over.

‘Welcome to the US. Please show us your Facebook ID.’

The office of US Customs and Border Protection issued a proposal to start asking visitors to include their social media identities on their entry forms upon arrival in the US. The policy would affect those who are permitted to visit the US for up to 90 days without a visa (the visa waiver program covers most EU countries, Australia, Chile, Japan and South Korea, among others.) US Customs and Border Protection’s proposal, published in the Federal Register, says “Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide [the Department of Homeland Security] greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections…” The agency will be accepting public comments on the proposal until August 22.

Peru slaps Google for denying citizen ‘Right to Be Forgotten’

The Peruvian Data Protection Authority sanctioned Google for ignoring a Peruvian citizen’s right to be forgotten, setting a new precedent in the country. In the case, a Peruvian citizen petitioned the Data Protection Authority to request the removal of links relating to accusations against him for child pornography, after his case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The Data Protection Authority deemed Google responsible for treating the personal data of Peruvians and issued a USD 75,000 fine. The company can still appeal the decision in court.

Facebook will keep tracking non-users, at least for now

People who do not have Facebook accounts are nevertheless tracked when they visit the site, unless they use an anonymous browser such as Tor. The Belgian Privacy Commission recently sought to change this by taking the US-based company to court, but it has now officially lost its case against the company . The Brussels Appeals Court dismissed the case, claiming the regulator does not have jurisdiction over the company, which has its European headquarters in Ireland. The Privacy Commission plans to launch a final appeal with the Court of Cassation which can throw out previous judgments but not deliver new ones — the Commission notes that in the past the Court has overruled the Court of Appeal on cases involving jurisdiction over foreign companies.

Researchers sue US over cybercrime law

Four academic researchers are suing the US government, claiming they could be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for researching algorithmic discrimination. According to the researchers, the CFAA criminalizes gathering or “scraping” publicly available data from websites or creating pseudonymous user accounts on them if the sites’ terms of service prohibit this activity. The CFAA has been criticized for its vague provisions, which have been used to indict a MySpace user for adding false information to her profile, convict an IT administrator for deleting files he was authorized to access, and threaten (now deceased) Internet activist Aaron Swartz with 50 years in jail for downloading large quantities of academic articles at MIT.

New Research

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Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Hae-in Lim, Laura Vidal and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

by Netizen Report Team at July 05, 2016 09:15 PM

July 04, 2016

Feeds In This Planet