Berkman Alumni, Friends, and Spinoffs

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 30, 2014

Global Voices Advocacy
Ukraine Asks Facebook’s Zuckerberg to Discipline Kremlin Bots
Ukrainians are appealing to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to stop Russian trolls. Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Ukrainians are appealing to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to stop Russian trolls. Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Ukrainian Facebook users have complained to Mark Zuckerberg himself that their accounts are being blocked on the site in droves—and they're blaming the Kremlin's bot army.

A group of Ukrainians has had enough of what they say is politically-motivated blocking of prominent Facebook users. Several well-known pro-Ukrainian activists who are critical of the Kremlin and the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine have had their Facebook pages blocked in recent weeks. Users believe the pages, which in no way violate Facebook's terms of service, were blocked due to an unusual amount of complaints filed by what they call “organized pro-Putin groups of Russian users.” The Ukrainians, incensed at these attempts to shut them up, have composed a letter addressed directly to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. The letter has been circulated on the social network, and has been shared over 900 times during the past 24 hours.

In the letter (composed in English), Ukrainians remind Zuckerberg of the importance of sites like Facebook in the information war waged between Ukraine and Russia.

Among total informational blockade and aggressive pro-Russian propaganda, Facebook remains probably the most important channel for delivering the information about the events at hotspots of this war, as well as the only way of communication between those Ukrainians, who reside on the territories, currently occupied by the Russian military forces.

The authors of the letter also address several recent cases of blocking, like that of Sergii Ivanov, an outspoken blogger from Lugansk, whose account was blocked after he posted an appeal to the mothers of Russian soldiers, asking them not to let their sons participate in military activity against Ukraine. Ivanov's account was blocked three times during the month of August alone. On August 26, another popular Ukrainian blogger Alex Zavodyuk also discovered his page was blocked. These netizens, like dozens of others, have been posting outspoken and provocative critiques of Russian involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, as well as exposing evidence of Russian presence on Ukrainian soil.

The group behind the appeal to Zuckerberg believes the blockings are a direct result of Russian intervention and are perpetrated by mass complaints from “organized groups of fake users, registered on the territory of Russian Federation.” This is a reference to the infamous “Internet Research Agency,” a Russian base for worldwide internet troll operations, exposed in a Novaya Gazeta investigation in 2013, and later corroborated by leaked emails from whistleblower collective Shaltai Boltai.

Speculations are rife about the scale of Russian meddling, and some users suggest there is evidence in the form of newly registered Facebook accounts with IP addresses traced to the office of the Russian troll army headquarters, “Internet Research Agency,” in Saint Petersburg. Ukrainian user Mykola Voskalo on FB quotes his ‘intelligence sources’ and says these accounts have little to no personal information, but, strangely, list Ukrainian cities as places of residence. He adds that the network's administrators are currently monitoring these pages for suspicious activity.

The increasing abuses of Ukrainians’ free speech on Facebook, the letter notes, are enabled by the fact that the Ukrainian segment of Facebook is currently managed out of the Russian office, headed by Yekaterina Skorobogatova. This situation, Ukrainian users say, invites manipulation and censorship, since the managing party might have conflicting political interests.

We have found out, that the Ukrainian segment of FB is administered by a person with Russian citizenship, the country, that is killing dozens of Ukrainians on a daily basis using heavy weaponry operated by Russian military. It is widely known, that Facebook corporation is a social network aimed at the freedom of speech and not propaganda. And to the best of our knowledge, Facebook’ activity is based on respect for dignity, civil rights and freedom of all people, regardless of their social status, racial or political affiliation. We are currently observing severe violation of these principals by the Russian administration of Ukrainian Facebook.

Ukrainians are now asking that Facebook appoint a different administrator for the Ukrainian segment of the network, ostensibly from a neutral country, which, unlike Russia, “has no vested interest in further escalation of the conflict.”

If the scale of complaint-enabled censorship of Ukrainian accounts is as massive as the letter suggests, it would merit a thorough investigation by Facebook. How exactly Zuckerberg or other Facebook functionaries will respond to the Ukrainian appeal is still unclear (at the time of publication, Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on the letter), but ignoring the allegations would go some way to undermine Facebook's purported reputation as the champion of free speech.

by Global Voices at August 30, 2014 01:14 AM

August 29, 2014

Jessica Valenti
I got to talk feminism and Beyonce today on NPR with Roxane Gay and Tanya Steele. Check it out...
I got to talk feminism and Beyonce today on NPR with Roxane Gay and Tanya Steele. Check it out...

August 29, 2014 08:29 PM

Lokman Tsui
i’m back

after more than three years at google, i’m finally coming back to academia. i’ve decided to join the school of journalism and communication at the chinese university of hong kong as an assistant professor. i’ll be focusing my future research on free expression and internet policy.

i had an amazing few years at google, where i had the privilege to witness and shape the direction of the company during many key moments in internet history, including the innocence of muslims video and the snowden revelations. i learned a lot in these past few years and am grateful i was in a position to contribute towards building an internet that is more open, transparent and supportive of free expression.

work at google was fascinating and rewarding, but after several years, i also missed teaching, research and writing. i look forward to teaching an undergraduate class on development of mass communication and a graduate seminar on new media policy this semester. and i’m back to working on turning my dissertation into a book. i’m also developing a new research project on the political economy of free expression online (more on this later).

in short, i’m glad to be back!

by Lokman Tsui at August 29, 2014 02:23 PM

August 28, 2014

Global Voices
From a Gazan Stripper in Texas to Chinese Migrants in Egypt, Kim Badawi Photographs Intercultural Encounters
pic

Thiago Pater Kayapo and Samantha Aweti Kalapalo, the day before they are wed despite their tribal differences, at Aldeia Maracanã on February 2, 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “Since tensions have existed between both of these ancestral tribes. Thiago and Samantha are only not allowed to date but definitely not to get marry. Nonetheless, within the safe-space of Aldeia Maracana, their forbidden love is welcome.” Photo by Kim Badawi, published on Phmuseum's website. Used her with permission.

In his pictures and through his visual work, Kim Badawi has been able to capture and expose unexpected and yet very real exchanges happening in different parts of the world. One might say his work tries to capture visual representations of contemporary cultural encounters. Whether it's through images of indigenous groups in Brazil living in urban spaces, or Chinese communities living in Egypt, Badawi's work shows how these encounters take place. A “cultural hybrid”, as he calls himself, Badawi concentrates on the everyday aspects of such intersections, highlighting the different sides of each experience.

Global Voices talked to Badawi to learn more about his work (some of which is shared below). Badawi described his main motivations and some of the most memorable moments in his career. He argues that online social media can be an important space for sharing stories that the mainstream media fails to report, or shows no interest in discussing.

Global Voices (GV): What sort of stories do you try to tell through your work?

Kim Badawi (KB): Being a cultural hybrid myself, I have worked in the past closely within cross-cultural subjects. I am to this day fascinated by the notion of “identity”, even “national identity” and subsequently by the idea of stereotypes, in general. Perhaps it is for these reasons that much of my work is largely about bipartisanship or showing the flip side to more commonly media enforced stereotypes.

One example of such work is Badawi's piece, “The Gaza Stripper“, a provocative film about Ari Lauren Souad Said, a woman “born of an Israeli mother and a Palestinian father [who has] spent much of her childhood torn between two conflicting faiths and cultures in Israel”.

The Gaza Stripper from Kim Badawi on Vimeo. Used with permission.

GV: What kind of images do you think mainstream media fails to show?

KB: In general mainstream media is a slave to the “like” button. Visual stories need to short, and to the point. Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately not everything is black and white. [The story about the community of Chinese migrants in Egypt] failed to have traction from two reasons: First of all, while I was working on this story just about every editor who asked me what I was working on, after I explained to them that I had discovered a network of illegal migrant Chinese workers living in Cairo, their response would be, “That's great ! But Kim, what does this have to do with the Egyptian revolution?” Nothing, and that is why I pursued it.

Fortunately for me, I had receive funding from the French American Foundation and was free to work within my own limitations and work schedules. This story also didn't hit the pages of many magazines because it was shot in black and white. In short, because I see this as a historical document

The Migratory Silk Road : Chinese in Egypt. from Kim Badawi on Vimeo. Used with permission.

GV: What advantages do you think you have with the use of social media?

KB: In many of the cases where I have documented social movements, subcultures or communities in the past, social media and the internet in general have served as a platform for the individuals to connect [outside their locations]. In [the case of the Chinese migrant community in Egypt] however, the language barrier and the fact that Egypt was going through a social uprising, [communication had to go] on a person-to-person basis. The Chinese I photographed, however, were very present themselves on social networks and communicated daily using Chinese instance messaging, or QQ. It never ceased to surprise me that instead of a regular email address with a catchy name (like we would do it), they had really long QQ addresses that consisted solely of a series of numbers.

GV: Is there any idea/anecdote you would like to share with us?

KB: In this link I mention several anecdotes, including how I begun the project in the first place. This entire project was made difficult by language barriers. Because even with translators I was, for the most part, lost in translation. Whether it was Chinese speaking Arabic or Egyptians speaking Chinese, accents were so hard to grasp that I think this would have made for a humorous situation in itself. To make matters more confusing, differences in cultural attributes, manners and even culinary taste made for much discussion and at times, misunderstandings.

Once, I spent all day photographing a farmer family in the outskirts of Cairo, in Falloum. Explaining where exact their farm was to an Egyptian taxi driver was my first challenge. Finding it was another. Once I was there, I spent most of the day photographing the family working under the hot sun. Around dusk, the father invited me into their small home, and said, “Do you know what a farm does after a hard day's work?” He proceed to pull out a bottle of moonshine with floating seahorses inside. It tasted like fire, but after the first glass, it went down a little better. We chatted on into the night, until I asked if one of his children could help me get a taxis back to Cairo. I don't recall getting home, but remember waking up and feeling great at 8am! I had no idea what I had drunk, nor where they managed to find seashores in Cairo, but was told later that at least I wasn't drinking liquor fermented with insects, as that is custom in China!

Badawi's work has also addressed the ongoing exchange between some indigenous communities in Brazil and the country's rapidly growing urban population. Brazil's recent World Cup provided a particularly resonant frame for these images, which showcase how two worlds can coexist peacefully, if uneasily.

More of Badawi's art can be found on his website and his Vimeo channel.

by Laura Vidal at August 28, 2014 10:07 PM

Lawrence Lessig
Talk at TEDxKC: Of Course It Matters: Lesterland as the white…

Talk at TEDxKC: Of Course It Matters: Lesterland as the white primary. 

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at August 28, 2014 09:44 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Activist Blogger in Vietnam Gets 3 Years Behind Bars for ‘Obstructing Traffic’
Policing traffic in Hanoi, 20 November 2013, by Cesar Torres. Demotix.

Policing traffic in Hanoi, 20 November 2013, by Cesar Torres. Demotix.

A court has sentenced prominent Vietnamese activist blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang to three years in prison for posing a “serious obstruction to traffic.” Her two other companions, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh and Nguyen Van Minh, received sentences of 2 years and 2.5 years, respectively.

The three were among the 21 arrested last February while riding motorbikes from Ho Chi Minh City to the Dong Thap province, where they planned to visit a lawyer and a former political prisoner. Of the group, however, police charged only the three with violating Article 245 of the criminal code (causing public disorder).

Bui Thi Minh Hang is a known anti-China activist, and also a vocal critic of the government’s policies on land, religion, and human rights. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh is a fellow activist blogger. Nguyen Van Minh is a Hao-Hao-Buddhist-sect follower and an activist for religious freedom.

After six months of detention, the guilty verdicts came in this week. Many people, as well as friends and relatives, gathered in the Dong Thap province to support the accused on the day of the verdicts, but the police kept the crowd at a distance, arresting anyone who came too close.

 

On his blog and on Twitter, Ngoc Nhi Nguyen narrated the extreme police measures used to quell the protest outside the court house:

Since early this morning, the police barricaded all entrances to the block where the Court is situated. Anyone trying to get pass would be stopped and asked to be searched and have their ids checked. Anyone taking photos had their phones or cameras confiscated. Many were arrested, put onto waiting police buses and taken away, unsure where to.

This is what the Vietnamese government, a member of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, calls an open trial!!

According to reports, police even harassed some of the defendants’ relatives the night before the hearing:

…three groups of activists were locked in their hotels in Dong Thap, many of them are members of the Vietnam Path Movement, No-U Hanoi, No-U Saigon. Five members of the Vietnamese Association of Women for Human Rights were confined to their without food and water. One of them, Nguyen Thi Anh Ngan (Nguyễn Thị Ánh Ngân) had her seven-month old child with her.

Global human rights groups wasted no time condemning the prison sentences and the crackdown outside the courthouse.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, railed against Vietnamese authorities for using traffic laws to prosecute the pro-democracy activists:

The Vietnamese government is now resorting to bogus traffic offenses to criminally prosecute activists. The authorities should recognize this case is not worth the international ridicule it will cause and drop the charges immediately.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, called on Vietnam to release all those who were detained by the police:

Today’s verdict appears to be another attempt to punish peaceful activism in Vietnam.

Vietnam should rein in its police and stop attacks on peaceful activists, their families and supporters.

All those imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights should be immediately and unconditionally released.

Even the United States Embassy in Vietnam has issued a statement expressing concern over the guilty verdict handed down to the activist bloggers:

The use of public disorder laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is alarming.

Vietnam is no stranger to criticism about its human rights. The national government has faced criticism for its severe treatment of dissident bloggers in the past. Indeed, this new trial that's put behind bars a prominent activist blogger and an advocate of religious freedom has further emphasized the gloomy state of human rights and free speech in the world's 13th-most-populous country.

by Mong Palatino at August 28, 2014 09:42 PM

Global Voices
Powerful Video Shows a Syrian Toddler's ‘Rebirth’ From Under the Rubble of a Bombed Building
A screenshot of a YouTube video by Nour Media Center showing the rescue operation

A screenshot of a YouTube video by Nour Media Center showing the rescue operation

Good news from war-torn Syria is rare these days. Just last week, the United Nations revised its death toll for the bloody conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad and the factions that are opposed to his rule to more than 191,000. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay lamented that there is “no end in sight.”

With the situation so grim, let’s revisit one of those rare uplifting moments to come out of Syria in the last year. To those who don't believe in miracles, here is one.

This video, which has been watched more than a million times on YouTube via various accounts, shows a Syrian toddler being saved after the young child was completely buried in the ruins of her home following an explosion from a barrel bomb attack in Syria's second largest city, Aleppo.

Originally posted in Arabic by Nour Media Center, the video of the miracle survival was shared by news site euronews and YouTube user Cometotruth on January 24, 2014.

The good news came one week after her rescue on January 29, 2014. ATJEH CYBER WARRIOR shared the English-subtitled video identifying the toddler as a girl named Ghina:

Ghina is alive again after she was pulled from under the rubble. The warplanes shell the buildings, but human beings and children are the victims. Ghina lost her mother when they were buried under the rubble due to shelling. Ghina was lucky, but her mother wasn't. Now Ghina lives with her father and six siblings in their displaced house that lacks the minimum necessities of life.

Ghina is one of thousands of Syrian children who are paying a heavy price in the civil war, now in its third year. More than 191,000 people have died in the bloody conflict for control of Syria between forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad and the factions that are opposed to his rule, who first rose up during the wave of Arab Spring demonstrations across the region. Ghina was a victim of the crude barrel bombs that the government has dropped on civilian areas despite international condemnation.

Want to help Syria's children? Take a look at our post “Children Crisis in Syria” to learn how. 

by Rami Alhames at August 28, 2014 09:02 PM

Outspoken Mozambican Hip-Hop Artist Azagaia Is Appealing to Fans for Donations to Remove His Brain Tumour
Azagaia

Photo by Rita da Silva published on the page Ajuda O Mano Azagaia (Help Brother Azagaia) and used with permission. The campaign raised 10% of the funds for treatment on its first day.

Mozambican rapper Edson da Luz, better known as Azagaia, has revealed on his social media accounts that he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Some weeks ago, he suffered a strong epileptic attack and started to show behavior inconsistent with his personality, such as states of mental confusion and memory loss. Exams in Mozambique and South Africa confirmed a tumor on the left side of his brain.

If not operated on soon, the 30-year-old singer could die within two years. Considering the high cost of intervention in Mozambique and the probable wait time for surgery through the country's national health system, Azagaia was advised to continue treatment in India. Meanwhile, without financial resources to pay for the operation costing US $25,000, the musician is asking for contributions from his fans:

Tudo o que quero é conseguir o dinheiro para essa operação na India, mas sempre rezando por um milagre. Do fundo do meu coração, o milagre que desejo ver acontecer, é que esse tumor desapareça assim como apareceu, ou seja, sem que tenham que meter uma faca na minha cabeça.

All that I want is to get the money for this operation in India, but always praying for a miracle. From the bottom of my heart, the miracle that I want to see happen, is that this tumor disappears as it appeared, that is, without them having to take a knife to my head.

Azagaia, whose name means spear, has won fans for challenging those in power and addressing social issues in his music. His lyrics have caught the attention of government officials, too; in 2008, he was called in for questioning at the attorney general's office related to his music allegedly inciting violence. 

Fans reacted by sharing the Facebook post by his management over 700 times on Monday, Aug. 25. They left numerous messages for the singer in the comment thread. Many, like Moises Jesus Alberto, demonstrated their unconditional support for the rapper: 

Mano Azagaia tenha fe que o povo sta contigo, voce e a fonte d inspiração de muitos jovens, incluindo eu

Brother Azagaia have faith the people are with you, you are a source of inspiration for many young people, including me

Marcelo Massaite Jossias wrote:

O Mocambique e consigo, tenho a certeza que muitos nao precisaram de ir a igreja orar por ti, mas logo que tomaram conhecimento do seu estado pedem a Deus a cada minuto para ele te ajudar.Estamos consigo mano.

Mozambique is with you, I am sure that many do not need to go to church to pray for you, but as soon as they hear of your condition they will ask God every minute to help you. We are with you bro.

 Edgar Kamikaze Barroso shared a video of support for Azagaia on his wall:

Espalhem a mensagem, ajudem no que puderem. Há no final do vídeo o número das contas bancárias e o contacto dos titulares, para eventual informação adicional.

Spread the message if you can. At the end of the video there are bank account details and contact details if you need any extra information.

An equal number of messages of support appeared on Twitter:

I was speechless and sad at the same time with Azagaia's video

Let's help Azagaia. A little or a lot let's help.

Solidarity with Azagaia, the voice of the voiceless.

A Facebook page called Ajuda O Mano Azagaia (Help Azagaia) already has 3,300 likes. The crowdfunding campaign Azagaia Brain Tumor Operation Fund has reached US $5,724 with 10 percent of the goal donated on the first day alone.

by Janet Gunter at August 28, 2014 05:41 PM

Creative Commons
MapWorks Learning combines OER and open data to protect threatened biodiversity

Mangrove forests have been described by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the world’s most threatened tropical ecosystems. In an effort to protect and raise awareness around this problem, MapWorks Learning launched the first of what they plan to make an annual Mapathon for ecological preservation and learning. The inaugural event engaged schools, universities, and environmental groups around the world to document the health and well being of mangrove populations using the Mapping the Mangroves tool.

Screenshot 2014-08-21 14.45.03

The Mapping the Mangroves (MTM) toolkit is a project originally funded by Qatar Foundation International, and is now a keystone project of MapWorks Learning. MTM uses a mapping application built on the open source Ushahidi software platform, relying on crowdsourcing to collect geographic and descriptive data about mangrove forests. The project’s reporting system allows anyone to submit a report about mangrove forests, describing the area’s biodiversity and pairing it with geographic coordinates and other sensor data. The data are then displayed on an interactive map on the project’s homepage, with all reports searchable and explorable by geographic region and other habitat or report traits. The data are freely available for download and licensed under a CC0 Public Domain Dedication, too.

The MTM project is supporting the development of OER curriculum introducing learners to mangrove forest ecosystems, basic species identification, and explaining how they can take part in the monitoring and protection of forests around the world. The toolkit’s learning material is available under a CC BY-NC-ND license on OER Commons.

To find out more about MapWorks Learning and their upcoming Mapathons see mapworkslearning.org, visit them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
mtm_logo

by Billy Meinke at August 28, 2014 04:25 PM

Global Voices
Shame and Outrage in Algeria After Cameroon Footballer Albert Ebossé Is Killed by an Object Tossed from the Stands
A screenshot of Cameroonian striker for JSK Kabylie Albert Ebossé  scroring a goal.

A screenshot of Cameroonian striker for JSK Kabylie Albert Ebossé scroring a goal.

Albert Dominique Ebossé Bodjongo Dika, a 25-year-old Cameroonian footballer who played for Algerian club JS Kabylie, died on Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, after being hit by an object thrown from the stands following his team’s loss to rivals USM Alger. According to a statement by the prosecutor in the city of Tizi Ouzo, Ebossé died from internal bleeding caused by a blunt and sharp-edged object.

His death elicited a flood of condolences for his family and condemnations of the fans’ behavior. Mahfoud Kerbadj, president of the Algerian football league, described Ebossé’s death as a disaster for Algerian football. A statement from Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), called for swift action against the perpetrators.

The YouTube video below shows goals scored by Ebossé in the Algerian league:

In a letter to the Algerian Football Federation, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter wrote that Ebossé's death at the hands of a spectator was “intolerable.” Joseph Owona, president of the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT), described the footballer's death as an “appalling event…a gruesome and cowardly act” in a condolence message to Ebossé’s family.  

Meanwhile, the National Syndicate of Cameroon Footballers (SYNAFOC) of which Ebossé was a member also released a statement in French:

Le Syndicat National des Footballeurs Camerounais (SYNAFOC) exprime son indignation et condamne avec la dernière énergie cet acte ignoble, tenté d’une barbarie machiavélique qui a coûté la vie – sur un terrain de football – à l’un de ses membres.

The National Syndicate of Cameroon Footballers (SYNAFOC) expresses in the strongest terms its outrage and condemnation of this despicable act tainted with Machiavellian cruelty that took the life – on a football field – of one of its members.

SYNAFOC called for calm particularly among Cameroonian footballers in Algeria and promised to do everything in its powers to ensure that the culprits are brought to justice.

Widespread outrage over Ebossé’s senseless death was on full display on social media. Maryse Éwanjé-Epée, a former French and European high jump champion, vented on her Facebook page:

Mort pour sa passion… il rêvait, comme beaucoup de jeunes camerounais de jouer dans le championnat européen… Je ne suis que colère, rage même face à cette indicible violence qui n'intéresse personne ou presque. Des jeux et du pain… Et que continue le spectacle!

He died for his passion… like many young Cameroonians, he dreamed of playing in a European league… I am angry and raging against this unspeakable violence which seems to interest practically no one. Bread and circuses… let the show continue!

Jonathan Fadugba, editor of the Just Football blog, could not come to terms with the manner in which Ebossé died:

Another Twitter user, @heritierduroi, had a thought for Ebosse’s newborn baby:

Because of human stupidity a child will grow up without a father. Albert Ebosse recently became a father

Expectedly, Algeria and Algerians found themselves at the center of the international outcry. Kamel Daoud, columnist at the French-language Quotidien d’Oran newspaper, shared his feelings of remorse on his Facebook page:

Mots brisés. J’ai beaucoup dit depuis des années. Là, j'ai la langue morte. Ma nationalité est une odeur mauvaise dans les parfums du monde. Honte.

Shattered words. I have said a lot over the years. But in this case, I am tongue-tied. My [Algerian] nationality emits a nasty odor among the perfumes of the world. Shame.

Zinedine Ferhat, who plays for USM Alger and the Algeria national team, was beside himself:

No desire to resume the league after the death of #Ebosse! #Disgusted. Our lives are worth more than this rubbish.

Then he followed up with an apology to the Cameroonian people:

On behalf of all Algerians, I ask for forgiveness from our Cameroonian brothers! Allah Yerahmou! #Ebosse #Sad #Disgusted.

For Hamza Bencherif, an Algerian professional footballer who plays for Lincoln City in England, Ebossé’s death was personal:

Reacting to the flurry of anti-Algerian comments on social media, Twitter user Beghdad Meliza urged the public to be more discerning:

Stop saying that Ebossé’s death is due to a racist act. He was the supporters’ favorite player. He was our savior.

Another Twitter user, Mohand Yahiaoui, agreed:

There was nothing racist about it. We see this type of behavior at every league game. Unfortunately, it was fatal for the late Ebossé this time around.

The Algerian Ministry of Interior has opened an investigation into Ebossé’s death, while Algerian football authorities have announced that they are donating about 100,000 euros to his family, along with his full salary until his contract with JK Kabylie runs out. While waiting for the outcome of the investigation, public sentiment is best reflected in this tweet by Jonathan Fadugba:

by Dibussi Tande at August 28, 2014 03:00 PM

Activist Blogger in Vietnam Gets 3 Years Behind Bars for ‘Obstructing Traffic’
Policing traffic in Hanoi, 20 November 2013, by Cesar Torres. Demotix.

Policing traffic in Hanoi, 20 November 2013, by Cesar Torres. Demotix.

A court has sentenced prominent Vietnamese activist blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang to three years in prison for posing a “serious obstruction to traffic.” Her two other companions, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh and Nguyen Van Minh, received sentences of 2 years and 2.5 years, respectively.

The three were among the 21 arrested last February while riding motorbikes from Ho Chi Minh City to the Dong Thap province, where they planned to visit a lawyer and a former political prisoner. Of the group, however, police charged only the three with violating Article 245 of the criminal code (causing public disorder).

Bui Thi Minh Hang is a known anti-China activist, and also a vocal critic of the government’s policies on land, religion, and human rights. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh is a fellow activist blogger. Nguyen Van Minh is a Hao-Hao-Buddhist-sect follower and an activist for religious freedom.

After six months of detention, the guilty verdicts came in this week. Many people, as well as friends and relatives, gathered in the Dong Thap province to support the accused on the day of the verdicts, but the police kept the crowd at a distance, arresting anyone who came too close.

On his blog and on Twitter, Ngoc Nhi Nguyen narrated the extreme police measures used to quell the protest outside the court house:

Since early this morning, the police barricaded all entrances to the block where the Court is situated. Anyone trying to get pass would be stopped and asked to be searched and have their ids checked. Anyone taking photos had their phones or cameras confiscated. Many were arrested, put onto waiting police buses and taken away, unsure where to.

This is what the Vietnamese government, a member of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, calls an open trial!!

According to reports, police even harassed some of the defendants’ relatives the night before the hearing:

…three groups of activists were locked in their hotels in Dong Thap, many of them are members of the Vietnam Path Movement, No-U Hanoi, No-U Saigon. Five members of the Vietnamese Association of Women for Human Rights were confined to their without food and water. One of them, Nguyen Thi Anh Ngan (Nguyễn Thị Ánh Ngân) had her seven-month old child with her.

Global human rights groups wasted no time condemning the prison sentences and the crackdown outside the courthouse.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, railed against Vietnamese authorities for using traffic laws to prosecute the pro-democracy activists:

The Vietnamese government is now resorting to bogus traffic offenses to criminally prosecute activists. The authorities should recognize this case is not worth the international ridicule it will cause and drop the charges immediately.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, called on Vietnam to release all those who were detained by the police:

Today’s verdict appears to be another attempt to punish peaceful activism in Vietnam.

Vietnam should rein in its police and stop attacks on peaceful activists, their families and supporters.

All those imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights should be immediately and unconditionally released.

Even the United States Embassy in Vietnam has issued a statement expressing concern over the guilty verdict handed down to the activist bloggers:

The use of public disorder laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is alarming.

Vietnam is no stranger to criticism about its human rights. The national government has faced criticism for its severe treatment of dissident bloggers in the past. Indeed, this new trial that's put behind bars a prominent activist blogger and an advocate of religious freedom has further emphasized the gloomy state of human rights and free speech in the world's 13th-most-populous country.

by Mong Palatino at August 28, 2014 02:44 PM

Macau Authorities Crack Down on Pro-Democracy Activists Who Want the Right to Vote for Their Next Leader
Organizers of Macau civil referendum were detained in the first day on August 24. Voting stations in streets were shut down. People can only cast their votes online. Photo source: All About Macau's Facebook. Non-commercial use

Organizers of an unofficial referendum in Macau were detained on Aug. 24, the first day of the referendum. Voting stations in streets were shut down. People can only cast their votes online. Photo source: All About Macau's Facebook. Non-commercial use

Police shut down voting stations for an unofficial referendum on genuine democratic elections in Macau, a special administrative region of China, and detained four organizers for several hours last week.

The city's Office for Personal Data Protection alleged that the collection of personal information for the referendum went against Macau's constitution known as the Basic Law because it does not endorse any sort of referendum. Organizers, who had only just launched the referendum a few hours before, accused authorities of political suppression, arguing that voters voluntarily provided personal data for verification.

Macau, a former Portuguese colony, will elect its chief executive on Aug. 31. The only candidate is Fernando Chui Sai-on, the incumbent running for re-election. A committee of 400 representatives of social and political sectors, including culture, religion, labor, commerce and industry, as well as Beijing's representatives are allowed to vote. The rest of Macau's 270,000 eligible voters have no say in the selection of the city's top leader. 

To express their discontent with the current undemocratic political system, three pro-democracy civic groups organized a referendum for the public to express their wish for universal suffrage by 2019 and to assess the extent of public support for Fernando Chui’s re-election. Unlike Hong Kong’s constitutional documents, there is no written promise for eventual universal suffrage of the chief executive in Macau Basic's Law. Pro-democracy activists worry that Macau citizens may never vote for the city’s leader.

Over 7,000 Macau citizens have voted in the referendum so far. The organizers set up an online platform and five on-the-street voting stations to be open from Aug. 24 to Aug. 30.

Fei Te, a columnist from citizen media platform inmediahk.net, argued that police did not have any legal ground for the crackdown:

但奇怪的是,早前澳門終審法院的判辭已指出,儘管民間公投不具法律效力,但法律並無明文禁止,居民是「可以做」的。由此可見,當局完全是當終審法院的判決「冇到」,或純粹藉拉人嚇一嚇公投負責人或欲參與投票的市民,希望儘可能減低投票人數。

Strange as it seems, the judgment of the Macau Court of Final Appeal stipulated that, even though civil referendum is not a right contemplated by the law, the law does not prohibit referendum; residents ‘are allowed’ to do so. Therefore, the authorities disregard the ruling but threaten organizers and potential voters, to minimize voting turnout as far as possible.

Fei believed the Macau government fears that the referendum would evolve into another wave of anti-government mobilization after the campaign against the “bill of greed”, a bill that would have compensated high-ranking officials after they leave office and exempt the head of government from criminal liability during his or her term. Around 20,000 people — about 4 percent of the city's entire population — took to the streets in May 2014 against the bill and successfully forced the government to scrap it:

[...] 特區政府對自身的管治已失去信心。其實公投內的問題只是「你是否贊成2019年普選特首」及「你是否信任崔世安成為下屆特首」,市民完全可以選擇「不贊成」及「信任」;一個有自信的候選人,應該真金不怕洪爐火,但明顯有人非常害怕面對投票的結果,擔心會成為「離補法」後又一場的反政府風波。

[...] the Macau government had lost confidence in its authority. In fact, the questions in the referendum are only, “Do you agree the chief executive should be directly elected in 2019”, and “Do you have confidence in Chui to be the next leader”. People are free to choose “No” and “Yes” respectively. A confident candidate should not be worried. However, some people are not willing to accept the result. They worry that this will bring about another anti-government movement after the “bill of greed”.

Chou Kwok-ping, a scholar and an advocate of the referendum, compared the responses to civic referendums in Hong Kong and Macau and concluded that all rulers supported by an undemocratic system are afraid of any sort of referendum. Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have campaigned throughout the summer for the right to choose the candidates for the city's next chief executive election in 2017, while Beijing insists a committee pre-elect them:

今次公投與香港今年6月舉行的公投一樣,引起建制的鞭撻,原因眾說紛紜: 有的說是北京要避免西方民主理念在港澳地區擴散,有的指希望嚇窒市民、特別是公務員不敢去投票,推低投票數字,影響民間公投的認受性。但有一點肯定的是,中港澳三地的建制派,對「公投」有條件反射式的抗拒: 2007年,台灣民進黨試圖在2008年總統大選,同時舉行公投決定是否加入聯合國。由於決議有台獨色彩,引起中國政府強烈反對,港澳的建制亦步亦趨。自此之後,「公投」成為中港澳建制派的敏感詞。

The pro-government forces from Hong Kong and Macau condemned the civil referendums respectively in both cities. The reason is inconclusive. Some say Beijing does not want Western democratic beliefs to spread across Hong Kong and Macau. Some say they want to deter people, especially civil servants, from voting and thus minimize the voting turnout. This can destroy the legitimacy of the referendum. But one thing is certain: pro-Beijing political forces in Hong Kong and Macau reflexively resist against a referendum because of the history of referendums in Taiwan: in 2007, the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan planned to hold a referendum to ask people for their support in joining the United Nations during the 2008 presidential election. The result of the referendum would imply the de facto independence of Taiwan and triggered strong opposition from Beijing. The pro-Beijing political forces in Hong Kong and Macau followed suit [and condemned the referendum in Taiwan]. Since then, “referendum” has become a sensitive word for Beijing and pro-Beijing political forces in both Hong Kong and Macau.

China considers Taiwan, which is democratic, a territory and not independent. 

The police crackdown, however, will only intensify the social and political discontent against the unequal distribution of wealth in the gambling city. The number of protesters keeps increasing in annual rallies on Labour Day on May 1, China's National Day on October 1 and Macau's Reunification Day on December 20 as more and more Macau citizen come to believe that a democratic system is the solution to social injustice.

Ronald Yick is a volunteer editor for inmediahk.net, which is quoted extensively in this post.

by Ronald Yick at August 28, 2014 10:16 AM

August 27, 2014

Creative Commons
The 2nd OER Summer Camp on Luxi Island of CC China Mainland

The following is a guest post by LIUPing, members of the CC China Mainland Affiliate team and the School of Open community. Below is a description of the 2nd CC China Mainland open educational resources (OER) summer camp (30th June to 8th July 2014) for the children of Luxi Island, a remote island off the coast of China.

Why did we have the 2nd OER Summer Camp?

The summer of 2013 was special for the CC China Mainland team, Wenzhou Medical University and Guokr.com. These three parties co-hosted OER summer camp which was successfully initiated on Luxi Island. For Wenzhou Medical University, the summer camp has already been a part of its routine volunteering activities for five consecutive years. But it’s the first time for them to connect such a camp with the CC China Mainland Project. The latter, to their surprise, brought something fresh this time; a real world OER activity in rural China took shape.

The first OER summer camp received great feedback, not only from volunteers of Wenzhou Medical University that participated, but from the officials of Luxi Island, and more importantly, from the students of Luxi Public School.

Can we create some OER courses?

The first successful but not flawless camp greatly encouraged us to hold the second one. We thought there was a lot of room for improvement, especially that more CC-licensed OER should be included. In addition to OER available online, we wondered if we could make some interesting online courses ourselves for the kids within our reach. And based on feedback, “How to make herbarium” was regarded as the most interesting course during the first camp.

“We hope to make a difference,” said volunteers from Wenzhou Medical University. “why not make some courses based on our knowledge as medical students? We believe that would be more interesting and flexible.”

What courses did we create?

All preparations went smoothly by volunteers, days before the launch of the camp. Wenzhou Medical University’s student center, which provides opportunities for students to start small businesses within the campus, happened to have a photography studio. Undoubtedly, it was chosen to be our “OER course studio” for making videos of the courses. About 12 volunteers participated and 16 different courses were recorded, of which 14 were used, including:

1. The introduction of traffic signs (video)

2. Comprehensive water treatment, namely sewage treatment, flood prevention, drainage, water supply and water saving. The course was concentrated on how to identify water quality (video)

Comprehensive water treatment
ZHU Renkai / CC BY

3. Interesting Japanese language (video)

Interesting Japanese language
WANG Hongying / CC BY

4. Traditional Chinese handwork: stamp, tri-colored glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty and blue and white porcelain. The courses teach students aged from 11-13, on how to create this handwork.

Traditional China handwork
WAN Yu / CC BY

5. Interesting Traditional Chinese Medicine: introduce some basic knowledge about TCM, which is relevant to students daily lives. (video)

Interesting Traditional Chinese Medicine
WANG Hongying / CC BY

6. Interesting history: the introduction of some historical events which had significant impact on China. (video)

Interesting history
ZHU Renkai / CC BY

7. Presentation skills: How to give a presentation or host an event. How to present yourself in front of people with confidence. (video)

8. Course for senior citizens on the island: including some basic knowledge of labor contract if any of their family members are immigrant workers in other provinces; living knowledge such as why some vegetables can’t be cooked together, etc. (video)

Course for seniors in the island
WANG Hongying / CC BY

9. Pink ribbon: the course was designed for females on the island by Wenzhou Medical University volunteers. The presenter is a Clinical Medicine Science major student; she introduces relevant knowledge of breast cancer, including how to prevent it from happening. (video)

Pink ribbon
YANG Jiayi / CC BY

10. Muscle-bone strengthening exercise: Through proper adjustment in human body and correct method for breath (muscle, bone etc.), the exercise can help to improve blood circulation and the functions of internal organs of the body (heart, spleen, liver, lungs and kidneys). (video)

11. Interesting Oral English: Mr. Percy provides kids with some simple and easy oral English. (video)

12. MOOC from Guokr: How to select good quality fruit. A specially designed course for kids (link)

Feedback from Participants of the 2nd Luxi Summer Camp

Students’ comments on the OER summer camp:

CHEN Xinhao, Grade One:

We had many different courses, and learnt a lot from our teachers. Besides, discipline plays a big role in our classes. I learnt how to be strong, even if being injured, I didn’t cry. Teachers cared us a lot and we can feel the love from their hearts. Maybe next time, we can have more classified courses based on our exiting knowledge. I sincerely hope that they can come again; we really like all these teachers.

CHEN Yanjie, Grade Four:

I enjoyed my stay with teachers, from their daily lives, I learnt how to be strong, independent and insistent on my dreams. Teachers gave us so many supports and encouragement. Same time, I got to know my weak points and believe that I can always do better. I really hope they can come and visit us next summer, by binging knowledge and happiness. I like my teachers.

MIAO Xiaoting, Grade Four:

Though I can’t fully understand the class, I think all classes are great and interesting. Teachers really tried hard to explain us. I like this kind of teaching and will try my best to learn in future. I enjoyed the play time with teachers after class. It’s funny to play games and take photos together. So many unforgettable moments. I hope all of them can come back next summer. I love them! In order to provide us good classed, teachers’ preparation task lasted late at night and got up early in the morning. I hope they can have good rest after back home.

ZHENG Ruize, Grade Six:

One of the important things I learnt from these teachers is always be diligent, humble and hard work. I believe that I can walk out of this island and get to know the world outside. Now I’m on Grade Six, and will be in mid school soon. I think I will work harder in future and let myself become an excellent student with the days to come. I really hope after grow-up, I can back to the island with teacher, to support more kids in this island. I hope all teachers would take good care of themselves. I like them all and look forward to seeing them again with diversified courses.

Volunteers’ comments on OER summer camp:

QIN Xu, age 19, major in Law:

The most impressive thing happened in summer camp is the process of making courses. It’s a very interesting to be a teacher for others. Besides, team work always makes things earlier to proceed and get diversified thoughts on how to do it. Personally, being a teacher in front of so many students in different ages made me overcome the fear in facing a camera, become more confident.

PAN Yixiu, age 19, major in Traditional Chinese Medicine:

After being a volunteer for the summer camp, I understand that when kids made mistakes, the last thing to do is to blame them, but let them know why this is not the right thing to do. Taking a trans-positional consideration always helps in communications. As a teacher, we should encourage, praise them, other than criticize or disappoint them. Only by doing so, they create a new world with more confidence.

LIU Hanzhong, age 19, major in rehabilitation:

This volunteering experience really made me feel that kid’s world is so clean, honest and simple. A fine educational system should concentrate on personality-building, then knowledge-teaching.


About the School of Open

SOO-logo-100x100

The School of Open is a global community of volunteers focused on providing free education opportunities on the meaning, application, and impact of “openness” in the digital age and its benefit to creative endeavors, education, and research. Volunteers develop and run online courses, offline workshops, and real world training programs on topics such as Creative Commons licenses, open educational resources, and sharing creative works. The School of Open is coordinated by Creative Commons and P2PU, a peer learning community for developing and running free online courses.

by Jane Park at August 27, 2014 11:58 PM

Global Voices
Former Prime Minister Feeds the Meme Machine With Rejection of Trinidad & Tobago's Highest Honour
Patrick Manning thanking his constituents (June 7th, 2010) after his party's defeat in Trinidad and Tobago's 2010 General Elections. Photo by Taran Rampersad, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0  license.

Patrick Manning thanking his constituents on June 7, 2010 after his party's defeat in Trinidad and Tobago's 2010 General Elections. Photo by Taran Rampersad, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning has rejected the country's highest award, accusing the current prime minister of breaking the proper award procedure and blasting her for “vicious attacks” against him in past election campaigns.

In addition to Manning, current Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar also offered the Order of Trinidad and Tobago to another former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, who founded the United National Congress – the political party which Persad-Bissessar now heads.

Both former prime ministers had troubled tenures. Manning's People's National Movement government was accused of corruption via the construction of high-rise buildings that eventually cost billions of Trinidad and Tobago dollars (6.4 TTD = 1 USD), while the Panday administration's most enduring legacy has been the Piarco airport corruption scandal, for which two of the perpetrators are still fighting a legal battle to avoid extradition to the United States on fraud and money laundering charges. Interestingly, Kamla Persad-Bissessar's government is still feeling the backlash over legislation that it tried to slip by the country two years ago, which would have provided a loophole for the accused in the airport project to go free.

In a statement published on his Facebook page, Manning, the incumbent minister of parliament for San Fernando East, a politically important constituency in the south of the island, announced that he would not accept the award for several reasons. Firstly, he did not believe in accepting awards while in public office, but he also chastised the prime minister for not adhering to proper protocol in offering or announcing the award, especially given his claim that the current government had vilified him in the run up to the 2010 elections:

The Hon Kamla Persad Bissessar was able to win government on May 24th 2010 through a series of sustained and vicious attacks on my character that was led personally by her. These attacks continue. Through this nomination announcement is the Hon Prime Minister retracting those venomous accusations and charges against me?

Additionally, I was made aware of this nomination through persons who saw it reported on the social media, Facebook. [...] I was neither consulted, nor advised prior to this announcement. I consider this approach a gross discourtesy. Under PNM administrations, a committee considers these distinguished national awards, with the Chief Justice as Chairman and subject to the imprimatur of the Prime Minister. Due process for these awards includes informing the potential recipients through the Office of the Prime Minister in a confidential manner. Only recipients who have agreed to accept an award are then announced publicly, and with dignity. Had I been consulted beforehand, I would have been able to privately decline. 

Manning's “public distancing” from the award has naturally caused the prime minister a great deal of embarrassment. The Internet memes began straight away:

ask

blank

Criticism became more rife when, after Manning declined the award, the prime minister retorted by claiming magnanimity and saying Manning should not have brought politics into it. Facebook user Rhoda Bharath quipped:

Kamla behave like them fellas who, after they suit a girl, she blank them with a steups; and then the same girl they was suiting, they start to cuss she and call she names and tell she they didn't want she anyway.
Yep….our PM THAT classy!

Manning's Facebook page was filled with messages of support. Natalie Austin said:

Hats off to you Mr Manning, how can your character be assassinated in one breath and praised in same? this is just another distraction from everything that's plaguing them right now [...]

Others thought the offer was nothing more than an election tactic:

Kamla don't have a clue about how things are done, this is another way of disrespecting Mr. Manning. Election around the corner. Stand firm Mr. Manning.

Netizens were commenting on Twitter as well:

Basdeo Panday still has not indicated whether or not he will accept the award.

by Matthew Hunte at August 27, 2014 06:26 PM

A Private Hospital in Bangaldesh Held a Patient's Body Ransom Because the Family Couldn't Pay Up Immediately
A police guards in front of the United Hospital in Dhaka. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix

A police guards the front of United Hospital in Dhaka. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (7/7/2011)

United Hospital Ltd., a private hospital situated in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka, has bowed to pressure to release the body of a patient who died in its facility after initially refusing because the man's family couldn't pay the bill immediately, sparking public outrage.

The patient was transferred to United Hospital from another hospital on July 3 with cardiac problems and multi-organ failure and was under treatment in the coronary care unit. He died on the night of August 15, 2014.

There was much debate in social media about the unethical practice of keeping the dead body until accounts are settled. Blogger Kowshik Ahmed wrote on BDNews24.com's blog:

কল্পনা করতে পারছি না যে, বিলের জন্য লাশ আটকিয়ে রাখতে পারে চিকিৎসার মত মহান পেশায় জড়িত ঢাকার অতি উন্নত একটা হাসপাতাল। ৩১ লাখ টাকা বিল ছিলো, কেবিন /আইসিইউ ভাড়া ছাড়া এত বিল কিভাবে হয় যদিও সেটা নিয়ে প্রশ্ন থাকছেই, যার ১২ লাখ টাকা মৃতের পরিবার সাথে সাথে পরিশোধও করেছে– বাকী ১৯ লাখ টাকার জন্য হাসপাতালটির এই পৈশাচিক চরিত্র প্রকাশ্য হয়ে পড়েছে।

I cannot imagine how a modern hospital with a motto of providing medical services can keep a dead body for ransom of unpaid bills. The bill was more than 3.2 million BD Taka (about US $40,000) and the question remains how the costs can be so high. The family of the deceased had already paid 1.2 million (about $15,000). The evil face of the hospital has been exposed by its lust for the remaining $25,000.

Blogger Russel Parvez asked the hospital to beg forgiveness for its “unethical” behavior:

লাশ জিম্মি রেখে বকেয়া আদায়ের অসভ্য-অন্যায় আচরণের জন্যে আশা করছি আজ রাতেই হাসপাতাল কর্তৃপক্ষ ক্ষমা প্রার্থনা করবেন। প্রতিটি মৃত ব্যক্তির স্বজনের তার লাশ ধর্মীয় বিধান অনুসারের সৎকারের অধিকার রয়েছে। ইউনাইটেড হাসপাতাল কর্তৃপক্ষ পাওনা টাকা আদায়ের জন্যে এই অসভ্যতা করে বাংলাদেশে আইনানুগ ব্যবসা করছে কোনো জরিমানা না দিয়ে এমনটা হওয়া উচিত না।

I hope the hospital will beg for forgiveness by tonight for their unjust and unethical attitude of keeping the dead body as ransom to collect dues. Every deceased person's family has the right to take care of the dead body and arrange a funeral. The hospital should be fined for this kind of attitude.

This is not the first time United Hospital has withheld a patient's body until bills were paid, reminded blogger and journalist Abu Sufian.

United Hospital issued a press release saying they had warned the patient's family about the costs. The hospital continued treatment with their assurance that the family is capable and the dues will be paid. The hospital stressed that the remaining $25,000 is the cost of life-saving drugs and equipment and non-payment will incur a great loss for the hospital. The hospital did not, however, mention about keeping the body from the family for non-payment.

According to 2006 statistics, 40 percent of the 1,683 hospitals in Bangladesh were government hospitals, while the rest were non-governmental. In absence of affordable and effective health insurance policy, hospitalisation for a chronic illness can be a burden for any family. Some elite private hospitals like United can charge fees that are beyond the ability of ordinary Bangladeshis to pay.

Blogger Nir Sondhani commented in a post in Sachalayatan depicting the commercial nature of the private hospitals in Dhaka. Journalist and blogger Mahbub Morshed warned citizens not to go to private hospitals if they do not have the financial resources:

দেশে কোটিপতিদের চিকিৎসা-সেবার জন্য কয়েকটি হাসপাতাল তৈরি হয়েছে। হাসপাতালগুলো দেখতে ভাল। যে কারো মনে হতে পারে, ভর্তি হয়ে যাই। তবে ভর্তি হওয়ার আগে বা কাউকে ভর্তি করানোর আগে একবার ভাবুন আপনি কি কোটিপতি? যদি না হয়ে থাকেন তবে লাখপতিদের হাসপাতালে যান। লাখপতি না হলে পিজি বা ডিএমসিতে ট্রাই করুন।

There are some hospitals meant for the millionaires. These are good in quality, shiny. One may want to be admitted there for better treatment. But before that please ask yourself, are you a multimillionaire? If not, go for a less expensive hospital. If you still can't afford it, you can go to the government hospitals.

Facebook user Durjodhon termed the audacity of going to a private hospital instead of a government one without having the financial capability as an “inferiority complex”:

[...] তারা কিন্তু আমাকে জোর করেনি আসার জন্য, জোর করেছে আমার “ইনফিরিয়রিটি কমপ্লেক্স”- সরকারী হাসপাতালের মতন বাজারে (!)গিয়ে চিকিৎসা নেব আমি ? আমার মাঝে বাঙ্গালি সমস্যা, অন্যের চোখে ক্ষুদ্র হয়ে যাবার সমস্যা [...] আমার সামর্থ্য আর সাধের মাঝে ফারাক বোঝার অক্ষমতা অথবা অনিচ্ছা- এইসবই এই প্রাইভেট হসপিটালগুলোর কাছে আমাকে শিকার বানিয়ে দিচ্ছে, আমার আত্মীয়ের লাশের জন্য এখন তাদের কাছে হাত পেতে থাকতে হচ্ছে ।

[...] They did not force me to come here, my inferiority complex made me do it. Will I go to the common people's government hospital? No. We have the typical Bengali problem, fear of being cheap in the eyes of others. [...] The inability or reluctance to fathom the gap between want and ability makes us easy prey for these commercial private hospitals. So we have to beg to them for our nearest one's dead body.

A group of worker from a NGO forms a human chain in the city marking World Health Day. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (7/4/2012)

On World Health Day a group of workers from a NGO in Dhaka forms a human chain in the city protesting commercialisation of health services. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (7/4/2012)

The cost between the government and private hospitals vary widely, not so much in service or quality of doctor, but in quality of the medical instruments, amenities and comfort. A heart patient's treatment over seven days can be as low as BDT 4,000 to 5,000 ($50 to $64) due to subsidies from the government. A private hospital could charge the same patient BDT 100,000 (around $1,300).

Bangladesh, with a population of 150 million, has only one doctor for every 2,000 citizens. For every 3,000 citizens, there is one hospital bed. Bangladesh has extensive health infrastructure throughout the country, but in government health institutions 48 percent of posts for doctors are yet to be filled. The deficiencies in the government hospitals and the uncertainties regarding service prompts people to chose private hospitals at a huge expense.

And adding to that is the treatment runaround faced by the patients. Helen Ahmed, a user at the Quora-like Bangla social network Besto, recalled about someone close to her:

[...] বুকে pain হচ্ছে। তাই ডাক্তার একটা আল্ট্রাসনোগ্রাম করতে দেয়। বিকেলে রিপোর্ট আনে দেখি নিচে লেখা ছিল তার লিভার এ tumar ধরা পড়েছে। রিপোর্ট দেখে কাঁদতে কাঁদতে ডাক্তার কাছে গেলাম, বললাম আপা, ক্যান্সার তো লিভারে আছে, ডাক্তার বলল কাঁদবে না। রিপোর্ট ভুল আসতে পারে। তুমি এখনই ৭ হাজার টাকার লিভার ct স্ক্যান করাও। টাকার সমস্যা সত্তেও ওই দিন আবার লিভার ct স্ক্যান করাই। রিপোর্ট আসে লিভার ক্যান্সার নয়। ৭ দিন পরে আবার রিপোর্ট আসে ফুসফুসে ক্যান্সার। আমার কান্নায় আকাশ বাতাস এক হয়ে যায়। কেন বার বার এত হয়রানি।

[...] There was pain in his chest. So a doctor prescribed an ultra sonogram. I collected the report in the afternoon and it said that he had cancer in the liver. I went to the doctor crying. He said the report could be wrong. He prescribed another expensive CT scan. I managed to arrange that money with difficulties and avail the test. The report revealed that he does not have cancer in his liver. After seven days, another test reveals that he has cancer in the lungs. I sink into an ocean of teardrops again. Why so much harassment?

The government has formed a committee to investigate the United Hospital incident. The hospital has given the patient's family five months to repay BDT 1.5 million, giving a 25 percent discount. Otherwise they say they will sue the family.

by Rezwan at August 27, 2014 06:15 PM

Doc Searls
Rediscovering Junkie John, Tim Dawe and Penrod after 40 years

penrodI used to have an open reel tape of song I recorded off some New York FM station in 1970 or so. It’s long lost now. I didn’t know the artist or the title. It was was half talked, half sung, about a loser in Greenwich Village, “Junkie John,” coming down in a fleabag hotel. Very haunting, which is why I never forgot it.

I didn’t know what it was called or who did it. Every so often I’d ask people who knew music better than than I did, if they knew a song about “Junkie John.” A few said maybe it was a Blues Traveller thing, or John Mayall. But looking down those alleys went nowhere. I figured eventually that it was too obscure, and probably had a title that had nothing to do with what I remembered of it.

But a few weeks ago, at 1:30am here in New York, the song popped into my mind. So I looked up “Junkie John” on Google just for the hell of it, and… Wow:::: found this on YouTube, by Tim Dawe.

It’s the real thing. Amazing. Listen to it. Preferably on good headphones or speakers in a dark room.

Dawe starts the story over a plucked string bass. Very slow, laconic. About a minute in comes a Hammond organ with funeral chords. Then a haunting chorus. Gives ya chills. After about 5 minutes it digresses into a weird psychedelic jazz bridge with more instruments (it seems). Then the instruments drop out and it goes back to just the singer, the organ, the bass, and the end of the story, which seems to have no end, really. (Did Junkie John die, or just come down? Not clear.)

It’s very different listening with headphones today, maybe forty years after the first time I heard it, probably over speakers, probably in the dark, probably in a rural New Jersey house, with the kids asleep in another room.

Here’s the back story, from the CD re-issue liner notes. Funny to learn that the whole story of Dawe, the band, the recording, everybody involved with it, took place in Los Angeles and San Diego, not New York — and that it was a Frank Zappa production, on his Straight label (which had the bizarre stuff, as I recall), rather than his Bizarre label (which, again as I recall, had the straight-ish stuff).

The whole album is called Penrod (which may or may not be Dawe’s real name… also not clear). I bought it on Amazon for $9.49. Now I just need to rip it to the laptop.

Anyway, highly recommended.

Bonus links:

  • http://www.allmusic.com/artist/tim-dawe-mn0001559315/biography
  • http://www.allmusic.com/album/penrod-mw0000745016
  • http://badcatrecords.com/BadCat/DAWEtim.htm
  • http://www.amazon.com/Penrod-Tim-Dawe/dp/B00076Q006
  • https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/penrod/id432722101
  • http://www.ticketmaster.com/Tim-Dawe-tickets/artist/744342

by Doc Searls at August 27, 2014 04:34 PM

Global Voices
‘Citizen Lawmakers’ in the Philippines Are Organizing a Campaign To Do What Politicians Won't: Abolish Pork Barrel
‏@cjlagarista: Cebu Archbishop Palma among the first to sign in the people's initiative. @BayanMunaNeri #SignUpvsPork #AbolishPork

‏@cjlagarista: Cebu Archbishop Palma among the first to sign in the people's initiative. @BayanMunaNeri #SignUpvsPork #AbolishPork

Various groups in the Philippines have joined forces to pass a law through a popular initiative that will abolish the corruption-tainted presidential and congressional pork barrel spending.

The People’s Initiative is a mechanism allowing for the enactment of a law outside of Congress through a nationwide signature campaign, in accordance with the Philippine Constitution and Republic Act No. 6735 or the “Initiative and Referendum Act.”

The campaigners said the initiative has become necessary since the pork barrel system continues to be a major source of corruption and political patronage.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the congressional pork known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund is unconstitutional. It also ruled that the substantial parts of the president's budget reform called the Disbursement Acceleration Program is another violation of the constitution.

But despite these rulings, many people were outraged to learn that pork funds were secretly distributed to agencies in the executive branch such as the Department of Health and Commission on Higher Education. In addition, the president's 2015 budget proposal retains billions of lump sums and non-itemized discretionary funds.

Anti-pork groups and activists cited these reasons in urging the people to take matters into their own hands and abolish the flawed budget system through a People’s Initiative.

If approved, the law proposed through People’s Initiative entitled “An Act Abolishing the Pork Barrel System” will prohibit pork barrel, which it defines as:

a lump sum public fund assigned by law, regulation or practice with sole discretion given to the President, legislator or group of legislators, or any public officer. The exercise of discretion by public officers relates to the allocation, release or use of these public funds, the identification or selection of projects, implementors or beneficiaries, or any or a combination of or all of these.

Those who authorize or partake in the use of pork barrel funds will be penalized with imprisonment of six to ten years and permanent disqualification from seeking public office.

The People’s Initiative would need the signature of 10 percent of the entire voting population – around 6 million signatures – and 3 percent of voters in each of the country’s 234 districts before a referendum on the bill can be organized by the Commission on Elections.

‏@pinoyweekly: Jampacked at Mariner's Court, Cebu for historic launch of Ppl's Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel. #SignUpvsPork

‏@pinoyweekly: Jampacked at Mariner's Court, Cebu for historic launch of Ppl's Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel. #SignUpvsPork

Declaration of Unity: People's Congress to abolish the abominable pork barrel! #SignUpvsPork #AbolishPork

Declaration of Unity: People's Congress to abolish the abominable pork barrel! #SignUpvsPork #AbolishPork

Over 1,000 people from all regions of the country gathered together in Cebu City on Aug. 23 for a People’s Congress that approved the People's Initiative draft.

The proposed law was then presented in a public rally, which attracted over 5,000 people at the Plaza Independencia, Cebu City on the afternoon of the same day.

This marked the beginning of the nationwide signature campaign, which the organizers vowed to bring to communities, schools, offices, and public spaces.

@venzie: People Power in Cebu! Thousands gathered here in Plaza Independencia to #SignUpVsPork!

@venzie: People Power in Cebu! Thousands gathered here in Plaza Independencia to #SignUpVsPork!

The campaign kicked off in the country’s national capital with a 30,000-strong rally and signature drive at Luneta Park on National Heroes Day on Aug. 25.

Former legislator Teddy Casiño called on all Filipinos to become “citizen lawmakers” through his blog:

Congress will never pass a law to abolish the evil pork barrel system and neither will the President propose it because they are the ones benefiting most from the political patronage and corruption that the system feeds. So if they won’t do it, YOU WILL!

That’s right. It’s not only congressmen and senators who can make laws. The Constitution provides for ordinary people like you and me to also propose and enact laws. This is called the people’s initiative. By signing up for the petition, you become a citizen lawmaker. Imagine that.

@emmidejesus: 10,000 ang pumirma kanina sa #PeoplesInitiative vs Pork Barrel sa #MillionPeopleMarch sa Luneta #NationalHeroesDay

@emmidejesus: 10,000 ang pumirma kanina sa #PeoplesInitiative vs Pork Barrel sa #MillionPeopleMarch sa Luneta #NationalHeroesDay

@emmidejesus: 10,000 signed in the #PeoplesInitiative vs Pork Barrel at the Luneta #MillionPeopleMarch on #NationalHeroesDay

 

Phoebe Zoe Sanchez, a sociology professor from the University of the Philippines-Cebu, praised the united effort to fight pork corruption on Facebook:

My hair stood on my skin as I saw the hall packed-up with all delegates from the different Islands and organizations all over the country… It was quite an overwhelming event. The people, the church, the social movements are all one against the government and its sustained stubbornness to hold on and justify its wickedness.

Sarah Raymundo, another professor from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, wrote that the People’s Initiative is an exercise in “direct democracy”:

Relative to the any law passed through a constitutional commission or a constituent assembly, PI is more compelling as it operates on the principle of direct democracy, i.e. the people making laws for the people and not just representatives of the people making laws for the people. The former empowers the citizenry to say, “Let’s make laws that will be good for us.”The latter, as configured by representative democracy, entitles politicians to their undying claim: “We know what’s good for you.”

Labor rights advocate Carlos Maningat meanwhile pointed out the rough challenges that the campaign will face from the country’s ruling elites who will lose much from the abolition of pork.

Assuming that the People’s Initiative will be successful in ridding all forms of pork, will politicos still run for public office? …but of course the country’s elites will fight tooth and nail to retain the lifelines of graft and plunder in the bureaucracy. Without pork, politicians’ lives in our country would be very boring. They would have no money to splurge for their mansions and mistresses, and no “incentive” to keep patronage transactions well-oiled. It would be the end of Philippine politics, as we know it.

Luneta rally, view from the stage. #SignUpVsPork #abolishpork

Luneta rally, view from the stage. #SignUpVsPork #abolishpork

The People’s Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel is led by eight major anti-corruption alliances, namely the Abolish Pork Movement, Cebu Coalition Against Pork Barrel, Church People’s Alliance Against the Pork Barrel, E-PIRMA, Solidarity, Scrap Pork Network, and Youth Act Now.

#standupsignupvspork cartoon from the Peoples Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel website.

#standupsignupvspork cartoon from the People's Initiative to Abolish Pork Barrel website.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the national organization of lawyers in the Philippines, has declared full support for the People’s Initiative.

Updates on the People’s Initiative to Abolish the Pork Barrel System can be found by checking the website or following the hashtags #abolishpork, #signupvspork, and #peoples initiative, or inquiring through the email piap dot congress dot org.

by Karlo Mikhail Mongaya at August 27, 2014 04:26 PM

Lawrence Lessig
re [SIC]: so what is the norm here

Here we are in the middle of the first bit of the 21st century. “Published” writing…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at August 27, 2014 04:05 PM

On the state of the "farce"

Walter Shapiro has a pretty nasty piece about the Mayday PAC in Politico (“The PAC to End All…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at August 27, 2014 03:27 PM

Global Voices
‘Showcase of Shame’ Campaign Is Forcing Venezuelans to Confront the Uncomfortable Reality of Teen Pregnancy
Captura del video de la campaña de Vitrina Verguenza.

“In Venezuela, every minute three teenage girls under 18 get pregnant. Your daughter could be one of them”. Screenshot from the video of the campaign.

Shop windows are usually home to mannequins dressed in the season's latest fashions, not a shocking display of an uncomfortable truth. But one Venezuelan foundation did just that to raise awareness about the country's high rate of teen pregnancy.

The video by Friends of Children Who Deserve Protection (known as Fundana) begins with the statement, “Shop windows display desires, but when they reveal hidden realities, they cause fear, astonishment and shame.”The camera cuts to a mall where people stop and stare at a shop window, shocked at something not yet revealed to the viewer. Finally, the video reveals the object of people's attention: mannequins dressed as schoolgirls with pregnant bellies.

Every minute, three girls under the age of 18 become pregnant in Venezuela, according to the organization. A 2013 World Bank report found Latin America and the Caribbean was the region with the third highest teenage fertility rate behind Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Venezuela ranks among the top 40 of the list, along with other seven countries in the region. The same document mentions the five regional countries with the greatest success in terms of reducing teenage pregnancy rates during this period: Colombia (-25 percent), Haiti (-23 percent), Costa Rica, El Salvador and Peru (-21 percent).

Fundana's campaign is aimed at parents with teenage children and teens themselves to emphasize the risks of pregnancy at a young age, such as being forced to drop out of school.

The blog Vida como mamá (Life as a mom) reposted the video and wondered:

Qué estamos haciendo nosotras como madres, como familias, para prevenir un embarazo no deseado o una enfermedad de transición sexual. Están nuestras niñas y adolescentes recibiendo la información oportuna y a tiempo de mano de nosotros.

What are we doing as mothers, as families, to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, or a sexually transmitted disease. Are our girls and teenagers getting timely information from us?

Website Panfleto negro (Black flyer) reflected on how people deal with a delicate issue such as teenage pregnancy, given that the video leaves the viewer with the obligation of doing something they might not want to. But it's important that parents and adults take on the issue:

Tampoco es justo pedirle al video que resuelva el problema; bastante ha hecho llevando nuestra atención hacia ese tema tan incómodo. Así que valga este comentario como una de las conversaciones necesarias para continuar la labor iniciada por la campaña.

Neither is it fair to ask the video to solve the problem; it has done enough making us pay attention to this very uncomfortable issue. So, may this remark be one of the necessary conversations that go along with this task that the campaign has launched.

On Twitter, the hashatg #VitrinaVerguenza (showcase of shame) showed a variety of opinions:

To understand a nation's problems, we have to start with the basic stuff.

With this campaign, we promote information and discussion, as teenage pregnancy rates in Venezuela are the highest in the region.

Some tweets were addressed to parents:

Do you want your children to drop out of school and not be prepared for the future because they were careless? Talk to them, let them know everything about teen pregnancy.

Other users compared Venezuela's figures with those of other countries:

Countries such as Colombia, Haiti and Peru reduced their teenage pregnancy rates by more than 20%. What about Venezuela?

However, not everyone agreed with the campaign:

“Showcase of shame” is a campaign against dignity, don't miss it.

Showcase of shame? To be a young mom is nothing to be ashamed of, my dear fellow countrymen.

Panfleto Negro ends up its entry by saying:

Hay, por supuesto, otros temas asociados, como la falta de políticas públicas, o cómo los esfuerzos de prevención del embarazo precoz (y de cualquier cosa en Venezuela) se hacen con las uñas y sin apoyo articulado del gobierno. Como se ve, una gran caja de Pandora que este video, enhorabuena, se ha atrevido a abrir para nosotros.

There are, of course, other issues associated with this, such as lack of public policies, or how those prevention efforts related to teenage pregnancy (as any other thing in Venezuela) are carried out on a shoestring budget and without articulated support from the government. As we can see, a large Pandora's box that this video, congratulations, has dared to open for us.

This is a modified version of a post originally published on Global Voices in Spanish.

by Gabriela García Calderón at August 27, 2014 01:54 PM

August 26, 2014

Jessica Valenti
"I’m appreciative that young men [like the ones who created the “anti-rape” nail polish]..."
“I’m appreciative that young men [like the ones who created the “anti-rape” nail...

August 26, 2014 10:03 PM

Creative Commons
CC Salon in San Francisco: Public Domain FTW!


Source photo: Philipp Henzler, CC0

RSVP on Eventbrite
RSVP on Facebook

September 9, 2014
6:30 – 8:30 PM Pacific time
General Assembly, 501 Folsom St (1st and Folsom)
San Francisco, CA 94105
Public Transportation: Close to Embarcadero BART, Montgomery BART, or San Francisco Caltrain

Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and General Assembly are excited to announce an salon on Tuesday, September 9. This informal event will be a celebration of the public domain, with discussion on the cool things people are doing with it, why it’s under attack, and what we can do to fight for it. Before and after the discussion, we’ll have computers set up around the space with games from the Public Domain Jam. Public domain for the win!

Speakers

Parker Higgins
EFF activist

Anne Wootton
Pop Up Archive CEO

Ryan Merkley
Creative Commons CEO

Nicky Case
videogame developer

About General Assembly

At General Assembly, we are creating a global community of individuals empowered to pursue work they love, by offering full-time immersive programs, long-form courses, and classes and workshops on the most relevant skills of the 21st century — from web development and user experience design, to business fundamentals, to data science, to product management and digital marketing.

by Elliot Harmon at August 26, 2014 08:48 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Two Months After Flooding, Digital Freedoms in Serbia Are Still in Trouble
Severe flooding hits Serbia. 19 May 2014 by Aleksandar Levajkovic. Demotix.

Severe flooding hits Serbia.
19 May 2014 by Aleksandar Levajkovic. Demotix.

There's a worrying trend in Serbia's digital world. Media websites are increasingly the target of mysterious technical attacks that render inaccessible certain politically sensitive content. The harassment of online journalists, including physical threats, is also rising.

In the wake of devastating floods that hit Serbia in May 2014, several local websites that published materials that criticized the government's relief efforts suffered technical attacks. Also, the whole blog section on a popular daily newspaper website was taken down after a satirical post by one of the bloggers. Some of the people who criticized the government's handling of the floods have also had unexpected visitors: police questioned a handful of citizens, on suspicion of “spreading panic” on social networks.

Monitoring of Internet freedoms in Serbia conducted by SHARE Foundation for June and July 2014. Image by SHARE Foundation.

Monitoring of Internet freedoms in Serbia conducted by SHARE Foundation for June and July 2014. Image by SHARE Foundation.

The OSCE's representative on freedom of the media has expressed concern about the Web attacks and police actions, while the head of the EU Delegation and the US Ambassador in Serbia both called for greater respect of online free speech, joining a organized effort by bloggers and media representatives by local bloggers and media representatives. In a letter addressed to a European Commissioner, European MP Marietje Schaake also expressed concern about Internet censorship and pressures on the news media in Serbia.

The attacks that have rendered several Serbian websites inaccessible have relied mostly on distributed denial-of-service mechanisms. The website Peščanik, which publishes news and opinion, allegedly suffered a DDoS attack in June 2014, after posting articles claiming that Serbia's Internal Affairs minister plagiarized his dissertation. Around that time, another Peščanik exposé revealed that the former rector of a well-known private university in Serbia lied about having a doctorate from a London university. One of the authors who worked on these stories says malicious hackers accessed her personal emails. The newspaper Kurir has faced similar problems online, where DDoS attacks have brought down the site more than once—most recently on August 10.

Attacks on news portals are nothing particularly new in Serbia, where the prime minister's political party holds an absolute majority in the current government. In the past, the regime has tried to stifle the independent media, especially during the last election cycle earlier this year. In December 2013, for instance, the website of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) was hacked after it published a story about self-censorship in the Serbian online media. CINS suffered similar attacks again in February 2014.

Individual journalists have also faced greater pressures, especially in smaller cities, where reporters and citizen journalists are often at the mercy of “local lords”. In June this year, the Serbian prime minister and German chancellor held a joint press conference in Berlin. Natalija Miletić, a journalist working in Germany, asked about alleged media censorship in Serbia and academic plagiarism by high-ranking officials in the Serbian government. Miletić didn't get an answer, but the Serbian embassy in Berlin soon let her know that she'd not be welcome at future press conferences. 

In another nasty episode, Serbia's Emergency Situations minister insulted a CINS journalist when the reporter called to verify certain information for a story. The minister later apologized and tried sending roses as a peace offering, but the flowers came back return-to-sender.

Also this summer, Serbian police arrested an RTV Mladenovac journalist for a Facebook post that allegedly “damaged the reputation” of a high-ranking official in the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. A hotel owner threatened the proprietor and editor of a news portal in Ruma, and a city official in Smederevo accused several journalists of spreading false information on Facebook, going so far as to leave threatening comments and even a menacing picture of the Grim Reaper on his personal page.

These cases and other incidents documented by SHARE Foundation suggest that the state of free speech in Serbia's media space should be a growing concern. If online commentary by journalists and ordinary citizens is any metric, the Serbian government's response to the summer's floods has room for improvement. Unfortunately, rather than address its own failings, the state has discouraged free expression on the Internet and turned a blind eye to violations of digital rights and freedoms.

Things could soon get better in Serbia, however, as the country recently adopted new media laws that leave digital media out of the regulatory scope, while still providing certain registration options that grant online media outfits the privileges of traditional media.

by Global Voices at August 26, 2014 06:27 PM

Serbia’s ‘Declaration of Internet Freedom’ Wins Big Support from Western Dignitaries

blogclosedopen

Thanks to a group of independent bloggers and communications professionals, Serbia now has a Declaration of Internet Freedom. The document was born earlier this summer, in the wake of national elections and massive flooding, at event organized by some of the people responsible for Serbia's “Blog Open, Blog Closed” conference.

At the event this June, a panel of experts assembled to discuss troubling developments in Serbian media practices, such as frequent censorship and an absence of political pluralism. There are new concerns about free speech on social networks, too, after police questioned several individuals for “inciting a panic” on the Internet by criticizing the government's flood response. (The bloggers were let off with a warning.)

Three foreign dignitaries spoke at the conference: Michael Davenport, the head of the EU delegation to Serbia, Michael Kirby, the US ambassador to Serbia, and Deniz Yasici of the OSCE's Freedom of the Media office. All three addressed the importance of media freedom and free expression in the development and maintenance of democracy. The event was well attended—indeed, it's hard to see the speakers through the crowds of journalists in video footage now available on YouTube.

Over 100 people came to the conference, and hundreds more watched it online, tuning in to the live stream online, provided by Livetv.rs, a professional local video streaming service. As if on cue, a DDoS attack crippled the event's online video stream, just as the expert panel readied to discuss Internet freedom in Serbia. As people complained on Twitter that the video feed wasn't working, the video streaming service confirmed that a DDoS attack was making it impossible to stream the event live. Employees of Livetv.rs who were present at the event could not identify who conducted the DDoS attacks on their servers, but did confirm that the attacks were heavy and well-organized. Archived footage of the event, however, is now available online:

Media freedom is on the decline in many eastern European countries, where politics has a way of creeping into a variety of content. Increasingly, bloggers and common social media users appear to be facing pressures previously reserved for professional journalists. This became apparent after the devastating floods in Serbia, when authorities began bringing individuals in for questioning, under suspicion of “inciting panic during a state of emergency”, in other words, for publicly posting comments critical of the government on social networks.

As the organizers of the “Blog Open, Blog Closed” conference put it in their announcement, which was sent and forwarded throughout the blogging community in Serbia just days ahead of the event:

Ključno pitanje i cilj blogerskog okupljanja nisu da upiremo prstom u krivce i tražimo odgovore na to šta vlast i, da li, čini da bi se kreirala ovakva atmosfera i ohrabrivala praksa napada na javno izgovorenu reč i gušila kritika i sloboda govora, već šta vlast (ne)čini da ovakve pokušaje obeshrabri.

The key goal of this blogger gathering is not to point fingers at guilty parties and see what, and whether at all, authorities are doing to create this atmosphere and to stifle public criticism and encourage attacks on free speech. But [we're] here to ask to ask what the government is (not) doing to prevent such attempts [at stifling and attacks].

by Danica Radisic at August 26, 2014 03:47 PM

Global Voices
India’s LGBT Community Dares to Hope After Health Minister’s Comment on Gay Rights
An Indian gay rights activist holds a placard denouncing a Supreme Court ruling criminalising gay sex in Bangalore, India. Image by Abhishek Chinnappa. Copyright Demotix (11/12/2013)

An Indian gay rights activist holds a placard denouncing a Supreme Court ruling criminalising gay sex in Bangalore, India. Image by Abhishek Chinnappa. Copyright Demotix (11/12/2013)

A recent comment by India's health minister that gay people are entitled to human rights just like anybody else has rekindled hopes among the country's LGBT community, which has fought a long battle to convince the government to decriminalise homosexuality and uphold social justice.

The minister was speaking to journalists on the sidelines of an event organized by the health ministry in Delhi. When asked about his views on gay rights and decriminalization of consensual gay sex between adults, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said that everybody has human rights and it is the job of the government to protect them. Though he refused to elaborate further on the topic, the statement was widely read as supportive of the LGBT cause and widely welcomed — both by the LGBT community as well as on social media.

News anchor Gargi Rawat tweeted:

Indian journalist and writer Minhas Merchant told his more than 42,000 followers:

LGBT rights activist Tushar M reacted

However, some within the LGBT community continue to be skeptical despite the minister's positive comment.

Four years ago, the LGBT community in India had broken into celebration when in a landmark judgement the Delhi High Court decriminalized consensual homosexual relationships between adults. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code or IPC (adopted into the Indian Constitution by the Imperial British empire in 1861) which considered gay sex “unnatural” or “against the order of nature” was debated and annulled for the first time by any court in the country.

Even though it was considered a huge leap forward by many, there were many others who were severely critical of the judgement. Some complained “Western” culture was gaining ground over traditional Indian societal norms. In fact, Dr. Harsh Vardhan's predecessor had courted controversy in 2011 for referring to homosexuality as “unnatural” and a “disease” that had come from the West and was unfortunately spreading fast in the country.

Consequently, several appeals were filed with the Supreme Court of India, challenging the Delhi High Court judgement. To the surprise of many people and groups across the country, the Supreme Court overturned the Delhi High Court's judgment on 11 Dec. 2013, ruling [pdf] that the High Court's judgment stating that Section 377 lacked constitutionality was incorrect and leaving it for lawmakers to decide whether gay sex between consenting adults ought to be legalized:

While parting with the case, we would like to make it clear that this Court has merely pronounced on the correctness of the view taken by the Delhi High Court on the constitutionality of Section 377 IPC and found that the said section does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity. Notwithstanding this verdict, the competent legislature shall be free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 IPC from the statute book or amend the same as per the suggestion made by the Attorney General.

Like other issues in India, contrasting opinions from across the country poured in as soon as the judgement went public. In the midst of all that debate, the LGBT community which had thought that they had won the battle against the law in 2009, was back to battling social stigma and fighting for equal rights.

Shortly after the health minister's positive comment, the government clarified that the Supreme Court was currently hearing a curative petition on the matter and that the government had no plans to take up the matter of amending Section 377 until the Supreme Court gave its ruling.

While the issue remains suspended, caught between court and parliament, Global Voices spoke to a few members of the local student community in Bangalore and found an almost unanimous response: “Live and let live!”

Shraddha Shivraj, a 22-year-old student of telecommunication engineering, at BMS College of Engineering said,

I feel that India is turning into everything I’ve ever dreaded the most. To call ourselves liberal and tolerant is a far-fetched concept which will never be realized. And to see that in a society where Hindus, Muslims and Christians who are the majority, all of whom oppose a person’s rights to freely choose who he/she loves without being harassed by the society, is such a pitiful sight. What happened to uniting under Secularism now? What about the right to freedom? Have the Human Rights disappeared from the face of this country? If this medieval mindset does not change soon enough, I don’t think I will be a proud Indian anymore. Immediate action by lawmakers and human rights organizations is needed and homosexuals deserve and are entitled to the same rights as straight people.

Shreea Sharma, a 22-year-old student on an internship at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) located in the city, echoed this sentiment:

I just feel that it is disgusting how people can put a limitation on who you can love and who you cannot. Homosexuality has been observed in other animals too, then why call it unnatural? When nature has accepted it, what rights do we humans have?

Shreea's 20-year-old sister Ashna added:

Love knows no boundaries; Everything is fair in love and war; True love knows no nastiness. Denying someone’s love is completely antithetical to this very concept. You love whom you love, and you’re attracted to who you’re attracted to. Why should that be anyone else’s business?”

Akshay Nelakurti, a 20-year-old student also from BMS College of Engineering, said he felt the anguish and disgust too:

I believe this is a huge set-back for the largest democracy on Earth. Instead of giving people the freedom to live the way they want to they are teaching us not to be accepting. Why do the majority of people in India think that every change is a weapon of destruction? Be it gay marriage, gay rights, pre-marital sex, or live-in relationships, the last two aren’t illegal but still frowned upon.

Sabreesh Sekar, a 19-year-old student in the city and an active member of the Rotract Club in Bangalore, seemed skeptical about the government's promises to bring justice to the community. According to him:

The new Parliament will not table this issue because of its proximity to many right-wing organizations

The anger and frustration at the current state of gay rights in India appears evident among both the LGBT community as well as a large section of the youth. As is happening in many other parts of the world today, let's hope that India too will honour the human rights of its LGBT population and give them the freedom to be themselves without shame and indignity.

by Nickhil Sharma at August 26, 2014 02:19 PM

One Person Holds the Three Most Powerful Positions in Thailand Today
National Council for Peace and Order leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha during a ceremony for Queen Sirikit's 82nd birthday on Aug. 12, 2014. Photo by John Vincent. Copyright Demotix

National Council for Peace and Order leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha during a ceremony for Queen Sirikit's 82nd birthday on Aug. 12, 2014. Photo by John Vincent. Copyright Demotix

Prayuth Chan-ocha, the commander of the Royal Thai Army which staged a coup last May and installed a government known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has been selected by the National Legislative Assembly as Thailand’s 29th prime minister. Prayuth is also the chairman of the NCPO.

It was the NCPO that appointed members of the legislative assembly who voted Prayuth to be prime minister. There were no other nominees for the position.

Despite having no experience in governance, Prayuth assumed several positions as head of the NCPO. He appointed himself as chairman of the Board of Investment, the National Energy Policy Committee, and the Special Economic Zone Development Committee.

The army led by Prayuth launched a coup last May in a bid to end the violent clashes between supporters of the country’s major political parties. The army nullified the constitution, detained hundreds of politicians, and controlled the newsroom of major media stations. It also outlawed protests and the public gathering of five or more people.

Prayuth promised to hand over power back to the civilian government only after substantial political and electoral reforms have been implemented. The NCPO drafted an interim constitution to restore normalcy in the country, but critics pointed out that it only legitimized the massive role of the army in the government.

During his first speech as prime minister, Prayuth vowed to bring back happiness to the people:

Let me give a promise to the people that I will fully dedicate myself as I carry out my duties. I will be honest, transparent, and I will uphold the interest of the nation and the people as the priority … in order to restore happiness and peace to the people.

The king of Thailand has already endorsed Prayuth, boosting the credibility of the army chief since the king is the country’s most respected and beloved public figure.

On Twitter, journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk underscored that Prayuth is an unelected prime minister

Prayuth’s dictatorial influence in the bureaucracy was recently demonstrated when nobody dared to disagree with him after he presented the country’s proposed 2015 national budget:

Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and leader of the Democrat Party compared Prayuth’s coup with the 1957 coup, which also imposed an absolute control in the whole government. Meanwhile, Thai scholar Claudio Sopranzetti wrote that Prayuth’s political decisions are different from the overall strategy used by previous coup leaders in the past two decades:

I think Prayuth is making a personal attempt to assume the type of charismatic authority with popular support that none of the opposition governments in the last 20 years have been able to achieve.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, criticized the appointment of Prayuth and called it a “dark day for human rights.” “As both prime minister and junta leader, Gen. Prayuth can wield broad power without accountability. This marks a dark day for human rights and the future of democracy in Thailand,” he said.

Despite his appointment as prime minister, Prayuth announced that martial law will remain in Thailand. He has scheduled an election in October 2015, but this is still tentative because political reforms must first be implemented according to the standards set by the army.

by Mong Palatino at August 26, 2014 12:39 PM

Rising Voices
Girl Activists: Telling Our Own Digital Stories in Kyrgyzstan

Rising Voices Grantee Project Update

First workshop. Photo courtesy of Girl Activists of Kyrgyzstan and used with permission.

First workshop. Photo courtesy of Girl Activists of Kyrgyzstan and used with permission.

We are Girl Activists of Kyrgyzstan, who are fighting for equality between girls and boys. We are fighting for a world without violence, hate, injustice, and discrimination.

Kyrgyzstan is little mountainous country in Central Asia that faces many difficulties. Many people feel that the government does not want to listen to youth in order to make decisions that affect the youth.

Few people know how difficult life is for girls living in the villages. That is why our project “Our Stories Ourselves” works with girls from different villages in Kyrgyzstan, so that they will write stories about themselves and will document their lives in villages through videos, blog posts, and photos.

In July, we invited girls to participate in our project from three different Kyrgyz villages: Ber-Bulak, Kyzyl-Tuu, and Vorontsovka. Since then, we have been planning our future activities: how and when we will conduct trainings by the girls from Bishkek. At the trainings, we will show them how to use WordPress for posting their stories on our blog, and how to take photos, videos, audios, and write notes with smartphones, and then share them on Facebook and Twitter.

Girls from two other villages, Kashka-Suu and Otogon were unable to participate. We had some difficulties with some parents’ patriarchal and conservative views towards their children. Some parents categorically didn't allow their daughters to come to the city to participate in the training, as they found it unnecessary. We want to meet with their parents and explain how important it is for girls to participate.

Many girls have to work everyday to make money to support their families and others have obligations at home. Somebody has to clean the house or look after their little sisters and brothers or milk cows or tend and herd sheep. But do they want to do all these things?

Nobody asked them.

Girls help sustain life in the villages.

We also discussed stories. What did they want to share in their stories? What is important for them and what are they worried about? How do they live and what problems do they face?

It was good that girls were active to participate. That was important for them. They wanted something to add or something to change.

I think the most important thing at this meeting is that we found new friends. We support each other and this was really cool.

Our team from Bishkek also participated. We found many things that we did not know about WordPress and many other clever functions in smartphones. It was really interesting for us too, as we explored citizen media alongside the girls from villages too. We were all teachers, and we were all students.

by dariya at August 26, 2014 07:06 AM

Ben Adida
Power & Accountability

So there’s this hot new app called Secret. The app is really clever: it prompts you to share secrets, and it sends those secrets to your social circle. It doesn’t identify you directly to your friends. Instead, it tells readers that this secret was written by one of their friends without identifying which one. The popularity of the app appears to be off the charts, with significant venture-capital investment in a short period of time. There are amazing stories of people seeking out emotional support on Secret, and awful stories of bullying that have caused significant uproar. Secret has recently released features aimed at curbing bullying.

My sense is that the commentary to date is missing the mark. There’s talk of the danger of anonymous speech. Even the founders of Secret talk about their app like it’s anonymous speech:

“Anonymity is a really powerful thing, and with that power comes great responsibility. Figuring out these issues is the key to our long-term success, but it’s a hard, hard problem and we are doing the best we can.”

And this is certainly true: we’ve known for a while that anonymous speech can reveal the worst in people. But that’s not what we’re dealing with here. Posts on Secret are not anonymous. Posts on Secret are guaranteed to be authored by one of your friends. That guarantee is enabled and relayed by the Secret platform. That’s a very different beast than anonymity.

In general, if you seek good behavior, Power and Accountability need to be connected: the more Power you give someone, the more you hold them Accountable. Anonymity can be dangerous because it removes Accountability. That said, anonymity also removes some Power: if you’re not signing your name to your statement, it carries less weight. With Secret, Accountability is absent, just like with anonymous speech, but the power of identified speech remains in full force. That leads to amazing positive experiences: people can share thoughts of suicide with friends who can help, all under the cloak of group-anonymity that is both protecting and empowering. And it leads to disastrous power granted to bullies attacking their victims with the full force of speaking with authority – the bully is one of their friends! – while carrying zero accountability. That kind of power is likely to produce more bullies, too.

This is so much more potent that anonymity. And if this fascinating experiment is to do more good than harm, it will need to seriously push the envelope on systems for Accountability that are on par with the power Secret grants.

Here’s a free idea, straight out of crypto land. In cryptographic protocols that combine a need for good behavior with privacy/anonymity protections, there is often a trigger where bad behavior removes the anonymity shield. What if Secret revealed the identity of those users found to be in repeated violation of a code of good behavior? Would the threat of potential shame keep people in line, leaving the good uses intact while disincentivizing the destructive ones?


by benadida at August 26, 2014 05:15 AM

August 25, 2014

Global Voices
China Insists That Hong Kong Should Only Have Pro-Beijing Candidates — for National Security
Civic group, Occupy Central with Love and Peace, organized a public event, “Hike for Democracy”, to express the pan-democrats’ determination to struggle for geniune democracy in Hong Kong. Photo by PH Yang, non-commercial use.

Civic group Occupy Central with Love and Peace organized a public event, “Hike for Democracy”, to express the pan-democrats’ determination to struggle for geniune democracy in Hong Kong. Photo by PH Yang, non-commercial use.

As pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong continue to push for a greater say in the election of the city's leader, top officials in mainland China closed discussion on the matter, claiming any restrictions placed on the vote are done so for national security.

Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, is set to have its first direct vote of the city's chief executive in 2017, but Beijing says a nominating committee must approve the candidates. Democracy advocates fear Hong Kong will only have pro-Beijing candidates to choose from, defeating the purpose of the election. 

Last week, chairmen of China's Basic Law Committee Li Fei met with Hong Kong lawmakers in the mainland city of Shenzhen on the city's electoral reform. In the seminar, Li said that “the person who governs Hong Kong must be a patriot” or the city is at risk of turning into an independent political entity.

Siu Sin-por, the head of the Hong Kong Central Policy Unit, further elaborated that because China has adopted a single-party system, national security is equivalent to the security of the Chinese Communist Party's leadership in China. The Beijing government would therefore not accept anyone who advocates for the demise of the single-party system as a candidate for chief executive.

Benny Tai, one of the leaders of Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a protest movement that plans to stage a massive sit-in in Hong Kong's financial district if citizens are not allowed to choose the candidates, rebuked Beijing’s government's view on the movement's website. He cited the city's constitution known as the Basic Law:

《基本法》其實已為國家安全給了法律上的定義,那就是二十三條的規定。威脅國家安全的行為就是叛國、分裂國家、煽動叛亂、顛覆中央人民政府及竊取國家機密的行為。按這些理解,我們會問特首是經過一個無篩選提名的選舉辦法由港人一人一票選出,如何會威脅到國家安全呢? [...]

無論由誰來當特首,他也只能按着《基本法》的規定行使權力,而特首只負責香港的內部事務,而中央政府是保留着國防及外交的權力,權力界線清楚,特首根本不能在其職務範圍內做任何事威脅國家安全。若特首超出了其職權範圍,即使沒有做任何威脅國家安全的事,只要有充份證據,中央政府也可把他罷免,更不要說他做了一些威脅國家安全的事

The “Basic Law” has a clear definition of “national security” in article 23. Acts that threaten national security are treason, separation of the state, sedition, subverting the central government of China and stealing national secrets. According to this understanding, how would universal suffrage without pre-selection by a nominating body in the election of the chief executive threaten national security? [...]

Whosoever takes up the role of chief executive has to follow the Basic Law to exercise power. The chief executive is only responsible for domestic affairs and the central government retains the authority over military defense and diplomacy. The line is clear. The duties of the chief executive include nothing that touches upon the issue of national security. If the chief executive overreaches his authority, given enough evidence, the central government can dismiss him even if he poses no threat to national security.

In order to make sure the candidates of chief executive are patriots, the Beijing government wants to introduce a pre-election mechanism, which means all candidates have to obtain more than 50 percent of the votes from the nominating committee in order to become a legitimate candidate. The standing committee of the National People Representative Conference is now having a meeting in Beijing and it is very likely that they will take a hard line on Hong Kong's election laws by requiring that candidates are screened and approved before the actual election.

Benny Tai believed that such mechanism would in fact undermine national security as the central government would have to manipulate the formation of the nominating committee to make sure that they control 50 percent of the vote. The manipulation process would stir up conflicts in different sectors. He pointed out there are smarter suggestions put forward by law experts and pro-government politicians:

其實要防止威脅國家安全的人成為候選人,已有人提出了一些更聰明及更有效率的方法。香港大學法律學院前院長陳文敏教授建議引入品格審查的制度,以保證候選人品格操守。審查是沿用目前高官及問責官員的品格審查機制。早在今年五月全國政協常委胡定旭先生曾建議提委會設「反對機制」,規定如有百分之三十委員提出反對某參選人參選,而又獲得百分之六十委員通過,該參選人必須退出。

To prevent those who threaten national security for running the chief executive, some have put forward a smarter proposal. Joseph Chan, former head of the School of Law at Hong Kong University, suggested an integrity check mechanism to ensure the candidates’ character and conduct are intact. The integrity check mechanism is in place for the appointment of top government officials. Anthony Wu, a member of the the standing committee of the Nation Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultation Conference, suggested a “vote down mechanism” in the nominating committee — if 30 percent of members or more vote against a potential candidate and the “vote down suggestion is supported by 60 percent of members of more, the candidate has to withdraw from the election.

He Weifang, a Beijing University law professor, shared Benny Tai’s view and wrote on popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo (his post has since been deleted; below is copied from a BBC Chinese report):

依據基本法,香港特首除年齡國籍規定外,只有47條規定的『廉潔奉公,盡忠職守』,愛國愛港並不在其中,人大提出此要求合否基本法存疑。

According to the Basic Law, the requirement for Hong Kong's chief executive, in addition to nationality and age, is stated in article 47: “[the chief executive] should be a person of integrity and dedicated to his duties”. There is no such written criteria as “love the country and love Hong Kong”. The requirement put forward by the standing committee of the National People Representative Conference is not legally well-grounded.

Chik Punshing, a blogger at citizen media platform inmediahk.net, believed that the rhetoric of “national security” is just to protect the ruling class’ interest:

說穿了,「國家安全」只是一個幌子,調動盲從者民族主義的情緒,好讓操控特權可以經由提名制度的框框,緊握在當權者手中。這也是同樣明顯的道理:若說操縱,三百萬人當然不比一小撮人容易,公開當然不比密室容易。[...]

說穿了,「國家安全」的借口背後其實就是「利益集團」,甚至不是黨,更莫說是國。操控了特首選舉,就是操控了政府;操控了政府,就是操控了利益分配的權力。請看新界東北,請看龍尾,請看西九,請看高鐵,請看大嶼山,當然,有朝一日,這裡被剝削殆盡後,紅色甚至黑色的資本只會不顧而去,才不會跟你談甚麼「愛國愛港」呢,簡直就是活脫脫的感情騙案。
[...] 中央掌權的利益集團知道得最清楚,感受也最深,遠的不說,近年的薄熙來、周永康、徐才厚,更不必再細數由此牽連開去的。

National security is just an excuse to stir up patriotic emotional responses. This will help the ruling class to manipulate the framework of the nominating committee. It is clear that manipulating a small group of people is much easier than 3 million voters. And closed-door manipulation is easier than open manipulation. [...]

Behind the excuse of national security are interest groups. They don’t represent the country, not even the Chinese Communist Party. Once they manage to manipulate the chief executive election, they control the government and the distribution of power. Look at the Northeast New Territories, the Lungmei Beach, the West Kowloon district, the high-speed railway, the Lantau Island [note: all the cited examples are very controversial developmental projects]. Someday, after they extracted all the value [out of the development projects], the capital, no matter if red or black, will just leave. They don't care about “love the country and love Hong Kong”. The whole thing is like an emotional scam.

[...] The central Chinese authorities know the situation best, just take a look at the recent crackdown on Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, Xu Caihou, as well as their corrupted network [all of them claim to love the country].

Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmakers vowed that they would vote against the Hong Kong government's reform package if universal suffrage contains a pre-election mechanism. Over the weekend, they attended “Hike for democracy” (see photo on top) to demonstrate their determination to fight for genuine democracy in Hong Kong.

by Oiwan Lam at August 25, 2014 11:32 PM

Experts Say Technical Issues Are Behind Egypt's Power Outages, but the Prime Minister Blames the Muslim Brotherhood
Writing the article during one of the power outages. Egyptians continue to suffer from power outages, with some areas experiencing up to 20 hours without power.

Writing the article during one of the power outages. Egyptians continue to suffer from power outages, with some areas experiencing up to 20 hours without power.

The frequency of power outages has risen dramatically in Egypt over the past few days, causing frustration among Egyptians, with some areas experiencing blackouts of about 20 hours. Contradicting statements have been issued by government officials regarding the cause of this increase.

The head of the Egyptian Electric Utility and Consumer Protection Regulatory Agency (EgyptERA), in an interview with Daily News Egypt, said that the main cause of the problem was a “deficit in the fuel supply.” An official from the Ministry of Petroleum has denied accusations that the fuel supplied does not meet the proper standards, an issue that was raised by another official from the Ministry of Electricity. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab pointed to ‘saboteurs’ for being a partial cause for the increase in outages – indirectly suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization, and its supporters have been damaging power lines and stations.

Egypt's current government has labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and accused it of carrying out attacks against police and civilians. The country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, who is a member of the Brotherhood, was ousted in a military coup last year led by the head of the Egyptian Armed Forces Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who later became president. Authorities launched a bloody crackdown against the group afterward.

The government’s claim that ‘saboteurs’ are behind the outages regarding the power outages has sparked ridicule on social media. Egyptian journalist Nadia el-Magd posted this tweet in response to those accusations:

“Al-Ahram [Newspaper]: Electricity [Ministry]: The shortage in electricity production reaches its peak today and nears 6,000 mega[watts]. The coup’s shortage … And still, [they blame] the Brotherhood?”

Nawara Negm, Egyptian activist and daughter of the late poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, tweeted her reactions to the accusation.

“And people respond to me and tell me that the [members of the] Brotherhood are the ones who are cutting the electricity! By God? Then if that is so, bring back the Brotherhood so they can bring back the electricity.”

In a sarcastic reference to ousted President Muhammed Morsi’s statement blaming an individual for receiving 20 Egyptian pounds to leave the on-off electricity lever down, Negm said:

The boy who took 20 Egyptian pounds, the Brotherhood is now giving him 1,200 pounds monthly.

Political activists have also criticized the media’s handling of the issue, comparing it with the way it has handled the same matter during the Morsi presidency. Revolutionary youth group April 6 used the media’s focus on the problems faced by hospitals during Morsi’s presidency to make that comparison:

We thank the children who used to die in the incubators when the electricity was cut once a day and are now steadfast despite [electricity] coming on once a day. #electicity_is_cut

During Morsi’s time in office, the media focused much attention on the problems facing the incubators at hospitals during power outages and blamed the government then for the failure. Today, television hosts have largely remained silent about the same problem or have blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the outages.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab made another statement regarding the energy crisis, claiming that Egypt’s electricity management system is the best in the world. Egyptians also took to social media to criticize the statement.

Egyptian TV show host Mahmoud Saad tweeted:

Electricity gets cut for 7-8 hours .. How can the prime minister say that we have the best electric power system in the world?

A recent article by Egyptian newspaper AlMasry AlYoum has also sparked criticism at the government’s handling of the issue. According to the article, favoritism has resulted in the redistribution of power cuts, leaving approximately 60 percent of the country dealing with power outages. Out of the remaining 40 percent, only 10 percent of the buildings that are labeled to be power-cut-free are those related to security, police stations, hospitals, and water and sewage stations.

Political activist and former member of parliament Mostafa Alnagar expressed his disappointment:

“From the misery we have reached regarding continuous power cuts, the people’s demand now has become equality in power cuts because there are areas in which power is not cut at all.”

An ask.fm user posted a message to award-winning Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas:

I live in a military residential compound at Rabaa Al-Adawiya. Electricity doesn’t get cut.

Abbas' reply was merely a period.

Power outages have occurred for years in Egypt, yet the rate at which they have been occurring has increased. With an ailing economy, the current system has a major challenge to face to fulfill the needs of the people and the demands that Morsi failed to fulfill.

by Mohamed Zeineldine at August 25, 2014 10:07 PM

African Ebola Survivors Share Their Stories of Recovery and Stigma
Ebola virus under an electron microscope. Photo by Flickr user NIAID. CC BY 2.0

Ebola virus under an electron microscope. Photo by Flickr user NIAID. CC BY 2.0

According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, 2,615 cases of Ebola have been reported throughout West Africa and 1,427 people have died in what is being described as the world's worst outbreak of the virus. There is no confirmed cure for Ebola, and the mortality rate for the latest outbreak sits at around 50 percent – although previous outbreaks have seen up to 90 percent of the infected perish. 

Those who have survived Ebola have remarkable tales of resilience and heroic care from local health workers, but also of sadness and rejection because of ignorance about the disease.

On Aug. 20, the WHO published a video on YouTube showcasing three of those survivors: Saah Tambah and Harrison Sakilla from Liberia and Matu Kamara from Sierra Leone.

Saah Tambah explains how he became infected and his life since his recovery: 

I got the Ebola from an uncle in Koindu. I went to visit him for two nights because there was no one to take care of him. After a few days, he died and then his wife and daughter died too [..] I started vomiting and suffered from diarrhea so I went to the clinic. When I got sick, my family doubted my recovery. Thank god for the doctors. They gave me a certificate that indicates I am free of Ebola in case anyone would still doubt. 

Harrison Sakilla, 39, is from Foya in the north of Liberia. He is the first survivor from his area. He lost his mother to the disease. He says:

I got the disease caring for my mother. If someone starts to see symptoms, one should go to an Ebola health center. They will provide care and one can make it out.   

Matu Kamara, 52, says she lost her sister and her child to Ebola:

My daughter felt sick after caring from my husband's other wife. She was feeling cold. I took her to the hospital and they gave her medicine. She felt better but then later she started vomiting. She died in our arms. I felt sick and began vomiting. I went to the hospital and two days later, I felt better. We survivors from this sickness need a certificate to show to people that we had Ebola and we were treated. Do not wait to become very sick before going to the hospital.   

People who recover from the disease often face heartbreaking post-survival rejection because of a lack of understanding of how the disease spreads.Such is the story of Dr. Melvin Korkor, a doctor of Phebe hospital in Liberia. Korkor has survived Ebola but he explains that his relatives and friends were weary of touching him, as reported on the Liberian-based Front Page Africa Online

Even though Korkor said he has been cleared of Ebola, he says that people avoid him. ‘Now, everywhere in my neighborhood, all the looks bore into me like I’m the plague,” he said. FrontPageAfrica reporter who trailed the Phebe doctor on Cuttington campus Monday observed that people left places when he showed up while friends, students and loved ones avoided his handshake or eat with him [...] “Thanks to God, I am cured. But now I have a new disease: the stigmatization that I am a victim of,” Korkor was quoted by a local radio station in Gbarnga. ‘This disease (the stigma) is worse than the fever.

Liberia is one of the four countries dealing with the outbreak, alongside Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Claudius Barnawolo, a Liberian physician's assistant, also beat the odds and survived Ebola. Front Page Africa Online recorded his testimony and his family members who also felt the stigma of rejection from their community:

Awareness about Ebola and how it is spread remains a challenge. Côte d'Ivoire has started an important Ebola prevention campaign, even though no cases has been detected yet. Ivorian bloggers have repurposed the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for Ebola awareness using the French-language hashtag #moussercontreEbola (lather up against Ebola):

The work of lab scientists such as Dr. Korkor or Barnawolo to detect and sort out whether ailing patients have Ebola virus is also crucial in fighting the epidemic. Abdoulaye Bah, a volunteer author and translator for Global Voices, highlighted their work in Liberia (via Jina Moore):

Jeejuah, 30, and two other women, all volunteers, are cooking for 12 of the most important, but invisible, people in Liberia right now. The dozen meals are meant for the team of technicians that tests the blood of suspected Ebola patients. They visit sick peoples’ homes and overwhelmed Ebola treatment centers, sticking needles in the veins of physically unpredictable, highly contagious people. They then drive their blood back to Liberia’s only medical lab, more than an hour from the capital of Monrovia.

Evidently fighting (and surviving) Ebola will take a tremendous deal of collective effort in the affected countries, especially considering the stigma inside and outside their borders.In the context of this epidemic, it has never been more crucial for the communities to realize that they need to get organized together in this struggle or they will perish together as fools.

by Rakotomalala at August 25, 2014 06:29 PM

Creative Commons
Wiki Loves Monuments: bringing open to Pakistan

Faisal Maseet
Faisal Maseet / Khalid Mahmood / CC BY-SA

Wiki Loves Monuments is one of the most successful free culture events worldwide. A global photo competition organized by local Wikimedia chapters and groups, it has been running since 2010 and has grown larger each year. For 2014, we speak to Saqib Qayyum from Wikimedia Pakistan about how the event will help promote the commons to new communities.

Tell us about Wikimedia in Pakistan, and Pakistan’s open community.

Wikipedia is the 7th most most visited website in Pakistan and is known by the vast majority of the more than 30 million Internet users in the country. Despite having financial and social challenges, Pakistani people are embracing the Internet and the growth rate of internet users is on the rise.

Surprisingly, however, the English language edition of Wikipedia has only a thousand or so registered volunteer editors from Pakistan. When you compare it with the overall number of internet users in the country, this figure is miniscule. The most disappointing fact is that out of those thousand or so registered editors, less than 100 – mostly students – actively contribute to the world’s largest free encyclopedia. The people of Pakistan are not contributing as much to Wikipedia as they should.

The national language Urdu is also underrepresented on the internet and is experiencing an online stagnation. The Urdu edition of Wikipedia has more active editors from India than from Pakistan. There’s a strong need to encourage people to get involved with Wikipedia and push them to collaborate and exchange useful digital materials freely online.

With regards to the open source community in Pakistan, the situation is analogous to that on Wikipedia. Outside of a core group of members of Mozilla Pakistan and Linux Pakistan, the majority of internet users are not familiar with the free culture and open movements. This, in all likelihood, is due to a lack of widespread awareness of the movements.

Even as Pakistan is experiencing a widespread internet penetration amongst the public, unfortunately the country has not yet adapted well to the ideas of free culture and open. Copyright protection in Pakistan is a critical issue and copyright infringement and online piracy has always been a concern. With Wikimedia Pakistan, we can help to raise awareness of the advantages and benefits of having open and free platforms, and the major role this could play in developing our market and economy.

We all need to play our part in ensuring a bright future for the open and free internet. I think the success of the movement globally depends on participation of people from not only the developed countries but also from the Global South.

How did you get involved with the open source and Creative Commons movements?

When I wonder why people are not very interested in open educational resources such as Wikipedia or other movements that promote free and open content, I imagine one factor might be due to the low literacy rate in Pakistan, or the deficiency in human rights educational initiatives in the country.

Many people who know me over the internet assume I am a university student or a professional in the information technology sector, but the fact is I’m actually a college dropout and work part-time in my family-owned manufacturing company and deal with overseas clients. Therefore, I am able to be connected to the internet for most of the time, and am able to keep active on Wikimedia projects as a result. So my devotion to the free culture and open movements isn’t a professional pursuit, but one I indulge in because it is fun.

Many people, and even my family, ask why I’m involved in the Wikimedia movement, as it doesn’t play a role in building my career and is not connected to my line of work. In short, they think I am wasting my time. I disagree. I believe in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge in this ever changing world and vehemently advocate for the principles of collaboration, openness, transparency and consensus which lay the groundwork for innovation and growth.

Since discovering Wikipedia and Creative Commons as a teenager, I have made it a point to actively promote the concept of free knowledge and open content as I believe the free culture movement can bring broad and positive social change in Pakistan.

Right now, I’m involved with the free web-based travel guide project, Wikivoyage, and am planning to publish a travel guide book for Karachi, my hometown, drawing upon materials I and others have contributed to the Creative Commons licensed Wikivoyage project. There is the possibility this could be the first Creative Commons-licensed book in Pakistan.

Lahore Fort

Lahore Fort / M. Umair / CC BY

What is the history of Wiki Loves Monuments?

Wiki Loves Monuments is an international photographic competition held worldwide each year during the month of September, and organised by the volunteer Wikimedia community members. The first Wiki Loves Monuments competition was held in 2010 in the Netherlands as a pilot project. In 2011, it spread to around 18 countries in Europe and more than 170,000 photographs of cultural heritage sites were uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the 2011 edition of Wiki Loves Monuments broke the world record for being the largest photography competition in the world. In 2012, the competition was organised on much bigger scale and extended beyond Europe, with a total of 35 participating countries and more than 363,000 photographs were contributed by more than 15,000 participants from around the globe. Last year, the Wiki Loves Monuments competition was held across six continents including Antarctica and had official participation from more than fifty countries.

What do you hope to achieve with the Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan competition?

Wiki Loves Monuments is one of the most successful initiatives of the Wikimedia movement. Over the past three years, more than 15,000 people, who have never contributed to Wikimedia projects, participated in Wiki Loves Monuments for the first time.

With Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan, I’m trying to encourage people in Pakistan to contribute to Wikipedia and motivate them to use Creative Commons licensing. It takes a lot of time and energy to edit an article on Wikipedia, but it’s pretty simple, fun and easy to take a photograph and upload it.

I believe once people participate in Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan they will eventually start to contribute to Wikipedia, which is amongst the most successful products of the open and free internet. Thus, they will eventually come to learn about the concept of a free culture movement. Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan, in my opinion is the best, quickest and easiest way to introduce the free culture movement to the country. I think Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan will bring a change in mindset of Pakistani people as to how they see the Internet. It will also spread awareness of free licensing and copyright amongst the people and will hopefully encourage a change in the mindset that knowledge should be freely accessible to anyone that we all should play our part to make this possible.

Why is Creative Commons licensing important to the competition?

Creative Commons is central to the competition in the same sense that it is important to the world’s largest encyclopedia Wikipedia, the most-used search engine on the web Google, and the largest and popular photograph database Flickr. I don’t think there’s really a good reason why one shouldn’t use Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons licenses were specifically designed for creative works and photography is a creativity, an art. It gives freedom for sharing information and knowledge and aims to encourage creative sharing. Many professional photographers in Pakistan might feel uncomfortable about releasing their photographs under a free license but it’s worthwhile to release at least part of your work under a Creative Commons license. Even a small part would work and be more than enough.

The Creative Commons license provides an easy and flexible way to share, and enable reuse of, photographs which enables maximum public exposure, at no cost, for both the photographer and their work. Creative Commons licensing also gives the photographer control on how they want to distribute their works whilst still receiving credit for the work.

How do people get involved?

Participating in Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan is really straightforward. Lists of eligible sites to be photographed have been made available online on Wikipedia. All you need to do is register an account on the Wikimedia Commons media repository, choose the sites from the list to photograph, take photographs of your chosen sites and upload the photographs to Wikimedia Commons. That’s it!

By getting involved in the competition you are helping to document Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage for current and future generations, and helping to contribute towards the expansion of free knowledge for all. Additionally, by participating in the Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan competition, you may be eligible to win a fantastic cash prize and even become part of a growing community that believes in making knowledge freely available to all.

The Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan website gives detailed instructions on how one can participate. I’m very excited to welcome everyone to participate in the first edition of the Pakistani competition; whether you’re a professional or amateur photographer or someone who has never engaged in photography before.

Wiki Love Monuments Pakistan launches on 1 September. To find out about Wiki Loves Monuments in your country, check out the 2014 website.

by Jessica Coates at August 25, 2014 05:33 PM

DML Central
Digital Tools Can’t Magically Create Connections
Digital Tools Can’t Magically Create Connections Blog Image

One of the best perks of supporting the Los Angeles Central Library is advanced notice of the readings and talks coming through town as part of their ALOUD program. A few months ago, when I noticed that danah boyd was going to be talking about her recent book, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens,” with USC Professor and Connected Learning pioneer, Henry Jenkins, I snapped up a ticket. The talk took place at the end of July, and the ideas that these two scholars expressed about how young people are interacting with digital tools are still rattling around in my mind, inviting further exploration. 

While boyd and Jenkins geared their talk largely toward parents, allaying their fears about the hours their children spent on social media sites they did not fully understand, I kept yearning for the conversation to turn its focus toward teachers and the ways that students’ digital lives could be translated into powerful learning opportunities. Formal educational sites were mentioned in passing when boyd referenced the “hierarchies of school” that dampened innovative digital learning in classrooms and relegated it largely to after-school spaces. While many scholars are wary about the role that classrooms can play as sites for powerful digital learning, citing the difficulties that come with bothersome constraints like standards and testing, I would like to re-introduce them to the dialogue and show how three of boyd and Jenkins’ main points could serve as catalysts for continued conversation among educators about helping students build personal, academic, and civic connections through digital tools.

1. “Tools that can connect us don’t do so automatically — online spaces are often just as segregated as other social spaces.”

boyd and Jenkins explained that while it may appear that digital tools automatically inspire connection across boundaries, the reality of how people use them often produces increased isolation socioeconomically and ideologically. They referenced racial divides between the groups of young people who access MySpace vs. Facebook, or Vine vs. Instagram, as examples of how the marketing of personalization and choice can be a guise for reproducing social divisions. Without concerted preventative effort, individuals can use the Internet to access content that corresponds to and validates their worldviews and biases while shutting out alternative perspectives, which is problematic for a democratic society.

I see this as an urgent rationale for critical media literacy in schools. While schools have unfortunately become more segregated over the years, they still remain one of the public institutions that can most readily introduce young people to a diverse range of people, texts, and ideas. Classrooms are perfectly positioned to teach young people how to understand, interpret, and analyze news content, political rhetoric, and marketing jargon so that they can make informed choices about how they interact with the complex digital information environment. The key word here is critical — educators need to think long and hard about the most powerful way to use digital tools to facilitate very human connections, rather than assuming that shiny devices will somehow magically foster bridges across difference.

2. “Young people use the Internet to organize political action, but their actions often get trivialized and patronized.”

During their talk, boyd and Jenkins made the incredibly important point that young people do not simply use social media for trivial or childish pursuits; instead, they use digital tools as platforms for responding to and acting upon the world around them as they develop into civic actors. And yet, while youth are criticized for being self-involved and petty in online spaces on one hand, they are often marginalized on the other when they do attempt to delve into political issues or organize social action. Adults often either dismiss their efforts as “cute” when they involve raising awareness about issues, or dangerous and punishable when they involve staging walk-outs or protests about those same issues. We may espouse freedom and independence as values we want to instill in our youth, but we don’t do a very good job of allowing them to exercise those values.

Again, schools are uniquely situated to provide young people with resources and guidance to express themselves in digital spaces and honor the new forms of literacy that online spaces have generated. This is not to say that schools are needed to legitimize youth online participation — only that they have a role to play in helping young people understand the role that text and media play in politics and social movements so that students can attach some context to what they do online. Plus, schools can help young people learn academic literacy skills through a medium in which they are passionately interested so that they can provide counter-narratives to those who would patronize them.

3. “The idea of ‘digital natives’ (or ‘digital immigrants’) undermines our own responsibility for teaching youth about digital life.”

Finally, boyd and Jenkins warned against the use of terms like ‘digital native’ or ‘digital immigrant’ — the former because it assumes that young people do not require guidance when participating in the digital world, and the latter because it suggests that those less familiar with digital tools will automatically have a difficult time negotiating the internet. This point again reminds us that digital tools are simply that — tools — and they must be used carefully and conscientiously by human beings if we want to reap their potential benefits of connection. 

I believe that one of the roadblocks to innovative use of digital media to support teaching and learning in the classroom is the perceived divide between young people and adults in digital ability. Teachers can be reluctant to experiment with new media because of their unfamiliarity with it and their fear of giving up control in the classroom, and when they do introduce technology, they are at risk of imbuing it with magical powers and failing to give students direction about what to do with it, assuming that students already know. While we do need to tap into the knowledge and expertise that students bring to navigating the digital world, this does not mean that we abdicate responsibility for setting up educational opportunities that will allow young people to interact with the digital world in sophisticated and critical ways.

boyd and Jenkins raised provocative points about the digital lives of young people that I hope will jumpstart a conversation among educators and spur some brainstorming. What do you think is the ideal relationship between classroom teaching and learning and digital media? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

by mcruz at August 25, 2014 05:03 PM

Jessica Valenti
Beyoncé's 'Flawless' feminist act at the VMAs leads the way for other women
Beyoncé, in the midst of an epic 15 minute medley at Sunday night’s MTV Video Music awards,...

August 25, 2014 03:59 PM

Creative Commons
A new course on Open Research at the School of Open

The following is a guest post by Beck Pitt, researcher at the Open University’s OER Research Hub. We are collaborating with Beck and her team to investigate attitudes towards sharing educational resources online and the impact of School of Open courses.

Are you curious about what it means to research openly and what benefits it could have? Interested in how you can be open and ethical when conducting research? Wondering how openness could help raise the profile of your research? Thinking about the benefits of sharing reflections on your research?

The award-winning, Hewlett Foundation-funded OER Research Hub based at The Open University (UK) is pleased to announce its very own School of Open course in collaboration with the Peer 2 Peer University and Creative Commons. It opens for sign-up today at https://p2pu.org/en/courses/2377/open-research/.

Over six months in the making and peer-reviewed by the community, this new School of Open course offers the opportunity to explore the concept and practices of open research with participants from around the world. The course has been designed for any researcher who has an interest in utilizing open techniques and practices in their own research.

Join researchers Bea de los Arcos, Rob Farrow, Beck Pitt, and project manager Natalie Eggleston for this four-week course that explores what open research is and the issues involved around it, including: ethics, dissemination, reflection, and evaluation. The course starts Monday, 15 September 2014 and features its very own “Open Research” badge for course completion and participation.

To sign up, simply click the “Start Course” button on the lower left of the course page once you have signed into or registered for a p2pu.org account. Sign-up will remain open through Friday, 12 September.

About the OER Research Hub

The OER Research Hub is an international open research project examining the impact of open educational resources (OER) on learning and teaching practices. It works collaboratively with initiatives, projects and organisations around the world, disseminating its research and curating evidence for the impact of OER on its Impact Map.

About the School of Open

SOO-logo-100x100

The School of Open is a global community of volunteers focused on providing free education opportunities on the meaning, application, and impact of “openness” in the digital age and its benefit to creative endeavors, education, and research. Volunteers develop and run online courses, offline workshops, and real world training programs on topics such as Creative Commons licenses, open educational resources, and sharing creative works. The School of Open is coordinated by Creative Commons and P2PU, a peer learning community for developing and running free online courses.

by Jane Park at August 25, 2014 03:58 PM

Global Voices
Footage Emerges of Mexican Politicians Boozing With Exotic Dancers
A demonstration depicting the symbolic burial of the National Action Party in Mexico, July 4, 2011, by Marcelo Hernandez, Demotix.

A demonstration depicting the symbolic burial of the National Action Party in Mexico, July 4, 2011, by Marcelo Hernandez, Demotix.

Note: this is a modified version of a post originally published on Global Voices in Spanish.

Scandalous footage of Mexican politicians using government resources to rent a mansion in Puerto Vallarta and go out dancing and drinking with exotic dancers at a local nightclub has made headlines throughout Latin America. Early last week, the magazine Reporte Indigo (Indigo Report) released a video showing several members of Mexico's National Action Party (Spanish acronym “PAN”) enjoying the company of liquor, song, and many younger women:

A Peruvian newspaper speculates that the incident could end the careers of two high-ranking PAN officials, the chamber of deputies coordinator and the national president's private secretary, both of whom faced accusations last year of running a bribery network in Mexico's public works.

The Mexican blog Sopitas was flippant about the video:

En medio de copas y música de banda, podemos apreciar cómo el líder de los diputados del PAN, Luis Alberto Villarreal, abraza y baila efusivamente a una de las bailarinas que asistieron a amenizar la fiesta. Mientras tanto, el vicecoordinador, Jorge Iván Villalobos, abraza cariñosamente a otra bailarina, sentado en una terraza.

La fiesta estuvo buena, por lo que podemos ver en el video. Recordemos que las fiestas de Villarreal se ponen tan locas que sus vecinos en Polanco se quejan (Nota del autor: Polanco es una de las zonas más exclusivas para vivir en la capital mexicana).

Amongst the drinks and banda music, we can appreciate how PAN's congressional leader, Luis Alberto Villarreal, warmly hugs and dances with one of the dancers who came to liven up the party. Meanwhile, the vice coordinator, Jorge Iván Villalobos, affectionately hugs another dancer who is seated on the terrace. 

From what we can see in the video, it was a good party. Let's remember that Villarreal's parties get so wild that his neighbors in Polanco complain. (Author's note: Polanco is one of the most exclusive residential areas in Mexico City.)

The video's release comes at a low point for the National Action Party. As it happens, this isn't the first time PAN members have stumbled into news headlines, after some dishonorable act. There is a PAN youth group that propagates national socialism and tweets using the ignominious hashtag #MoreNazis. (This is a play on the Spanish word “moreno,” which refers to individuals who are “darker-skinned.”) Several of the group's members, along with other individuals tied to the party, were recently arrested in Brazil for beating a local man after sexually abusing his wife

On Twitter, Internet users have mocked the PAN politicians caught drinking and dancing last week, calling them “diputables” (a conjunction of the Spanish word diputado [congressman] and the English words “table dance”).

Twitter user Contadores de México (Accountants of Mexico) joked about the politicians’ apparent love of nightclubs, recalling that the National Action Party is built on conservative values. (One of the men in the video, for instance, has been identified as Luis Villarreal, known as “El Yunque” (The Anvil), who has ties to PAN's right wing, which strongly opposes abortion rights, same-sex marriage, adoption by gay couples, and other civil rights campaigns.)

Jaime Delgado joined in the fun online:

The scandal has already resulted in dismissals. After the story broke, PAN's leader sacked Luis Alberto Villarreal (@VillarrealGTO), the video's star, from his post as fraction deputy leader in the Mexican House of Representatives.

The lawmakers captured on film, nevertheless, remain in the Chamber of Deputies, retaining their salaries and congressional immunity. Villarreal, for his part, maintains that his debauch didn't involve any government resources.

by Kelley Johnson at August 25, 2014 06:00 AM

Global Voices Advocacy
Leaked Documents Reveal How the Chinese Communist Party Channels Public Opinion
West Gate of Peking University. Photo by 維基小霸王 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

West Gate of Peking University. Photo by 維基小霸王 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A central government coordination body called Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group was established on February 27, 2014 led by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li keqiang and head of the propaganda authority Liu Yunshan. Such high level coordination group suggests that internet information security has become the top priority of the Chinese government.

In addition the protection of domestic information network, the control over information flow in the Internet through censorship and opinion channelling are considered as most important “stability maintenance” routine. In order to strengthen the monitoring of the Internet, the Chinese government decided to endorse “Internet opinion analyst” as an official occupation status. Many critics point out that the policy implies a change of the Chinese government propaganda tactic, yet relatively little is known about how opinions are “channelled” and what mechanisms analysts use in order to do their jobs. This begs the question: what exactly do online opinion analysts do? 

Different from the “Fifty-Cent Party,” people who are responsible for channelling public opinions by writing online comments and deleting posts, online opinion analysts use computer software to monitor social networking sites and forums, collect netizen opinions and attitudes, compile reports and submit the reports to decision-makers. Opinion analysts provide crisis management strategies for private, state and party-affiliated institutions such as universities, charity groups and civic organizations, as well as local and national governmental authorities. 

According to The Beijing News, roughly 2 million people in China currently work as public opinion analysts, officially outnumbering China's 1.5 million active armed service members.

A recently leaked evaluation of an opinion-channelling program at Peking University reveals much about the mechanism of Party-led opinion making in China. The research center, led by the Communist Youth League of China, is responsible for the coordination of opinion channelling and analysis within the University. The program monitors online conversations and messaging within the University community and publishes regular reports analyzing online opinion for University administrators. 

The leaked report concerned opinion-channelling efforts at Yenching Academy, a residential college at Peking University that launched this past spring. Yenching offers full scholarships for an one-year Master program of Chinese Studies (taught in English) and is designed to prepare an elite class of future global leaders. According to the University's plan, the residential college was to be located beside the main library at the center of the campus, which is surrounded with ancient Chinese courtyards and buildings. Many felt that the development project would ruin the heritage of Peking University.

In June, a university online survey showed that 88% of people were against the proposed location of the Academy's residence. University students started organizing campus protests in late June. An open letter about the matter, addressed to the Chinese president Xi Jinping, was posted on Weibo on July 6.

On July 9, the Peking University leaders discussed the matter with university faculty members and students at an open consultation session. 

The leaked evaluation, published by the Youth Research Center, describes the work undertaken by the opinion channelling program since July 9, the date of the open consultation.

According to the report, the university administrative and party office coordinated with the Youth Research Center and bulletin board system administrator on July 10 to obtain at set of user accounts. Online “bulletin board” systems are widely used for communication and discussion on Chinese university campuses. 

The bulletin board system administrator opened six work-related accounts for the online commentators. They began posting comments about the Yenching Academy project that afternoon.

Most of their comments expressed support for the Yenching project. At 19:11pm, work-related user account “dwww”, who claimed to be a university alumnus, posted an long article entitled, “My experience in the consultation on Yenching Academy,” intended to criticize those who opposed the project. 

The evaluation document pointed out that the language used in the post was too formalistic, unlike that of regular bulletin board system users. In addition, it leveraged personal attacks on certain teachers and students who spoke out against the project during the consultation on July 9. The post agitated other bulletin board system users, who soon dug into the IP records of “dwww”, along with those of other user accounts that flooded the system with support for the Yenching project. 

These users eventually discovered that “dwww” and “pkudavid” shared the same IP address — one that pointed to the office of University president. By tracking the user activities of “pkudavid” for a couple of days, other system users concluded that the user account belonged to Yang Dawei, the chief of the Peking University Party Office. 

In order to stop netizens from attacking Yang and the Party, the Center started to delete posts, ban user accounts and change the “hot topic” list (similar to trending topics on Twitter). But this did not stop users, who simply moved to social media such as the twitter-like Weibo, Facebook-like Renren and mobile social networking platform WeChat to expose the scandal. 

Headlines such as “Lie Exposed: Peking University Staff Member Pretended to be Alumnus to Support Yenching Project” became a hot topic on social media, and many popular Peking University alumni netizens such as “Peking U Voices” forwarded the story to their followers. Without question, the incident has undermined the university’s credibility.

The document puts forth three suggestions for future opinion channelling work: 

1. Improve opinion channelling skills, avoid accumulation of antagonistic sentiment.

2. Direct dialogue and communication, tried to include reasonable suggestions in the project. 

3. Prevent infiltration from both domestic and foreign/outside forces. Opinions within the university bulletin board system are under control, but the support from propaganda authorities and national information office is essential for controlling opinion on other social media platforms. To serve the interest of the university’s long-term development, it is necessary to crack down and punish those who spread rumors, launch personal attacks, and defame the university and its leaders. 

This case study demonstrates the difference between online commentators and opinion analysts, the so-called “50 cents” who actually take up the task of writing comments to channel online opinion, while the latter coordinates, evaluates and gives future direction for online opinion channelling work.

At first glance, opinion channeling appears similar to public relations work in other countries. But the leaked report suggests that Chinese online opinion analysts working for state-controlled institutions function more like intelligence agents, as they actively formulate governance tactics for the Chinese Communist Party. The report also shows that they are able to reach out to propaganda authorities for support on the ideological battlefield.

This evaluation report was leaked out in Baidu as public document initially but was taken offline quickly. However, netizens are copying the document and circulation it around without making much comments – as implied by the suggestions of the Youth Resesarch Center, any critical commentary that can be intrepeted as personal attack or defamation can lead to persecution.

by Oiwan Lam at August 25, 2014 05:31 AM

Global Voices
Leaked Documents Reveal How the Chinese Communist Party Channels Public Opinion
West Gate of Peking University. Photo by 維基小霸王 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

West Gate of Peking University. Photo by 維基小霸王 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A central government coordination body called Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group was established on February 27, 2014 led by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li keqiang and head of the propaganda authority Liu Yunshan. Such high level coordination group suggests that internet information security has become the top priority of the Chinese government.

In addition the protection of domestic information network, the control over information flow in the Internet through censorship and opinion channelling are considered as most important “stability maintenance” routine. In order to strengthen the monitoring of the Internet, the Chinese government decided to endorse “Internet opinion analyst” as an official occupation status. Many critics point out that the policy implies a change of the Chinese government propaganda tactic, yet relatively little is known about how opinions are “channelled” and what mechanisms analysts use in order to do their jobs. This begs the question: what exactly do online opinion analysts do? 

Different from the “Fifty-Cent Party,” people who are responsible for channelling public opinions by writing online comments and deleting posts, online opinion analysts use computer software to monitor social networking sites and forums, collect netizen opinions and attitudes, compile reports and submit the reports to decision-makers. Opinion analysts provide crisis management strategies for private, state and party-affiliated institutions such as universities, charity groups and civic organizations, as well as local and national governmental authorities. 

According to The Beijing News, roughly 2 million people in China currently work as public opinion analysts, officially outnumbering China's 1.5 million active armed service members.

A recently leaked evaluation of an opinion-channelling program at Peking University reveals much about the mechanism of Party-led opinion making in China. The research center, led by the Communist Youth League of China, is responsible for the coordination of opinion channelling and analysis within the University. The program monitors online conversations and messaging within the University community and publishes regular reports analyzing online opinion for University administrators. 

The leaked report concerned opinion-channelling efforts at Yenching Academy, a residential college at Peking University that launched this past spring. Yenching offers full scholarships for an one-year Master program of Chinese Studies (taught in English) and is designed to prepare an elite class of future global leaders. According to the University's plan, the residential college was to be located beside the main library at the center of the campus, which is surrounded with ancient Chinese courtyards and buildings. Many felt that the development project would ruin the heritage of Peking University.

In June, a university online survey showed that 88% of people were against the proposed location of the Academy's residence. University students started organizing campus protests in late June. An open letter about the matter, addressed to the Chinese president Xi Jinping, was posted on Weibo on July 6.

On July 9, the Peking University leaders discussed the matter with university faculty members and students at an open consultation session. 

The leaked evaluation, published by the Youth Research Center, describes the work undertaken by the opinion channelling program since July 9, the date of the open consultation.

According to the report, the university administrative and party office coordinated with the Youth Research Center and bulletin board system administrator on July 10 to obtain at set of user accounts. Online “bulletin board” systems are widely used for communication and discussion on Chinese university campuses. 

The bulletin board system administrator opened six work-related accounts for the online commentators. They began posting comments about the Yenching Academy project that afternoon.

Most of their comments expressed support for the Yenching project. At 19:11pm, work-related user account “dwww”, who claimed to be a university alumnus, posted an long article entitled, “My experience in the consultation on Yenching Academy,” intended to criticize those who opposed the project. 

The evaluation document pointed out that the language used in the post was too formalistic, unlike that of regular bulletin board system users. In addition, it leveraged personal attacks on certain teachers and students who spoke out against the project during the consultation on July 9. The post agitated other bulletin board system users, who soon dug into the IP records of “dwww”, along with those of other user accounts that flooded the system with support for the Yenching project. 

These users eventually discovered that “dwww” and “pkudavid” shared the same IP address — one that pointed to the office of University president. By tracking the user activities of “pkudavid” for a couple of days, other system users concluded that the user account belonged to Yang Dawei, the chief of the Peking University Party Office. 

In order to stop netizens from attacking Yang and the Party, the Center started to delete posts, ban user accounts and change the “hot topic” list (similar to trending topics on Twitter). But this did not stop users, who simply moved to social media such as the twitter-like Weibo, Facebook-like Renren and mobile social networking platform WeChat to expose the scandal. 

Headlines such as “Lie Exposed: Peking University Staff Member Pretended to be Alumnus to Support Yenching Project” became a hot topic on social media, and many popular Peking University alumni netizens such as “Peking U Voices” forwarded the story to their followers. Without question, the incident has undermined the university’s credibility.

The document puts forth three suggestions for future opinion channelling work: 

1. Improve opinion channelling skills, avoid accumulation of antagonistic sentiment.

2. Direct dialogue and communication, tried to include reasonable suggestions in the project. 

3. Prevent infiltration from both domestic and foreign/outside forces. Opinions within the university bulletin board system are under control, but the support from propaganda authorities and national information office is essential for controlling opinion on other social media platforms. To serve the interest of the university’s long-term development, it is necessary to crack down and punish those who spread rumors, launch personal attacks, and defame the university and its leaders. 

This case study demonstrates the difference between online commentators and opinion analysts, the so-called “50 cents” who actually take up the task of writing comments to channel online opinion, while the latter coordinates, evaluates and gives future direction for online opinion channelling work.

At first glance, opinion channeling appears similar to public relations work in other countries. But the leaked report suggests that Chinese online opinion analysts working for state-controlled institutions function more like intelligence agents, as they actively formulate governance tactics for the Chinese Communist Party. The report also shows that they are able to reach out to propaganda authorities for support on the ideological battlefield.

This evaluation report was leaked out in Baidu as public document initially but was taken offline quickly. However, netizens are copying the document and circulation it around without making much comments – as implied by the suggestions of the Youth Resesarch Center, any critical commentary that can be intrepeted as personal attack or defamation can lead to persecution.

by Oiwan Lam at August 25, 2014 05:28 AM

Global Voices Advocacy
Critics Fear Bangladesh's New Media Monitoring Policy Will Stifle Free Expression
BNP and its alliance parties protesting in a rally  against the National Broadcasting Policy in Dhaka. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (19/8/2014)

BNP and its alliance parties protesting in a rally against the National Broadcasting Policy in Dhaka. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (19/8/2014)

A new policy for broadcast media in Bangladesh is raising questions about controls on free expression in the country. The draft National Broadcasting Policy for the Bangladesh television and radio media, approved by Bangladesh's cabinet early this month, mandates the formation of an independent commission that will monitor TV and radio news and programmes and a broadcasting law, to be enacted in the future.

A large political party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has dubbed the National Broadcasting Policy as “regressive and intended to gag the media” and organized protest rallies against it.

In Bangladesh, there are approximately 24 privately-owned TV stations, 14 private radio stations and a number of community radio stations. The government owns one radio station and one television station. Bangladesh media is generally free although its ranked at 120th out of 178 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The private media is owned by media houses financed by business conglomerates who backs different political parties. In absence of adequate policy and regulatory framework, influential media can sometimes get away with publishing propaganda materials, plagiarism, and even libelous content. This is rarely controlled by authorities, as the judicial process is lengthy, influenced by politics and in some cases corrupt.

According to Section 39 of the Bangladesh Constitution, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression and press freedom is protected. The Daily Prothom Alo, a large Bangla daily, mentions in an editorial that this new policy is contrary to people's constitutional rights:

[...] সম্প্রচার নীতিমালায় প্রতিষ্ঠানবিশেষের খবর প্রকাশের ওপর বিধিনিষেধ জারির কথা বলা হয়েছে। গণমাধ্যম কী প্রচার করবে, কী প্রচার করবে না, সেটি সরকার বা তথ্য মন্ত্রণালয় নীতিমালা জারি করে বলে দিতে পারে না।

The broadcast policy talks about restrictions on dissemination of news. The information ministry or any other body of the government cannot dictate what the media will publish, or not publish.

Blogger Sakkhi Satyananda, however, thinks that the new broadcasting policy does not contradict the rights laid out in the Section 39 of the constitution, noting that the section makes an exception for

…any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

The blogger says that the policy deals with the above areas of exception which dictates a plan for forming an independent broadcasting commission. The commission will confer with all media sectors, including consumers, to audit unjust and unfair broadcasts and provide remedies for breaches of the law.

Journalist, blogger and leftwing activist Arifuzzaman Tuhin writes in the Bangla daily Kaler Kontho why this kind of policy became necessary in Bangladesh:

এখন প্রশ্নবিদ্ধ নির্বাচনের মাধ্যমে এমন একটি সরকার ক্ষমতায় যাদের অনির্বাচিত বলাই শ্রেয়। এরকম সরকারের জন্য এ ধরনের নিয়ন্ত্রণমূলক আইন ও নীতিমালা খুব দরকার। [..] সম্ভাব্য সমালোচনা আসতে পারে এমন সব বিষয়ের বিরুদ্ধে তারা অস্ত্র শান দিয়ে রাখে। এই নীতিমালা হলো সে ধরনের অস্ত্র।

The current government was reelected in a questionable election and there are concerns about its legitimacy. So this government needs more such laws and policies to control situation. [..] They keep their weapons ready to confront all kinds of negative criticisms. This policy is one of such weapons.

Journalist Mizanur Rahman also suggests in the Bangla daily Prothom Alo that the policy is intended to shield certain authorities from hard criticism and condemnation. However, Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu differed, arguing that the budding broadcast media in Bangladesh is not properly regulated due to outdated laws, rules and regulations. He believes the policy will help to update and modernise the regulation of the industry.

Blogger Firoz Zaman Chowdhury reminded readers in an old post that private TV stations have been operating largely without regulation since their rise.

After the approval of this draft policy in the cabinet, heavy debate ensued on social media. Those with connections to the media industry mostly expressed their concerns. On Facebook, journalist Amin Al Rashid wondered why this draft policy was not widely publicised and debated by media before approval.

সম্প্রচার নীতিমালা নিয়া সম্প্রচারকর্মীরা খুবই উদ্বিগ্ন….তো এইটা মন্ত্রিসভায় অনুমোদনের আগে এর ধারা উপধারা নিয়ে সিরিজ রিপোর্ট করলেন না কেন?…তাহলে তো সরকার একটা চাপে থাকত এবং এটা অনুমোদনের আগে আরও হয়তো পরীক্ষা নিরীক্ষা করত…বন্দুক থেকে গুলি বের হয়ে যাবার আগে শিকারি যাতে ট্রিগারে চাপ দিতে না পারে, সেই চেষ্টাটা উত্তম…

The media industry is now very concerned about the draft policy.. so why didn't they publish series of reports dissecting every section of the policy before it was approved?.. That would put the government under some pressure and they would analyse and revise before the approval…It is better to prevent pulling the trigger rather than trying to retrieve the shot bullet.

Here are some Twitter reactions:

Journalist Provash Amin commented on Facebook that the Ministry of Information has already started implementing the policy:

আগামীকাল ৯ আগস্ট জাতিসংঘ ঘোষিত আদিবাসী দিবস। তথ্য মন্ত্রণালয়ের পাঠানো তথ্যবিবরণীতে আদিবাসী দিবসের বিভিন্ন আয়োজনে ‘আদিবাসী’ শব্দটি পরিহার করার অনুরোধ করা হয়েছে। কি অদ্ভুত অনুরোধ, আদিবাসী দিবসে আদিবাসী বলা যাবে না। বলতে হবে ক্ষুদ্র নৃ-গোষ্ঠি বা উপজাতি।

Tomorrow 9th of August is the UN observed International Day of the World's Indigenous People. A directive sent from the ministry of Information instructed to avoid the word ‘indigenous’ for the small ethnic communities of Bangladesh in different districts. What a strange request! You cannot call them indigenous on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People but small ethnic community or minorities.

There have been several efforts to control the media in recent Bangladeshi history. In 1974, all but four of the country's newspapers were shut down. A number of media organisations were shut down on several occasions for different reasons – Ekushey TV in 2002, Channel one in 2010, Diganta TV in 2013 and Bangla Daily Dainik Amar Desh in 2013. In 2013, the government passed a series of controversial amendments to the nation's Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act that increased criminal penalties for Internet-based media under the law. The law now codifies arbitrary, warrantless arrests and detentions of suspected offenders.

According to recent reports, a draft of the National Online Media Policy 2014 is largely in line with the broadcast policy. Under this policy, online media will be required to obtain a licence from the government for a hefty fee. It will also prohibit reports and write-ups that mock or demean persons of the armed forces or other law enforcement agencies. The policy may also place a ban on reporting incidents involving politically-motivated rebellion, anarchy and other such harmful activities.

Supreme Court lawyer Yunus Ali Akand filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court on Aug. 18 to annul the said broadcast policy.

by Global Voices at August 25, 2014 03:34 AM

August 24, 2014

Global Voices
Education Is Syria's ‘Chance for Change’
Girls play during one of the Kesh Malek projects in Aleppo, Syria. Source: Kesh Malek's website

Girls play during one of the Kesh Malek projects in Aleppo, Syria. Source: Kesh Malek's website

This post was previously published on SyriaUntold.

As military, geostrategic and sectarian aspects of the Syrian conflict monopolize media attention, countless grassroots initiatives continue to challenge the chaos and impunity spreading throughout the country. Chance4Change is one of the latest initiatives focusing on a better future for Syria by ensuring education for the youngest generations.

Launched by civil society youth group Kesh Malek (Checkmate), Chance4Change aims to fund 15 schools in areas free of regime control in order to secure their curriculum and ensure they remain independent.

“Different groups have tried to control the future of the country by throwing money at a school’s principal, to take over the curriculum and management of the school,” writer Marcel Shehwaro explained to SyriaUntold. “This is why it is so important to support civil society attempts to provide a future for the country through a good independent educational system.”

In the words of another of the campaign's founders, in the area where they work ”there is no longer the risk that schools will fall in the hands of extremists. We have already dealt with this kind of problem,  and one of the reasons for our campaign is to stop donors, whoever they are, from trying to take over schools in Syria and try to force their ideologies on children.”

Regarding the curriculum in the schools, the project follows the official Syrian curriculum, “excluding specificly regime-affiliated subjects, such as the Baath propaganda book called ‘National'”, he adds.

In addition to classes, the project will also provide healthcare for children by linking them with health centers. “Psychological troubles and traumas resulting from the conditions of war will also be dealt with”, Kesh Malek activists explain on the campaign’s website. “Finally, we believe that it is crucial to provide the pupils with skills that can help them throughout their life.”

Children during of the Kesh Malek projects in Aleppo, Syria. Source: Kesh Malek's website.

Children during of the Kesh Malek projects in Aleppo, Syria. Source: Kesh Malek's website.

It is not the first initiative by the Aleppo-based group, which has been focusing on education and non-violence since early in the uprising. Kesh Malek has launched and participated in campaigns such as Eulogy For Fear, and My Country, I Dream… along with cleaning patrols, a new school named under martyr Musfa Qurman, and a festival for children in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr.

Their latest initiative, Chance4Change, calls on groups interested in the future of Syria, including Syrians in the country and abroad, and anyone focused on strengthening civil society to help provide Syrian children with a non-biased education, free of influence from donor ideologies and agendas. To them, they send the following message:

Do you remember lunch period in the old days? When you and your friends used to make sure you got there early enough to save the seat next to you for your close friends and loved ones? Do you remember the lunch lady who always had her angry face on while she served your happy meal?

The vending machine money collector that gets really mad at you when your pop gets stuck and you try to shake the machine to get it down. Remember the locker room jokes right before gym, the whispering and gossiping about the new hot gym instructor? Remember your first homecoming football game? The practice and challenge you had ahead of you especially when the girl you liked came to watch the game and cheered for you?

Those memories are among many things that the new Syrian generation has lost. Because they have to go to a small basement to study, afraid of airstrikes. Because playing in the yard is the new luxury civil society groups cannot afford. But there is still a chance for change:

The chance now is the science teacher who refused to flee
The chance is the local NGO which opens schools in spite of their limited resources.
The chance is some men and women gathered to rebuild a school building in the neighborhood.
And the chance can be you … with a small ten dollar donation, you can pay a class teacher salary, two days of electricity, the class for a week, or buy notebooks to one student for the whole year.

Your donation could be a chance to change the future of these students.

#Chance4Change

See the campaign's website and the Facebook event for donations and more details.

by Syria Untold at August 24, 2014 08:30 PM

‘We Are All Numb': Gazan Woman Recalls Israeli Attack That Made Dozens of Her Neighbours Homeless
Photo by  Asia Mathkour, the daughter of the owner of Al Zafer Company, of the destroyed residential tower in Gaza City. Used with permission.

Photo by Asia Mathkour, the daughter of the owner of Al Zafer Company, of the destroyed residential tower in Gaza City. Used with permission.

Israel bombed a residential tower in an upscale Gaza neighborhood on Saturday, injuring around 22 civilians, including 11 children. The 12-storey tower, Al-Zafer 4, was completely razed.

Asia Mathkour, the daughter of the owner of Al Zafer Company, which encompasses 14 towers including the one that was leveled, was in her house 20 meters across from Al-Zafer 4 when the attack happened. Global Voices spoke with her about her experience. 

She said at around 6:30 p.m. she noticed Al-Zafer 4 residents were evacuating: 

Women and children were screaming and yelling, saying that they got an evacuation order. Some families immediately left the area seeking safety and we took some in our own house. We had around 30 people in our home, mostly elderly, women and children. We were all terrified. Everyone left their apartments without having the time to take anything with them.

A man got a call from the IDF telling him that there was an old disabled lady on the 7th floor and told him to get her out. At that time, I was rushing through the house, helping people go to the basement as it was the safest place at the time. No one actually believed that the whole building was going to be destroyed. Everyone thought that the IDF was perhaps targeting apartments in the building since that's what the IDF had been doing to residential buildings.

30 minutes passes and the building's roof was hit with a drone strike. We thought that was it. Moments after, the IDF called one of the residents who was staying with us in the apartment. She was too scared to answer so my mother answered. They asked if all the people have evacuated Al-Zafer 4 and my mother replied yes. My mother then asked her “which apartment are you targeting so that we know where to hide?”. He replied, “we are bombing the whole building.”

My mother was shocked. She asked them why they were targeting the whole building. He just replied ‘salam salam’ (‘peace, peace'. A way of saying Goodbye) and hung up the phone. Within the minute we heard two huge bombs. We were all in shock. My brother went to check and immediately came back downstairs to announce that it's completely gone. I rushed up the stairs to see what had happened. I couldn't believe my eyes. I rushed to my room and began taking photos.

After witnessing this and seeing the building in ruins, I had a panic attack. I rushed back downstairs and it felt like no one had really grasped what had just happened. A man goes outside to see and comes back yelling “everything is gone!”.

Soon after, the Red Cross’ ambulance arrived. They asked everyone to evacuate my house and the area, telling us that Al-Zafer 1, the building right besides ours, was threatened as well! We evacuated as fast as we could with nothing but a handbag with our passports. I can't explain the feeling we all felt at the moment. It is without a doubt the worst night my neighborhood had ever gone through.

Mathkour tweeted what she saw:

She challenged Israel Defense Forces’ explanation that there was a Hamas operations room in the building. “That is a lie,” she said. “There is a resident on the rooftop who is pro-Hamas, but the building did not host any Hamas Operations Room. In fact, most of the residents that lived in the building are from Fatah.”

Hamas and Fatah are rival political factions in Gaza. 

Mathkour further questioned IDF's motives: 

And even if we accepted their story that there was an apartment used by Hamas, why would they bomb and bring down the whole building? The IDF never brought down civilian buildings simply because it hosted Hamas members. We thought that the IDF only targeted specific targets rather than whole buildings. Whatever reason they made up or will make up would never justify destroying a building housing 44 families. They are now all homeless.

She offered a grim theory of why IDF bombed the building: 

The building was built to be very resistant. It's simply impossible that one bomb could bring it down. We all believe that Israel is only testing their new weapons on us. That's the only reason this would happen! For one bomb that explodes twice and bring a 12-storey apartment building is a whole other level of war crime and insanity. We have never seen a bomb like this!

The experience has left the neighbourhood reeling, she said. “I lived across the building I used to see everyday,” she said. “We are all numb. We are all shocked. We just can't believe that the whole building is just gone. Imagine how the residents are feeling! They have nothing now.”

At the time of writing, the death toll in Gaza stood at 2,110, including 567 children and 75 families. Seventy-two percent of Palestinians killed in this offensive are civilians, according to the UN. The death toll for Israel stood at 68, including one child. The percentage of Israeli civilians killed is 5 percent, with the majority of deaths being IDF soldiers.

Follow our in-depth coverage: #Gaza: Civilian Death Toll Mounts in Israeli Offensive

Thanks to Nalan Al Sarraj for putting me in contact with Ms. Mathkour. You can see previous GV coverage of Nalan's story here.

by Joey Ayoub at August 24, 2014 08:18 PM

Neighbours Tweet the Terrifying Moment Israeli Forces Destroy a 12-Storey Gaza City Apartment Tower

Israel attacked a residential tower in an upscale Gaza neighborhood, injuring around 22 civilians, including 11 children. The 12-storey tower, Al Zafer 4, was completely leveled to the ground in the bombing on Aug. 23.

The Israeli government claimed that the missiles targeted a Hamas operations room in the building, but did not explain why the entire tower had to be destroyed. As The New York Times pointed out, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had targeted apartments within buildings before, but this was the first time that a whole residential tower was demolished.

Israel used its infamous ‘knock on roof’ method. Gaza police said that “a warning missile had been fired five minutes earlier and that some residents were able to rush out of the building in time. Still, 22 people were wounded, including 11 children and five women, according to Gaza hospital officials.” The ‘knock on roof’ method has been condemned by Amnesty International‘s Philip Luther, who said that “there is no way that firing a missile at a civilian home can constitute an effective ‘warning.’”

Maher Abu Sedo, who lives in the area, told the Associated Press: “People started shouting ‘God is Great', and women and kids were screaming. This is crazy. The state of Israel has resorted to madness. In less than a minute, 44 families have become displaced … They lost everything, their house, their money, their memories and their security.”

Gaza bloggers and Gaza-based journalists immediately took to social media to describe the situation.

Lara Abu Ramadan, who lives in Al Zafer 2 facing Al Zafer 4, tweeted about her experience:

And moments later:

Asia Mathkour, daughter of the owner of Al Zafer Residences, was in her home across from Al Zafer 4. After the ‘knock on the roof’ around 30 people of Al Zafer 4 had taken refuge in her home. When the IDF called them to ask if all people had evacuated the building, Mathkour's mother had replied yes. When she asked “which apartment are you targeting so that we know where to hide?”, the IDF officer replied “we are bombing the whole building.” Mathkour spoke to Global Voices Online about her experience here.

Another area resident, Zaid Bakri, tweeted the attack “for the world to know” what happened:

In a series of frantic tweets, he described the chaos and horror he and his family experienced as they were forced to flee their home, near the destroyed tower:

Ziad explained:

Back home today, Ziad described the scene as “disastrous.” He shares this photograph of the destroyed tower, as seen from his balcony:

Dima Eleiwa posted a before and after image of the destruction:

Mohamad Suliman spoke of the human cost of this attack.

Gaza-based journalist Dan Cohen tweeted a few images of the devastated areas:

Moments before, Israel had hijacked Al Aqsa Television Channel to tell the people of Gaza: “People of Gaza – the war is not yet over. You are warned.”

At the time of writing, the death toll in Gaza stood at 2,110, including 567 children and 75 families. Seventy-two percent of Palestinians killed in this offensive are civilians, according to the UN. The death toll for Israel stood at 68, including one child. The percentage of Israeli civilians killed is 5 percent, with the majority of deaths being IDF soldiers.

Follow our in-depth coverage: #Gaza: Civilian Death Toll Mounts in Israeli Offensive

by Joey Ayoub at August 24, 2014 08:01 PM

Critics Fear Bangladesh's New Media Monitoring Policy Will Stifle Free Expression
BNP and its alliance parties protesting in a rally  against the National Broadcasting Policy in Dhaka. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (19/8/2014)

BNP and its alliance parties protesting in a rally against the National Broadcasting Policy in Dhaka. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (19/8/2014)

A new policy for broadcast media in Bangladesh is raising questions about controls on free expression in the country. The draft National Broadcasting Policy for the Bangladesh television and radio media, approved by Bangladesh's cabinet early this month, mandates the formation of an independent commission that will monitor TV and radio news and programmes and a broadcasting law, to be enacted in the future.

A large political party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has dubbed the National Broadcasting Policy as “regressive and intended to gag the media” and organized protest rallies against it.

In Bangladesh, there are approximately 24 privately-owned TV stations, 14 private radio stations and a number of community radio stations. The government owns one radio station and one television station. Bangladesh media is generally free although its ranked at 120th out of 178 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The private media is owned by media houses financed by business conglomerates who backs different political parties. In absence of adequate policy and regulatory framework, influential media can sometimes get away with publishing propaganda materials, plagiarism, and even libelous content. This is rarely controlled by authorities, as the judicial process is lengthy, influenced by politics and in some cases corrupt.

According to Section 39 of the Bangladesh Constitution, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression and press freedom is protected. The Daily Prothom Alo, a large Bangla daily, mentions in an editorial that this new policy is contrary to people's constitutional rights:

[...] সম্প্রচার নীতিমালায় প্রতিষ্ঠানবিশেষের খবর প্রকাশের ওপর বিধিনিষেধ জারির কথা বলা হয়েছে। গণমাধ্যম কী প্রচার করবে, কী প্রচার করবে না, সেটি সরকার বা তথ্য মন্ত্রণালয় নীতিমালা জারি করে বলে দিতে পারে না।

The broadcast policy talks about restrictions on dissemination of news. The information ministry or any other body of the government cannot dictate what the media will publish, or not publish.

Blogger Sakkhi Satyananda, however, thinks that the new broadcasting policy does not contradict the rights laid out in the Section 39 of the constitution, noting that the section makes an exception for

…any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

The blogger says that the policy deals with the above areas of exception which dictates a plan for forming an independent broadcasting commission. The commission will confer with all media sectors, including consumers, to audit unjust and unfair broadcasts and provide remedies for breaches of the law.

Journalist, blogger and leftwing activist Arifuzzaman Tuhin writes in the Bangla daily Kaler Kontho why this kind of policy became necessary in Bangladesh:

এখন প্রশ্নবিদ্ধ নির্বাচনের মাধ্যমে এমন একটি সরকার ক্ষমতায় যাদের অনির্বাচিত বলাই শ্রেয়। এরকম সরকারের জন্য এ ধরনের নিয়ন্ত্রণমূলক আইন ও নীতিমালা খুব দরকার। [..] সম্ভাব্য সমালোচনা আসতে পারে এমন সব বিষয়ের বিরুদ্ধে তারা অস্ত্র শান দিয়ে রাখে। এই নীতিমালা হলো সে ধরনের অস্ত্র।

The current government was reelected in a questionable election and there are concerns about its legitimacy. So this government needs more such laws and policies to control situation. [..] They keep their weapons ready to confront all kinds of negative criticisms. This policy is one of such weapons.

Journalist Mizanur Rahman also suggests in the Bangla daily Prothom Alo that the policy is intended to shield certain authorities from hard criticism and condemnation. However, Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu differed, arguing that the budding broadcast media in Bangladesh is not properly regulated due to outdated laws, rules and regulations. He believes the policy will help to update and modernise the regulation of the industry.

Blogger Firoz Zaman Chowdhury reminded readers in an old post that private TV stations have been operating largely without regulation since their rise.

After the approval of this draft policy in the cabinet, heavy debate ensued on social media. Those with connections to the media industry mostly expressed their concerns. On Facebook, journalist Amin Al Rashid wondered why this draft policy was not widely publicised and debated by media before approval.

সম্প্রচার নীতিমালা নিয়া সম্প্রচারকর্মীরা খুবই উদ্বিগ্ন….তো এইটা মন্ত্রিসভায় অনুমোদনের আগে এর ধারা উপধারা নিয়ে সিরিজ রিপোর্ট করলেন না কেন?…তাহলে তো সরকার একটা চাপে থাকত এবং এটা অনুমোদনের আগে আরও হয়তো পরীক্ষা নিরীক্ষা করত…বন্দুক থেকে গুলি বের হয়ে যাবার আগে শিকারি যাতে ট্রিগারে চাপ দিতে না পারে, সেই চেষ্টাটা উত্তম…

The media industry is now very concerned about the draft policy.. so why didn't they publish series of reports dissecting every section of the policy before it was approved?.. That would put the government under some pressure and they would analyse and revise before the approval…It is better to prevent pulling the trigger rather than trying to retrieve the shot bullet.

Here are some Twitter reactions:

Journalist Provash Amin commented on Facebook that the Ministry of Information has already started implementing the policy:

আগামীকাল ৯ আগস্ট জাতিসংঘ ঘোষিত আদিবাসী দিবস। তথ্য মন্ত্রণালয়ের পাঠানো তথ্যবিবরণীতে আদিবাসী দিবসের বিভিন্ন আয়োজনে ‘আদিবাসী’ শব্দটি পরিহার করার অনুরোধ করা হয়েছে। কি অদ্ভুত অনুরোধ, আদিবাসী দিবসে আদিবাসী বলা যাবে না। বলতে হবে ক্ষুদ্র নৃ-গোষ্ঠি বা উপজাতি।

Tomorrow 9th of August is the UN observed International Day of the World's Indigenous People. A directive sent from the ministry of Information instructed to avoid the word ‘indigenous’ for the small ethnic communities of Bangladesh in different districts. What a strange request! You cannot call them indigenous on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People but small ethnic community or minorities.

There have been several efforts to control the media in recent Bangladeshi history. In 1974, all but four of the country's newspapers were shut down. A number of media organisations were shut down on several occasions for different reasons – Ekushey TV in 2002, Channel one in 2010, Diganta TV in 2013 and Bangla Daily Dainik Amar Desh in 2013. In 2013, the government passed a series of controversial amendments to the nation's Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act that increased criminal penalties for Internet-based media under the law. The law now codifies arbitrary, warrantless arrests and detentions of suspected offenders.

According to recent reports, a draft of the National Online Media Policy 2014 is largely in line with the broadcast policy. Under this policy, online media will be required to obtain a licence from the government for a hefty fee. It will also prohibit reports and write-ups that mock or demean persons of the armed forces or other law enforcement agencies. The policy may also place a ban on reporting incidents involving politically-motivated rebellion, anarchy and other such harmful activities.

Supreme Court lawyer Yunus Ali Akand filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court on Aug. 18 to annul the said broadcast policy.

by Rezwan at August 24, 2014 08:00 AM

August 23, 2014

Global Voices
A “Liter of Light” to Brighten the Poorest Homes
The logo of the Liter of Light project.

The logo of the Liter of Light project.

After downing a bottle of water, most people are probably inclined to toss it in the trash. Those people, however, don't realize that they're throwing away an ingenious means of lighting a home. Thanks to the ideas of a mechanic in Brazil, such “garbage” can bring light to homes in poor communities around the world. 

How does a plastic bottle turn into a source of light? The answer is both simple and brilliant. A small hole is cut in the roof of a house and a transparent, plastic bottle with clear water is fitted in. During the day, the sunlight is refracted by the water bottle and spreads 360 degrees around the room. These “lights” are usually installed in urban slums and narrow alleys, where lighting is typically poor or absent entirely. When necessary, some residents do use electric lights during the daytime, but money is tight and a water bottle in the sunlight has the power of a 60-watt bulb. Adding bleach to the water makes it cleaner and clearer, and each bottle can last up to five years before corrosion finally claims it for the scrapheap. 

The invention belongs to Brazilian mechanic Alfredo Moser, and the ”Liter of Light” project later adopted it on a large scale in Manila, where it used water bottles to provide sustainable, environmentally clean lighting to impoverished homes. Within a year of its inception, Liter of Light installed over 200,000 bottle lights. The organization aims to brighten up a million homes by 2015. The project is also working on a solar-powered, battery-attached version to provide lighting at night. It has also designed a mobile app that gives installation instructions.

Back in 2011, when the Green Cupboards blog ran an article on Liter of Light, a reader commented that this idea would make a great difference in India.

This is the most ingenious invention ever and surely needs great acclaim. I live in India where the villages have no electricity and the people have to rely upon kerosene lamps, many time staying in the dark because kerosene is usually in short supply. Hopefully some NGOs will latch on to this and make the life of the villagers less grim.

It took a few years, but Liter of Light is now active in 15 countries, including Bangladesh and Kenya, as well as India. Liter of Light’s India chapter engages volunteers in larger cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. A message on the “Liter of Light – Bangalore” Facebook page urges people to donate their used plastic bottles to the organization, rather than throw them in the garbage.

Please don't throw those Cola bottles away. Do contact us and we will try to find ways to pick it up from the nearest possible place

Writing on Twitter, Pollinate Energy, another non-profit organization that develops clean-energy products for India's urban slums, recently congratulated the Liter of Light team for their good work.

Other NGOs, such as the Sanskar India Foundation and Labour Education and Research Network (LEARN), are working with Liter of Light India to amplify the impact these bottles have on users’ lives.

Screenshot from the Facebook page of Litter of Light India showing installation in Hyderabad.

Screenshot from the Facebook page of Litter of Light India showing installation in Hyderabad.

Volunteer efforts are the heart of Liter of Light. A volunteer in Bangalore, Tripti, explains what drives the group:

We are eager to touch many more lives and lighten up the city in collaboration with like-minded organizations who want to take up this green movement with us.

Facts About India reports that 288 million Indians have no access to electricity. An innovative solution like Liter of Light could mitigate the consequences of powerlessness, while putting to good use what was previously just plastic waste.

by Alka at August 23, 2014 03:02 PM

Indian News Portal Says Thomson Reuters Has ‘Unethical’ Understanding of Copyright
Thomson Reuters in Times Square, New York. Photo by Flickr user m01229. CC BY 2.0

Thomson Reuters in Times Square, New York. Photo by Flickr user m01229. CC BY 2.0

Thomson Reuters is usually in the business of writing headlines about others, but the New York-based global media and information firm has found itself making headlines in India after digital media portal MediaNama received an email from the company seeking consent to use and redistribute its content.

The email read:

We are aware that you will be receiving numerous requests of this nature and that asking you to give a response in each case would be burdensome for you. We would ask, therefore, that you respond either to the address or e-mail address given below within 14 days of the date at the head of this letter only if you wish to refuse your consent. Otherwise, Thomson Reuters will presume that your consent has been given for the purposes set out in this letter.

Nikhil Pahwa, the founder of MediaNama, replied on the website in a post titled “Thomson Reuters: we’ll take your articles if you don’t tell us not to.” He called the letter “unprofessional and unethical” and stressed:

A lack of refusal to consent does not amount to giving consent, and I doubt that this rationale will hold up in the court of law.

And “just for the fun,” Pahwa sent a similar letter back to Thomson Reuters.

The behavior is strange for a multi-billion-dollar company, according to Saptarishi Dutta at Quartz India, who spun the situation into a more relatable one for readers: “Imagine being told by someone that she plans to take your car if you don’t respond to an email expressly stating she can’t actually take your car. Now imagine that assertion is made by a huge company.”

On Aug. 22, Pahwa wrote that he had received another email from Reuters, saying that the first message had been sent “in error” and promising that none of MediaNama's content would be used without their “express permission.”

The publication of MediaNama's letter garnered many reactions, especially on Twitter:

One commenter on MediaNama's post doubted the authenticity of the letter:

It's very unlikely for a big company to issue a non-directed email seeking a legal contract. And, that too one of the world's largest media companies asking for articles from a little-known entity (no disrespect to any one). And surely, the letter signature would have matched the email id :P For technology reporters, email ID masking should be a known thing #justsaying

Thomson Reuters’ subsequent email suggests that the original note was indeed real. Although it appears that MediaNama's content is safe for now, the incident begs the question: What other media outlets have received notices like this? Global Voices urges readers to share similar stories in our comments section.

by Rezwan at August 23, 2014 03:00 PM

Over 300 Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants Condemn Israel's ‘Massacre of Palestinians in Gaza’
Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip continued on Aug. 20, 2014, targeting a home in the city of Deir al-Balah. Photo by Hussain Abdel Jawwad. Copyright Demotix

Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip continued on Aug. 20, 2014, targeting a home in the city of Deir al-Balah. Photo by Hussain Abdel Jawwad. Copyright Demotix

The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) has released an open letter signed by 327 Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide “unequivocally” condemning the “massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine.”

The letter was written in response to Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel’s “manipulation of the Nazi Genocide to attempt to justify the attacks on Gaza.” The accusation that Elie Wiesel manipulates the memory of the Holocaust is an old one. In this case, it refers to his New York Times advertisement in which he claimed that “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn,” using biblical imagery by comparing Gazan parents to the Molochites (ancient Canaanites who sacrificed children to their God, Moloch).

Besides his controversial positions supporting Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, Wiesel was chairman of the IR David Foundation, which aims to “strengthen the Jewish connection to Jerusalem” (Hebrew) and create a Jewish majority in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. He was notably accused by Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein in his book “The Holocaust Industry” of promoting the “uniqueness doctrines” whereas all genocides besides the Jewish Holocaust are downplayed.

The letter reads:

As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.

We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.

Furthermore, we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.

We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people. We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. “Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!

Take a look at the letter on the IJAN's website to see the complete list of signatories.

Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director for Human Rights Watch, tweeted the news to his nearly 17,000 followers:

IJAN also recently announced that their letter will be posted in The New York Times as a half-page ad. Lee Gargagliano of IJAN wrote on Facebook:

We did it! We are placing the letter from survivors of the Nazi genocide and descendants of survivors and victims as a half-page ad in tomorrow's (Saturday 8/23) New York Times! Please spread it far and wide to help maximize the impact and please pass it on to journalists who you think might pick up the story. Thank you to those who signed; thank you to those who contributed; thank you to everyone who will help circulate!

At the time of writing, the death toll in Gaza stood at 2,039, including 540 children and 75 families. Seventy-two percent of Palestinians killed in this offensive are civilians, according to the UN. The death toll for Israel stood at 68, including one child. The percentage of civilians killed is 5 percent, with the majority of deaths being IDF soldiers.

Follow our in-depth coverage: #Gaza: Civilian Death Toll Mounts in Israeli Offensive

by Joey Ayoub at August 23, 2014 07:02 AM

Analysts Warn about Fragility of Peace in Macedonia
Protests erupted in Skopje in July 2014, after the sentencing of six ethnic Albanian men for what authorities labeled "terrorist killings". Photo by Sinisa Jakov Marusic. Courtesy of BIRN © 2014, used with permission.

Protests erupted in Skopje in July 2014, after the sentencing of six ethnic Albanian men for what authorities labeled “terrorist killings”. Photo by Sinisa Jakov Marusic. Courtesy of BIRN © 2014, used with permission.

Austrian political scientist and blogger Florian Bieber recently provided an overview of the troubling inter-ethnic situation in Macedonia in article titled “Macedonia on the Brink”. Bieber's in-depth piece provides a window into the aftermath of the recent series of initially violent ethnic clashes in Macedonia and peaceful protests.

The protests were sparked by ethnic tension due to the sentencing of six Albanian Macedonian men for what authorities called the “terrorist killing” of five people in 2012. In his article, Bieber emphasizes:

Authoritarian tendencies, ethno-nationalist state-building and segregation of the two largest communities make for a combustible mix. Even if the protests have died down, Macedonia is probably the only country of the former Yugoslavia where ethnic violence remains a real risk.

Decision-makers in the region continue to use sporadic incidents as incitement for what is often clearly hate speech, as well as for propaganda against several civil society organizations that have publicly warned about the use of xenophobic fear as a smokescreen for other issues in the country, such as government corruption.

Local political analyst Mersel Bilalli provided a gloomy projection for Macedonia's troubles shortly after the 2014 anniversary of signing the Ohrid Framework Agreement, an agreement signed between the Macedonian government and representatives of the country's Albanian minority in 2001 to end the armed conflict between the militant National Liberation Army and the Macedonian security forces, also setting the groundwork for improving the rights of ethnic Albanians in the country. As Bilalli pointed out:

The Ohrid Framework Agreement successfully extinguished the fire of 2001, but even after 13 years it failed to create any micron of what is called – tolerance, coexistence, civic equality, equal opportunities, democratic governance, rule of law and general development. On the contrary, we have demotion. So now instead of lasting reconciliation we have naked hatred. Instead of tolerance we have fights on buses and streets. Instead of cohesion we have demolition of houses and bars. Instead of the rule of law we have the rule of parties. Instead of general development, we have the top position in the list of world poverty. Instead of independent judiciary, we have party ruled verdicts and rigged trials. Everything is in free fall. Only organized crime is upwards. We have made a society without laws, without morals, without a curtain and shame.

by Danica Radisic at August 23, 2014 12:40 AM

August 22, 2014

Global Voices
Ukrainian Daredevil Climber Admits to Painting the Moscow Star in Ukraine's Colors
Ukrainian Mustang Wanted, who has become an Internet celebrity for his high-altitude stunts around the world, admitted to painting the star in Moscow. Image from Mustang Wanted on Facebook.

Ukrainian Mustang Wanted, who has become an Internet celebrity for his high-altitude stunts around the world, admitted to painting the star in Moscow. Image from Mustang Wanted on Facebook.

The story of Russia's colour revolution in the form of a star atop one of the Seven Sisters buildings in Moscow has taken a new turn: a famous Ukrainian roofer nicknamed Mustang Wanted has come forth admitting he was the one who turned the star yellow and blue, and hoisted a Ukrainian flag atop the building.

Glory to Ukraine! #SaveSavchenko

Mustang Wanted (whose real name is Grigory) allegedly contacted the Russian LifeNews channel and sold them his video and photo containing proof of him climbing atop the building. Although they agreed to buy the content in order to have the exclusive scoop, hours later Mustang published one of the photos on his Facebook page for all to see (no video has been posted yet, although HromadskeTV has a few other images). He also attached a lengthy explanation in which he admitted his role.

Screenshot of the photo proof from Mustang Wanted's Facebook page.

Screenshot of the photo proof from Mustang Wanted's Facebook page.

Я и есть тот самый человек, который в порыве искренних патриотических чувств забрался на крышу высотки на Котельнической набережной, и перекрасил украшающую ее звезду в цвета нашего родного украинского флага, а затем там же поднял флаг независимой Украины, о чем у меня имеются фото и видео доказательства.

I am that very person who, guided by sincere patriotic feelings climbed atop the high-rise roof on Kotelnicheskaya embankment and painted the star adorning it with the colors of our dear Ukrainian flag. I then also raised the flag of independent Ukraine, for which I have photo and video proof.

LifeNews, incensed at losing its exclusive story, said they would make sure Mustang returned the money, according to its director Aram Gabrelyan on Twitter.

Aram Ashotovych did buy the video and the photo. Only the Mustang proved to be a jackass and posted his exclusives sold to us to Facebook.

He'll return ten times [what we paid].

In his Facebook post Mustang Wanted acknowledged he was the offender and asked for the release of the four citizens who were earlier held on suspicion of hooliganism. He also said he was ready to appear in the Russian court instead of them, but only if Russia agreed to release the pilot Nadia Savchenko, who Mustang said was “innocent.”

Признаю себя виновным в «хулиганстве» и готов предстать перед этим самым судом в обмен на освобождение прекрасной смелой украинской девушки – Надежды Савченко.

Она точно ни в чем невиновна, а я-то хоть звезду покрасил

I recognise myself guilty of “hooliganism” and am ready to face the same court in exchange for the release of the amazing, brave Ukrainian woman–Nadezhda Savchenko.

She's definitely not guilty of anything, I at least painted the star.

For now it remains unclear what the Russian authorities will do with this shocking revelation, and whether the four suspects, who are now under house arrest, will be released. But it's clear the story of the painted star is not over yet. In fact, it just got that much more interesting.

by Tetyana Lokot at August 22, 2014 06:13 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Iranian Minister Says Government ‘Never Promised’ to End Web Censorship
Screenshot of Hassan Rouhani Facebook page.

Screenshot of Hassan Rouhani Facebook page.

“The Rouhani government never promised to open things that were filtered in the past,” Iran's Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Mahmoud Vaezi told reporters at an Aug. 21 press conference. Vaezi's statement comes after more than a year of discussions and debates within Iran's media and government on unfiltering popular social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. 

“At the moment private companies and universities should try to create social media networks within the country for citizens to use,” said Vaezi, responding to questions about whether Iranians would soon gain access to Facebook and Twitter, both of which are blocked in the country.

“The Government is trying to eliminate those things that the people of this country are opposed to, and within our nation, which is a Islamic nation, families pay special attention to ethical matters and they are not happy with accessibility of these non permitted websites.” Vaezi went on to explain that the decision ultimately lies outside of the Ministry of ICT, and is in the hands of the Judiciary's Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content (CCDOC). 

Vaezi's words contradict many general, if promising, statements President Hassan Rouhani made about liberalizing Internet controls when coming into office. Rouhani criticized the state of Iran’s Internet throughout his election campaign, noting in June of 2013: “We are living in a world in which limiting information is impossible. Youth are faced with bombardment of information and we must prepare to handle it.” 

Rouhani underlined this sentiment a conference on Information and Communication Technologies in May 2014, where he spoke on the importance of having Iranian voices on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In a January 2014 interview with Al Jazeera English, Rouhani's Culture Minister Ali Jannati stated, “All Iranians are using Facebook. Based on our figures, 4 million are members, so sooner or later the restrictions on it must be lifted.” But contradictions within Rouhani's cabinet emerged in January 2014 when a CCDOC meeting indicated indecision among authorities about state control over social networks. At the time, Vaezi stated that the Committee had agreed that “anti-religious and immoral sites” would be blocked, while those that “do not instigate corruption” and increase public knowledge would freely be accessible. 

At the moment, Rouhani's government does not seem to have a coherent policy on access to information. Despite the fact that Facebook is filtered in the country, President Hassan Rouhani and many in his cabinet, particularly Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, are among the most savvy and popular Facebook users within Iran.

by Mahsa Alimardani at August 22, 2014 05:48 PM

Massive Leak Opens New Investigation of FinFisher Surveillance Tools in Pakistan
Screen capture of FinFisher homepage.

Screen capture of FinFisher homepage.

Written by Sohail Abid, Digital Rights Foundation. The original version of this post was published on the Digital Rights Foundation website.

An unknown technical expert hacked into the servers of FinFisher, the notorious surveillance software maker, earlier this month. The hacker(s) captured all the data they could find on the server and leaked it as a torrent. The 40Gb torrent contains the entire FinFisher support portal including correspondence between customers and the company staff. It also contains all the software that the company sells, as well as the accompanying documentation and release material. Last year, security researchers uncovered evidence that there are two command and control servers inside Pakistan.

What is FinFisher?

Part of the UK-based corporation Gamma International, FinFisher is a company that sells a host of surveillance and monitoring software to government departments. The primary software, FinSpy, is used to remotely access and control the computers or mobile phones belonging to individuals being spied upon. The company offers several methods to install FinSpy, which range from a simple USB that can infect a computer to attaching the malicious software to legitimate files so that it can infect a computer when files are downloaded. The FinFisher toolset is designed to give the people buying these software access to emails, web browsing history, and any other activity performed by the “targets”, their term for those who are being spied upon.

Screen capture of FinFisher license page.

Screen capture of FinFisher license page.

Is Pakistan a FinFisher customer?

"For Their Eyes Only" cover image, Citizen Lab.

“For Their Eyes Only,” Citizen Lab.

Apparently, yes. University of Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab released a report last year identifying two FinFisher command and control servers on the network of the Pakistan Telecommunications Company (PTCL), the country’s leading Internet service provider. But this recent leak gives us a more complete and conclusive picture. The leaked support portal tells us that someone from Pakistan in fact licensed three software from FinFisher for a period of three years. The systems Citizen Lab identified were probably the computers hosting the FinSpy server program and were merely using a PTCL Internet connection. We have reason to believe that PTCL was not involved. If not PTCL, then who? It could be anyone but FinFisher only sells these software to government and spy agencies — thus, it was most likely one of the many intelligence agencies operating within the Pakistani government.

We have extracted from the FinFisher support portal a request for technical support sent to the company by a person (referred to as “Customer 32”) in Pakistan, who complains that their problems are not being addressed through Skype. We presume Skype was the primary way FinFisher provided technical support to its customers.

Screen capture of FinFisher licenses page.

Screen capture of FinFisher support request message.

What was purchased?

Working from this clue, we looked further into the purchase history of Customer 32 and their correspondence with FinFisher staff and found out that they have licensed not one but three software products from the spy software maker. The primary software, FinSpy, is used to target people who “change location, use encrypted and anonymous communication channels and reside in foreign countries.” After FinSpy is installed on a computer or a mobile phone, it can be—according to the product brochure—“remotely controlled and accessed as soon as it is connected to the internet/network.”

In addition to FinSpy, Customer 32 also purchased another software called FinIntrusionKit to hack into hotel, airport, and other wifi networks to catch “close-by WLAN devices and records traffic and passwords”, extract “usernames and passwords (even for TLS/SSL encrypted sessions),” and “capture SSL encrypted data like webmail, video portals, online banking and more.” The third software product is built to infect USB devices so that whoever uses them becomes a target of surveillance.

Screen capture of FinFisher support request response.

Screen capture of FinFisher support request response.

How does Pakistan “FinFish”?

From the support requestss filed by Customer 32, we also learned that whoever in Pakistan purchased FinFisher used it, for instance, to infect harmless MS office documents, particularly PowerPoint files. The person then sent the files to people they wanted to spy on. When the unsuspecting recipients  opened the infected files,their computers were automatically put under constant surveillance, with all details of their emails, chats, and other activity being sent back to Customer 32.

Customer 32 also used FinFisher to covertly steal files from “target” computers. All the files of those who were targeted were readily available but Customer 32 wanted more, as outlined in another request for support, which read: “the agent be able to select files to download even when the target is offline and whenever the target comes online, those selected files may be downloaded without the interaction required from user.”

While we know that FinFisher is deployed in Pakistan, many questions remain unanswered. As citizens of a democratic state, it is our right to know who is using surveillance software in Pakistan, how much public money is being spent on these licenses, and what laws and regulations are being followed for deploying these software tools.

Sohail Abid researches security, surveillance, and censorship issues for Digital Rights Foundation. Before joining DRF, he was CTO at Jumpshare, a file sharing startup from Pakistan.

by Global Voices at August 22, 2014 05:37 PM

Global Voices
Iranian Minister Says Government ‘Never Promised’ to End Web Censorship
Screenshot of Hassan Rouhani Facebook page.

Screenshot of Hassan Rouhani Facebook page.

“The Rouhani government never promised to open things that were filtered in the past,” Iran's Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Mahmoud Vaezi told reporters at an Aug. 21 press conference. Vaezi's statement comes after more than a year of discussions and debates within Iran's media and government on unfiltering popular social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. 

“At the moment private companies and universities should try to create social media networks within the country for citizens to use,” said Vaezi, responding to questions about whether Iranians would soon gain access to Facebook and Twitter, both of which are blocked in the country.

“The Government is trying to eliminate those things that the people of this country are opposed to, and within our nation, which is a Islamic nation, families pay special attention to ethical matters and they are not happy with accessibility of these non permitted websites.” Vaezi went on to explain that the decision ultimately lies outside of the Ministry of ICT, and is in the hands of the Judiciary's Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content (CCDOC). 

Vaezi's words contradict many general, if promising, statements President Hassan Rouhani made about liberalizing Internet controls when coming into office. Rouhani criticized the state of Iran’s Internet throughout his election campaign, noting in June of 2013: “We are living in a world in which limiting information is impossible. Youth are faced with bombardment of information and we must prepare to handle it.” 

Rouhani underlined this sentiment at a conference on Information and Communication Technologies in May 2014, where he spoke on the importance of giving Iranians access to sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In a January 2014 interview with Al Jazeera English, Rouhani's Culture Minister Ali Jannati stated, “All Iranians are using Facebook. Based on our figures, 4 million are members, so sooner or later the restrictions on it must be lifted.” But contradictions within Rouhani's cabinet emerged in January 2014 when a CCDOC meeting indicated indecision among authorities about state control over social networks. At the time, Vaezi stated that the Committee had agreed that “anti-religious and immoral sites” would be blocked, while those that “do not instigate corruption” and increase public knowledge would freely be accessible. 

At the moment, Rouhani's government does not seem to have a coherent policy on access to information. Despite the fact that Facebook is filtered in the country, President Hassan Rouhani and many in his cabinet, particularly Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, are among the most savvy and popular Facebook users within Iran.

by Mahsa Alimardani at August 22, 2014 05:36 PM

Doc Searls
What’s Neutral about the Net

I posted this to a list I’m on, where a long thread on Net Neutrality was running out of steam:doc036c

Since we seem to have reached a pause in this discussion, I would like to suggest that there are emergent properties of the Internet that are not reducible to its mechanisms, and it is respect for those emergent properties that drives NN advocates to seek policy protections for the flourishing of those properties. So let’s set NN aside for a bit, and talk about those.

For example, whether or not “end to end” is a correct description of the Internet’s architecture, that’s pretty close to how it looks and feels to most of its users, most of the time. By that I mean the Net reduces our functional distance from each other (as ends) to zero, or close enough to experience the distance as zero. There little if any sense of “long distance” — that old telco term. Nor is there a sense that it should cost more to connect with one person or entity than another, anywhere in the world (except where some mobile phone data plans leverage legacy telco billing imperatives).

And while the routers, CDNs and other smart things between the Net’s ends deserve respect for their intelligence, they still tend to serve everything that runs across the Net without much prejudice, and thus appear to be “stupid” in the sense David Isenberg visited in The Rise of the Stupid Network, which he wrote for his unappreciative overlords at (Ye Olde) AT&T back in ’97. In other words, users don’t sense that network itself wants to get in the way of its uses, or to bill for any one kind of use while not billing for another. (Yes, sites and services on the Net can bill for whatever they want. But they are not the Net, any more than a store on Main Street is the gravity that holds it there.)

While providers of access to the Net charge for the privilege, the Net itself — that thing made possible by its base protocols — has no business model. This is one reason it produces economic externalities in abundance beyond calculation. More than a rising tide that lifts all boats, it is a world of infinitely varied possibilities, all made possible by a base nature that no phone or cable company ever would have invented for the world, had the job been left up to them alone.

I remember, back in the 80s and early 90s, knowing that the Net was a genie still bottled inside universities, large companies and government entities — and that it would grant a zillion wishes once it got out. Which it did, starting in ’95. Ever since then I have devoted my life, one way or another, to understanding What’s Going On with the Net. I never will understand its inner workings as fully as … many others on this list. But I believe I do understand enough about the transcendent virtues of the Net to stand on their side and say we need to preserve and enhance them.

It is clear to me that there is a whole to the Net that is not reducible to any of its parts, any more than a human being is reducible to the body’s organic systems. And I believe it is easy to miss or dismiss that whole when insisting that the Net is only a “network of networks” or some other sum of parts.

When our attention is only on those parts, and making them work better for some specialized purpose, we risk compromising the general purpose nature of the Net… By serving the needs of one purpose we risk crippling countless other purposes.

I’d say more, but I have meetings to attend. This might be enough for now anyway.

The post only got one reply so far, from one of the Net’s founding figures. He approved. [Later... it's turned into a thread now.]

The problem for Net Neutrality is that the founding protocols of the Net are neutral by nature, and yet the Net is something we mostly “access” through phone and cable companies, which by nature are not. This tends not to be a problem where there is competition. But in the U.S., at least, there mostly isn’t, at least on the wired side. (The wireless side has some interesting rock and roll going on.) This also tends not to be a problem where carriers are just that: carriers, rather than content-delivery systems with a financial interest in favoring the delivery of one kind of content — or one “partner’s” content — over others.

But the Net is about “content” like water is about drinking. Meaning, it’s not. It’s about everything. That’s how it’s neutral.

by Doc Searls at August 22, 2014 03:55 PM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
Global Voices
Colombia’s Medellín Metro Says No to Music and Poetry, But Passengers Say Otherwise
Foto en Flickr del usuario Omar Uran (CC BY 2.0) .

Metro station in Medellín. Photo on Flickr from user Omar Uran (CC BY 2.0).

This post is a slightly different version from the original published on Global Voices in Spanish.

Colombians are thinking twice about the treatment of passengers on the Medellín Metro, which almost half a million people ride every day. Recently, several incidents publicized online have raised awareness about the metro's draconian treatment of passengers.

On August 8, for instance, a video appeared of a young man playing the violin aboard a moving train. When police tried to remove him, a struggle ensued:

Five days later, metro officials evacuated an entire station, in response to another, larger musical demonstration aboard a moving train.

Responding to growing dissatisfaction with the city's train system, Medellín's government had this to say on Twitter: 

The rules of our Metro are designed so that it can operate efficiently, securely, and enjoyably for everyone.

Internet users, meanwhile, have begun using the word “fascist” to describe the the train system's official rules, which are known as “Metro Culture.” For some online, however, the metro's excessive zeal is no revelation. Rosa Moreno writes:   

See, to me, the “Metro Culture” has seemed fascist since before they removed the music. 

The word “facha” that appears in Moreno's tweet derives from the Spanish word for “fascist.” In other words, accusations of “fascism” against the metro system are simultaneously meant as a criticisms of political conservatives, who are widely thought to support the restrictive conduct code aboard public transportation.

Santiago Villegas cautioned that getting emotional about incidents on the metro, even with eyewitness camera footage, can be unproductive.

Have videos of what happened in the Metro been posted from several angles already? Can we look at that before stating opinions, or are we just being emotional? 

On August 13, protesting the violinist's expulsion days earlier, 11 people stood together aboard a train, silently reading poetry. Metro authorities responded to this noiseless demonstration by evacuating the train and halting station traffic.

Sergio Restrepo, one of the protesters, wrote online: 

11 people reading poetry in silence on the metro and the response is to evacuate the station.

Writer Héctor Abad Faciolince wrote on his blog about another incident aboard a train car that also reveals the excesses of the Metro's rules of conduct.

Tengo un amigo que iba en el metro de Medellín con una niña de brazos. Durante el viaje el bebé empezó a llorar, seguramente de hambre, y este amigo sacó el tetero que había preparado en la casa, para que se calmara. El bebé empezó a chupar. Casi de inmediato llegó un auxiliar de seguridad del metro y le advirtió con el índice: “En el metro de Medellín está prohibido comer”. Si no es porque la gente del vagón protesta, lo habrían obligado a quitarle el biberón al niño o a bajarse del tren. Así es la rigidez ridícula del metro de Medellín. Me imagino qué hubiera pasado si la esposa de este amigo hubiera sacado no el tetero sino la teta: quién dijo miedo. Además de alimentación, escándalo en lugar público, o mejor dicho, en el impoluto sistema metro de Medellín.

I have a friend who was on the metro in Medellín with a baby girl in his arms. During the trip, the baby began to cry, surely because she was hungry, and this friend took out the bottle he'd prepared at home, in order to calm her down. The baby began to suck on the bottle. Almost immediately, a metro security officer came up to him and informed him of the following: “Eating is prohibited on the Medellín metro.” If it weren't for the people who started to protest in the car, he would have been forced to take the bottle away from the child or get off the train. That is the ridiculous severity of the Medellín metro. I can only imagine what would have happened if this friend's wife began breastfeeding, instead of taking out a bottle: don't be afraid — just do it. In addition to eating, it would have been a scandal in a public place, or in the spotless Medellín metro system, rather.

While the metro system maintains it strict policies against disruptions aboard trains, Medellín passengers are likely to continue their resistance, until the widely unpopular code of conduct is changed.

The author of the original, Spanish language version of this article, Cati Restrepo, is not related to Sergio Restrepo.

by Marianna Breytman at August 22, 2014 02:58 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Advocates Petition UN for Action on Jailed Egyptian Blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah
Alaa Abd El Fattah with his wife and intellectual partner, Manal Hassan. Photo by Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Alaa Abd El Fattah with his wife and intellectual partner, Manal Hassan. Photo by Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Written by Nani Jansen and Adrian Plevin.

After imprisoned Egyptian blogger and human rights defender Alaa Abd El Fattah went on hunger strike this past Monday, the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) to take all necessary steps to secure Abd El Fattah’s immediate release.

The 32-year-old award-winning blogger was one of the first netizens to call for political change in Egypt. Working with his wife Manal Hasaan, Abd El Fattah has promoted freedom of expression through the websites Manalaa and Omraneya – the first Arab ‘blog aggregators’ to not restrict inclusion based on content. His online writings have established him as a leading online force for the promotion of and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom in Egyptian society.

 On 11 June 2014, Abd El Fattah was supposed to stand trial for allegedly organising a protest in contravention of Egypt's controversial new anti anti-protest laws. Instead, he was convicted without a trial and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment.

Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime. In 2006, he was arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest. In 2011, he spent two months in prison, missing his first child’s birth. In 2013, he was arrested and detained for 115 days without trial. 

Egypt has come under mounting international pressure to address the worsening human rights situation that has accompanied the political turmoil following the 2011 ousting of then President Hosni Mubarak. Some sources speculate the situation is worse now than it was under the Mubarak government, as increasing numbers of journalists and bloggers have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment: the world’s attention has recently been focused on the heavily-criticised trial of three foreign journalists, highlighting the worrying developments in Egypt's justice system. While the military-backed government advances rhetoric of suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal and secular activists are increasingly falling foul of the regime. The judiciary has cracked down on political dissent and death sentences have been handed out on a large scale: in March of this year, over 500 protestors were sentenced to death. Another 683 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to the same fate in June.

The case of Alaa Abd El Fattah warrants special attention. He has established himself as a vocal critic and encouraged fellow Egyptians to strive for recognition of their fundamental rights. This has come at a significant personal cost, leading to his detention or investigation under every head of state who has served in his lifetime.

MLDI and EFF have now petitioned the UNWGAD to render an opinion that his detention is arbitrary and in contravention of Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They have requested the UNGWAD take urgent action in light of Abd El Fattah’s hunger strike, recognise that his deprivation of liberty results from his exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and to declare that Abd El Fattah has been deprived of his right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. The petition was drafted with the assistance of Rosa Curling of the UK-based Leigh Day law firm. Curling has been monitoring Abd El Fattah’s trial on behalf of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. Read the full petition here.

 Nani Jansen is the Legal Director of the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). MLDI operates globally to help journalists, bloggers, and independent media outlets defend their rights by offering both financial assistance and substantive litigation support.

Adrian Plevin is an Associate Legal Officer with the Appeals Chamber of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The views expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Tribunal or the United Nations in general.

20140821 UNWGAD Petition Alaa Abd El Fattah_MLDI and EFF

by Nani Jansen at August 22, 2014 02:48 PM

Global Voices
Advocates Petition UN for Action on Jailed Egyptian Blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah
Alaa Abd El Fattah with his wife and intellectual partner, Manal Hassan. Photo by Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Alaa Abd El Fattah with his wife and intellectual partner, Manal Hassan. Photo by Lilian Wagdy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Written by Nani Jansen and Adrian Plevin.

After imprisoned Egyptian blogger and human rights defender Alaa Abd El Fattah went on hunger strike this past Monday, the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) to take all necessary steps to secure Abd El Fattah’s immediate release.

The 32-year-old award-winning blogger was one of the first netizens to call for political change in Egypt. Working with his wife Manal Hasaan, Abd El Fattah has promoted freedom of expression through the websites Manalaa and Omraneya – the first Arab ‘blog aggregators’ to not restrict inclusion based on content. His online writings have established him as a leading online force for the promotion of and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom in Egyptian society.

 On 11 June 2014, Abd El Fattah was supposed to stand trial for allegedly organising a protest in contravention of Egypt's controversial new anti anti-protest laws. Instead, he was convicted without a trial and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment.

Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime. In 2006, he was arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest. In 2011, he spent two months in prison, missing his first child’s birth. In 2013, he was arrested and detained for 115 days without trial. 

Egypt has come under mounting international pressure to address the worsening human rights situation that has accompanied the political turmoil following the 2011 ousting of then President Hosni Mubarak. Some sources speculate the situation is worse now than it was under the Mubarak government, as increasing numbers of journalists and bloggers have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment: the world’s attention has recently been focused on the heavily-criticised trial of three foreign journalists, highlighting the worrying developments in Egypt's justice system. While the military-backed government advances rhetoric of suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal and secular activists are increasingly falling foul of the regime. The judiciary has cracked down on political dissent and death sentences have been handed out on a large scale: in March of this year, over 500 protestors were sentenced to death. Another 683 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to the same fate in June.

The case of Alaa Abd El Fattah warrants special attention. He has established himself as a vocal critic and encouraged fellow Egyptians to strive for recognition of their fundamental rights. This has come at a significant personal cost, leading to his detention or investigation under every head of state who has served in his lifetime.

MLDI and EFF have now petitioned the UNWGAD to render an opinion that his detention is arbitrary and in contravention of Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They have requested the UNGWAD take urgent action in light of Abd El Fattah’s hunger strike, recognise that his deprivation of liberty results from his exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and to declare that Abd El Fattah has been deprived of his right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. The petition was drafted with the assistance of Rosa Curling of the UK-based Leigh Day law firm. Curling has been monitoring Abd El Fattah’s trial on behalf of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. Read the full petition here.

 Nani Jansen is the Legal Director of the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). MLDI operates globally to help journalists, bloggers, and independent media outlets defend their rights by offering both financial assistance and substantive litigation support.

Adrian Plevin is an Associate Legal Officer with the Appeals Chamber of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The views expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Tribunal or the United Nations in general.

by Nani Jansen at August 22, 2014 02:45 PM

Indian Broadcaster NDTV's Report on Gaza Rocket Launch Becomes Fodder for Propaganda
Screenshot of the NDTV special video report

Screenshot of the NDTV special video report

A video report from NDTV showing Gazan militants firing a rocket towards Israel from within a residential area earned the Indian broadcaster attention around the world earlier this month. It was one of the first times throughout the now six-week-long bombardment of Gaza that a major news outlet had captured the assembly of a rocket launch site on film, and the footage was quickly touted by the Israeli government and its supporters. 

Journalist Sreenivasan Jain and his crew, who happened to be staying at a hotel next to where the three men began to set up the launch site, published the report on Aug. 5 after they had left the strip. Two days later, Jain offered more backstory on the network's website and lamented how the story was being “distorted by the twin forces of internet virality and the Israel-Palestinian spin machine”: 

Fairly soon after it aired, it was distressing to find that the story had become Israel's ‘I told you so’ moment, an independent endorsement proof. In their eyes, that the media has finally acknowledged Hamas's dubious military tactics (the video was shared on the Israel Defence Force's social media platforms; it was also featured as a brief clip at a Netanyahu press conference). In turn this provoked sharp reactions from (some of) those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, who accused us of ‘betrayal'. Just four days back, they praised us for our report from Rafah in south Gaza where the hunt for a so-called missing Israeli soldier had unleashed carnage. (The IDF did not re-tweet or ‘like’ that report).

At least 2,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than 10,500 injured, and 520,000 displaced since Israel launched a massive offensive called Protective Edge against the 40-kilometer-long congested strip on July 8. Israel says the assault is targeting Hamas, a group that has ruled Gaza since 2007 under a seven-year blockade from Israel, for firing rockets across the border. Since the offensive started, three civilians have been killed in rocket attacks on Israel and 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed in fighting in Gaza.

NDTV's report made international headlines for filming what is a rare sight for journalists on the ground. There are conflicting reports of Hamas members intimidating journalists to prevent them from capturing scenes such as these, but New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks said after reporting for the first two weeks of the offensive in Gaza that this is “a war fought largely behind the scenes.” ”If they were to even step a foot on the street they would be spotted by an Israeli drone and immediately blown up,” he said. “We don’t see those fighters. They are operating out of buildings and homes and at night.”

It also purportedly showed what Israel has long complained of — that Hamas fires rockets from civilian areas, putting innocent people in the line of Israeli retaliation. NDTV reported that the men assembling the rocket were members of Hamas, but Jain admitted in his follow-up that “absolute certainty is always hard to establish” in determining if the men were indeed Hamas militants. He said the rocket was one of many launched just before a 72-hour ceasefire came into effect, “suggesting the handiwork of the biggest, most-organized and well-stocked group on the Gaza Strip- Hamas.” 

Other armed factions are operating in Gaza, such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, and have claimed responsibility for rocket attacks against Israel. 

Jain emphasized that the report “in no way absolves the IDF from taking responsibility for the appalling toll its offensive has taken on civilian lives” and “in no way implies proportionality.” Seventy-two percent of Palestinians killed in this offensive have been civilians, according to the UN:

We know that compared to Israel's firepower, Hamas's rockets are a minor threat. Of the almost 3,600 fired so far, only 10% have posed a serious risk to Israel's cities and have been taken down by its Iron Dome response system. The rocket we saw, in all probability, must have been the one of the 1000s that landed in open areas. But by firing these rockets from civilian areas, they threaten the people of Gaza more than anyone else: that was the simple point of this report.   

Srinivasan also took part in a live chat answering some of the questions from viewers.

In India, public sympathy is high for the heavy casualties in Gaza, but there is also a feeling that a country has the right to protect itself. The country's government has balanced its stance of supporting the Palestinian cause with maintaining good diplomatic relations with Israel. The NDTV report generated much discussion on India's social networks, especially in Twitter.

An all-out information war has accompanied the actual war raging on the ground in Gaza and across Israeli skies, but as Jain himself wrote, just because a journalist fears their reporting could be used by propagandists doesn't mean they should self-censor it:

To let this fear cripple our work would amount to erasing the difference between journalism and propaganda. 

Aparna Ray contributed to this post.

by Rezwan at August 22, 2014 02:27 PM

Why Bahrain's Largest Opposition Bloc Wants People to Have More Babies
Clashes with police in February 2014 marked the third anniversary of the Bahrain uprising. Photo by Eman Redha. Copyright Demotix.

Clashes with police in February 2014 marked the third anniversary of the Bahrain uprising. Photo by Eman Redha. Copyright Demotix.

In Bahrain, where protests continue three years after a popular uprising was brutally suppressed, the island's largest political opposition bloc says that the government is naturalising people of foreign origin at a rapid pace, putting native Bahrainis at risk of becoming a minority in their own country.

A total of 95,000 people were “unjustifiably” given citizenship between 2002 and 2014, representing a 17.4 percent change to the country's demographics, according to opposition society Al Wefaq. Bahrain's official census shows non-Bahrainis make up 54 percent of the population, numbering 666,172 in 2010.

Al Wefaq's solution? Have more babies.

Ali Salman, the leader of Al Wefaq, put out the call on Twitter:

I call on native Bahrainis, Sunnis and Shia, to withstand the burden of having one more child to face this catastrophic naturalisation project

So that Bahrainis Sunnis and Shia don't become a minority in their own country I call on them to have more children for Bahrain

Bahrain's fertility rate has dropped from 7.09 per woman to 2.09 per woman between 1960 and 2012, according to the World Bank. But critics of the government point out that the naturalisation push isn't simply to shore up the island's population. 

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim monarchy has been accused of naturalising foreigners as a way to insure their own rule of the Shia Muslim-majority country. A 2010 report from the conflict prevention NGO International Crises Group notes that the government “reportedly is pursuing policies to alter the island's demographic balance”:

These include granting citizenship to non-Bahrainis – mainly Sunni Arabs from around the region – to mitigate Shiite dominance. Although there are no published figures for the number of “politically naturalized”, some suggest that as many as 50,000 to 60,000 have been extended citizenship in this way. Exceptional measures appear to have been taken to grant citizenship to Jordanians, Syrians, and Yemenis recruited by the security services and, demographic impact aside, the heavy presence of foreigners in the military and police has provoked sharp anger from locals who consider them ‘mercenaries’

In 2005, a former consultant of the country's king published a report that came to be known as Bandargate, which highlighted that high officials were purposefully trying to marginalize Shia by naturalising foreigners. It also included documents that showed a minister paid five main operatives a total of more than $2.7 million to run a secret intelligence cell spying on Shia Muslims, set up bogus NGOs and create Internet forums and websites that foment sectarian hatred.

Interestingly, the campaign against the government's naturalisation comes at a time when the government is stripping nationalities from political dissidents and pushing to stop Sunni families from acquiring Qatari nationalities. 

Despite pledges from the king to curb the naturalisation of foreigners, Bahrain has still witnessed a high increase in naturalisation, according to Khalil Almarzooq, the deputy head of Al Wefaq:

Correction: According to official surveys and documents, the number of Bahrainis increased from 510274 to 584688 in 2011 which means there is an abnormal increase of 74414

Not everyone agreed with Al Wefaq's suggested solution. On Twitter, @FreedomPrayers replied:

We are fed up with kids. We need a solution that doesn't include Cartoon Network in its five-year plan

She also added:

Once the kid grows up he will understand the predicament he is in and will migrate, why would he stay?

@Amalness wrote that having more children is unrealistic, given the reality of Bahrain's economy:

In the current economic circumstances the Bahraini family struggles to provide its day's bread. Is bringing more children into the world a practical solution? We need a political solution

Unemployment in the country has reached a level of 15 to 20 percent, according to Bahrain's ally the United States, a figure much higher than the single-digit percentage offered by the country's government. Discrimination in the workforce is linked to the problem, according to Al Wefaq.

To add insult to injury, the government might be unable to pay the salaries of its employees in 2017. Adding a high birth rate as suggested by Al Wefaq to an already high rate of naturalisation would mean more spending on public services and projects such as healthcare and education and will have a devastating effect on the economy in the long run.

Bahraini youth, like others who rose up across the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring, protested for the hope of creating a better future. A “chicken race” toward the economic cliff will not create better job opportunities nor protect freedoms. This existential struggle for identity deviates from the struggle for a better tomorrow.

The fact that the suggestion of having more babies comes from a veteran politician like Ali Salman who is a former law maker shows how ineffective the political process is in Bahrain and suggests a deep problem in the structure of the system.

by Noor Mattar at August 22, 2014 01:59 PM

Rising Voices
Cloghers-to-Be: Young Cambodian Women Start Setting Up Their Blogs

Rising Voices Grantee Project Update

Clogher participants write welcome messages for their blogs.

Clogher participants write welcome messages for their blogs.

The first training from the Empowering Cloghers Project kicked off this past Sunday, August 17th, with a group of passionate and enthusiastic trainees. It was a productive training despite being the first time that all the trainees met together.

Before getting started, Ms. Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), who is a Clogher herself, showed the trainees a video that she and her fellow bloggers jointly produced during the Blogger Tour in Berlin, Germany. The video highlighted six different bloggers from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Germany describing their experiences and inspirations. 

Participants were asked about their expectations. Almost everyone agreed that they wanted to blog so that they could help raise awareness about women’s rights, share this useful training and experience with others, and become good bloggers. This was great to hear, as we didn’t expect the trainees to be so clear in their objectives so early on in the project.

As Sopheap shared on her Facebook page,

A productive Sunday, and I am impressed with these young women who have a clear mission to start their blogs with a clear social purpose!

This first training session focused on equipping the Cloghers-to-be with basic technical skills. They were asked to think about a catchy name, as well as issues or angles that they wanted for their blogs. Their final task was to draft their own welcome messages, so that when they set up the blogs, they would have their first posts ready to publish right away.

Participants brainstorm their blog name and issues of focus

Participants brainstorm their blog name and issues of focus

After everyone completed their welcome messages, we moved on to the next session: how to create and design a blog. 

Some of the trainees were a bit shy during the first training and were not very comfortable talking to everyone else yet. But one positive and promising outcome of this first training is that one participant has already set up a Facebook group so that all of the trainees can stay connected to each other in between training sessions through social media, without being asked to do so by the trainers.

The next training is scheduled for the end of August, and we really are looking forward to meeting and working with these great trainees again!

by Ramana Sorn at August 22, 2014 01:59 PM

Lawrence Lessig
The nature of campaigns: NH GOP Primary

It has been fascinating and terrifying to stand in the middle of the campaign team talking about the…

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at August 22, 2014 01:45 PM

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