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.

July 02, 2015

DML Central
Eating Robots: Data Diets and Hungry Algorithms

What do robots eat? Contemporary digital data analytics systems feed on a diet of data produced through human activity. Through this feeding, robotic machines receive the informational nutrition required for their own development: to become smarter, more aware of their environment, more responsive and adaptive in their interactions with people. By eating human data, robots are learning. 

Feeding Societies

The claim that we now live in a consumer society has become commonplace in academic research. People have become voracious consumers, but also, through their participation in social media environments, present themselves as desirable commodities for the consumption of others. At the same time, it is increasingly argued that contemporary societies are becoming more automated and accelerated as robotic devices augment many aspects of work, space and everyday life.

In smart cities, for example, urban spaces are set to become more automated as networks of sensors and data analytics continually gather data about systems and movements of people and objects to become more "sentient." These sentient cities are structured and supported "line by line, algorithm by algorithm, program by program," "by code using data as fuel" as Nigel Thrift has argued. In education, the "robotic algorithms" of learning analytics and adaptive learning software are also beginning to play a greater role in automating aspects of the pedagogic process, as the authors of Learning with Big Data argue, through accessing spreadsheets of learner data and making probabilistic predictions in order to automate decisions about pedagogical intervention in a few milliseconds.

In these examples, we can see how robotic devices such as data-processing algorithms and analytics play a key role and how they require dietary sustenance to function — "fuel" as indicated above, or better perhaps, "food." So, if we are indeed living in a consumer society, it is one in which robots and not just humans have a voracious appetite. The question of what robots eat is deliberately playful. But, the underlying issue is a significant one, presciently dramatized in MT Anderson’s 2002 novel "Feed," in which a colossal "feednet" system constantly feeds on users’ data, whilst also feeding them information to control their behaviour. If robots eat data in an emerging "robo-consumer society," then what are the ingredients of the data?

Healthy Robots

I have been working recently on a project involving health scientists, an anthropologist and a robotician to develop a prototype device for the collection of dietary and nutritional information from children. The device consists of a couple of technical elements: a wearable smartwatch and a portable robotic toy. As children go about their day-to-day activities, the smartwatch device encourages them to monitor and track what they eat and drink. Later, when the smartwatch is brought into proximity with the robotic toy, it then "feeds" the robot all of the data it has collected on the user’s dietary habits and nutritional intake that day. The robot is then intended to respond to the user’s input by playing with them. Future iterations of the device could also monitor children’s physical activity; specific algorithms could be designed to work out the optimal balance of calorific intake with physical movement and exertion. There is much in it that resonates with the "quantified self" health-tracking movement, and particularly with how such devices are being mobilized for the algorithmic tracking of children’s physical exercise and for encouraging healthy lifestyles.

While designing the device, we’ve been considering the ways in which children interact with "virtual pets," often by feeding and nurturing them to ensure their well-being. Building on similar principles for the big data context, as our little health robot is fed data, it is designed to gradually develop a series of increasingly complex interactions with the user. Though presently no more than a set of lashed up prototypes, the ultimate aim of a bigger project might be to create an automated "robotic health assistant" that can learn about the user’s dietary and physical habits, interact with the user, and even intervene to reshape those health-making routines. Such a device makes it clear that the ingredients of the data that robots consume are actually the digital bits left by human action. The educational questions here concern the ways in which devices can be designed to learn about children’s health in order to support children themselves to learn about their own healthiness, or even to act pedagogically to teach children about healthy activities and lifestyles.

Eating Data

What interests me more here is the possibility of exploring the connections between what we feed into our bodies as human beings and how that might then be translated into data that we can feed to robots. As researchers involved in the Eating Bodies project such as Annmarie Mol have suggested, the way we eat is largely governed by questions about what we should eat, in terms of calories or pleasure, and how much to eat, in terms of nutrients and satiety. What we eat can even be understood as incorporated into our bodies to become part of ourselves. Robotic health assistants could play a major role in governing how and what we eat, and what we ultimately make of our own eating bodies as a consequence.

The sociologist Deborah Lupton has drawn on this work to suggest that in the social media context people are now "eating data": both data-ingesting and data-emitting in an endless cycle of generating data, bringing the data into the self, generating yet more data. Data are absorbed into the body/self and then become new data that flow out of the body/self into the digital data economy. The data-eating/emitting subject, therefore, is not closed off but is open to taking in and letting out digital data.

In this view, as people go about their everyday social mediated lives, they are constantly feeding on a diet of data provided by the platforms they use; these data, like the food people absorb into their bodies, become part of the ways they live their lives, and inform their subsequent production of more data in the shape of profile updates, content creation, tweets, likes, recommendations and so on. The potential digestive metaphors available here can get quite disgusting: the education technology researcher Cormac O’Keeffe has suggested we leave "digital droppings" for others to pick up; studying the coprophagic tendencies of digital data systems might be illuminating. 

Feeding Robots

At the same time, an equally intriguing issue might be about what robots eat, how much of it they eat, how it becomes incorporated into their own "bodies," and how they too scatter data droppings behind them. We could think here about how robotic algorithms, such as those emerging from the field of machine learning or even cognitive computing, are able to turn digital data into the kind of artificial nutrition required for their own development and learning. Machine learning algorithms already fundamentally need to be "taught" by being trained on a corpus of available data before they can go to work "in the wild," where they can then further learn through constant interaction with the data they encounter. Metaphorically at least, these hungry algorithms need to be fed in order to thrive.

Likewise, the robotic health assistant described above needs to be fed on a diet of data that is captured in real-time from its user, and that could then use that data-diet to learn about the user’s own bodily habits in order to encourage the user  to consider any necessary dietary adjustments. In a way, this is about the data-hungry algorithm devouring and digesting the digital diet prepared for it by human activity, and then using the intelligence incorporated into the "body" of the algorithm itself to reshape the body techniques of its user. There are links between the digestive trails left by eating bodies and the dietary habits of eating robots to consider that could be useful for understanding digitally mediated learning in the big data context. As human bodies ingest and emit data, robots pick up their droppings and scrape out the remaining nutrient traces to digest them into their own adaptive learning processes. 

The robotic health assistant project is just one instantiation here of the growing recognition of the productive power of algorithm systems to interact with and reshape humanly embodied actions and routines. Contemporary consumer societies are characterized not just by patterns of human consumption, including people eating data, but by the ways that the robotic algorithms of digital data systems are now being designed as consumers of human data. Additionally, in the same way that contemporary consumers are also encouraged to become producers of digital content — by uploading social media content, updating profiles, liking and commenting and so on — our robots are also deeply productive machines. They, like us, are "prosumers" or "produsers" who both consume and produce media, ingest and emit data. The figure of the prosumer or produser is at the very core of much work in digital media and learning — the learner as active and participatory producer of media content — but the spiral loops of data consumption and data excretion among both people and robots in the digitally-mediated learning process less closely inspected.

If, as consumer culture theorists claim, we now present ourselves as commoditized products to be consumed, it’s not just for the consumption of other people but for consumption by robots. In relation to food consumption specifically, we even present our "eating bodies" in relation to algorithmic standards structured into health-tracking devices to which we feed our data and that can then feed us information about how to look after our bodies. As automated dietary assistants and health devices become more widespread, the boundary between practices of producing food to feed ourselves and practices of producing data to feed robots could become more blurry, with robots increasingly responsible for producing the data required to educate us to produce the food that will optimize our nutrition, pleasure and satiety as consumers. 

More widely, if people are increasingly consuming and producing content, eating and emitting data in a kind of "robo-produser" society, then it may be useful to consider the reciprocal learning that occurs in this process. As we learn through interacting with data-based web platforms — whether by searching, content-creation, communication, sharing or so on — we need to be aware of the robotic algorithms that we are feeding, and that are eating our data in order to learn from us, about us, or even for us.

Banner image credit: Chris Isherwood

Author: 

by mcruz at July 02, 2015 02:00 PM

Lawrence Lessig
migslovesyou: “You come against me with hatred, repression, and…

migslovesyou:

“You come against me with hatred, repression, and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!” – Brittany “Bree” Newsome


FREE BREE

(Original post on Tumblr)

by Lessig at July 02, 2015 01:42 PM

Global Voices
Every Year, 100,000 People in India Suffer From Tuberculosis and HIV
TB patients at Sewri Hospital, Ward 3. Image by George Butler. Used with permission from MSF.

TB patients at Sewri Hospital, Ward 3. Image by George Butler. Used with permission from MSF.

There were 1.1 million people globally who needed simultaneous treatment for tuberculosis (TB) and HIV in 2013. Out of those 1.1 million, 360,000 died, and the problem remains one of the major global health challenges in the present time. HIV can destroy so many of your CD4 cells that your body can't fight infections and diseases anymore.

HIV patients usually are not infected with TB bacteria unless in contact with someone who also is infected with TB bacteria. But if they live in a country with a high prevalence of TB, there is a high chance of being infected with it.

TB-HIV is indeed a critical public health issue in India, as Shobha Shukla at Citizen News Service writes:

According to WHO estimates, India has the highest burden of TB in the world with 2.3 million cases (out of a global incidence of 8.7 million) and about 320,000 deaths occurring annually. 5% or 0.11 million of the TB patients in India are HIV positive too. India thus accounts for about 10% of the global burden of HIV-associated TB with 100,000 patients co-infected with the two diseases annually. Without timely diagnosis and treatment, a large number of these doubly sick people are likely to die.

Estimated deaths due to HIV/TB are 42,000 in India, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The high rates of HIV are leading other diseases like TB to be a risk factor. HIV/TB is a major issue in India due to the lack of space, fresh air, toilets, sunlight and education.

Anti-retroviral therapy along with anti-tuberculosis treatment is the only available treatment in present time. There is currently no cure HIV infection, although anti-retroviral treatment can suppress the HIV virus.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is one organization that is delivering healthcare to people with HIV/AIDS and TB in India, especially to marginalised groups like transgender communities.

In the above video from MSF India, Iqbal, a drug-resistant tuberculosis survivor from Mumbai, Maharashtra, explains how he defeated the disease. “You just have to be patient, don’t give up,” he says. After struggling with tuberculosis for two years he says he finally feels that he is better. Iqbal advises that “things can get better, DR-TB can be cured, you can live a normal life like everyone else.”

According to the World Health Organization:

TB is the most common presenting illness among people living with HIV, including among those taking antiretroviral treatment and it is the major cause of HIV-related death.

A TB Patient.

A TB patient. Image by George Butler. Used with permission from MSF.

Illustrator George Butler, who collaborated with MSF in 2013 to sketch patients suffering drug-resistant tuberculosis, writes on his website:

Until now tuberculosis has been continually overlooked but is a worsening problem, especially in the major capitals of the world and particularly London.

There is a strong stigma attached to both HIV and tuberculosis, and many patients lose their jobs because of it. Beyond medical treatment, counseling is another way to help patients.

According to the WHO, the Indian government has made a large effort to reduce the rates of HIV/AIDS and TB, with the country spending 252 million US dollars in 2014 on its TB program, of which 66 per cent was funded domestically and 34 per cent was funded internationally.

But for Shakti Garg from India, authorities aren't focusing on these diseases enough:

by Beheshta Namdar at July 02, 2015 11:21 AM

Cats and Kittens Flood an Italian Anti-Immigration Politician's Facebook Page
gattini

Photo of the event created on Facebook.

Images depicting baby animals, in particular kittens, are now among the most shared on social media, so much so that coming face to face with their sweet eyes on a daily basis appears to be an unavoidable fate. Therefore, yet another Facebook page dedicated to those with a passion for cats may not seem like a major innovation.

But what happened in Italy recently is a little different. A group called Progetto Kitten launched a virtual flashmob aimed at Matteo Salvini, who leads the Northern League, a party known for its xenophobic and anti-European stance. Instead of dancing, Progetto Kitten asked the participants—all 26,000 of them—to flood Salvini's Facebook page with pictures of cats and kittens

The organisers say that they are not political, but simply want to “bring adorable kitten-messengers of love to the walls of those who take life too seriously.”

The kitten flashmob took place May 7, but many cats could be seen in the comments of the politician's posts even after that date.

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A screenshot of some of the cats on Salvini's wall

In the words of the campaign's creator, Salvini was chosen solely on the basis of the sound of his name, as it rhymes with gattini, the Italian word for kittens. Hence, the hashtag and the name under which the campaign spread: #gattinisusalvini (kittens on Salvini).

Despite the non-political objectives of #gattinisusalvini, many of the participants included criticism of the politician's stances and rhetoric alongside their feline photos:

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“Hi Salvini, I'm a cross-breed cat”

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“Romani cats, illegal musicians”

The initiative was more successful than the organisers anticipated, and it soon spread from Facebook to Twitter.

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Progetto Kitten announces the success of the initiative on Twitter

Facebook page of Salvini invaded by photos of kittens. And on Twitter #gattinisusalvini spreads

today 3pm #gattinisusalvini, @Jacopo_llo and I have our keyboards at the ready [PH CC: CiccioGatti e Socialismo]

#gattinisusalvini is perhaps one of the best works of art of the new millennium.

Some welcomed the success of the initiative, which, according to Wired, is the correct response to a brand of politics that is ever less convincing and filled with slogans. The cuteness of the kittens contrasts with the hatred dispensed by politicians, while laughter contrasts with the speeches against foreigners and minority groups.

But there were also many people who weren't fans of the effort. Critics noted, for example, that the use of kittens reflects the participants’ lack of solid arguments against the leader of the Northern League.
Many also pointed out that the campaign aided Salvini, increasing his popularity rather than causing him to soften his tone.

In fact, although the first reaction of the leader of the Northern League was to block the most active users in the spread of cats, seeing it as a “spring cleaning” of his Facebook page, he later ended a post with a “meow”, gaining approval for his self-deprecating humour.

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“Spring cleaning! For a more beautiful and sincere page: what do you think, should I start???”

“ALFANO, from people-smugglers’ aid to aspiring slave driver. Regression of the species. Meow.”

His supporters created a new hashtag, #gattiniconsalvini (kittens with Salvini), spreading images of Salvini surrounded by the omnipresent cats.

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Kittens with Salvini. #gattiniconsalvini

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One of the Facebook posts featured in this image, calling on supporters to post photos of their own cats, reads, “My cat votes for Salvini.”

An image of a cat riding a bulldozer refers to how Salvini intends to raze Romani camps in the country.

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The cat on a bulldozer. Kittens for Salvini

If the aim of the initiative was to soften the tone of the quarrelsome Italian political scene, it hasn't succeeded. At least the kittens, even when they are unfortunately driving a bulldozer or dressed as political activists, are still very cute.

by Mirella Biagi at July 02, 2015 11:10 AM

Which Lebanese and Arab Media Covered #SaudiCables and Which Ones Didn't?
The Saudi Cables: Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media

The Saudi Cables: Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media

The silence of major newspapers and media outlets towards more than half a million leaked documents from Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is deafening.

A total of 61,000 Arabic-language documents, which offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Saudi corridors of power, published by WikiLeaks, are already online.

The information dump reveal secret communications from Saudi embassies, as well as “top secret” reports from other Saudi state institutions, including the Ministry of Interior and the Kingdom's General Intelligence Services. More are set to be published in the coming weeks, according to a press release published by the whistleblowing site.

In the Saudi Cables press release, Wikileaks chose to focus on how the Saudi Kingdom controls the media, by posting an article along with a press release that explains the modus operandi of the Saudi Foreign Ministry. In an attempt to measure the Saudi control over the media, the following is a round up of how the majority of the Lebanese media outlets and a couple of international outlets with a regional presence covered the exposé.

Al-Akhbar newspaper, one of the official media partner of Wikileaks, evidently has the most active coverage of the Saudi Cables.

However, “active coverage” doesn't really apply to the majority of the Lebanese media. Journalist and professor Asad Abu Khalil tweeted to his 25K followers:

Leave us from the content of the Saudi Cables: Isn't it interesting that the Arabic media is not allowed to cover the #SaudiCables which is preoccupying the international media?

MTV Lebanon, one of the main TV stations in Lebanon (which is mentioned in the leaked document 83763 for asking $20 million but received $5 million for the Saudi government), did not publish any news on its website even though it did an extensive coverage back in 2012 and 2011 of similar leaks. MTV only tweeted once:

Bazzi in response to WikiLeaks: Let them make things up in other matters

The tweet is an article about the reply from Lebanese member of Parliament Ali Bazzi on the information published in doc 113007 that the CIA infiltrated Hezbollah via his role in the Amal movement. Future TV, also tweeted the same tweet as MTV. They reported Bazzi's response:

Bazzi in response to WikiLeaks: We don't need the testimony of anyone in reputation and history, not from WikiLeaks or anyone else

So did Janoubia News:

Hizbulla: We deny all the accusations against Bazzi which appeared in Wikileaks

This information constituted NOW Lebanon‘s only coverage of SaudiCables, which was limited to a single post on how US intelligence infiltrated Hezbollah via its ally Amal. They didn't tweet at all about the Saudi Cables, even though a Twitter search show that they also did an extensive coverage of the leaks of 2012 and 2011. Annahar also didn't cover the Saudi Cables; only one tweet was issued from its Twitter account regarding the French Cables.

On the active coverage front, LBC News, Al Jadeed TV, Al Araby Al Jadeed and OTV covered to a certain extent the Saudi Cables. The tweets and articles show a specific angle of coverage for every channel.

In WikiLeaks newest release, Saudi Arabia admits that [former Lebanese Army Commander Michel] Aoun is the most representative politician for Christians

As for regional and international media, both Al Hayat newspaper and Al Sharq Al awsat didn't have any coverage of the Saudi Cables. The two Saudi-owned outlets were the subject of a complaint by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri that was the leaked in document 118847. Al Sharq el Awsat only tweeted once warning Saudi citizens not to share any leaked documents that are published by “enemies of the Kingdom”:

The Saudi Foreign Affairs Ministry cautions you not to assist the enemies of the Kingdom in publishing or circulating documents

Several Twitter users tweeted about the lack of coverage. Independent journalist Sarah El Sirgany tweeted to her 85K followers:

Lebanese writer Jamal Ghosn tweeted:

BBC Arabic tweeted once an article about the press round-up of reactions to the Saudi Cables:

Arabic newspapers cover WikiLeak's Saudi Cables

Al Mayadeen tweeted four times about the Saudi Cables, so did CNN Arabic.

Finally, the Tehran-based Al Alam International News channel is extensively covering the Saudi Cables on both Twitter and their website.

Stay tuned as our Global Voices Online team digs up more documents from the leaked cache.

Also check out our coverage on Checkdesk Global Voices, where we are tracking citizen media reactions to the Saudi Cables.

Read our special coverage: WikiLeaks Reveals the #SaudiCables

by Abir Ghattas at July 02, 2015 10:20 AM

In Deadly Heatwave, Karachi's Citizens Adopt Neglected Government Hospitals to Save Lives
"Non stop heat stroke patients brought in to JPMC Emergency" Posetd on Tasneem Butt's Facebook page on June 22.

“Non stop heat stroke patients brought in to JPMC Emergency” Posted on Tasneem Butt's Facebook page on June 22.

More than 1,200 people have died after a record-breaking heatwave hit Karachi, one of the world’s most populated cities located in southern Pakistan.

Many of the 65,000 heatwave victims ended up in Karachi’s poorly run, neglected and under-financed government hospitals.

Temperatures peaked at 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) on June 20, the second day of the Islamic month of fasting Ramadan, when public eating and drinking is largely outlawed in Pakistan. There was also a power grid failure, making the city’s poorest most vulnerable to heatstroke and dehydration.

While temperatures have dropped to 95-98 degrees Fahrenheit (34-37 degrees Celsius), 2,000 heatwave victims are still being treated in hospitals across Karachi.

As images of Karachi's dilapidated hospitals overwhelmed with heatstroke victims started to circulate on social media and on the country’s many TV channels, dozens of Karachi citizens informally and formally came together to gather or volunteer resources at government hospital wards treating heatwave victims.

At Karachi's largest federal government run hospital, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), heatstroke victims were placed in rundown wards with out-of-service air conditioners, filthy bathrooms, and limited water supplies.

#TheWard5Project

Yusra Askari, a journalist and activist, together with Imkaan Welfare Trust helped organize a donors collaborative to adopt Ward 5, which has 80 beds and treated hundreds of victims during the heatwave. Imkaan is a registered non-profit in Karachi that usually works to save abandoned infants, but with the heatwave, they felt it necessary to help out at the JPMC.

Their #‎TheWard5Project took over the janitorial services for a month in that ward. On June 29, Yusra posted about their progress on Facebook:

It's been a little over 24 hours that 3 teams of 5 janitors and 1 supervisor each have worked tirelessly around the clock to sweep, mop, broom and scrub Ward 5 in an attempt to clean it. New dustbins, bin liners and all, have been placed under all the beds in both sections of the ward and trash cans have also been positioned at regular intervals.10 pedestal fans have been brought in to cool temperatures in Ward 5 while a group of very generous donors and volunteers working alongside us are having serviced and repaired the existing air conditions (6 of which are now up and running) in the ward and are putting into place, new wiring to bring in additional units.

Jibran Nasir and #ElajTrust

Jibran Nasir and other activists with Elaj Trust, a young social welfare non-profit, mobilized to raise money for people vulnerable to the heatwave. They also raised awareness about staying cool through distributing pamphlets on and offline.

Nasir, who is a young Karachi-based lawyer well known for his anti-extremism activism, shot a video at JPMC showing the horrific conditions there that went viral on June 26. A mobile video shot by citizen reporter Faysal Mustafa Soomro, showing Jibran take the chief minister of Sindh to task when he visited the hospital, went viral as well.

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“Hospital wards 6 and 7 JPMC including toilets being cleaned and maintained by our team as any Hospital ward should be.‪#‎WhereIsTheHealthBudget‬” From the Elaj Trust Facebook page.

Elaj Trust rallied to gather funds to help fix Ward 6 and 7 of JPMC, assist at Civil Hospital, another neglected government facility, and provide bottled water and shaded areas across the city during Ramadan. Within four days they raised 9 million rupees ($88,000) and had to ask donors to pause donating, while they figured out how to scale to manage larger funds. Organizations like #ProjectPakistan also helped gather funds for Elaj Trust.

They are keeping the accounting of donations transparent through their Facebook page. Going through Jibran Nasir's timeline, you can see how quickly the organization identified and rallied support for the most pertinent problems:

JDC Welfare

Non-profit organization Jafaria Disaster Management Cell, also known as JDC, swung into action as early as June 20. JDC runs an ambulance network in Karachi and helps in rehabilitation efforts after disasters. They released a video on June 22 detailing the breakdown of healthcare in Karachi on their popular Facebook page, where they have more than 100,000 fans and primarily post in Urdu. Their video has been viewed more than 2.5 million times, shared tens of thousands of times and has helped raise awareness about the crisis. Here's a translated excerpt from the video:

We think it is our civic responsibility to tell you what happened after temperatures hit 45 degrees C in Karachi. Karachi's hospitals were soon full, all government hospitals declared an emergency, the ambulance system broke down, and all of Karachi's graveyards put a block on receiving more dead bodies, because their existing system was overwhelmed. They did not have enough people to dig graves and enough spots to bury people. Even morgues cannot accommodate any more dead bodies.

[…] If you have a plot of land where we can set up a cold storage facility please get in touch. We are trying to increase our ambulance capacity too. Please help.”

Within days JDC established a free temporary morgue for heatwave victims.  

Many more working on the ground

Karachi Relief Trust, a group of “civic-minded volunteers working together to mitigate the effects of natural and man-made disasters”, is helping at JPMC too. They posted this photo to their Facebook page:

"Stretchers were in short supply. Got these through a silent donor with efforts of our champion volunteer Fahad Asadullah"

“Stretchers were in short supply. Got these through a silent donor with efforts of our champion volunteer Fahad Asadullah”

Healers, another group of volunteers, showed up at JPMC and Civil Hospital, with stocks of medicines, bed sheets, and IV-stands.

And many citizens just organized informal donation drives through their Facebook pages. Posts by Natasha Mustafa and Tasneem Butt about the conditions and needs at JPMC were shared widely and resulted in dozens of volunteers making a difference. Natasha Mustafa posted this on June 26:

Received thousand plus Kinley mineral water bottles from Coca Cola Pakistan yesterday for the patients at Jinnah Hospital. Immensely thankful to Coca Cola for sponsoring. Thank you Sabeen F. Haque and Jehan Ara for making this possible. Also received a stock of 250 bedsheets for the Emergency Department. It's commendable how you reached out to help Jinnah Hospital and various other hospitals across the city at such a critical time.

by Sahar Habib Ghazi at July 02, 2015 08:29 AM

July 01, 2015

Global Voices
As Karachi Succumbs to a Record-Breaking Heatwave, Social Media to the Rescue
Ward 5 of Karachi's Jinnah Hospital's has been reserved for heatstroke patients. Image from Junaid Akram's Facebook page.

Ward 5 of Karachi's Jinnah Hospital's has been reserved for heatstroke patients. Image from Junaid Akram's Facebook page.

More than 1,250 people have died after a record-breaking heatwave hit Karachi, the world’s second most populated city. As temperatures peaked at 114 F on the second day of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, when public eating and drinking is outlawed in Pakistan, there was also a power grid failure, making the the city’s poorest even more susceptible to illness as a result of the heat.

Many have ended up in Karachi’s poorly run and under-financed government hospitals. As images of these dilapidated establishments started to circulate on social media and on the country’s many TV channels, dozens of volunteers came together informally to “adopt” government hospital wards treating heat wave victims.

Friends of mine from the Ikmaan Welfare Trust have been working at Jinnah Hospital, where Ward 5 has been dedicated to heatstroke patients. On visiting the ward on June 30 and taking note of the conditions there, I tweeted the following:

The call for wheelchairs received an immediate response from Junaid Akram, a standup comedian from Pakistan. He donated 5 wheelchairs and has ordered stretchers as well. Here is what Junaid Akram wrote on his Facebook page:

UPDATE: Saw this tweet earlier today about wheelchair conditions at Ward 5 of Jinnah Hospital. Ward 5 has been dedicated to heat stroke patients. Urgently delivered 5 wheelchairs as shown in the picture below – they were handed over to Dr. Dil Nawaz. Moreover, there's a shortage of moveable stretchers so I've placed an order to a company in Lahore which will deliver 10 pieces via freight train by Saturday inshallah. Those stretchers along with 10 wheelchairs will be sent to Korangi National Hospital which is a government hospital made in the impoverished industrial area for the residents there.

For more information on the heatwave in Pakistan and related relief efforts, follow .

Five wheelchairs being delivered to Jinnah Hospital in Karachi. Photo from Junaid Akram's Facebook page.

Five wheelchairs being delivered to Jinnah Hospital in Karachi. Photo from Junaid Akram's Facebook page.

by Faisal Kapadia at July 01, 2015 10:43 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: Scholars in Colombia, Kazakhstan Face Legal Challenges for Sharing Research
Diego Gomez, photo courtesy of Fundacion Karisma.

Diego Gomez, photo courtesy of Fundacion Karisma.

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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

The trial of a Colombian graduate student for sharing an academic paper online has been postponed from July 1 to October. The paper’s author pressed copyright violation charges against Diego Gomez for posting his research on the document-sharing website Scribd, despite the fact that Gomez was trying only to share the paper’s findings with his classmates, and that he earned no profit in doing so. The 27-year-old could face a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

The case has hit a nerve among digital rights advocates across the Americas, where the United States has a disproportionately broad influence over regional copyright policy. Colombia's free trade agreement with the United States, originally signed in 2006, required that the country adopt copyright policies that closely mirror the US copyright regime. Subsequently, laws passed over the last three years in Colombia have expanded criminal penalties for copyright infringement to include possible prison sentences and monetary fines. To make matters worse, Colombia lacks important countermeasures to these restrictions, such as exceptions for fair use.

Gomez, who has since moved to Costa Rica to complete his degree in wildlife preservation, has become a key illustration of how Colombia’s newly tightened copyright regime may actually stifle academic freedom and innovation. Gomez is working actively with Bogota digital rights group Fundacion Karisma to call attention to the case. In a recent appeal for support, he wrote:

Si el acceso abierto fuera la regla y no la excepción para la publicación de los resultados de investigación científica, su impacto seria mayor y casos como el mío no existirían. No habria dudas de que lo correcto es que este conocimiento circule para que pueda servirle a todo el mundo.

If open access were the rule and not the exception when it comes to the publication of scientific research, its impact would be greater and cases like mine wouldn’t exist. There would be no doubt that that what’s right is for this knowledge to circulate in order to benefit the rest of the world.

Meanwhile in Europe, academic publisher Elsevier is suing Kazakh science researcher Alexandra Elbakyan over SciHub, an online platform she launched in an effort to collect and share research papers free of charge. She began the project in 2011 in a simple effort to increase access to scientific and medical research in Kazakhstan and other countries where universities often do not have access to large western-owned research databases. In an interview with TorrentFreak, Elbakyan explained SciHub’s role among researchers in Russia and Central Asia:

The software immediately became popular among Russian researchers. There was no big idea behind the project, like ‘make all information free’ or something like that. We just needed to read all these papers to do our research.

Despite the fact that Sci-Hub is a free platform with no commercial gains for its operators, academic publisher Elsevier is suing Sci-Hub.org for millions of dollars in damages. But Elbakyan has no plans to back down.

“At this time I either have to prove we have the full right to do this or risk being executed like other ‘pirates’,” she says, referencing Aaron Swartz, the open knowledge advocate and former MIT student who took his own life while facing possible incarceration for allegedly downloading articles from an academic database without authorization. “If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge.”

Media attacks and spotty mobile service in Ecuador

Ecuadorians in the cities of Quito and Guayaquil experienced lapses in mobile connectivity during recent protests over proposed increases on inheritance and capital gains taxes. The cause of the connectivity problems remains unclear. Some users speculated they might have been due to network saturations, while others suspected the possible use of signal jammers. In addition, some Ecuadorian media including Ecuavisa.com, LaRepublica and Teleamazonas suffered DDoS attacks that forced their websites offline.

Vietnamese human rights lawyer released from prison

Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan was released from prison on June 27 after serving a 30-month prison sentence for charges of tax evasion. Quan has been arbitrarily detained multiple times by Vietnamese authorities for continuing his human rights work, leading the UN to condemn the violation of his right to free expression and a fair trial.

Citing weakened privacy laws, tech industry says cheerio to the UK

A growing number of companies are leaving the UK in favor of the Netherlands over concerns about the government’s plans to weaken privacy laws and require backdoors in technology products and services. In particular, company leaders have cited the planned abolition of the Human Rights Act and the revival of the Snooper’s Charter — which would expand the already broad surveillance powers of GCHQ, the UK intelligence agency — as threats to their business interests.

Australia is no safe haven for the humble torrent freak

Australia passed a new law that would make it easier for copyright holders to obtain a court order to block websites that either have the primary purpose of infringing copyright or “facilitate” its infringement. The Senate rejected a series of safeguards that would have provided affected parties with a right of appeal and protected VPNs, which now could be blocked if they face claims their services are designed to make infringing on copyright easier.

Dutch court asks Facebook to bare all

A Dutch court ordered Facebook to provide access to its servers for an external expert to verify it has no information that could help a young woman determine who published a sex video of her without her consent. Facebook argued whoever posted the video used a fake account, which was deleted before the company received any request for user data. “Facebook has a legal obligation to provide the information because the unknown person acted illegally and the information cannot be obtained elsewhere”, the court ruled.

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Correction: This post was amended on July 2, 22:44 GMT to include Diego Gomez updated trial date. 

by Netizen Report Team at July 01, 2015 08:28 PM

China Unleashes Police, Internet Censors on Anti-PX Plant Protesters in Shanghai
Anti-PX protests in Shanghai on June 26. Image from Twitter user @wickedonnaa

Anti-PX protests in Shanghai on June 26. Image from Twitter user @wickedonnaa

Tens of thousands of residents from the Jinshan district of Shanghai city took to the streets over the course of a week, beginning June 22, to protest the government's plan to relocate a paraxylene (PX) plant to their neighborhood.

Armed police broke up the crowds this past weekend and forced the arrested to sign a “guarantee” that they would not rally against PX again. Chinese authorities also restricted Internet access and scrubbed social media of information about the protests.

With the idea of integrating the oil refining and chemical industry, Jinshan has been rezoned as a major site for the relocation of chemical factories from across Shanghai. To prepare for the new zoning plan, which the relocation of Pudong-based Gaoqiao oil refining factory to Jinshan would kick-start, authorities launched an environment assessment process, which is the last official step to implementing the integration plan.

In the past, a number of massive protests in major cities such as Dalian, Kunming and Xiamen have taken place against the construction of PX plants. Local residents were concerned about the air pollution caused by paraxylene, a by-product of the oil refining process and commonly used for producing plastic bottles and fiber which is toxic to humans.

To cool public anger, the government issued a statement on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo on June 26, calling for a stop to the environmental assessment of the relocation proposal. A large number of “cease-fire” banners were found on the streets, reportedly placed there by the government, saying:

環評終止了,一體化項目取消了,大家不要上街了。

The environmental assessment has been stopped. Integration project dropped. Don't take to the streets.

Determined to stop the project, tens of thousands still rallied in the streets over the weekend. The YouTube video below shows the weekend protest:

Thus far, the week-long protests have gone unreported in major mainland Chinese media outlets and witness accounts of the protests on Chinese Twitter-like Webio since June 23 have been erased. The remaining available sources of information come from overseas dissident news sites and social media platforms. @wickedonnaa has followed the news closely and reposted on Twitter information that was censored on Chinese social media since the beginning of the protests. Below are photos from the rally on June 26, before armed police began clamping down on the gathering:

June 26, tens of thousands of people in Shanghai's Jinshan District on the fifth day of continued protests against the PX project. Details: http: //t.co/socrnalBwZ

One of those news sites, NTDTV, interviewed several protesters on June 29 about the police crackdown. A man named Shum said:

现在每天游行的人,三、四万人,都是晚上,星期六去市区抓人的,金山局长带头打人,更何况警察呢。22号地铁线星期六都停掉了,交警都在高速查大巴,只要是金山人,不管你是什么理由,直接给你押走。网路封了,图片一发过来就屏蔽了。

There are rallies every night, about 30,000-40,000 people in the streets. On Saturday, they arrested those who went downtown. The head of Jinshan district police took the lead in beating up people, other police officers were even more harsh. They suspended the operation of subway line 22 and the traffic police were checking people in the buses on the highway. Once they found out that you were a resident of Jinshan, they took you away. The Internet was blocked. The minute that photos were uploaded, they disappeared.

Another protester named Nie talked about the situation on June 27:

两千多名特警加19辆运警车在拦访,进出市区,高铁捷运、公交车凭身份证坐,金山人不让去的。早上7点到11点,傍晚5点11点,连续三天金山地区的网路限速,4G手机直接变成2G。

Around 2,000 armed police with about 19 police vehicles were stopping protesters from entering the city center [via major roads and highways]. People had to show their ID cards when taking high-speed trains, the metro, and public transportation. All Jinshan residents were banned from entering the city. Over the past three days, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., access to the Internet in Jinshan district has been restricted. 4G mobile became 2G mobile.

@wickedonnaa reposted photos from Weibo of the June 28 rally:

June 28, the seventh day anti-PX protest in Shanghai. Tens of thousands joined the rally.

Aggressive police crackdowns will probably put a damper on anti-PX protests for a while. But if Shanghai, a major petrochemical processing city in China, does not suspend the expansion of the petrochemical industry, the conflicts will carry on, a post from Chinese bridge blog Letscorp.net argued:

上海就成了中国的几大石化产业重镇之一,企业获得了利益,政府获得了税收,民众获得了少量的工作机会和大量的污染。
今天的上海民众,在工作机会和环境之间,毫不犹豫地选择了环境。民众们对石化产业的抵触情绪将越来越严重。上海政府必须面对这样的压力,必须在税收和民众的生存之间做出选择。

Shanghai has become a major city for China's petrochemical industry. The corporates receive benefits, the government receives tax income, while ordinary people don't have many employment opportunities but have to endure serious pollution.
Today's Shanghai residents will definitely choose the environment over job opportunities and are resentful of the petrochemical industry. The Shanghai government has to choose between their tax income and people's livelihoods.

by Oiwan Lam at July 01, 2015 04:48 PM

Global Voices
Bahrain's Prison Swap: A Strategy or a Coincidence?
Manama, Bahrain. 15th January 2015 -- Protesters under attack with tear gas by riot police today during clashes after protest demanding freedom of opposition leader Sh Ali Salman. -- Protesters continued to clash with security forces in Bahrain as Sheikh Ali Salman remains in jail. Sheikh Ali Salman was detained for his views against the government and his claims for human rights. Photograph by Majeed Tareef. Copyright: Demotix

Protesters under attack with tear gas by riot police in January during clashes after protest demanding freedom of opposition leader Shaikh Ali Salman.  Photograph by Majeed Tareef. Copyright: Demotix

Prominent political leader and Secretary General of the National Action Democratic Society (WAAD) Ibrahim Sharif was released on June 19, after having served four years and three months out of his five-year-sentence. Three days prior to that clergyman Shaikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of leading opposition bloc Alwefaq National Islamic Society, was sentenced to four years in prison, leading to the question of whether Sharif's unexpected release and Salman's sentence were a coincidence or part of the government's strategy in facing unrest in the country which has continued since February 14, 2011.

Sharif's release was met by much fanfare across the country, muting some of the anger at Salman's sentence. Crowds of well-wishers gathered outside Sharif's home awaiting his return. Enas Oun, member of Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), tweeted a photograph of the activist on his way home:

Activist Ibrahim Sharif after his release

With three days between the two events, it remains questionable whether the decision to release Sharif after sentencing Salman was a calculated move or a spontaneous consequence.

Sharif was arrested on March 17, 2011, and sentenced to five years in prison on June 22, 2011. However, according to Bahrain's law, prisoners may be released after serving three quarters of their time, which for Sharif was supposed to have been on December 3, 2014. He has since been communicating with authorities regarding his early release, but was not successful until three days after Salman's sentencing. Could it possibly be a tactic to deflect international pressure away, and substitute a hideous sentencing with the release of another prominent activist. Media attention was deflected from the outrage over Salman's sentencing to the semi-celebration of Sharif's release.

Mohammed Ashoor tweets a photograph of crowds which gathered outside Sharif's house as soon as rumours about his imminent release were spread:

Salman's verdict also comes one day after the United Kingdom opened it's royal navy base in the country, a move widely criticized by the opposition in Bahrain.

Salman was arrested on December 28, 2014, and charged with “incitement to promote the change of the political system by force, threats and other illegal means”, “public incitement to loathing and contempt of a sect of people which will result in disrupting public disorder”, “publicly inciting others to disobey the law” and “publicly insulting the Interior Ministry,” according to Amnesty International.

Salman was acquitted from more serious charges related to plotting to overthrow the regime, and sentenced to four years for the remaining charges. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, condemned the arrest and sentencing of Salman stating he is being prosecuted for practicing his right to freedom of expression. So did the international community, including the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations.

American diplomat Tom Malinowski condemns prosecuting anyone for peaceful expression:

People took to the streets protesting the verdict and demanding his release. Another member of BCHR Hussain Radhi shares photographs from the protests:

Amongst those expressing concern was the Iraqi Foreign Ministry which called on the Bahraini government to “reconsider the verdict” against Salman. The ambassadors of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait in Iraq protested the statement and delivered a message to the Iraqi Foreign Minister warning him of interfering with Bahrain's internal affairs, and to show respect for the country's sovereignty.

New York University journalism professor Mohamad Bazzi ‏tweets:

Emile Nakhleh, an expert on Middle East societies and member of Council on Foreign Relations, concludes that Alwefaq's boycott of elections in 2014 was used as an excuse to detain Salman, especially amid the divide in the ruling family, and the Crown Prince's critical position following the latest rumors that the crown could go to his younger brother Nasser. It seems that he had no choice but to support in cracking down on opposition.

Nakhleh explains:

the Crown Prince’s position within the family hierarchy has been increasingly precarious, especially in light of recent rumors that the succession to the throne might be rearranged in favor of his brother Nasser. Such a possibility, along the lines of the Saudi change of succession, is forcing Crown Prince Salman to be more circumspect in dealing with the opposition and in using al-Wefaq’s refusal to participate in the recent elections as a justification for persecuting its head.

Interestingly enough, the Ministry of Interior announced last month it will open six new buildings for inmates, two detention centers, and four rehabilitation centers across the country. Some say that is because of over population in the existing prison buildings.

Marc Owen Jones, who is active in tweeting about Bahrain, is one of them. He explains:

Active anonymous account Free Shawqi Radhi shares the same view:

by Faten Bushehri at July 01, 2015 02:50 PM

Africa Celebrates Renowned Scientist Ameenah Gurib-Fakim as Mauritius’ First Female President
Prof. Ameena Gurib-Fakim, nouvelle Présidente de l'ile Maurice. Source: zilmoris.mondoblog.org

Ameena Gurib-Fakim, scientist and the new president of Mauritius. Photo via TED Conference Flickr page CC-BY-NC

Mauritius has marked a momentous milestone by inaugurating its first female president.

The nomination of eminent scientist Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was unanimously confirmed by the Mauritian National Assembly on 5 June. Her nomination came after former President Kailash Purryag resigned on 29 May.

Gurib-Fakim has authored over 28 scientific books sold worldwide and used as reference books by students and researchers alike. She holds an honorary doctorate from Pierre and Marie Curie University, formerly known as the Sorbonne. She is also an honorary professor of Pretoria’s University of South Africa (UNISA).

She is a laureate of the L'Oreal-UNESCO prize and holds numerous other honours, including the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight of the Order of Academic Palms, a prestigious honour conferred by the French government on distinguished cultural and academic figures).

The elevation of a woman to such a high government position brought on a wave of enthusiasm among African bloggers.

Carole, a young Mauritian who blogs about media, music and socio-linguistics, was thrilled about the scientist's appointment to the presidency. She writes:

Chers amis de Mondoblog et d’ailleurs, ce vendredi 5 juin 2015 marque un jour historique dans le parcours de mon pays… En effet, la première femme à assumer les fonctions de président de la République de l’Ile Maurice sera intronisée cet après-midi. Elle se nomme Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.

Contrairement aux présidentes Dilma Roussef, Park Geun-hye, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ou encore Cristina Kirchner, Ameena Gurib-Fakim n’a pas de carrière en politique. La présidente mauricienne est une brillante scientifique auréolée de nombreux prix et distinctions internationaux…

Ahhh, les subtilités ethniques, on y revient. Cette nomination, car les présidents de la République de Maurice ne sont pas élus au suffrage universel, revêt plusieurs aspects. Je laisserai le soin aux journalistes d’analyser les stratégies ethnopolitiques derrière cette nomination. Ne soyons pas dupes, en cette période de campagne électorale, il y a de bonnes raisons.

Dear friends, 5 June, 2015, marks a momentous day in my country’s history. The first female president of the Republic of Mauritius will be sworn into office at noon. Her name is Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.

Unlike other female presidents such as Dilma Roussef, Park Geun-hye, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Cristina Kirchner, Ameena Gurib-Fakim is not a career politician. The Mauritian president is a brilliant scientist whose work has been honored through numerous prizes and international awards.

However, as it always is there, the ethnic subtleties are always ever present in the background. There’s more to this appointment (the president of the Republic of Mauritius is not elected directly by the people) than meets the eye. I will leave it to the journalists to analyze the ethno-political maneuvering behind this nomination. But let’s not be naive – we are in an election campaign period and those who work hard behind the scenes to obtain this nomination know what they’re doing.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim dans son laboratoire  Centre technique de coopération agricole et rurale - Domaine public

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim in her laboratory at
Centre technique de coopération agricole et rurale. Public domain

Following her blog post, many readers echoed Carole’s satisfaction. Seydou Koné from Mali congratulated Mauritius:

beaucoup de chance à elle et à votre pays. un autre pas vers l’égalité du genre.bravo au peuple mauricien

All the best to her and to your country. Another step towards gender equality. Well done to the Mauritian people

Eli of Togo added his congratulations to Koné's and asked a question about the political system of Mauritius:

Bon à savoir. Il s’agit d’une embellie qui devrait inspirer d’autres en Afrique et dans le monde. Par qui est nommé le président? Bon vent à elle.

Good to know. This development should inspire others like it throughout Africa and the world. Who nominates the president? Good luck to her.

Carole explained the procedure as follows:

Merci Eli! Elle a été nommée par le Premier ministre, et élue par les membres du Parlement mauricien. Et oui, c’est une bonne chose qui rejaillit sur le continent africain et autre. Ceci devrait certainement inspirer d’autres pays

Thank you Eli! She was appointed by the prime minister and confirmed by the members of the Mauritian Parliament. And yes, the development is a good one which reflects positively on the African continent and the world. This should certainly inspire other countries

The Ivorian-German community on Monsaphir TV, fighting to promote women's rights, made the following comment:

Sa nomination n'était pas une surprise, mais Ameenah Gurib-Fakim pensait avoir un peu plus de temps devant elle avant d'entrer en fonction. En décembre 2014, le gouvernement avait promis de mener pour la première fois une femme au poste honorifique de président de la République de Maurice. Le nom d'Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, scientifique de renom, avait alors fait consensus….

Ameenah Garib-Fakima, 56 ans, a la carrure d'une pionnière. Ce n'est en effet pas la première fois que la scientifique se fait une place dans un environnement très masculin. Première femme professeur d'université de Maurice, elle fût également la première doyenne de la faculté des sciences, entre 2004 et 2010.

While her nomination was not a surprising one, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim thought she would have had more time before having to take office. In December 2014, the government had promised to have the Presidency of the Republic of Mauritius – an honorary role – filled for the first time by a woman. The consensus then came to favour Professor Gurib-Fakim, a renowned scientist….

Ameenah Fakima-Garib, 56, has had a pioneering career. Indeed, this is not the first time that the scientist has asserted her place in a male-dominated environment. The first female professor at the University of Mauritius, she was also the first female dean of the Faculty of Science, serving in this role from 2004 and 2010.

The blog ‘De l'Ile Maurice’ (which translates as “From Mauritius) on the French online newspaper Medipart wondered about the impact that the appointment will have on the broader region:

Une belle avancée pour la démocratie à l’Ile Maurice. Chercheuse de renomée mondiale, (voir ses conférences TED en bas), la Présidente de l’Ile Maurice, va-t-elle insuffler un nouveau souffle sur Mauritius ? Ancienne vice chancelière de l’université de Maurice, Madame Gurib-Fakim passe de la science à la politique. Issue de la minorité musulmane, Madame Gurib-Fakim respectée et scientifique de renom va maintenant gérer le pays.

A great step forward for democracy in Mauritius. A world-renowned researcher (see her TED talks below), will the new the president of Mauritius breathe new life into the country? A former vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius, Gurib-Fakim has moved from science to politics. Coming from the country’s Muslim minority, Gurib-Fakim, a respected and renowned scientist, will now run the country.

An interview with Gurib-Fakim, published on defimedia.info, has been read 3,649 times and has prompted several comments. A user called ‘Sam-lepep’, asked how the new president will use her power:

félicitations et bonne chance a Mme AGF…sera-t-elle un bol d'air frais et reussira-t-elle a jouer son role de garant de la Constitution?..en tout cas on ne peut que le souhaiter vivement!…dommage que sa nomination soit entachee des declarations virulentes de certains deputes et Ministres Lepep dont Yvan, exigeant le depart de son prédécesseur ..elle devrait peut-etre prendre l'engagement de soumettre illico sa démission si d'aventure un autre gouvernement arrive au pouvoir avant la fin de son mandat…quitte a ce que le nouveau gouv la reconduise a ce poste evidemment…

Congratulations and good luck to Ms. AGF … Will she bring a new approach and will she play her part as guardian of the Constitution? … we hope that she will! … shame that her appointment was marred by virulent statements of some members of parliament and ministers from the Alliance Lepep coalition, including those of [Lepep politician] Yvan, demanding the departure of her predecessor … Perhaps she should commit to resigning the presidency immediately should a new government somehow come to power before the end of her term … Things would get awkward if the new government was happy to recognise her as president …

Concerned about the fate of prisoners, especially victims of judicial errors, Ismael Nazir expressed his regret on lemauricien.com that the new president has not given this issue much attention:

En ce premier jour de Présidence à la tête de l'Etat, cette grande dame aurait du penser, non seulement à la femme et à la famille, mais aussi a ces innocents qui croupissent en prison, victimes d'erreur judiciaire, et a cette communauté qui est sous-representée à deux reprises dans un Parlement à 69, au lieu de 70 parlementaires, comme le réclame la Constitution?
Comment peut-elle jouir d'un succes issu d'un calcul politique et le savourer alors que certains de ses compatriotes, victimes d'injustice comme elle jadis, attend toujours un sauveur?
Pourquoi pas une amnistie? Est-ce parce justice et liberté ne sont pas des mots scientifiques?

On this first day of her presidency, as head of state, this great lady should have thought not just about women and family, but also about the innocent people languishing in prison, victims of judicial error, and about the community that has twice been unrepresented in our Parliament, which currently has only 69 sitting members – why not 70 as the Constitution provides?

How can she savour success when her appointment was politically motivated and while some among her countrymen, victims of injustice as she once was, still yearn for a saviour?

Why not amnesty? Is it because ‘justice’ and ‘freedom’ are not scientific words?

Gurib-Fakim’s elevation to the office of president is just the tip of iceberg when it comes to the success that Mauritius has enjoyed over the years. There is respect for the public good – Mauritius’ corruption rating saw it place 47th among 175. There is respect for individual freedom – Mauritius ranks 17th in this field, ahead of countries like France, the United States and Japan. The country has managed to turn its diversity into a source of vibrancy, yet it has not forgotten about the more painful aspects of its history. This has allowed it to better confront the legacy that these more painful aspects continue to present.

by Joel Gilbourd at July 01, 2015 12:31 PM

China Unleashes Police, Internet Censors on Anti-PX Plant Protesters in Shanghai
Anti-PX protests in Shanghai on June 26. Image from Twitter user @wickedonnaa

Anti-PX protests in Shanghai on June 26. Image from Twitter user @wickedonnaa

Tens of thousands of residents from the Jinshan district of Shanghai city took to the streets over the course of a week, beginning June 22, to protest the government's plan to relocate a paraxylene (PX) plant to their neighborhood.

Armed police broke up the crowds this past weekend and forced the arrested to sign a “guarantee” that they would not rally against PX again. Chinese authorities also restricted Internet access and scrubbed social media of information about the protests.

With the idea of integrating the oil refining and chemical industry, Jinshan has been rezoned as a major site for the relocation of chemical factories from across Shanghai. To prepare for the new zoning plan, which the relocation of Pudong-based Gaoqiao oil refining factory to Jinshan would kick-start, authorities launched an environment assessment process, which is the last official step to implementing the integration plan.

In the past, a number of massive protests in major cities such as Dalian, Kunming and Xiamen have taken place against the construction of PX plants. Local residents were concerned about the air pollution caused by paraxylene, a by-product of the oil refining process and commonly used for producing plastic bottles and fiber which is toxic to humans.

To cool public anger, the government issued a statement on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo on June 26, calling for a stop to the environmental assessment of the relocation proposal. A large number of “cease-fire” banners were found on the streets, reportedly placed there by the government, saying:

環評終止了,一體化項目取消了,大家不要上街了。

The environmental assessment has been stopped. Integration project dropped. Don't take to the streets.

Determined to stop the project, tens of thousands still rallied in the streets over the weekend. The YouTube video below shows the weekend protest:

Thus far, the week-long protests have gone unreported in major mainland Chinese media outlets and witness accounts of the protests on Chinese Twitter-like Webio since June 23 have been erased. The remaining available sources of information come from overseas dissident news sites and social media platforms. @wickedonnaa has followed the news closely and reposted on Twitter information that was censored on Chinese social media since the beginning of the protests. Below are photos from the rally on June 26, before armed police began clamping down on the gathering:

June 26, tens of thousands of people in Shanghai's Jinshan District on the fifth day of continued protests against the PX project. Details: http: //t.co/socrnalBwZ

One of those news sites, NTDTV, interviewed several protesters on June 29 about the police crackdown. A man named Shum said:

现在每天游行的人,三、四万人,都是晚上,星期六去市区抓人的,金山局长带头打人,更何况警察呢。22号地铁线星期六都停掉了,交警都在高速查大巴,只要是金山人,不管你是什么理由,直接给你押走。网路封了,图片一发过来就屏蔽了。

There are rallies every night, about 30,000-40,000 people in the streets. On Saturday, they arrested those who went downtown. The head of Jinshan district police took the lead in beating up people, other police officers were even more harsh. They suspended the operation of subway line 22 and the traffic police were checking people in the buses on the highway. Once they found out that you were a resident of Jinshan, they took you away. The Internet was blocked. The minute that photos were uploaded, they disappeared.

Another protester named Nie talked about the situation on June 27:

两千多名特警加19辆运警车在拦访,进出市区,高铁捷运、公交车凭身份证坐,金山人不让去的。早上7点到11点,傍晚5点11点,连续三天金山地区的网路限速,4G手机直接变成2G。

Around 2,000 armed police with about 19 police vehicles were stopping protesters from entering the city center [via major roads and highways]. People had to show their ID cards when taking high-speed trains, the metro, and public transportation. All Jinshan residents were banned from entering the city. Over the past three days, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., access to the Internet in Jinshan district has been restricted. 4G mobile became 2G mobile.

@wickedonnaa reposted photos from Weibo of the June 28 rally:

June 28, the seventh day anti-PX protest in Shanghai. Tens of thousands joined the rally.

Aggressive police crackdowns will probably put a damper on anti-PX protests for a while. But if Shanghai, a major petrochemical processing city in China, does not suspend the expansion of the petrochemical industry, the conflicts will carry on, a post from Chinese bridge blog Letscorp.net argued:

上海就成了中国的几大石化产业重镇之一,企业获得了利益,政府获得了税收,民众获得了少量的工作机会和大量的污染。
今天的上海民众,在工作机会和环境之间,毫不犹豫地选择了环境。民众们对石化产业的抵触情绪将越来越严重。上海政府必须面对这样的压力,必须在税收和民众的生存之间做出选择。

Shanghai has become a major city for China's petrochemical industry. The corporates receive benefits, the government receives tax income, while ordinary people don't have many employment opportunities but have to endure serious pollution.
Today's Shanghai residents will definitely choose the environment over job opportunities and are resentful of the petrochemical industry. The Shanghai government has to choose between their tax income and people's livelihoods.

by Oiwan Lam at July 01, 2015 03:09 AM

June 30, 2015

Global Voices Advocacy
Learning About Lantern's Anti-Censorship Tools

Lantern is a free online tool that helps Internet users circumvent firewall-style censorship in countries like China and Iran. Among such tools, Lantern is unique in that it uses a variety of techniques to stay unblocked in censored regions around the world, falling back to other approaches if some of those techniques are blocked. Those techniques include centralized and sophisticated peer-to-peer architectures. While it is often easy for governments to block such software, Lantern’s unique peer-to-peer structure makes this especially difficult.

To better understand the tool, GV Advox team members Mahsa Alimardani and Ellery Biddle chatted with Adam Fisk, the founder and software developer behind Lantern, and Maryam Abolfazli, the Chief Operating Officer behind Lantern. Together, we discussed safety concerns, target user communities, and the software behind Lantern.

by Global Voices Advocacy at June 30, 2015 09:02 PM

Global Voices
A UK Shoe Shop Employee Crowdfunds More Than a Million Euros to Bail Out Greece (​​UPDATED)
Screenshot of the Indiegogo campaign page for "Greek Bailout Fund."

Screenshot of the Indiegogo campaign page for “Greek Bailout Fund.”

Last updated at 8:45 a.m. GMT, July 3.

Tens of thousands are opening their wallets in response to an Indiegogo campaign seeking to raise 1.6 billion euros (about 1.8 billion US dollars) for cash-strapped Greece.

In three days, more than 92,000 people from across the world have donated 1.6 million euros and counting to the “Greek Bailout Fund.” The campaign page was down for hours late Tuesday “due to its astonishing popularity,” according to Indiegogo, but is now working again.

As is the norm with crowdfunding campaigns, the organizers are offering rewards to the funders depending on the amount given. Most funders have given 3 euros (which gets them a postcard of Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras), 6 euros (a Greek feta and olive salad), 10 euros (a bottle of Ouzo) or 25 euros (a bottle of Greek wine). Five generous funders have pledged 5,000 (a Greek holiday for two).

Debt-wracked Greece received two bailout packages in 2010 and 2011 from the so-called troika—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission—and has limped along ever since under the austerity measures the packages required. The country was due to repay 1.6 billion euros to the IMF, but missed the deadline and is now in arrears.

The Greek government and its creditors have been at odds for months over extending the bailout program. Prime Minister Tsipras has called for a referendum on July 5 to decide whether to accept the tax hikes and pension cuts it would impose, conditions he has said “clearly violate the European rules and the basic rights to work, equality and dignity.”

Meanwhile, a quarter of the population is unemployed, and the number of Greeks at risk of poverty has risen. “[T]his is affecting real people,” Thom Feeney, who launched the crowdfunded effort, writes on the campaign page. The 29-year-old shoe shop employee from the UK estimates that if every European gave just over 3 euros, the fund could cover Greece's debt:

All this dithering over Greece is getting boring. European ministers flexing their muscles and posturing over whether they can help the Greek people or not. Why don't we the people just sort it instead?

The European Union is home to 503 million people, if we all just chip in a few Euro then we can get Greece sorted and hopefully get them back on track soon. Easy.

The number of donations to the campaign, which has made headlines around the world, sharply spiked Tuesday, and money continued to pour in Wednesday.

While it's impressive that the campaign has raised so much in so little time, it has a long way to go in the five days it has left. The 1,614,863 euros raised as of writing is less than 1 percent of the 1.6 billion goal. But as Vulpine Capital, a private investment firm based in New York, tweeted, “If top 25% of EU & US households each gave $25 this would be funded.”

Under Indiegogo's “Fixed Funding” rule, Feeney's campaign will only be funded if it reaches that lofty goal, but some participants are asking if the money could be used for Greece regardless. Hellmut Blumenthal from Germany commented:

That felt much better than shaking my head over all the heartless comments on the web. Thanks for the idea, Thom, and let’s keep our fingers crossed …

Oh, and I agree with recent posts: the money should go to Greece no matter what.

While Arwen Curley-Panteleakis wrote:

This is incredible! Thanks so much to Thom Feeney and all you wonderful people from all over the world!!!

Big Big Hugs and Kisses From Greece!

Follow discussion of the campaign on Twitter under the hashtag #crowdfundgreece.

by L. Finch at June 30, 2015 04:42 PM

Ecuador's Sarayaku People Are Preserving Their Identity Through Video
Sarayaku. Foto:  gracias a El Churo

Image from one of the film workshops held in the Sarayaku community. Photo courtesy of YouTube channel El Churo

The community of Sarayaku in the Pastaza province, located in the Amazon region in the eastern part of Ecuador, is an area of rich biodiversity where the native Kichwa people maintain a constant struggle against transnational companies seeking to exploit the oil found on their land.

In 2003, the Association of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, with the support of several national and international organizations, filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH for its initials in Spanish) based on violations committed by the Ecuadorian government against the people's rights to property, freedom of movement, religion, health, and culture.

The commission ordered the government to investigate the acts of violence and to take necessary provisional protective measures. It also established that the government must consult the Sarayaku people before carrying out any extraction of natural resources on their land.

At Global Voices we've previously written about their struggle and the methods used by the community to make their reality known, such as through their blog. The communications team, in collaboration with El Churo Collective, supported by Rising Voices through the Rising Voices Amazon initiative, recently organized a series of workshops that trained young people in the use of digital video so they could tell their own stories and shape their cultural identity.

The videos have been published on the YouTube channel of El Churo.


One of these videos is “South Amazon: Antonia, cassava, the harvest, and her family.” Antonia, a Kichwa woman who wakes up in the early hours of the morning to go to work in her canoe, recounts her childhood and shares stories about their livelihood of fishing, hunting and agriculture.

 

She explains that the people of this community only planted on Saturdays and some families even sang before planting. However, Fridays were considered days of bad energy for agriculture. Cassava is an essential part of her life because it is used in rituals that help ensure that the harvest is fruitful.

For Antonia, it is not important that oil is exploited because the only thing that she and other residents of the Sarayaku community, which means “river of corn,” want is to preserve their traditions, customs, and legends that are being lost with the advancement of technology. In addition, many youth are no longer interested in learning these important aspects of their culture.

So they are betting on technology, so that young people of the community can help preserve their cultural heritage.

by Rising Voices at June 30, 2015 04:17 PM

Government and Muslim Brotherhood Trade Blame After Car Bomb Death of Egypt's Public Prosecutor
A photograph of the explosion that killed Egypt's Public Prosecutor that has gone viral on Twitter. Shared by @TheMiinz

A photograph of the explosion that killed Egypt's Public Prosecutor that has gone viral on Twitter. Shared by @TheMiinz

The Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood are exchanging accusations after the assassination of the country's Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat, who died after suffering injuries in a car bomb that targeted his convoy yesterday (June 29, 2015). Egyptian state TV announced a military funeral was held today.

Barakat was taken to El-Nozha hospital after the attack where he suffered internal bleeding. Around midday reports of his critical conditions surfaced before a spokesperson from Health Ministry confirmed his death.

Details about how the attack took place are unclear. Reports stated that a car bomber rammed into Barakat's convoy while Reuters quoted security forces saying that a parked car was detonated from a distance.

The attack took place as Barakat was leaving his house in Cairo's Heliopolis district. Residents woke up to a massive explosion that shook the whole street and torched over 30 cars; glass windows of nearby buildings were shattered up to the tenth floor as was shown in videos of the aftermath of the attack. State media reported that nine people, including two drivers and five members of Barakat's security forces, were injured in the explosion.

Erin Cunningham, a Cairo-based correspondent for the Washington Post, tweeted:

A little known group called “Giza Popular Resistance” reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack over Facebook. The group was responsible for several bombings earlier this year ahead of an international economic summit that Egypt was hosting.

Former Daily News Egypt reporter Joel Gulhane tweeted:

However, after a few hours of announcing their responsibility for the attack, the post on their Facebook page disappeared, according Evan Hill, a journalist specialized in Middle Eastern Affairs:

The State Information Service published news of the attack on its portal explicitly blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for it. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood blamed the current regime for setting the scene for violence, adding the violence will not stop until Egypt is “free”:

State-owned newspaper Al-Ahram insisted the assailant was unknown and that no one claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Hisham Barakat was appointed as Public Prosecutor in July 2013 after the toppling of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Barakat's time in office witnessed several controversial cases, the Muslim Brotherhood was announced a terrorist organization and several of its leaders and members, including former President Morsi himself, were prosecuted. Hundreds of Brotherhood members were referred to trial by Barakat, which eventually resulted in the death penalty for many of them.

Before becoming Public Prosecutor, Barakat served as head of the technical office at the Ismailia Court of Appeals. This court was responsible for investigating claims that Morsi had escaped from prison during the 2011 revolution. Based on the results of this investigation Morsi was sentenced to death earlier this year.

The deceased was also responsible for referring Yassine Salah Eddin, a central security forces lieutenant to court for beating an activist to death during a peaceful march. Salah Eddin was sentenced to 15 years in maximum security prison.

He was also involved in other controversial cases against activists, journalists and a group of football fans, along with many cases related to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Barakat's death is considered the first successful assassination attempt against a state figure since more than a decade. Fear and anticipation are now taking over the scene in Cairo as the attack showed how deep the reach of militants is, while activists fear the attack will inspire a severe crackdown from the government that is expected to impose emergency measures and further restrictions on freedoms.

For more updates and reports, check out our coverage on Global Voices Checkdesk.

by Nouran Elbehairy at June 30, 2015 02:32 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Jailed in Singapore For Criticizing a Former Prime Minister, But Still Blogging
From the Facebook page of Amos Yee

Photo: Amos Yee / Facebook.

When 16-year-old Amos Yee posted a video last March criticizing Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister, Yee apparently offended the wrong people online, leading to criminal charges that could put him in prison for up to three years, if he is convicted.

During his hearing last month, a judge ordered him to be remanded for three weeks to assess if he’s suitable for reformative training. Last week, he was transferred from Changi Prison to the Institute of Mental Health, where he will stay for another week, after the judge ordered Yee to be evaluated for autism.

Despite Yee's incarceration, his Facebook page is still being updated. Some believe the teenager is able to do this by scheduling his posts, while others suspect his friends or relatives of adding new content. The page recently attracted renewed attention with posts containing what appear to be Yee's reflections about his time in prison.

In the following excerpt, for instance, Yee apparently writes about the frustration of prison life:

Cellmates, often thinking about the implications of them being in jail, or getting frustrated by the tedium of being in a cell, become enraged and hyperactive.

In a state of restlessness and anxiety, they start singing high-pitched songs, punching the walls, banging their cups and boxes.

The unrelenting sounds send me into a deep state of nervousness and apprehension.

Because of the order to remand him, many supporters of Yee consider him to be one of the youngest “prisoners of conscience” in the world.

On Yee's Facebook page, some notes have appeared that even look to William Shakespeare for inspiration:

In prison, my cell mates would become so bored that they became immensely excited when they saw a little fly, hovering above them.

They then used the plastic box that we put our soap in and captured the fly inside it. And with the fascination of a child, they would gawk at its movement and observe its behavior.

Soon, they would suddenly become woeful, and slip into a melancholic speech that could potentially rival that of Shakespeare’s ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ soliloquy, saying something along the lines of:

‘The fly is trapped, just like us.
We have trapped someone innocent, just like the Government did to us.
What have we become?’

Yee's Facebook page contains other observations about life behind bars, as well:

There is barely any sense of time in prison, there are no clocks in cells. Our only indications of time is the little light that seeps out from the vent. And everyday my cellmates would eagerly wait for that light to dissipate, knowing that another day has passed, and they’re one day closer to attaining their freedom.

While Yee's comments about the late Lee Kuan Yew were far from popular, the justice system's decision to treat the 16-year-old so harshly for thinking differently has also provoked disagreement. At one of his appearances in court, Yee was even slapped across the face by a man in front of a room of journalists, who did not intervene:

Hi you remember the guy who hit me in the face? Yeah I know he’s bad and all that. But I would like to bring your attention to the reporters who witnessed the incident.

None of them came up to help, none of them put their cameras down and tried to catch the assailant, they just continued taking pictures trying to get that best shot for tomorrow’s headlines.

Yee’s mother, Mary Toh, has also written about her son's troubles:

Amos has always been a chirpy, confident and very vocal child. He is also very creative, and would spend an endless amount of time on something which he sets his mind on.

But my son is a different person now.

Since his arrest in March and the many twists and turns in the court case, Amos is now exhausted, and yes, frightened.

I wondered why my son, who is here to be assessed if he has autism, is kept here in the same block as those who are mentally ill.

He has been so tired in Changi Prison where he is kept in a cell for 23 hours everyday, with the bright lights kept switched on most of the time, for the past three weeks.

It was impossible for him to sleep.

Human Rights Watch is one of many advocacy groups around the world now demanding Yee's release, calling attention to the fact that he's being treated the same as violent offenders, despite the peaceful nature of his supposed crime:

…by the time he was convicted, Yee had spent 18 days in jail for a nonviolent offense. When brought to court for his trial on May 7, he was handcuffed, had his legs shackled, and was wearing a prison-supplied t-shirt with “prisoner” emblazoned across the back.

by Mong Palatino at June 30, 2015 01:31 PM

Global Voices
Jailed in Singapore for Criticizing a Former Prime Minister, But Still Blogging
From the Facebook page of Amos Yee

Photo: Amos Yee / Facebook.

When 16-year-old Amos Yee posted a video last March criticizing Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister, Yee apparently offended the wrong people online, leading to criminal charges that could put him in prison for up to three years, if he is convicted.

During his hearing last month, a judge ordered him to be remanded for three weeks to assess if he’s suitable for reformative training. Last week, he was transferred from Changi Prison to the Institute of Mental Health, where he will stay for another week, after the judge ordered Yee to be evaluated for autism.

Despite Yee's incarceration, his Facebook page is still being updated. Some believe the teenager is able to do this by scheduling his posts, while others suspect his friends or relatives of adding new content. The page recently attracted renewed attention with posts containing what appear to be Yee's reflections about his time in prison.

In the following excerpt, for instance, Yee apparently writes about the frustration of prison life:

Cellmates, often thinking about the implications of them being in jail, or getting frustrated by the tedium of being in a cell, become enraged and hyperactive.

In a state of restlessness and anxiety, they start singing high-pitched songs, punching the walls, banging their cups and boxes.

The unrelenting sounds send me into a deep state of nervousness and apprehension.

Because of the order to remand him, many supporters of Yee consider him to be one of the youngest “prisoners of conscience” in the world.

On Yee's Facebook page, some notes have appeared that even look to William Shakespeare for inspiration:

In prison, my cell mates would become so bored that they became immensely excited when they saw a little fly, hovering above them.

They then used the plastic box that we put our soap in and captured the fly inside it. And with the fascination of a child, they would gawk at its movement and observe its behavior.

Soon, they would suddenly become woeful, and slip into a melancholic speech that could potentially rival that of Shakespeare’s ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ soliloquy, saying something along the lines of:

‘The fly is trapped, just like us.
We have trapped someone innocent, just like the Government did to us.
What have we become?’

Yee's Facebook page contains other observations about life behind bars, as well:

There is barely any sense of time in prison, there are no clocks in cells. Our only indications of time is the little light that seeps out from the vent. And everyday my cellmates would eagerly wait for that light to dissipate, knowing that another day has passed, and they’re one day closer to attaining their freedom.

While Yee's comments about the late Lee Kuan Yew were far from popular, the justice system's decision to treat the 16-year-old so harshly for thinking differently has also provoked disagreement. At one of his appearances in court, Yee was even slapped across the face by a man in front of a room of journalists, who did not intervene:

Hi you remember the guy who hit me in the face? Yeah I know he’s bad and all that. But I would like to bring your attention to the reporters who witnessed the incident.

None of them came up to help, none of them put their cameras down and tried to catch the assailant, they just continued taking pictures trying to get that best shot for tomorrow’s headlines.

Yee’s mother, Mary Toh, has also written about her son's troubles:

Amos has always been a chirpy, confident and very vocal child. He is also very creative, and would spend an endless amount of time on something which he sets his mind on.

But my son is a different person now.

Since his arrest in March and the many twists and turns in the court case, Amos is now exhausted, and yes, frightened.

I wondered why my son, who is here to be assessed if he has autism, is kept here in the same block as those who are mentally ill.

He has been so tired in Changi Prison where he is kept in a cell for 23 hours everyday, with the bright lights kept switched on most of the time, for the past three weeks.

It was impossible for him to sleep.

Human Rights Watch is one of many advocacy groups around the world now demanding Yee's release, calling attention to the fact that he's being treated the same as violent offenders, despite the peaceful nature of his supposed crime:

…by the time he was convicted, Yee had spent 18 days in jail for a nonviolent offense. When brought to court for his trial on May 7, he was handcuffed, had his legs shackled, and was wearing a prison-supplied t-shirt with “prisoner” emblazoned across the back.

by Mong Palatino at June 30, 2015 11:28 AM

Japan's ‘Too Handsome’ Gorilla Is a Social Media Sensation

Shabani, Nagoy's “Ikemen Gorilla”, has become quite the international topic of conversation!

With model good looks, striking model poses, and expressive eyes, Shabani is the cause of the collective flutter of young female hearts in Japan.

But Shabani is neither an up-and-coming actor or a model walking the catwalk.

A resident of the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Nagoya since 2007, Shabani is an Australian-raised gorilla who has become a sensation due to his striking eyes and model good looks.

Shabani's nickname? He's known in Japan as “ikemen” gorilla. The word “ikemen” means “hot guy” in Japanese.

Looking handsome and cool while eating a spring onion

In addition to drawing a steady stream of young female visitors who are enraptured by Shabani’s good looks and flock to gain his attentions, Shabani has gone viral on social media.

Users have shared various photos, commenting on his good looks.

His silver back is beautiful!

Curiosity over Shabani has now extended beyond Japan’s borders. However, the reaction to the gorilla from the West is a mixed bag.

While some Twitter users believe that Shabani could rule the catwalks of the world if he wanted to…

…other Twitter users from outside of Japan have written this story off as another “Weird Japan” piece.

Furthermore, there are those with whom the concept of “Weird Japan” does not sit well at all.

Hiroko Tabuchi, a journalist for The New York Times who used to cover news from Japan, has this to say:

Unfortunately for his admirers, Shabani is already spoken for.

He is the mate of Higashiyama Zoo’s two resident female gorillas Ai and Nene, and is proud father of two children, a boy and a girl.

Furthermore, the gorilla seems to be blissfully unaware, or at the very least, quite nonchalant about his popularity and growing fanbase.

Hmm…  An Ikeman?  I wonder if it's tasty…?

by N'Donna Russell at June 30, 2015 10:43 AM

June 29, 2015

Rising Voices
One Million Bones: The Road to Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina
National Mall in Washington D.C. Photo credit: One Million Bones

National Mall in Washington D.C. Photo credit: One Million Bones and used with permission.

“One death is a tragedy. One million is a statistic.”
-Joseph Stalin-

Leslie Woodward, Co-founder & Project Director of the Sarajevo-based Post-Conflict Research Center, explains the organization's planned activities for the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica in this piece originally published on Balkan Diskurs, which is led by the Sarajevo-based Post-Conflict Research Center, a 2014 Rising Voices grantee. It is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

July 11, 2015, marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica that claimed the lives of more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys. On this occasion, the victims’ families gather to mourn the loss of their loved ones and to bury those unearthed from mass gravesites discovered throughout the country each year. Such enormous tragedy can be difficult to visualize for those who did not directly experience it, and the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo has stumbled upon a project that can help address this issue. Hence, as part of the effort to commemorate the lives lost, PCRC decided it would bring the project to Srebrenica.

On June 8, 2013, the world watched as thousands of volunteers from across the United States gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to lay out 1,000,000 handcrafted bones. This symbolic mass grave was part of the “One Million Bones” project and served as a collective protest against ongoing genocides and mass atrocities in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan, Burma, and Somalia. Word of the project soon reached the PCRC where the organization's team began to contemplate: ‘What if we brought this project to Bosnia and Herzegovina?’

From July 8 – 11, PCRC will gather more than 100 Bosnian, regional and international youth to lay 100,000 handcrafted bones in a location where thousands of Bosnian civilians were held against their will, starved, and brutalized. These bones will occupy the very place where many Bosnians saw their family members alive for the last time in 1995.

“We want the ‘Laying of the Bones’ to not only serve a way to connect the youth to the experiences of the victims and survivors, but to also serve as a platform, which will allow survivors to share their pain with the world,” explains Velma Šarić, Founder and Executive Director of PCRC. “This will be a difficult and emotional event, but we hope it will be something that our participants will always remember.”

In addition to this collective volunteer action, PCRC has planned a series of activities centered on increasing the youth’s involvement in the peacebuilding process and educating participants on topics related to moral courage, inter-ethnic cooperation, and genocide prevention. The youth will then attend the 20th Commemoration Ceremony together on the 11th.

“We also have long-term plans for these bones,” explains Velma. “PCRC will be working with the Srebrenica Municipality, the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial Center, victim’s associations, local and international NGOs, and artists to develop the plans for a permanent art installation and memorial that incorporates the handcrafted bones into its design.”

Velma adds, “PCRC is continuously working to bring young people to Srebrenica and I am always sad to see that there isn’t enough content to help people fully understand the gravity of what happened. This project elicits an undeniable visual and emotional impact on the viewer, and our plans to create an educational component as a part of the permanent memorial can help remedy this issue.”

The effort to bring the bones to Bosnia hasn’t been an easy one for PCRC. Many donors saw the project as either too sensitive or too risky to support. The National Endowment for Democracy, the Council of Europe, the Swiss Embassy in Sarajevo, and the Office of the High Representative were among the few that saw this project’s potential and have played a key role in making the initiative possible. PCRC has also set up an online campaign to raise additional funds to help support the participation the project's youth participants. PCRC’s greatest accomplishment to date, however, was gaining the support of Srebrenica’s leading stakeholders, including Mayor Čamil Duraković and the (civic association) Mothers of Srebrenica.

Mayor Duraković stated, “Many projects related to the Srebrenica genocide have been done, but very rarely do initiatives come along that have long-lasting impact and plans for future sustainability. This is a historical project that has the power to visually present the consequences of genocide, not only during the commemoration, but also in the years to come. This event marks the beginning of a memorialization project that solves an issue we’ve had about how to adequately relay the message of such an atrocity to future generations. We are honored that a local organization has brought this project to us and is willing to donate these bones in an effort to leave behind tangible results.”

Hatidža Mehmedović, Founder of the Mothers of Srebrenica who lost her two sons and husband to the genocide, tells PCRC that she deeply supports its initiative to bring young people from across the region and the world to commemorate the lives lost alongside the victims. “When we victims are gone, we want young people to know what took place here and we want the world to forever remember our sons, fathers, husbands and brothers that were lost to this senseless atrocity. I believe this project will help keep their memory alive.”

Hatidža Mehmedović. Image credit: Velija Hasanbegović

Hatidža Mehmedović. Image credit: Velija Hasanbegović and used with permission

The Art of Revolution

The organization behind the creation of the One Million Bones initiative is the US-based Art of Revolution (AofR). Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico and founded in 2011 by Susan McAllister and Naomi Natale, the organization uses art to transform public opinion and aims to inspire creative action towards social change.

Naomi, the Artistic Director of AofR, explains that the idea for One Million Bones came as a result of her work on The Cradle Project, a community based arts practice designed to visually represent the plight of the estimated 48 million children who have been orphaned by disease and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

“It was during this work that I recognized the power of combining education with the physical act of creating an artwork. It was an approach that could change people’s beliefs and motivate them to action,” Naomi explains.

Shortly thereafter, One Million Bones was initiated with a series of awareness-raising campaigns and activities, including two preview installations of 50,000 bones in Albuquerque and New Orleans, Louisiana. Following these installations, AofR began its Road to Washington campaign, which enlisted volunteers in the making of the bones and the hosting of mini installations in capital cities across the US. School children, college students, artists, activists and citizens all took part in hands-on art making workshops to generate the 1,000,000 bones that were eventually displayed on the National Mall.

Preview installation on Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo credit: One Million Bones

Preview installation on Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo credit: One Million Bones

“We view the One Million Bones project as a way to address an issue almost impossible to fathom. The overwhelming nature of genocide often leads to hopelessness and the belief that one person’s efforts can’t make a difference. This project shows that many small efforts can add up to a profound statement, and this has become one of the guiding principles of our work,” expresses Naomi.
“When we were approached by PCRC in early 2014, we knew that Srebrenica was the Bones’ next call to action. We believe the world ought to mourn with the Bosnian people, and it is our belief and hope that the presence of this artistic installation of bones will bring attention from the wider world to the anniversary,” explains Naomi.

[One Million Bones Film: http://www.onemillionbones.net/omb-film-page/]

by Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC) at June 29, 2015 11:10 PM

Global Voices
Bahrain Takes Security Measures Following ISIS Threat
Zinj, Bahrain. 23rd May 2012 -- Bahrainis praying at the demolished mosque site. -- Bahrainis pray where Alalawiat mosque once stood in Zinj. Alalawiat mosque was one of 30 Shiite mosques destroyed after the Peninsula Shield came into the area during 16 March 2011. Photograph by  bahrain14feb bilad. Copyright: Demotix

Zinj, Bahrain. 23rd May 2012 — Bahrainis praying at the demolished mosque site. — Bahrainis pray where Alalawiat mosque once stood in Zinj. Alalawiat mosque was one of 30 Shiite mosques destroyed after the Peninsula Shield came into the area during 16 March 2011. Photograph by
bahrain14feb bilad. Copyright: Demotix

Bahrain announced it is taking precautions to thwart an ISIS threat targeting the country's Shia community next Friday. Observers are skeptic and wonder how will the same regime which has continued to wage a fierce crackdown on the country's Shia population for the previous four years following anti-government protests be entrusted to protect them today.

Following two separate attacks on Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia last month and an attack in Kuwait two days ago, the Al-Qaeda affiliate which has carved itself its own state which spans across Syria and Iraq, promises its next target will be Bahrain on July 3, 2015.

ISIS Bahraini leader Turki Al-Binali's announcement of the threat against Bahrain has since been widely circulated on social media, triggering concerns about the government's efforts to ensure the safety and security of the country's Shia population, currently at the receiving end of a security crackdown for the role they played in calling for democratic reforms during the so-called Arab Spring-style protests, which rocked the country since February 14, 2011.

Editor-in-Chief of Al-Wasat Newspaper Mansour Al-Jamri says Bahrain is under alert:

Bahraini authorities have since announced several measures to be taken ahead of next Friday, the second to fall in the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.

Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported that the Minister of Interior met with the Under-Secretary and Chief of Public Security as well as the General Directors of all Police Directorates to discuss security procedures.

The Ministry of Interior (MOI) tweeted via their official account the measures to be taken, and what has been discussed in the meeting:

The MOI called on volunteers from mosques to come forward and get necessary training from security directorates in preparation:

Some still say the government isn't doing enough. Anonymous Bahraini Twitter user Freedom Prayers shares those photographs of cars in Bahrain and Kuwait boasting ISIS stickers being driven on streets in broad daylight:

These cars are not in Syria nor in Iraq. They're in Bahrain and the government did nothing

Investigation of the terror attack on Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government has found a tie between the suicide bomber and Bahrain. The Bahraini MOI confirmed:

Amid preparations to protect the mosques and their visitors, in particular the Shias, it is important to note that the same government that is announcing measures to protect those places of worship, is also responsible for demolishing Shia mosques in Bahrain during the popular uprising.

Human rights defender Said Yousif compares the government of Bahrain to ISIS:

What the system in Bahrain has done in the demolition of Shia mosques is terrorism, Takfeer, and encouragement of extremism, and what ISIS has done of bombing Shiite mosques is also terrorism and Takfeer

Takfeer is “the practice of excommunication, one Muslim declaring a non-Muslim or an apostate, an unbeliever or kafir.”

Prominent Bahraini political activist living in exile Saeed Shehabi echoes a similar sentiment:

The Minister had a separate meeting on Sunday with both Chairmen of the Sunni and Jaffary Endowment, as well as Minister of Justice Islamic Affairs and Endowments and Chief of Public Security. The minister called for “hard work and coordination”.

According to the report published on the MOI’s website, the chairmen discussed installing CCTVs and other technologies at places of worship. They also decided that mosques should be closed after each prayer to allow caretakers to monitor all parts of the building and its surroundings.

Extreme religious speeches will not be tolerated in Bahrain, says the MOI's Twitter account, and authorities will take “legal procedures” against anyone whose sectarian speech puts the country in danger. Yet, while human rights activists are targeted by the authorities for their tweets and public statements, little to no action has been taken against preachers spewing hate against the country's Shia population.

The minister has emphasized in his meeting in the second meeting the importance of using religious sermons and speeches to unite people and “promote national unity” explaining that politics should not be associated with places of worship.”

On a related note, Al Wasat Arabic daily reported that the largest Shia political bloc Alwefaq National Islamic Society was recently banned from practicing its political activities in their places of worship. The Ministry of Justice issued the order according to the political associations law which prohibits any political or regulatory activities in places of worship.

Meanwhile, the Information Minister confirms preparations to keep people safe according to an independent news account Bahrain News:

Information Minister: We took all necessary measures for “securing worshipers” from terrorist acts

 

by Faten Bushehri at June 29, 2015 09:15 PM

Creative Commons
Colombian student Diego Gomez is going to trial for sharing a research article online

Last year several organizations highlighted the situation of Colombian graduate student Diego Gomez, who had a criminal complaint filed against him for sharing a research article online. Gomez is a student in conservation and wildlife management, and for the most part has poor access to many of the resources and databases that would help him conduct his research. He shared an academic paper on Scribd so that he and others could access it for their work. If convicted, Diego could face a prison term of 4-8 years. Gomez will appear in court on June 30.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sums up Diego’s situation well:

He posted the paper online because he was excited that he found it, because he wanted to share that knowledge with others who shared his passion. Copyright should not turn students like Gomez into criminals for reveling in their quest for knowledge nor for helping others to do the same.

As Gomez goes to trial this week, we must ask again: why are we prosecuting students for sharing knowledge? We know that this type of draconian leveraging of copyright law is not uncommon. From suing a student for downloading scholarly journal articles to issuing a takedown of a dancing baby video to pushing through secret international trade agreements that will extend the term of copyright and harm the public and the commons, large rights holders organizations continue to wield copyright law to punish those who attempt to do what comes naturally for them–sharing.

At the same time, with the dedicated work of individuals and organizations advocating for a sensible balance to copyright, there is hope that laws, regulations, and norms can be changed to support users and the public interest. For example, universities are adopting open access policies that preserve and make accessible the research of their faculty. The copyright reform debate in Europe has finally dropped a potentially dangerous provision that would have permitted rights holders to control how linking operates on the web. And WIPO adopted a treaty to increase global access to copyright-protected materials for the blind and visually impaired.

You can read what Diego has to say about his upcoming trial at Fundación Karisma. Fundación Karisma is the Colombian digital rights advocacy organization that is providing legal support to Gomez. And you can take action now to support Diego by signing the global declaration promoting open access to research.

diego_gomez-600
Image by EFF / CC BY.

by Timothy Vollmer at June 29, 2015 06:22 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Why Is the Internet So Much Slower and More Expensive in Mali Than in Senegal or Côte d'Ivoire?
Poster de la campagne de l'association 100megaMali avec leur autorisation

Poster from the 100megaMali campaign. Used with permission

100Mega Mali, an initiative of Mali’s information and communications technology sector, is striving to push Mali’s Internet connection speeds up and prices down.

Since its launch on 27 April 2015, the #Mali100mega hashtag has gained a significant following on Mali’s Twittersphere. It was first used by Malian tech entrepreneurs, activists and bloggers to demand a “dramatic improvement in Internet speed and price”, explains Tiadiane Ball, blogger and creator of the malisanté.com start-up and the Donilab coworking space.

The campaign began with a spoof advertisement offering reduced Internet connection prices and improved connection speeds. The spoof parodied ads previously run by Orange Mali, Mali’s dominant Internet provider. It offered a speed of 2 megabits per second (Mgps) at a price of 29,000 CFA francs (about 50 US dollars) per month to probe the reactions of Mali’s Internet users. While Malians did not fall for the trap, the expat community hastily welcomed what they saw as the end of Mali’s online slog.

From its very launch, the www.100mega.ml site gave details of the ordeal faced by web users in Mali, which currently has only two Internet service providers. The site sets out charts and graphs that show figures and prices for Orange Mali, which holds the vast majority of the Malian market, and for another provider called Malitel. These figures show that Orange actually has not increased its connection speed at all since 2009. There is also a staggering difference between the rates offered by Orange in Mali, on the one hand, and in Senegal and the Côte d’Ivoire on the other. Renaud Gaudin, an IT specialist at Jokkolabs Bamako, asserts in a post on Facebook:

Nous, entrepreneurs dans les domaines des tics et de l'innovation technologique, ne pouvons en aucune manière relever le défi de l'innovation par rapport à Dakar ou Abidjan avec les tarifs et ce ridiculedébit de 384 bps que Orange Mali nous donne si chèrement.

There is no way that we, the entrepreneurs of the ICT and the tech sectors, can meet the innovation challenge as compared to Dakar or Abidjan with the prices and the ridiculous 384 bits per second (bps) speed for which Orange Mali is charging us so dearly.

Tableau comparatif des prix internet des pays de l'afrique de l'ouest via 100megaMali

Table comparing Internet connection speeds and prices in West African countries (via 100megaMali)

Since 2008, Mali’s telecommunications regulator, the Malian National Authority on Information Technology and Communication (AMRTP), has been led by Choguel Kokala Maiga – the current minister for communications and the digital economy. While the AMRTP has been fiercely criticised over its inaction in this area, the minister’s Twitter account has stayed silent, despite the many tweets and mentions it has received about the issue.

The #Mali100mega hashtag brought together the creators of the Jokkolabs Bamako start-up, the creators of the Donilab co-working space and, indeed, the entire Malian blogosphere. Their motivation for subscribing to the hashtag has a pragmatic dimension – Mali’s price and speed has prevented them from carrying out their own ICT projects and so they have joined together to speak out.

The movement, however, is not simply about a bunch of tech-heads trying to get their projects up and running. They made a short series to explain the movement's broader purpose, which is not limited to the 100megaMali campaign or to raising awareness about price discrepancies between Orange Mali and operators from the region's other countries. The movement means to challenge the ineptitude of Mali’s tech-sector regulators.

Given the growing public discontent, Orange Mali responded by inviting the movement’s leaders to a meeting held on 7 May this year. Unfortunately, the meeting did not result in any meaningful changes. Orange Mali detailed their arguments to explain the slow Internet speed, blaming the AMRTP (for not granting them access to some radio frequencies that could help unclog the traffic). However, Orange Mali remained silent on the reasons for the high pricing of their Internet package offers. Renaud Gaudin adds:

Avoir des connexions illimités avec des débits abordables, pouvant nous permettre d’exercer notre métier est le but de 100mega Mali.

To have unlimited connections at reasonable speeds and affordable prices so that we could go on working within our chosen profession – this is the aim of 100mega Mali

Not having succeeded thus far in obtaining lower prices for their groups, Jokkolabs and Donilab announced that they will have to shut down their operations. The fight for fair Internet pricing now continues on Malian’s social networks. You can use the #Mali100mega hashtag to join the campaign or to support it. The Internet is vital for Mali’s digital users, for its tech entrepreneurs and for its activists and bloggers who teach and distribute information online.

The Internet in Mali as it is now does not allow many people to carry out their online ventures. It is only thanks to lots of effort and sacrifice that some Malian IT entrepreneurs are able to stay afloat and get things done.

by Global Voices Advocacy at June 29, 2015 06:15 PM

Harvard Law Library Innovation Lab
DML Central
How to Teach Self-Directed Digital Media

The digital world has many moving parts, and bringing it into the classroom can seem overwhelming, both for the instructor, and the student. Once it gets broken  down to the pieces that are relevant to the learning outcomes, however, it becomes a bit more manageable, at least from a planning standpoint, for the instructor. For the student, without the proper framework for success, it can still seem pretty overwhelming.

Most students are in multiple classes where there is little to no overlap between instructors. Teaching styles, material, technology, and subject are all disjointed. When a digital project is thrown in on top of everything that is already part of an overall learning experience, it can seem either too simplistic or too overwhelming for some students. This past semester, I was lucky enough to guide a group of 16 students through a digital project based New Media course.

In the Spring of 2015, I taught "Introduction to New Media." It was my last course at UNC Chapel Hill. My goal with the course was to create a space of critical making where creativity and self-guided play were central in guiding the students toward a more fluent digital literacy. While most of the courses I teach are the history and theory of media, "Introduction to New Media" is hands-on learning by making. Theory and class discussions were the supplemental portion. This is the inverse of how most of my courses are designed.

Here are a few of the lessons and guidelines from the experience.

Focus on Skills

Rather than focusing on grades, the focus was on skills. This was probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. On the first day, I let my students know that the course was set up around successful completion of projects based on templates that outline the components for successful projects rather than what an A, B, C, D project looked like. I let them know that the projects would be pass or fail. I also let them know that if people were not doing their projects, or turning in subpar projects, the class would stop moving forward through the course schedule and projects would need to be done. Likewise, apart from the capstone projects, all projects were worth only 5% of the total grade so that if a student was completely stuck or overwhelmed, he or she  could opt out of a project without significantly changing his or hern  final grade.

First Capstone Projects

Each project had a technical skill (or applied skill) and professional skill attached to it as listed on the syllabus. This allowed for students to easily understand what they needed to learn and how to translate it. The first two projects and last project were capstone projects. They were worth 20%, 15% and 15%, respectively, of the final grade and had longer deadlines than other projects. The first two had to be done independently. For the last, the students had the option of doing them in groups.

The first project was HTML and CSS (for the technical). The professional skill was “Self-Directed Learning.” The first project is the most important project of the semester. This was the only project that failure to complete would mean no other projects could be turned in. Because the skill was HTML and CSS, I sent my students to Code Academy. They were required to complete the HTML and CSS course, or, if they spoke with me beforehand and had some experience in HTML, they were able to choose a “Make a Website” option. This allows for students to diverge based on skill level. While we had a class period half way through to check in and troubleshoot and one in-class workday, most of the class time at the beginning was devoted to discussion to introduce students to concepts, forcing them to do most of Code Academy on their own time. I provided a list of resources to help but told them Google was their friend, too, if they ran into hiccups. By the time the due date rolled around, they posted their badges to the class website to turn in the project and move on to the next capstone that tested their ability to apply the skills by modifying an existing HTML and CSS template on their own.

The results were fantastic. These two projects were important because if a student was unable to complete them, the student and I would know he or she  probably would not be successful in the course, and it gave him or her  a chance to drop the class (the projects were due before the last day to drop).

These projects allowed us to talk in a way that was tangible about why the grades would be unable to provide a real measurement of success. The differences in skill level meant that people would turn in things that ranged from rudimentary and somewhat broken to completely finished and functional. Having the experience of a badge gave us a way to talk about skill-based learning and why grades are difficult in some learning situations. Because many of the students were starting with little to no HTML or  CSS experience, the ability to learn it on their own while having me as a resource if something was completely broken set the stage for them to be successful self-directed learners as we moved through the other projects.

While a good portion of the course was in class project work and consultation time, much of the work, planning, and troubleshooting would take place outside of class. The template project was important to highlight that with code or technical-based learning, you are supposed to “steal” code. If you keep information about the code in the metadata though, it is quite similar to a citation.

Final Capstone Project

There were two options for final projects. Juniors and seniors had the option of doing a Domain of One’s Own project to aid in their transition from student to professional out in the world. If they did this, they had to submit a proposal within a week of finishing the first two capstone projects. They would spend the semester working on it, and, rather than completing all of the mini-projects, some of the in-class project days would be spent on group meetings, check-ins, and design and technical consultation hours (with me) as the skills from many of the mini-projects are learned by creating your own website.

The other option was a self-designed final project. For this, students need to choose at least two technical skills they wanted to work on from earlier projects, and they needed to combine them into a single project that took advantage of the dynamic nature of digital and new media.

For both of these projects, the professional skill was “Project Management” though I didn’t put this on the syllabus. In addition to describing their project to each student in the class (in-class speed dating described in my “creating an almost fail proof final project”) submitting proposal, students had to turn in timelines that listed the deliverables for their projects and incorporated in-class workshop days. There were four weeks to complete the final projects, and we still had in-class activities and readings. Having to write this out helped students manage the project scope.

Translating Capstone Projects Outside of New Media

New Media lends itself to Digital projects. The framework though, is translatable.

  • Scripts can be created with online archives, Wikipedia, digital disciplinary sites, or discipline specific programs to teach students how to do self-directed digital research and build skills specific to the discipline.

  • Allow the students to apply their new knowledge or skills in a way that is meaningful, and pushes them to cultivate the skills they just learned beyond the script.

  • Continue designing mini-projects that force the students to continue to cultivate their self-directed learning skill so when they reach the Final Capstone Project, it is not overwhelming.

  • From the beginning, let the students know that the end will be self-designed and directed based on skills and knowledge they pick up as they work through the course.

  • Help the students develop project management skills by working through timelines and component/deliverable planning.

  • Devote time in class to working on the Final Capstone Project.

  • If possible, come up with alternatives to letter grades.

Mini-Projects

There were a total of nine mini projects. The class readings and digital explorations were chosen because they helped students critically engage with the projects they were creating. About 50% of the course was devoted to in-class work. Attendance was required. Some of the projects were to be done independently and others were done in pairs or groups. On these days, students sat together at tables and worked on their projects. At the beginning of the class, I made a YouTube playlist of the students’ favorite songs. With their agreement, this playlist was played during work days to make the classroom environment more informal so they would speak with each other. I would use this time to meet with students in the classroom space to talk about concerns they were having. I would also go around the classroom and check in with students, find out how their projects were going. If they had resources or useful information I’d encourage them to share on the class website. If universal issues, the last part of class was devoted to discussing them, and working through solutions. I would also post additional resources on the course website. After projects were turned in, rather than posting grades, we would have a reflection discussion to critically analyze what was learned by doing the project.

Translating mini projects outside of new media:

  • Rather than depending on office hours, have in-class work time and workshop days. Spend time during those days checking in with each student and giving them feedback as projects are in progress.

  • Allow students to help each other by placing them in groups to discuss what they are working on and why.

  • Have students do quick presentations (5 minutes or less) throughout the semester where they share what they’ve done.

  • For project-based courses to work, it is important to build a community so the students are invested in each other’s success, and so that they feel comfortable sharing work, even if it is not perfect.

  • Always discuss the experience of the project once the student turns it in.

Results

Professional Skills:

Two-thirds of the way through the semester, some of the rising senior students started looking for summer jobs and internships. Three students emailed me with stories where they were able to give a cohesive narrative about what they did in the course, and what their skills were, and where they needed to improve, and what resources they were using to do so. They were all hired. They had all chosen their Own Domains rather than a self-designed final project.

Technical Skills:

Another thing I wasn’t expecting came in the course reviews. Many of the students said that once they were able to let go of grades (I didn’t distribute grades, I just let students move on to the next project if everyone passed and I confirmed those who didn’t turn something in had opted out of the project), they really had fun losing themselves in their projects and trying to find ways to be creative in the constraints of technology. As for the one very upset student, that student said that the class was too easy and not challenging. So, next time I will have to do a better job building in the idea that a project-based course is what you (the student) makes it.

Image: composite stereoscopic image by students of Jade E. Davis

Author: 

by mcruz at June 29, 2015 02:25 PM

Global Voices
Who Are the 5.5 Million Facebook Fans of Chinese State Newspaper People's Daily?
Facebook is banned in China, but Chinese media outlet, the People's Daily have 5.5 million fans there. Remixed image.

Facebook is banned in China, but Chinese media outlet People's Daily has 5.5 million fans on the social media platform. Remixed image.

“People's Daily has the second largest number of Facebook likes among global media outlets,” boasted Lu Xinning, the deputy editor-in-chief of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, during the recent China-Russia Media Forum.

Though Facebook, along with a number of popular social media platforms including Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, is blocked in China, the newspaper currently has 5.5 million likes on Facebook, a few million behind The New York Times but more than the Washington Post by 2.2 million. Lu Xinning cited the number of Facebook likes as an evidence of People's Daily's successful integration of conventional media and new media and of its global reach.

The newspaper's page, which has been active on Facebook since mid-2011, mainly promotes its English-language stories. Recent stories — on topics such as erosion of the Great Wall of China, a budding architect's beer-bottle house, or a Chinese government report on the “terrible” human rights situation in the United States — have received hundreds, if not thousands of likes and a good number of comments and shares.

In April 2013, the page only had 1,000 likes, but by July 2014 it was celebrating 1 million. Since Lu's comment, the page has received a spate of negative reviews from people questioning the current high count.

Many Chinese netizens who cannot access Facebook were left scratching their heads over who the millions of fans are. Some wondered if a portion were simply robots or zombies (accounts that remain open, but the user no longer actively maintains), common on Chinese social media platforms.

Commenting on popular Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, “Alexander the super wanderer” asked People's Daily to educate people on how to access Facebook:

请《人民日报》告诉大家怎样才能关注你脸书,我们一定要把《纽约时报》这个敌对势力报纸比下去。

Can the People's Daily tell us how to follow you on Facebook? We have to outnumber our enemy paper, The New York Times.

Art curator Yong Jian claimed that he had no idea what Facebook is:

现在才知道有个脸书,这是人民日报告诉我的,该报宣布,它在脸书的粉丝已有四百多万了。我是不知道这个脸书是本什么书,也不知道怎么看这本书,既然人日在那里拥有这么多粉丝,影响一定很大。

Only now do I learn something called Facebook exists. The People's Daily told me by saying that it has 4 million plus fans there. I have no idea what kind of book this Facebook is and I don't know how to read this book. If the People's Daily has so many followers there, its must have great impact.

Many netizens also noted that the number of “likes” cannot reflect the impact of a Facebook page. It is the engagement level that matters. Reuuter compared engagement levels between People's Daily and Japanese nude model Sola Aoi on Weibo:

人民日报走向世界了,在脸书上的粉丝数量达全球第二!真是给国家长脸了!可是它在国内的影响力似乎还不如@苍井空。虽然人民日报有3614万粉丝,阿空的粉丝数量不到它的一半,只有1587万,但是,阿空每条微博的转发评论点赞数量都是人民日报的十倍以上。

The People's Daily goes global and now becomes the second largest in the world in terms of Facebook followers. It certainly lights up the country's face. But its impact is not as big as Sola Aoi. While the People's Daily has 36.14 million fans and Sola Aoi only has 15.87 million, the number of shares and likes in each of her messages is 10 times more than the People's Daily.

Though many tossed about suspicions that People's Daily bought Facebook likes from a social media marketing agency, “Thousands of Stars” believed the phenomena has to do with the “abstract” patriotism of Chinese who live overseas:

其实在美国的中国人才是真爱国,他们爱的是抽象的祖国,是印象中的山水田园、乡音亲情。这种爱国其实是怀念。因为他们不知道田园荒芜,山河污染;他们体会不了官僚跋扈、体制丑恶、赋税沉重、生活艰辛。那些在人民日报脸书下点赞的海外华人,大抵如此。

Actually, the Chinese living in the US are the genuine patriots. They love their homeland in abstract, with a vague impression of the country's landscape and folk culture. Patriotism like this is a form of nostalgia. They have no idea that the rice fields have been abandoned, rivers have been polluted. They have no experience with bureaucratic power, ugly systems, heavy taxation and difficult living. Those overseas Chinese who like People's Daily are most likely these kinds of people.

by Oiwan Lam at June 29, 2015 02:15 PM

Can Social Media Create a Lasting Impact in Uganda?

Collin

Just as it has for many people across the world, social media has become a lifestyle for many Ugandans. The Uganda Communications Commission in 2014 estimated that there were 8.5 million Internet users in the country of over 37 million people by June 2014. Most of these Internet users use one or two social media platforms and mostly access Internet from their mobile devices. There are almost 20 million telecom subscribers.

To discuss the impact of social media in Uganda, Global Voices caught up with Collin Asiimwe, a Ugandan blogger who is “Changing the world with thoughtful abandon”.

Prudence Nyamishana (PN): How has social media impacted Uganda?

Collin Asiimwe (CA): Social media has remodelled the news cycle. In the past, social media used to pick news from the mainstream media, but now the tables have turned, mainstream media picks news from social media. Netizens break news that will be a headline of a newspaper the following day. Secondly, an argument has been fronted that only 1.5 million people in Uganda use social media and therefore it can never make a contribution to social change, this is a misconception. Although 90% of the population in Ugandan in rural areas use radios, most of the information that is shared by the presenters on these radios is driven by the social media vibe. As long as the presenters are using social media, the trickle down effect of social media cannot be undermined. In the past, information got diffused along the way leaving those in rural areas without correct information, but now even those in rural areas receive the information instantly. Social media has opened up institutions and more voices are now heard. Then we cannot ignore the efforts of 40 Days Over 40 Smiles, a youth-led initiative that uses social media for social justice.

PN: How far do you think social media can go in creating impact in Uganda?

CA: Social media has the potential to make the government of Uganda more transparent and accountable to the citizens; open governments are good because they give liberty and freedom to people to manage and access public information and open spaces for civic engagement.

PN: Often Ugandan social media is accused of being full of trivia. What is your take on this?

CA: Trivia is essential because it attracts people because sometimes the timeline is stale but when certain hashtags like #askaTweepTuesday shows up and all that it bears is trivia, on the onset it looks detrimental but yet it gives life to the timeline such that tomorrow when there is a serious issue there will be a critical mass to join the cause.

PN: What do you think about the recent arrest of Robert Shaka over Facebook comments?

CA: Shaka was definitely the wrong man, because even when he was in jail, TVO [politically-charged Facebook user the government claims to be Robert Shaka] was as vibrant as ever on his Facebook page and that was embarrassing for the Ugandan police. I am sad that the government should even think about cracking down people that are exercising their basic freedoms of expression.

The logo of Uganda Social Media Awards.  Source: Uganda Social Media Awards Facebook page.

The logo of Uganda Social Media Awards. Source: Uganda Social Media Awards Facebook page.

PN: What challenges does social media face in Uganda?

CA: I think the biggest challenge is that the government of Uganda does not have a plan to transform information technology; there is no digital strategy approach for critical sectors; no commerce strategy, no digital strategy for the education sector for example or even health. It beats my understanding when I sometimes visit the IT ministry website and it is down. I don’t get it. Our government discourages innovation, when the government hears of an innovation, the first thing they do is to tax the service as happened with the mobile money service. There is no support or funding for young innovators who usually guys do not need a lot of money to do their work. Sadly, lots of dreams in Uganda die because there is no one interested in funding these innovative minds. In a nutshell, the government of Uganda is clearly not equipped to face the digital revolution.

PN: How can Ugandans overcome these barriers?

CA: The road is steep but it is manageable. First, we have to address the literacy question. People must not be afraid to write in their local languages just like it is in Tanzania. Radio and TV cannot afford to be the only option available for news, education and information for people at the grass-root especially that almost every Ugandan owns a phone. Access is a challenge; access to smart phones but also Internet access is very expensive. But also when it comes to online content, bloggers are not generating specialised content. Bloggers need to discover their niche. We need food bloggers, fashion bloggers, etc. Electricity in rural areas is a barrier, for instance a farmer in a village gets weary of the trips to town to get his phone charged. We know that a more connected society is a more informed society.

PN: Ugandan bloggers have been silent on the plight of Zone9 bloggers. Why is this?

CA: Zone 9? Oh the guys in Ethiopia. There must be someone to mobilize. There is need for bloggers to indulge in cohesive industry action something that has died away since Blog Spirit meetings a few years ago organised by Node Six [Ugandan internet solution provider]. Storipot is aggregating information and that should be the starting point. This is a thought worth considering.

PN: 2016 is an election year in Uganda, what role do you think social media will play?

CA: From what we have seen so far, social media is going to play a very crucial role. Whilst people in the villages have already made up their minds on who they are going to elect, there is new constituency and anyone that ignores it will ignore it at their own peril and that is social media. The people that will decide the upcoming election are the youth. So if you want to get the youth, find them on social media. So the contenders of the election must utilize this new constituency. Whoever brings that element into play, will be the person creating the edge and will control the conversation. Whereas social media might not guarantee victory, one that ignores social media will be in great trouble because, undoubtedly, social media voices will count.

PN: What is the future of social media in Uganda?

CA: This is very hard to predict but in the next five years everything will be disrupted, crowd funding, remittance, and there will be a general yearning and increase in smart living. I predict a critical mass that advocates for innovation. I really hope that social media will have opened up government to be more accountable and responsible.

PN: Do you have any last words for our readers?

CA: Everyone has a part to play, as individuals what we can do is to inspire a critical mass in what we post and share on a daily basis to hold government accountable, those that can innovate should do so. We need people who are going to bring about sustainable transformation in our country, people that frame issues so netizens must find their space in that conversation.

by Prudence Nyamishana at June 29, 2015 11:55 AM

Thousands Take to Rome's Streets to Echo Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action
Multi-faith encyclical celebration march, Rome June 2015. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

Multi-faith encyclical celebration march, Rome June 2015. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

This article is based on a piece written by Hoda Baraka for 350.org, an organisation building a global climate movement, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement. 350.org was one of the organisers of the march. 

People of faith, civil society groups, and communities affected by climate change marched together in Rome on Sunday to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’“, and call for bolder climate action by world leaders.

Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

Under the banner of “One Earth, One Human Family,” the march brought together Catholics and other Christians, followers of non-Christian faiths, environmentalists and people of goodwill. The march ended in St. Peter’s Square in time for the pope’s weekly Angelus.

The weekly Angelus takes place on Sunday when the pope is in Rome. At noon he appears from the window of his apartment where he gives a short speech followed by the Angelus prayer and ending with the Apostolic Blessing.

The celebratory march was animated by a musical band, a climate choir and colourful public artwork designed by artists from Italy and other countries, whose work played a major role in the People’s Climate March in New York City last September. Among the artwork was a 75-meter sign in the shape of a green leaf, with verses from Scripture which speak to God’s care for creation and for the poor.

Organisers of the march include: 350.org, FOCSIV, a coalition of over 60 Italian Catholic development, relief and social justice groups, and OurVoices, the international, multi-faith climate change campaign led by GreenFaith and the Conservation Foundation.

Joining the march to represent frontline communities and to relay a message of climate justice were Arianne and George from the Pacific Climate Warriors alongside Father Warren and Father Jovino, who are priests from the Philippines engaged in climate campaigning.

Voices from the Global South relaying the urgent need for climate justice. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

Voices from the Global South relaying the urgent need for climate justice. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

In the words of Arianne: “As we stand at this critical juncture in addressing the climate crisis we are particularly grateful to the pope for releasing this encyclical as an awakening for the world to understand how climate change impacts people across all regions. The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience.”

Pope Francis asked to make divestment part of his moral argument in the urgency to address climate change. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

Pope Francis asked to make divestment part of his moral argument in the urgency to address climate change. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

Among the messages relayed to the pope during the march was a request to make fossil fuel divestment part of his moral message in the urgent need to address the climate crisis.

“The fossil fuel divestment campaign is hinged on the same moral premise communicated by Pope Francis in his encyclical,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines. “The campaign serves to highlight the immorality of investing in the source of the climate injustice we currently experience. Which is why we hope that moving forward and building on this powerful message, Pope Francis can make fossil fuel divestment a part of his moral argument for urgent climate action.”

March enters St. Peter’s Square in time for the Pope’s weekly Angelus. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

March enters St. Peter’s Square in time for the Pope’s weekly Angelus. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

A petition urging Pope Francis to rid the Vatican of investments in fossil fuels has already gathered tens of thousands of signatures. Over the past months, dozens of religious institutions have divested from coal, oil and gas companies or endorsed the effort, including the World Council of Churches representing half a billion Christians in 150 countries.

In May 2015, the Church of England announced it had sold £12 million in thermal coal and tar sands and just this week the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) announced it will exclude fossil fuel companies from its investments and calls on its member churches with 72 million members to do likewise.

In total, more than 220 institutions have committed to divest from fossil fuels, with faith institutions making up the biggest segment.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Paris later this year for the UN climate talks, the growing divestment movement will continue to fuel the ethical and economic revolution needed to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality, a key message from Pope Francis’ encyclical.

The clear path required to address the climate crisis is one that breaks humanity free from the current stranglehold of fossil fuels on the planet. This encyclical reinforces the tectonic shift that is happening: we simply cannot continue to treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation.

Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

by 350.org at June 29, 2015 10:43 AM

June 28, 2015

Global Voices
Gaza-Bound Flotilla III Expected to Dock in the Palestinian Enclave at Dawn; Israel Threatens to Stop it
The Gaza-bound Marianne in 170 miles away from the Palestinian enclave and is expected to dock at dawn. Photo credit: @rumboagaza on Twitter

The Gaza-bound Marianne in 170 miles away from the Palestinian enclave and is expected to dock at dawn. Photo credit: @rumboagaza on Twitter

The Freedom Flotilla is about 170 miles away from Gaza and is expected to dock at the besieged Palestinian enclave at dawn. It may not be smooth sailing as Israel prepares to “take over” the boats.

The flotilla, the third attempt to break the siege on Gaza, is made up of the Marianne of Gothenburg and three other boats following slowly behind, and carries a total of 50 activists, including former Tunisian Prime Minister Moncef Marzouki. This journey marks the fifth anniversary of the Israeli raid on the MV Mavi Marmara in which nine activists were killed and 10 Israeli soldiers injured.

Check out our Special Coverage of the Israel Flotilla Raid 2010

The Marianne of Gothenburg, jointly acquired by Ship to Gaza Sweden and Ship to Gaza Norway, which left its home port of Sweden on May 10, was the first of three vessels to leave in an attempt to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. In a press release published on May 10, the Marianne of Gothenburg group declared that it “will join other ships to form ‘Freedom Flotilla III’, a peaceful, nonviolent action to break the illegal and inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip.”

On Twitter, many are tweeting support under the hashtags #SaveFlotilla3 and its Arabic translation. But it doesn't seem that it will be smooth sailing for the flotilla.

Dr. Belal Dabour from Gaza warns that the next few hours will be decisive:

Dr. Ramy Abdu reports three boats, which identified themselves as Israeli military, are tailing the Marianne:

Jason Shawa announces that communication with the Marianne has been lost.

And Dr. Dabour confirms:

However, others are rallying support to thwart Israel from attacking the flotilla:

And Muhammad Usman shares a photograph of Palestinian children waiting in anticipation of the flotilla:

Also from Gaza, Najla offers a prayer:

There are many activities planned in Gaza in anticipation of the Freedom Flotilla's arrival such as the “Gaza Ark Exhibition“, an exhibition of Palestinian products hoped to be exported by the Freedom Flotilla III. In a formal statement, dated June 5, they explained:

When Gaza's Ark was destroyed during last year’s attack on Gaza by Israel, we all lost a boat intended to break the blockade “from the inside out”. But our goal of helping to build a sovereign Palestinian economy based on freedom of movement has not changed. Palestinian products from both Gaza and the West Bank were to be exported not only as a symbolic stimulus to the Palestinian economy but to show the world the industrious work of craftspeople and farmers who continue to struggle against the overwhelming odds of occupation, economic strangulation and war.

Sameera Qarmout, from one of the producers’ organizations at the exhibit, expressed her hopes that she would be able to sell her goods this time:

Before it was attacked, we had the hope that our embroideries would be exported aboard Gaza's Ark. The coming Freedom Flotilla III has given us a light of new hope that our products will still be made available to world markets.

The exhibit includes goods from Palestinian producers in Gaza as well as goods from West Bank producers that reached Gaza in spite of the Israeli Occupier’s restrictions: embroidery, wood carvings and olive oil.

There have been several attempts to break the siege on Gaza between 2008 and 2010 and the boats have had such participants as 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan, Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Barghouti, Irish peace activist Caoimhe Butterly, US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, author Alice Walker, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein as well as international journalists and doctors and several EU parliamentarians from a variety of political parties.

This attempt will mark five years since Israel's deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara in 2010. The raid resulted in the death of nine activists from the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH). Some of the current flotilla's members, such as Kevin Knish, were on the Mavi Marmara.

The coalition is updating about its whereabouts through its Twitter account and Facebook page as well as on their official website. You can also follow our updates on Global Voices Checkdesk.

by Amira Al Hussaini at June 28, 2015 11:55 PM

Tunisians Point Fingers at Government Security Failures After Resort Attack
Flowers laid in memory of victims at scene of Friday's horrific attack. Photo shared by Farah Samti on twitter.

Flowers laid in memory of victims at scene of Friday's horrific attack. Photo shared by Farah Samti on Twitter.

Tunisians are criticizing government security failures following a terror attack at a beach resort in Sousse, located 140 kilometers south of the capital Tunis.

On June 26, a gunman who was later identified as 23-year-old Seifeddine Rezgui, opened fired at foreign tourists sunbathing on the beach, before pursuing them to the pool and the lobby of the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, killing 39 people and injuring 38 others. The following day, social media accounts affiliated with ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

Friday's attack comes less than four months after two other gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs attacked the Bardo Museum in the capital, leaving 23 foreign tourists and a police officer dead.

On social media, Tunisians are blaming the authorities and the government's incompetence in dealing with security threats emanating from violent extremist groups and individuals.

Tunisian journalist Asma Ghrbi tweeted on the day of the attack:

Papillon tweeted:

two attacks in the span of four months in two places that should have been under high surveillance. Around 60 deaths. 0 resignations. no questioning of the government.

Even worse, the regime is accusing the small opposition and wants to involve the people in counter-terrorism.

After Bardo, not a single lesson learnt. Nothing has changed, which made the Sousse attack an evidence.

According to Kais, security forces are not well-trained for counter-terrorism operations, adding that their mission has always been to control the people.

We really are not ready for this. Our police officers are not trained to protect citizens and tourists nor fight terrorism.

Our police have always been trained to contain and subdue a disarmed population and not to protect it. Terrorism is new to them

Wafa Ben Hassine made a similar comment:

And how did the gunman become armed in a country that has the lowest gun ownership rate in the world?

I hear people asking how was the terrorist able to access the beach. It's a beach. It's by definition open. The guy is indoctrinated and armed. If he wants to kill, he will kill even when there is a police officer behind each citizen. Where action is effective it's at this level: why is he indoctrinated? How is he armed?

Users also slammed officials’ declarations and their denial. Hours after the attack on Friday, President Beji Caid Essebsi called for unity and accused government critics for “targeting the Tunisian State, and its security.”

Huffpost Tunisia editor Monia Ben Hamadi described Essebsi's declaration as “delusional”.

The first Essebsi statement after the attack was delusional and in the light of evidence is dangerously horrifying

On the other hand, Prime Minister  Habib Essid announced a number of measures to be taken in the aftermath of the Sousse attack, including deploying army reservists to resorts and archeological sites, and closing mosques outside government control.

However, not everyone seems to be convinced about the effectiveness of these measures.

Measures announced today by Essid, should have been taken three years ago. I am not sure about their effectiveness today

 

For more updates and reactions, check out Global Voices Checkdesk: Tunisia: Attack on Tourist Hotel in Resort in Sousse

by Afef Abrougui at June 28, 2015 10:15 PM

Kuwait Identifies a Saudi Man as Suicide Bomber of the Shia Mosque

Kuwait News Agency (Kuna) has identified the suicide bomber of Imam Al-Sadiq mosque as Fahad Suleiman Abdulmohsen Al-Gabbaa. Authorities stated he was a Saudi national who flew to Kuwait by air on the morning of the attack and entered through Kuwait International Airport. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior later said the attacker was born in 1992.

ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attack on the Shia mosque which left 27 people killed and more than 200 injured. The attack came after two separate attacks in earlier weeks on Shia mosques in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia.

This YouTube video is a slideshow of photographs compiled after the blast.

Like many other Twitter users, Qatifeed from Saudi Arabia tweeted to his 11K followers a photograph of Al-Gabbaa:

Other Twitter users shared photographs of the suicide bomber moments before he entered the main hall of the mosque. The pictures were taken from the mosque's CCTV. Bahraini activist Ala'a Shehabi shares some pictures:

The Kuwaiti government also announced it had arrested several people in connection with the attack. Among those arrested was 26-year-old Abdul-Rahman Sabah Aidan, who is reported to be the designated driver, who drove the suicide bomber to the mosque.

Kuwait declared a mourning day on Saturday and held a mass funeral to bury the 27 people who were killed in the blast at the mosque in Al-Sawabir district in Kuwait city on June 26.

Immediately after the attack, the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah paid a visit to the site of the blast, and later joined the people in their mourning at the Grand Mosque, the largest Sunni mosque in Kuwait. He also ordered the reconstruction of the damaged mosque.

Radio Sawa journalist Zaid Benjamin tweeted photographs and a video of the Emir's visit:

Meanwhile, people rushed to donate blood to those injured immediately after the bombing:

The victims were wrapped in Kuwaiti flags in preparation for their funerals:

Sunni and Shia Kuwaitis gathered for a funeral procession and prayed side by side at Kuwait's Grand Mosque.

Here is a photograph of the Emir at the mosque, mourning the victims:

Twitter hashtags have been headlining social media, the latest being the Arabic hashtag “Kuwait is Strong” where people posted their condolences and solidarity, as well as sharing photographs showing the unity of both Sunnis and Shiites in the country.

Twitter users tweeted videos from the funeral:

Kuwaitis chanted “Brothers Sunnis and Shiites, we won't sell this homeland,” a chant commonly heard in Bahraini protests:

Another Twitter user under the name “Al Majilliss” shared a photographs of some of the victims:

Kuwait has shown strong unity following blast that targeted the Shias in Kuwait. People on Twitter emphasized that Kuwait is for both Sunnis and Shias and they won't allow ISIS to divide their society.

The international community joined members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to condemn the attack on the Shia mosque, and offered condolences to the Kuwaiti ruling family and people.

Check out Global Voices Checkdesk for more updates and reactions to this story: Suicide Bomb Attack on a Mosque on Kuwait.

by Faten Bushehri at June 28, 2015 07:14 PM

Same-Sex Couples in Mexico Win Another Victory Against Discrimination
12va. Marcha del Orgullo, la Dignidad y la Diversidad Sexual en México. Foto tomada de la cuenta en Flickr de Jesus M. Hernandez.

12th March for Pride, Dignity and Sexual Diversity in Mexico. Photo take from Jesus M. Hernandez's Flickr account.

The legal battle for equality and the right of homosexual couples to not be discriminated against has been a struggle around the world. Mexico is no exception, but recently ground has been gained thanks to two resolutions, one local and one national, by the Nation's Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN), the country's highest court.

In the local matter, a case submitted to the Court's First Chamber for review questioned the legality of a local ordinance (in the Western State of Colima) establishing that marriage be circumscribed to only being between a man and a woman, but envisaging a special condition called a “conjugal bond” that can be celebrated between two persons of the same sex. In its determination, the First Chamber found for the petitioner, indicating that a condition considered to be equivalent to marriage, such as a “conjugal bond,” violates the right not to be discriminated against:

La Primera Sala revocó la sentencia recurrida y amparó al quejoso al determinar que el régimen separado al matrimonio que establece el citado artículo constitucional y el 145 del Código Civil referido bajo el rubro de enlace conyugal, efectivamente vulnera el derecho a la igualdad y no discriminación del quejoso, lo que significa que no sólo son inconstitucionales esas disposiciones, sino también todas las porciones normativas de los artículos en los que se hace referencia a esta institución.

En este sentido, la Primera Sala reafirmó que no existe ninguna justificación racional para negar el acceso al matrimonio a las parejas homosexuales, aun cuando existiera un régimen jurídico diferenciado al cual pudieran optar dichas parejas en lugar de casarse, incluso si la figura en cuestión tuviera los mismos derechos que el matrimonio, pues se les reconocería un conjunto incompleto de derechos siguiendo su orientación sexual.

The First Chamber reversed the decision under appeal and supported the complainant's determination that the separate framework apart from marriage, established in the above mentioned constitutional article and in 145 of the referred to Civil Code under the label of conjugal bond, effectively violates the complainant's right to equality and to not be discriminated against, meaning that not only are those provisions unconstitutional, but also that all the regulatory portions of those articles to which this institution makes reference are as well.

In this sense, the First Chamber reaffirmed that there exists no rational justification to deny access to marriage to homosexual couples, even though there existed a differentiated legal framework to which these couples could resort in place of marrying each other, even if the condition in question conferred the same rights as marriage, as they would be granted an incomplete set of rights according to their sexual orientation.

This determination, referring to a set of local laws in Colima, has caused traditional media to indicate that the Supreme Court has consolidated its position in favor of gay marriage.

In the second case, the court's position affecting the entire country was published officially on June 19, 2015. It reiterates its rationale, constituting a criterion or precedent of compulsory compliance, through which it was determined that homosexual couples are in a situation equivalent to that of heterosexual couples. This precedent includes an interesting pronouncement on one of the reasons why homosexual couples have been vulnerable:

La razón por la cual las parejas del mismo sexo no han gozado de la misma protección que las parejas heterosexuales no es por descuido del órgano legislativo, sino por el legado de severos prejuicios que han existido tradicionalmente en su contra y por la discriminación histórica.

The reason for which couples of the same sex have not enjoyed the same protection as heterosexual couples has not been due to legislative oversight, but due to the legacy of severe prejudices which have traditionally existed against them and due to historic discrimination.

It concludes:

La exclusión de las parejas del mismo sexo de la institución matrimonial perpetúa la noción de que las parejas del mismo sexo son menos merecedoras de reconocimiento que las heterosexuales, ofendiendo con ello su dignidad como personas y su integridad.

The exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage perpetuates the notion that same-sex couples are less deserving of recognition than heterosexuals, thereby offending their dignity as persons and the integrity of their personhood.

The precedent in question definitively determines that for the courts there exists no constitutional reason to not recognize marriage between persons of the same sex. This, it should be mentioned, does not imply that local and federal laws have been automatically rewritten. In a system of distribution of power (of office) such as that to which Mexico aspires, this duty falls to legislative authorities.

Along these same lines, a member of the local legislative authority recently gained notoriety by making statements that were not only in poor taste, but also contrary to the Supreme Court's adopted position:

Ana María Jiménez Ortiz, diputada local del PAN en Puebla, declaró la semana pasada durante un foro realizado en esa entidad que “sólo debe considerarse como matrimonio aquellas relaciones en las que los integrantes sostienen relaciones sexuales mirándose a la cara”.

Precisamente, según la legisladora, esto “no ocurre entre las parejas homosexuales”, quienes tienen relaciones sexuales con la luz apagada; también quienes se vendan los ojos incurren en esta falta, remató. Dijo que se basaba en el método científico para afirmar esto.

Ana María Jiménez Ortiz, local deputy of the PAN party in Puebla, declared last week during a forum in the same state that “the only type of relationships that should be considered as marriage are the ones where the people involved look each other in the face when they have sex.”

According to the legislator, this is precisely what “does not occur between homosexual couples,” who have sex with the lights out; also those who blindfold themselves incur the same fate, she concluded. She said that she confirmed this based on the scientific method.

The legislator in question belongs to the Partido Acción Nacional (the conservative National Action Party), which in recent federal elections reaffirmed its position as the second political power nationally. Jiménez Ortiz's statements were recorded in this video on YouTube.

On Twitter, Adriano Numa had this to say about the legislator's declarations:

Ana María Jiménez Ortíz PAN deputy dark age stupidity in action… http://t.co/7USGtG4p8R

— Adriano Numa (@adriano_numa) June 18, 2015

Likewise, E Páramo made these comments about marriage between persons of the same sex:

If you don't agree with same sex marriage, don't get one. #Libertad #SíAlMatrimonioParejasdelMismoSexo (#Freedom #YesToSameSexMarriage)

— E Páramo (@Param0_) June 19, 2015

Based on all of the above, it can be deduced that equality and the right to not be discriminated against have won important battles in Mexico, but continue their legal and social journey on the long road to justice.

by Danica Jorden at June 28, 2015 05:50 PM

A ‘Peace Community’ Tries Nonviolent Resistance in Colombia
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó celebrated its 18th Anniversary in March 2015. (Nikki Drake)

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó celebrated its 18th Anniversary in March 2015. Photo: Nikki Drake

This article by Nikki Drake was originally published on NACLA's website and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement. 

We are now more than two years into the Colombian peace talks. Meeting in Havana, negotiators for the Colombian government and its principal antagonist, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have been trying to agree upon an intricate deal to end the country’s long-running armed conflict. Meanwhile, as the talks proceed, some communities have attempted to diminish the violence by maintaining an active and credible distance from all major parties of the conflict. The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (PC) in the northwestern department of Antioquia is one of those communities.

Created by peasant farmers in 1997, the Peace Community seeks to avoid being drawn further into the country’s armed conflict by peacefully resisting the occupation of its lands by both government-supported and oppositional armed actors. From the beginning, PC members refused to participate in a government security program being promoted known as CONVIVIR, which, among other things, used civilians as informants against guerrilla forces. Participation in this program would have undermined the group’s neutrality—one of its founding principles—and put it at even greater risk of violence.

After a massacre that took the lives of seven Peace Community members in 2005, which then president—and former governor of Antioquia—Álvaro Uribe blamed on the FARC guerrillas, he publicly accused PC leaders of “being in the services of the FARC” and “of wanting to use the Community to protect this terrorist organization.” However, Colombia’s Attorney General later determined that the massacre was carried out by the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in coordination with the Colombian National Army’s 17th Brigade. State entities and public forces have been linked to acts of violence against Colombian communities for years. Uribe himself has been accused of ties to paramilitary groups throughout his political career. An official investigation was opened against him in 2013, but in March of 2014 he was elected to the Colombian Senate, where he remains a powerful political force—an opponent of the Santos administration and the current round of peace talks.

Almost since its inception, the Peace Community has been covered by protective measures of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), a body of the Organization of American States (OAS). These measures require that the Colombian state respect and protect the Peace Community, as well as investigate the crimes perpetrated against its members. The OAS system, however, does not have the power of enforcement, relying on international political pressure as its tool for the implementation of rulings. The Colombian Constitutional Court (CCC) upheld the IACHR’s measures in 2003 and 2007. Additional national directives prohibit Colombian public forces and government officials from stigmatizing or defaming human rights defenders such as the PC and its accompaniment organizations. However, these court rulings and directives have often been disregarded.

In 2012, the CCC ordered the Colombian government to adhere to five points in response to requirements laid out by the Peace Community in order to reestablish a dialogue with the state. The first point required an “official public apology” from Colombia’s current administration for the defamatory statements made by former president Uribe. The apology came in December 2013, in which President Santos retracted the “unjust accusations against the Community,” recognizing its presence as a “courageous vindication of the rights of Colombians that, despite having experienced the conflict first hand, has persisted in its efforts to achieve peace for the country.”

The second point was meant to keep the fear and persecution of the past from again becoming a reality, requiring the state to lay out a plan for the prevention of any future stigmatization of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. While the completion of the first mandate held promise for 2014, less than one year after the Santos apology, negative and stigmatizing comments against the PC and its accompaniment organizations started circulating in national news media by commanders of the National Army’s local brigades.

In October 2014, for example, a television program called Testigo Directo (Direct Witness) described the Peace Community as a “bunker that authorities cannot enter…where it is assured or claimed that they are governed or co-governed by the FARC.” Other comments targeted international NGOs and the IACHR as being used to provide protection for local guerrilla forces. The program featured an interview with Colonel Germán Rojas Díaz, the commander of the 17th Brigade—the military unit charged with maintaining control in the area in which the PC is located—in which he strongly stigmatized and defamed the PC and residents of the entire township that contains it, asserting that “their parents are from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó…and the large majority of the ranks of the guerrillas are born and raised there.” The interview was one of many by Colonel Rojas, and similar public statements were made by the commander of the region’s 11th Mobile Brigade and his troops on the ground.

Efforts to delegitimize and weaken the Peace Community and international NGOs are not new. These groups have long been the region´s watchdogs, publicly denouncing actions of both illegal and legal armed forces that violate national directives and court rulings, and that frequently disregard the safety and rights of civilians as guaranteed by international humanitarian law. Similar stigmatization and media attacks were used in 2009 and 2010 against entities involved in judicial proceedings against the 17th Brigade, which has a history of allegations and official charges related to massacres, forced displacements, and ties to paramilitary groups.

More than its attempts to hold the Colombian state and armed groups accountable, the Peace Community has something that has always been coveted by all actors: land. Over the years, the desire for Colombia’s land has largely been tied to the establishment of political influence, control of coca production and transport, and large-scale land ownership for cattle ranches, and banana and palm oil plantations. Throughout the country, efforts by individuals and communities to maintain their lands have brought threats, displacements, and massacres. In recent years, the increasing international demand for natural resources has brought an influx of foreign investments and development interests, making land even more sought after. As of 2012, 40% of Colombia’s land was licensed or solicited for mining.

The Peace Community is located along the Abibe mountain range, a historically strategic zone for illegal armed actors and coca transportation that lies between the departments of Antioquia and Córdoba. The region is strongly desired by the extractive industry for its coal, petroleum, and gold. Despite being highly militarized, the region is also known for its large paramilitary presence. The PC is one of the only local bodies resisting further control by armed groups and encroaching multinational corporations, and one of the few to highlight the connections between these entities and the state.

Colombia’s Comptroller General has acknowledged the lack of state regulations and the relationship between heightened conflict and resource-rich zones. His concern that the current mining model is not “taking into account humanitarian, environmental and socio-economic implications” led to his recommendation to halt new mining contracts in areas of conflict. The Colombian Constitutional Court has also recognized that “In some parts of the country it’s clear that actors of the armed conflict and economic interests have linked, a unity that is one of the principle causes of forced displacement.”

In its November 2014 “Risk Report 078-04,” the nation’s Ombudsman Office denounced the “strong social, political, and military influence” of paramilitary forces in the region, and expressed great concern about the threats and stigmatization directed at leaders of the Peace Community. The same entity reported on housing and road projects being funded and facilitated by the region’s powerful paramilitary group Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC). Along the route of the road construction, peasant farmers report of being pressured and threatened to leave or sell their lands, which the AGC then sell to multinational corporations at much higher prices—a lucrative business on the back of a devastating civil war. Despite several attempts, the PC has refused to allow road construction to pass through its lands, requesting that accompaniment organizations help provide additional safety and visibility in the zone.

More than a year since Santos’ apology, the other points of the CCC’s order have not been fulfilled, and the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó continues to face the challenges of maintaining its lands and existence while resisting the surrounding conflict and economic interests. Although it has slowed since the beginning of 2015, the observed stigmatization of the PC and human rights organizations by the National Army’s regional brigades along with the continued refusal to grant them legitimacy not only casts considerable doubt on the Santos Administration’s commitment to making human rights a reality in Colombia, but also on its ability to implement the complicated agreement being negotiated with FARC rebels.


Nikki Drake is part of FOR Peace Presence, an international accompaniment NGO in Colombia. She has been living and working in South America for the past three years. To learn more about FOR Peace Presence’s work with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, visit http://peacepresence.org/.

by NACLA at June 28, 2015 04:30 PM

India's Justice System Is in a Sorry, Sorry State
Image from Flickr by Krishnaraj Rao. Used under a CC license BY-ND 2.0

Image from Flickr by Krishnaraj Rao. Used under a CC license BY-ND 2.0

A couple of months back the Indian judicial system set social media, local news and many a household abuzz by handing Bollywood star Salman Khan a five-year jail term for a 2002 hit-and-run incident.

Two days after the court's decision, however, his sentence was suspended by Bombay High Court and he was swiftly released on bail, turning public attention towards a judicial system that is frequently seen as non-transparent, unfair and — if you are not a Bollywood film star — very, very slow.

There has always been a feeling India’s elite can get away with any wrong-doing while the average even middle class Indian citizen would have faced a much different (read severe) punishment had they been behind the wheel in a hit and run case.

But the Salman Khan ruling was the just tip of the iceberg. The Indian Judicial system is plagued by serious and long-term problems.

Consider the case of Machal Lalung, an Indian living in the Silchang village in the state of Assam. Machal spent 54 years in an Indian jail without facing trial despite no specific charges.

When he was 23, Machal went missing from his village and a record in Guwahati Jail reveals that he was booked under Section 326 of the Indian Penal Code – ‘voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means’.

If found guilty, the maximum penalty under this section would have required him to spend 10 years in prison. Instead, he was forgotten about and spent more than five decades there. Machal was released in July 2005 and died two years later.

But the Indian court system is filled with stories of people who have had to wait decades languishing in jails waiting for trials. One reason for the maze of delays in administering justice is the shortage of judges — India has only 13 judges in the lower courts per million people, comparing to more than 55 judges for every million people in the US.

This shortage is complemented by Indian lawyers who demand hearings one after another in order to collect fees.

DAKHS is an independent, professional, apolitical, not-for-profit organisation based in Bangalore, which is working on the rule of law project focusing on the pendency and backlogs in the Indian courts. Kavya Murthy at DAKSH blog writes:

The problem of pendency — all cases instituted but not disposed of, regardless of when the case was instituted in the courts — we have found, is a much studied one, accompanied as it is with a widely held common sense that sees the judiciary as several steps behind its potential in being unable to deliver timely justice. “Justice hurried is justice buried” and “Justice delayed is justice denied”: commonly understood maxims that tell us that the quality of justice is very much dependent on the time taken to deliver it.

Across all Indian courts there were more than 30 million open cases in the country at the end of 2013.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek's calculations, “if the nation’s judges attacked their backlog nonstop – with no breaks for eating or sleeping – and closed 100 cases every hour, it would take more than 35 years to catch up.”

Pavan Kulkarni writes at India Together:

Harish Narasappa, the co-founder of Daksh, drew attention to the dismaying numbers of pending cases, that we see published in newspapers every few months: “3 crores in the lower courts, 45 lakhs in high courts and between 65,000 and one lakh cases pending in the Supreme Court, depending on which part of the year you look at the data.”

But there has been no analysis of what these numbers mean. What does it mean when we say there are 3 crore cases pending? How long has each case been pending? And why is it taking such a long time to decide each of these cases? These are questions pertinently raised by Narasappa.

According to the Prison Statistics Report published by National Crime Records Bureau of India, at the end of 2013 there were a total of 267,503 undertrial prisoners in the country.

The total number of jail inmates was found to be 411,992, up by almost 7% compared to the previous report. The lack of trials is taking its toll on jails already running above their capacities. In 2011, the occupancy rate was 112.1% increasing to 112.2% in 2012 and 118.4% by 2013. Catering for the growing number of prisoners is eating into the country's budget.

To ensure long-pending cases and those involving undertrials are resolved, the government set up fast-track courts in 2000. Back then, the central government allotted financial resources to setup 1,734 courts and a central grant was made available to them for an initial period of five years, later extended till 2011.

However, when the funding was discontinued and the responsibility fell on State governments, many fast track courts simply shut down and according to the Ministry of Law and Justice, there were just 976 fast track courts functional in August 2014. Although it was revealed that these courts handled more than 3.8 million cases, doubts over the quality of the verdicts still lingered. Fast track courts now look at crimes against women and children and there are plans to set up more of these courts, especially in Delhi, where 20 are expected to open this year.

The Indian justice system's numbers reveal an institutionalised shambles. It would be no exaggeration to state that the largest democracy in the world has one branch of government that has gone missing. People like Machal have literally had their lives taken away from them for no reason at all.

by Sourabh at June 28, 2015 04:17 PM

Is Bahrain Prepared for an ISIS Terror Attack?
A protestor carrying a I love Bahrain placard during a rally in Bahrain in 2013. Photograph by Moh'd Saeed. Copyright: Demotix

A protestor carrying a I love Bahrain placard during a rally in Bahrain in 2013. Photograph by Moh'd Saeed. Copyright: Demotix

UPDATE: Since this story was published, Bahrain has announced it is taking steps to allocate “security resources to protect places of worship [which ] is the duty of the Interior Ministry, which is charged with protecting citizens and residents.” For more on this, check out our coverage on Global Voices Checkdesk here.

Following ISIS attacks against Shiites in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that have left scores dead and hundreds injured, it’s not a surprise that Bahrain is on the terror group's radar. Predictions that mosques in Bahrain could be next on the ISIS hit list are being circulated on social media.

The Al-Qaeda affiliate which now controls large territories in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for two separate attacks on Shiite mosques in Eastern Saudi Arabia last month, and the latest attack on Imam Sadiq mosque, the largest Shiite mosque in Kuwait City, on Friday.

On Twitter, ISIS member Waddah Alazdi issues a direct threat saying Bahrain should brace itself for an attack next Friday:

If God is willing, next Friday (referring to a terrorist attack) will be in Bahrain. They say it's a nice mix.

Researcher at the University of Cambridge and author of Sectarian Gulf Toby Matthiesen expressed concern:

In a post circulated on Facebook and Twitter by Muharraq News, ISIS Bahraini leader Turki Al-Binali, whose citizenship was one of the 72 citizenships recently revoked by the Bahraini government, has announced the next attack will take place in Bahrain next Friday, on July 3, 2015:

Urgent: Turki Mubarak Al-Binali announces that next operation after the bombing of a mosque in Kuwait will be in Bahrain on Friday on 07/03/2015

It is not clear if the announcement is official, but it has been also published on smaller Arabic news sites.

This is not the first empty threat by ISIS to carry out a terrorist attack in Bahrain, which is why some people are skeptical. That doesn’t mean that Bahrain should not put on its proactive hat and take necessary safety measures to ensure that mosques and people are protected from any potential attack.

On May 22, a suicide bomber killed 23 people and left 102 people injured when he blew himself up in the Imam Ali Mosque in Qatif, in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. The following Friday, on May 31, three people were killed in a suicide bombing, which the ISIS Saudi branch Walayat Najd claimed responsibility for, and some 10 people were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Shia mosque in nearby Dammam.

And in November, last year, eight people were killed in Al Ahsa, also in the Eastern province, when gunmen attacked a Shia community centre, where a religious ceremony was taking place.

Many feel that the two suicide bombings targeting Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia, which followed the Al Ahsa attack, and the attack in Kuwait, could have been thwarted had the authorities taken measures to stop them.

Bahrain is politically a perfect hub for a terrorist attack. The country is already divided by sectarian tensions following the popular uprising in 2011, when people called for more political reforms. The government pitted the conflict as a Shia population trying to wrestle power from a Sunni leadership, a storyline often echoed in international media. Bahrain is also different from both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait because Shias are closer to being a majority in the small Gulf island and are easier to target as the government has been engaged in daily street battles with Shiite protesters on an almost daily basis since protests started four years ago.

However, it remains the responsibility of the government first and the people second to provide security for all citizens equally, and not based on sect or political loyalty. Failing to secure the lives of all Bahrainis, regardless of their sect, is a sectarian statement in itself.

The question is, how can a country like Bahrain where systematic approaches based on sect are deeply infested, fight a bigger battle against ISIS. How are people expected to stand united, when state media fuels hatred and sectarian tensions in the country? Are we even allowed to blame ISIS for their irrational extremism when Bahraini religious figures, media outlets, and laws do the same?

Bahraini journalist Khalil Bohazza started a dialogue with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid Alkhalifa on this issue:

What is the message that is sent to ISIS when the sanctity of a particular sect is violated by state institutions, other than allowing them to target the sect.

My brother Khalil you know me very well, did you expect that I don't condemn ISIS’ terrorism. In fact they were arrested, interrogated and their citizenships were revoked.

Bohazza elaborates on sectarian practices in Bahrain that make the country an easy target for such terrorist attacks:

When people from a certain sect are cursed on state television, and state-backed newspapers are employed to insult their sect, that is an approval by the state for ISIS and others to target them.

Editor-in-Chief of Arabic daily Al-Wasat Newspaper Mansour Aljamri emphasizes Bohazza's message in a separate tweet:

Terrorism will be defeated when the amplifiers of hatred are shut. The terrorists who blew Al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait derived their strength from the fatwas [which describe Shiites as infidels] and public incitement.

Fighting sectarianism in Bahrain should be a policy, and not a lenient preference. In a country where human rights activists and journalists get arrested for criticizing the government or “insulting public institutions”, isn't it more dangerous when prominent voices call for violent actions against other groups of people in the country? Why aren't sectarianists being punished for digging Bahrain's grave deeper into the ground?

Writer and poet Ali Al Saeed shares my concerns, and those of many others, demanding action:

But he remains doubtful:

The Ministry of Interior seems to have heard my thoughts and tweeted two days ago:

One is allowed to be skeptical of the seriousness of such measures, and wonder whether all those accused of using social media to deepen the sectarian problem in Bahrain will be punished equally, or based on their sect.

Human rights activist Said Yousif is one of those very skeptical:

What is the value of the regime's statement about fighting terrorism when the system prints on its own expense blasphemy books presenting a discourse that creates new ISIS recruits

The tweet is a picture of a book's cover page entitled “The light of the Sunna and the Darkness of Heresy” and is sponsored by General Command of the Bahrain Defense Force. In Bahrain, no one has yet been punished of accusing the adherents of the Shiite faith of heresy and calling them “Rawafedh,” a derogatory term used to describe the Shia, in state-sponsored media and from the pulpits of mosques.

This is the perfect opportunity for Bahrain's government to prove they are concerned for all Bahraini citizens and that security isn't important only when trying to crackdown on protesters in the streets.

Al Saeed still wonders whether the government is doing anything to prevent potential attacks:

If ISIS is the enemy of all Muslims, Bahrainis should unite and take steps towards facing this common enemy. Since the Shiite mosques are targeted, why can't we open the Sunni mosques for everyone and pray together. Bahrain's Foreign Minister had the same idea:

The historical error is that there is a mosque for Sunnis and a mosque for Shiites, A mosque is one and for all Muslims, the differences were politicized

Bohazza calls it as it is:

We can't fight extremism with slogans, rather the establishment of states based on the rule of law and full citizenship

Bahrain's government understands the sectarian divide, given it had played a role in strengthening it. Why can't we have a policy to unite mosques and force extremists out?

I received this picture from a private Instagram account that has been shared via social media:

AlHmHjzn9KR-FSS8C5KFAdEGPukLMp1rreaUH4GEN_ZS
The text quotes Bahrain News saying, it is hard for ISIS to carry out a terrorist attack in Bahrain. The post says that security checkpoints have been heavily installed around the country, and armed control cells have been planted around all mosques to monitor the situation. Bahrain News also announced that a terrorist cell linked to ISIS has been arrested at customs, and after interrogation it was clear they were preparing to study “targeted sites.” This confirms that Bahrain is next after Kuwait, in the ISIS plan.

Although the responsibility of safeguarding citizens falls squarely on the government, it is also in the hands of the smaller communities in Bahrain to show unity and solidarity by taking their own safety measures to keep an open eye on their mosques and visitors. On a larger scale, it is their responsibility to stop using sectarian messages, and inciting hatred between sects just because they have different political ideologies.

ISIS is not Iran, it's not Saudi Arabia, it's not a country. Our political preferences are not to be the judging factor whether some people deserve to be killed by ISIS or not.

Kuwait has shown an incredible solidarity between the Sunnis and Shiites following the blast. Kuwaitis from both sects prayed side by side to mourn the death of their fellow citizens.

Saudi comedian Fahad Albutairi tweeted this video:

After the terrorist attack in Kuwait, Kuwaitis stand Sunnis and Shiites united in Imam al-Sadiq mosque, where the crime happened.

Will Bahrain be united and stand together in the face of a real foreign terrorist threat, or will we practice a blatant hypocrisy where we condemn a violent act elsewhere, but justify it on our own turf?

We don’t know whether Al-Binali’s announcement is an empty threat, but what if it wasn’t? Is Bahrain prepared?

 

by Faten Bushehri at June 28, 2015 03:00 PM

The Internet, a Staging Post for Protests in Ecuador, Is Under Threat
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Image of demonstrations against the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa. Photo: Alfredo Velazco.

Earlier this month in Ecuador, protests broke out in various cities across the country. The protests stemmed from the government's proposal to implement new taxes on inheritance and capital gains, as well as a series of other economic measures to deal with low oil prices and the appreciation of the dollar.

These protests, featuring high levels of civic participation, were assembled though the use of social networks, as 46 percent of Ecuador's 16 million residents have Internet access.

Twitter, with one million users in the country, is the network which sees the greatest amount of critical hashtag activity against President Rafael Correa.

Captura de pantalla 2015-06-15 a la(s) 15.39.19

During the demonstrations, at least during those in Quito and Guayaquil, problems were evident with mobile Internet services supplied by private service providers. People noticed the problem and came up with explanations ranging from network saturation due to the massive volume of users, to the use of signal jammers, which are illegal under Ecuadorian law.

Arcotel, the government agency responsible for overseeing telecommunications, has not commented on the communication breakdown.

Now, mobile phone signal interceptors in La Shyris?… They still don't get it!

In the meantime, the use of peer-to-peer apps, like those used during the Hong Kong protests, is taking off. In the wake of the mobile Internet problems witnessed during the mass gatherings, opposition Senator Andres Paez called for the use of the FireChat app, a messaging service that is guaranteed to work during social protests, concerts or football games, and even natural disasters.

Me comentan sobre posibles bloqueadores de señal celular que estaban en el lugar de la concentración ayer, para evitar… Posted by Andrés Páez asambleísta on Jueves, 11 de junio de 2015

They mentioned to me about possible mobile phone signal jammers that were at the location of the protest yesterday, to avoid…

During the protests, some media reported attacks of a different nature, from denial of service (DDoS) to the creation of fake accounts to distort information.

We have suffered an external attack on our website http://t.co/N7lEPrrMb4 and we are working on immediate solutions.

We regret to inform our audience that we have fallen victim to cyber attacks that have disabled our website

Day four and LaRepública's website is still under cyber attack, the perpetrators are still unknown.

Captura de pantalla 2015-06-15 a la(s) 13.48.58

To our readers,

In the afternoon of Wednesday 10 June 2015, a fake profile was set up on the social network Facebook. This profile uses the name, logo and images of EL COMERCIO, which is attacking our rights to freedom of expression and principally our right to protection of intellectual property. We reported this action, which coincided with the Twitter accounts of some of our collaborators being included on suspected “opposition journalist” lists. We ask our readers not to get caught off guard. At EL COMERCIO we are committed to reporting on matters of public interest, independently and accurately.

Actions affecting the mobile Internet services of people at protests and attacks on the media come amid government campaigns to publicly shame the opposition, and claims of “troll centres” to manipulate public opinion on social networks.

Upon his return from a tour of Europe on June 15 and a few hours after speaking out against the protests, Correa announced that draft laws on inheritance and capital gains tax would be temporarily withheld, citing the need for peace in the buildup to the visit of Pope Francis to Ecuador July 5-8.

by Glenn Bower at June 28, 2015 02:22 PM

Go Behind the Scenes With Chumel Torres, Mexico’s Answer to John Oliver
"El Pulso de la República," a bi-weekly political satire show hosted by Chumel Torres, is one of the most popular YouTube shows in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Pulso de la Republica

“El Pulso de la República,” a bi-weekly political satire show hosted by Chumel Torres, is one of the most popular YouTube shows in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Pulso de la Republica

This article and radio report by producer Monica Campbell for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on June 23, 2015, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Twice a week in Mexico City, Chumel Torres, a clean-shaven, suited up 32-year-old sits behind a desk, in front of a green screen, and delivers a non-stop rundown of the news from Mexico, Latin America and the world with a heavy dose of satire.

It’s Mexico’s breakout show, in the spirit of Jon Stewart and John Oliver. But you won’t find it on television. Rather, as the media landscape shifts, it’s on YouTube. And that’s just fine with Torres.

Earlier this year, his YouTube channel, called “El Pulso de la República” (The Pulse of the Republic), topped one million subscribers, only two years after launching, and he has companies like Telcel, Mexico’s massive cellular provider, sponsoring the show and his popular Twitter account.

I met Torres and his small, tight-knit crew at the show’s tiny production studio off a busy Mexico City street. In contrast to the country's media giants — TV Azteca, Televisa — that are just down the street, Torres’ set is cramped with cameras, lights, his desk and an ice chest full of Tecate beer.Recently, Torres has riffed on everything from Mexico’s low voter turnout, to how the country’s political elite get busted buying mansions through corrupt deals. The focus is on the uglier side of Mexican politics, and there’s plenty of material.No surprise, he is a huge fan of John Oliver, but he says he does his show “with less talent and less money.”He’s modest. His viewership continues to grow by attracting mostly young Mexicans, hungry for a breakdown of the news with some comedy.

But he does make one distinction between himself and Oliver, who he admires for combining serious investigations with comedy. “You have to understand that John Oliver is in the US. They have freedom of speech,” Torres says. “Here in Mexico, people will start asking questions and say, ‘Hey, where did you get that info, you know? So I don’t want do that. I mean, most people say, ‘Hey, why don’t you cover the story of the drug lords?’ ‘Because they are drug lords, dude! You know? I like the way my head is attached to my shoulders.’”

It’s all quite the career change for Torres, who started out as a mechanical engineer. “I’m in love with physics, and I worked in the business for like 10 years.”

But then he discovered Twitter — and he was good at it, funny and politically sharp. His following grew, his satire got noticed, and he was asked to write comedy scripts. His You Tube fans are mostly millennials, but it can go older — and younger. When I stop by the set, I meet 12-year-old Mariano Huerta. He came with his dad to see Torres tape the show. “It’s a way I can inform myself but also laugh a little,” said Huerta, who is just the kind of fan those big networks down the street drool over. Torres is also booking some of the same big-name guests they are.

But when TV has courted Torres, he says no. “They don’t have ideas any more. And people are not watching TV anymore,” he says. Plus, he’s making money off his sponsors — and having fun. “We’re having a blast. I don’t want to ruin that,” he says.

He also doesn’t want to worry about some network executive getting pressure to kick Torres off air because he’s poking fun at the president. “You can’t mock the president on national television,” he says. “That’s just logic, you know, because it’s Mexico. I mean you can talk about Obama in the US because USA is awesome in that way, but here, you just can’t.”

Now Torres is preparing another version of his show — still made in Mexico, but for a US audience. “It’s going to be completely in English, and the coverage of the news is going to be things that interest the US Hispanic community.” With the way Torres is getting noticed here, who knows? His show might just become a campaign stop for candidates in the US.

by Public Radio International at June 28, 2015 05:00 AM

‘Transitioning Cambodia’ Photo Book Illustrates Cambodia’s Uneven Development
Boeung Kak lake was reclaimed to give way for a real estate project. The new buildings of the Council of Ministers and the office of the Prime Minister can be seen in the background. Photo by Nicolas Axelrod (7/7/2011)

Boeung Kak lake was reclaimed to make way for a real estate project. The new buildings of the Council of Ministers and the office of the Prime Minister can be seen in the background. Photo by Nicolas Axelrod (7/7/2011)

Cambodia has undergone rapid development in the past two decades but inequality and poverty continue to plague the country. It has embraced free elections, allowed free trade, and opened its borders to tourists and investors but many of its people are unable to benefit from these reforms.

The photo book ‘Transitioning Cambodia’ narrates the modern history of a “country that’s still torn between the burden of its horrific past and the promises the future holds.” It is a collaboration between photographer Nicolas Axelrod and journalist Denise Hruby who witnessed the varying impacts of Cambodia’s rise as a developing nation on ordinary people in various communities across the country.

This crowdfunded picture book offers a refreshing look into a country which has embarked on large-scale development programs while residents have struggled to survive amid the changes.

A child plays in muddy water that is spraying out of a broken pipe, the pipes are pumping sand into a natural lake in Borei Reakreay community. The community was evicted from their homes in mid-2009 to make way for residential complexes. Photo and caption by Nicolas Axelrod (3/27/2009)

A child plays in muddy water that is spraying out of a broken pipe. The pipes are pumping sand into a natural lake in Borei Reakreay community. The community was evicted from their homes in mid-2009 to make way for residential complexes. Photo and caption by Nicolas Axelrod (3/27/2009)

Below is our e-mail interview with Nicolas and Denise:

Global Voices: What were your objectives in undertaking this project?

Denise Hruby: The objective was to document Cambodia at a time of rapid transition that is fundamentally — and irreversibly — changing its landscapes, politics, and the overall make-up of society. There's no doubt that Cambodia needs to develop on all those levels, but the way some of these changes are happening have left wide gaps between the poor and the rich. Often, development here means that the poor are getting poorer, while the rich continue to increase their wealth.

Nicolas Axelrod: There are few places in the world that have changed as rapidly and dramatically as Cambodia in such a short period of time. Not only physically, looking at infrastructure, but also psychologically, there has been a change in people’s way of thinking be it in regards to politics or family values. For example: the book starts at a time where politics were not openly discussed, this has now changed. These two chapters looking at family and politics describe this change, by giving the reader a look into where the country was, and where it might be going. The other chapters – Land and wealth deal with how the development happened, and the impact it had on both the poor and the rich.

Residents flee a bulldozer as it charges into rubble of destroyed homes during the forced eviction of Dey Krahorm. Photo and caption by Nicolas Axelrod (1/24/2009)

Residents flee a bulldozer as it charges into the rubble of destroyed homes during the forced eviction of Dey Krahorm. Photo and caption by Nicolas Axelrod (1/24/2009)

GV: What has been the feedback in Cambodia about this project?

DH: So far there has been a very positive feedback from the Cambodians and others who have talked to us about the book.

The launch was packed with foreigners and Cambodians, and in the media, too, it's gotten great reviews. Most people tell us that they are happy that there's a book that looks at Cambodia as it is — not just the beautiful temples of Angkor or nostalgic photos of children riding an oxcart. Decision-makers have called it a must read for those following Asian affairs.

Monks get ready on day four of a ten day Human Rights march into Phnom Penh on National Road 6. After the Cambodia's general elections in July 2013, groups of Monks took an active roll in politics and promoting Human Rights. Photo and caption by Nicolas Axelrod (12/4/2013)

Monks get ready on day four of a ten-day Human Rights march into Phnom Penh along National Road 6. After Cambodia's general elections in July 2013, groups of Monks took an active role in politics and promoting Human Rights. Photo and caption by Nicolas Axelrod (12/4/2013)

GV: What is your perspective on Cambodia's development prospects? What should be given priority?

DH: One of the biggest issues in Cambodia is this deeply entrenched system of corruption and nepotism that runs the whole country. Changing this and making the country a fairer place for everyone will take decades, simply because everyone plays along – from the lowest level village chief to top government officials. There's still a huge lack of understanding of corruption, what it is and how harmful it is to society and the economy on a larger scale. Bribes are described as “tea money” and hardly anyone sees anything wrong with that.

The second priority I believe is better education. The government has already allocated more funds to the education ministry, and the new minister is pushing through with major reforms. But here, too, corruption is a major issue. School teachers get paid so little they demand a daily fee from students to attend class, and the poor often don't have the means to pay.

But that's also where I see Cambodia's biggest hope for the future: About half of the population is under the age of 25. It's the youngest population in the region. Investing in their education will be key.

All photos by Nicolas Axelrod, republished with permission.

by Mong Palatino at June 28, 2015 02:14 AM

June 27, 2015

Global Voices
As a US State Deals With Its Confederate Flag, One Town in Brazil Flies It With Pride
Descendants of Americans during Confederado feast in Santa Bárbara d'Oeste. Photo by Felipeattilio. CC BY-SA 3.0

Descendants of Americans during Confederado feast in Santa Bárbara d'Oeste. Photo by Felipeattilio. CC BY-SA 3.0

This article and radio report by producer Bradley Campbell for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on June 22, 2015, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

The push to remove the confederate flag from the grounds of South Carolina's state capitol gained steam this week. Some of the state's top politicians, including Governor Nikki Haley, have jumped on board.

So far, more than 500,000 people have signed a MoveOn.org petition asking for the flag to be taken down. But the US South isn't the only place in the world you'll find the Confederate flag still flying.

It's also proudly displayed in the rural Brazilian town of Santa Barbara D'Oeste.

“Once a year, the descendants of about 10,000 Confederates that fled the United States and came down to Brazil after the Civil War, they have a family get together,” says Asher Levine a Sao Paulo-based correspondent for Reuters. “They all take part in stereotypically ‘Southern Things’ like square dances, eating fried chicken and biscuits, and listening to George Strait. That kind of thing. And a lot of Confederate flags everywhere.”

So when these people look at the confederate flag, what do they see?

Levine says it's more ethnic than political. What fascinates him is that over the generations, the population has mixed with the Brazilians. So it's a lot of people with a lot of different shades, not just white folks. “A lot of people who are descendants of these confederates have African blood as well,” he says. “So you'll see at the party people with dark skin waving the confederate flag.”

Americans attend the festival. Levine says he talked with a gentleman who was completely amazed at watching a young girl singing “Amazing Grace” while standing on top of a confederate flag. The flag really is everywhere at the festival. Kids wave mini flags, and women wear confederate flag dresses. “You know, the symbolism is totally lost on them but for us it's quite a contrast.”

by Public Radio International at June 27, 2015 04:30 AM

The Puzzle Surrounding a Father's Day Photo of Jailed Chinese Politician Bo Xilai and His Son
Bo Guagua changed his profile picture on the Father's Day. From Bo Guagua's Facebook.

Bo Guagua changed his profile picture on the Father's Day. From Bo Guagua's Facebook.

Bo Guagua was born into an elite Chinese Communist Party family. His father, disgraced top official Bo Xilai, was only a few years ago a rising political star who promoted far-left Maoist policies and led a strong-arm crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing.

On Father’s Day, June 21, of this year, Bo changed his profile photo on Facebook to a childhood snapshot in which his father teaches him Tai Chi beside a lake. Some would consider it pretty normal for a son to miss his father on the special day.

Coincidentally, on the same day, party-affiliated Beijing Times dismissed the younger Bo as the “deceitful second generation of a government official” (坑爹官二代) in a widely circulated article published on the newspaper's official WeChat account.

The article, titled “Father's Day: Let's talk about the ‘deceitful second generation of a government official”, mocks the children of corrupt politicians:

今天是父亲节,一些人只能待在「四面高墙」或是异国他乡,追思昔日的「父愛如山」和富贵荣华。这群人有共同特点─坑爹。

Today is Father's Day. Some people can only greet this day enclosed by four walls [in jail] or in exile, dwelling on the “father's love” and wealthy life of the past. These people share the same characteristic — deceitful.

Without any public comments from Bo to go on, Chinese netizens were left to figure out the exact motivations behind his Facebook photo change. As to the Beijing Times‘ commentary, a number of overseas Chinese media outlets speculated if it implies the next round of authorities’ anti-corruption campaign would target the children of corrupt officials.

During his time in power in Chongqing, Bo's father Bo Xilai staged campaigns “praising red communism and striking criminal gangs” — including arranging people to sing red songs, showing propaganda films on local TV channels and arresting some gang-affiliated officials — and promoted the concept of the “red GDP.” Most local people viewed the campaigns as strengthening public security, but some suspected Bo Xilai was using them to purge the dissident subordinates from the Party.

Bo has enjoyed more privilege than most ordinary Chinese. He attended the prestigious Harrow School in England, and later studied at Oxford University and Harvard University. In 2009, he was nominated as one of “Ten Outstanding Chinese Young Persons” in the U.K. His luxurious life overseas — clubbing, partying even as his father faced trial, and allegedly driving a red Ferrari (although details of this story are conflicting) — has frequently been fodder for public gossip.

In an address at Peking University in May 2009, Bo responded to the perception that he has a sense of superiority due to his elite family. Below is an excerpt of a report by mainland China media Southern Weekly:

家世再度成为现场无法回避的话题。一位同学问:“虽然说人人生而平等,但是像你可以从小到外国去深造,还可以在父亲的帮助下去部队锻炼,这些都是普通人不敢想象的。”

“从理论上来讲,没有绝对平等”,薄瓜瓜回应说:“我要是生下来就缺胳膊断腿,那也是不一样的,人和人有不同的地位,不同的机会,而且运气是不一样的……但是我相信人的得和失最终是平等的,万事都是平衡的。表面上我可以得到更多的爱,但是同时我也得到很多的恨。”

他还主动回忆家史:“在文革的时候,我的家庭饱受风霜,我爷爷一生坐了22年牢,我的父亲当时才17岁,也坐牢5年,我的妈妈当时才八九岁,一出街头就要被人辱骂。我也从来没有见过我的奶奶,因为在文革时候就被打死了。所以好多人只看到优越,看到好的,没有看到磨难……”

Again, his family became an unavoidable topic at the address. A student asked, “Although everyone is born equal, you have been able to study abroad as a child and can receive military training with the help of your father, these experiences are unimaginable things for average people.”

“Theoretically speaking, there is no absolute equality,” Bo responded, “If I were born with a physical defect unlike everyone else, people have various ranks, opportunities and fortune…But I believe that what a person obtains is equivalent to their loss; everything balances out. On the surface, I can get more love, but I am also the target of much resentment.”

He also took initiative to reminisce about his family’s past: “During the Cultural Revolution, my family suffered much — my grandpa was jailed for 22 years when my 17-year-old father was also jailed for 5 years. My mother was merely 8 or 9 years old, she was insulted when walking around streets. I have never met my grandma because she was beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution. So many people only see the superiority and the fame, but they ignore the hardship [of our family]…

After the former chief of Chongqing police bureau Wang Lijun unsuccessfully attempted to seek asylum in the local U.S. consulate on February 6, 2012, Bo Xilai was investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and removed from his position on the Central Politburo Standing Committee. On September 22, 2013, he was sentenced to life in prison for several charges of abusing power and bribery. One year earlier, on August 20, 2012, Bo Guagua’s mother Gu Kailai was convicted of murdering an English businessman in a hotel in Chongqing and received a suspended death sentence.

Since then, Bo has been keeping a low profile. The latest photo of him shows him clutching several shopping bags while shopping in luxurious stores on Fifth Avenue in New York last December.

On Twitter-like Weibo, TV program producer Xiang Shuaijun showed more sympathy for Bo's current situation:

父亲永远是父亲,无论其曾经是所谓的高官显要,而今是所谓的监牢囚徒。儿子永远是儿子,无论其曾经是无忧无虑的欢乐,而今是海外漂泊的艰辛。岁月流转,世事沧桑。爱依旧,心不改。

The father is forever the father, whatever he was, a so-called political figure, now he has been put in prison. The son is forever the son, he has lived a care-free life, now he is living overseas suffering hardships. Time passes by, the circumstances of life change. Love remains, the heart is unchanged.

by Patrick Wong at June 27, 2015 03:46 AM

June 26, 2015

Global Voices Advocacy
Abel Wabela: “To Fight Bystander Apathy…This is My Mission as a Human”
abel_wabela_freezone9bloggers_2

Abel Wabela. Drawing by Melody Sundberg.

In April 2014, nine bloggers and journalists were arrested in Ethiopia. Several of these men and women had worked with Zone9, a collective blog that covered social and political issues in Ethiopia and promoted human rights and government accountability. Four of them were Global Voices authors. In July, they were charged under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. They have been behind bars ever since and their trial has only recently begun.

This marks the sixth post in our series – “They Have Names” – that seeks to highlight the individual bloggers who are currently in jail. We wish to humanize them, to tell their particular and peculiar stories. This week, Swedish blogger and artist Melody Sundberg writes about Abel Wabela, a member of Zone9 and the manager of Global Voices’ Amharic site.

I have never been to Ethiopia, but I have followed the never-ending trials of the bloggers closely through social media and conversations. A name often mentioned is that of Abel Wabela, a 28-year-old blogger, author and translator for Global Voices. During the first three months of the bloggers’ detention in Maekelawi*, Abel refused to sign a prepared confession paper in which he, together with the other bloggers, were incriminated. For this, Abel underwent extreme torture. According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Project (EHRP), he was beaten by a person using a stick, and his feet were whipped by someone using a computer plug cable. He was forced to lay on the floor while interrogators stomped on his back, neck and face. Since then, he has had to use a hearing aid as a result of worsened hearing impairment.

According to Endalk Chala, co-founder of the blogging group, Abel had suffered poor treatment even before his arrest. One day, three weeks before the arrest, Abel was beaten as he was walking home from work. Several people appeared and beat him so severely that he lost his consciousness, and they took his cell phone and laptop. He feared beating was a threat, intended to make him stop blogging. But Abel continued his work.

Abel Wabela. Photo courtesy of family.

Abel Wabela. Photo courtesy of family.

I wanted to know more about Abel, so I asked some of those close to him to describe their friend. Endalk Chala describes Abel as the most kindhearted and wonderful soul. Abel is a man of knowledge and a great conversationalist, and he believes in open and honest discussions. Jomanex Kasaye describes Abel as being straight forward and knowing what he stands for. At the same time, he is very humble. Abel is always hungry for more knowledge. He likes to spend his time in discussions with historians, university lecturers and authors. His faith is important to him. He loves attending in church. He often visited prisoners, having the country and its people in his heart. He always thinks of others rather than himself.

The heartless treatment of Abel continued after his detention in Maekelawi. Following one of the trials in February, prison officials had forgotten to handcuff him on the bus heading back to the prison. For this, Abel was punished. They tied him up with dog chains for the whole day, and took away his hearing aid. During a trial in May, Abel was once again punished for using his right to expression. Abel questioned the judges for not letting the detainees speak. For this, he was sentenced to four months for contempt of court.

The kind of treatment Abel has been put through could break anyone. Still, Abel has kept showing resistance. I ask myself: What is it that makes someone risk being jailed, beaten and tortured? Reading Abel's latest letter, I find the answer:

My purpose is to communicate. My aim is to learn. My reason is to engage in a deep insightful intuitive understanding of life and fight bystander apathy. This is my mission as a human. It is not a task I was given from a stranger. I will not allow anyone to trample on this basic right. I will not bargain with anyone whether they are people of political power, individuals, institutions or even a society to give away my basic speech right. I practice my free speech rights in a public sphere, in my own private space, on social media, in prison, in a court room, in a police interrogation rooms. I use my free speech rights responsibly without hindering other peoples’ rights and I want to practice it everywhere. In hindsight warnings, intimidations, arrest and torture have not stopped me from exercising my free speech rights neither they do in the future.

“To fight bystander apathy… This is my mission as a human.” The sentences form a simple answer to a difficult question. The reason Abel keeps using his freedom of expression is because it is a basic right that can be exercised everywhere in every situation. He has made the choice to use this right, because speaking out against injustice is to fight bystander apathy. I am more than certain that he will continue defending this right for the rest of his life.

We live in a world where some label the use of freedom of expression as an act of terrorism. We also live in a world where others are sacrificing their freedom while defending our right to speak our minds. The Zone9 Bloggers defended human rights. They chose to stand up against injustice. They chose to speak the truth. For this, they were robbed of their freedom.

I do not know Abel today, but I look forward to the day I will.

* Following their arrest, the bloggers and journalists were jailed in Maekelawi. Maekelawi is the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector in Addis Ababa. Political prisoners, journalists, bloggers, protest organizers among others are held there before proceeding to prison. Human Rights Watch has reported about torture, coercive interrogation methods and poor detention conditions taking place there.

by Global Voices Advocacy at June 26, 2015 05:05 PM

Global Voices
Abel Wabela: “To Fight Bystander Apathy…This is My Mission as a Human”
abel_wabela_freezone9bloggers_2

Abel Wabela. Drawing by Melody Sundberg.

In April 2014, nine bloggers and journalists were arrested in Ethiopia. Several of these men and women had worked with Zone9, a collective blog that covered social and political issues in Ethiopia and promoted human rights and government accountability. Four of them were Global Voices authors. In July, they were charged under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. They have been behind bars ever since and their trial has only recently begun.

This marks the sixth post in our series – “They Have Names” – that seeks to highlight the individual bloggers who are currently in jail. We wish to humanize them, to tell their particular and peculiar stories. This week, Swedish blogger and artist Melody Sundberg writes about Abel Wabela, a member of Zone9 and the manager of Global Voices’ Amharic site.

I have never been to Ethiopia, but I have followed the never-ending trials of the bloggers closely through social media and conversations. A name often mentioned is that of Abel Wabela, a 28-year-old blogger, author and translator for Global Voices. During the first three months of the bloggers’ detention in Maekelawi*, Abel refused to sign a prepared confession paper in which he, together with the other bloggers, were incriminated. For this, Abel underwent extreme torture. According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Project (EHRP), he was beaten by a person using a stick, and his feet were whipped by someone using a computer plug cable. He was forced to lay on the floor while interrogators stomped on his back, neck and face. Since then, he has had to use a hearing aid as a result of worsened hearing impairment.

According to Endalk Chala, co-founder of the blogging group, Abel had suffered poor treatment even before his arrest. One day, three weeks before the arrest, Abel was beaten as he was walking home from work. Several people appeared and beat him so severely that he lost his consciousness, and they took his cell phone and laptop. He feared beating was a threat, intended to make him stop blogging. But Abel continued his work.

Abel Wabela. Photo courtesy of family.

Abel Wabela. Photo courtesy of family.

I wanted to know more about Abel, so I asked some of those close to him to describe their friend. Endalk Chala describes Abel as the most kindhearted and wonderful soul. Abel is a man of knowledge and a great conversationalist, and he believes in open and honest discussions. Jomanex Kasaye describes Abel as being straight forward and knowing what he stands for. At the same time, he is very humble. Abel is always hungry for more knowledge. He likes to spend his time in discussions with historians, university lecturers and authors. His faith is important to him. He loves attending in church. He often visited prisoners, having the country and its people in his heart. He always thinks of others rather than himself.

The heartless treatment of Abel continued after his detention in Maekelawi. Following one of the trials in February, prison officials had forgotten to handcuff him on the bus heading back to the prison. For this, Abel was punished. They tied him up with dog chains for the whole day, and took away his hearing aid. During a trial in May, Abel was once again punished for using his right to expression. Abel questioned the judges for not letting the detainees speak. For this, he was sentenced to four months for contempt of court.

The kind of treatment Abel has been put through could break anyone. Still, Abel has kept showing resistance. I ask myself: What is it that makes someone risk being jailed, beaten and tortured? Reading Abel's latest letter, I find the answer:

My purpose is to communicate. My aim is to learn. My reason is to engage in a deep insightful intuitive understanding of life and fight bystander apathy. This is my mission as a human. It is not a task I was given from a stranger. I will not allow anyone to trample on this basic right. I will not bargain with anyone whether they are people of political power, individuals, institutions or even a society to give away my basic speech right. I practice my free speech rights in a public sphere, in my own private space, on social media, in prison, in a court room, in a police interrogation rooms. I use my free speech rights responsibly without hindering other peoples’ rights and I want to practice it everywhere. In hindsight warnings, intimidations, arrest and torture have not stopped me from exercising my free speech rights neither they do in the future.

“To fight bystander apathy… This is my mission as a human.” The sentences form a simple answer to a difficult question. The reason Abel keeps using his freedom of expression is because it is a basic right that can be exercised everywhere in every situation. He has made the choice to use this right, because speaking out against injustice is to fight bystander apathy. I am more than certain that he will continue defending this right for the rest of his life.

We live in a world where some label the use of freedom of expression as an act of terrorism. We also live in a world where others are sacrificing their freedom while defending our right to speak our minds. The Zone9 Bloggers defended human rights. They chose to stand up against injustice. They chose to speak the truth. For this, they were robbed of their freedom.

I do not know Abel today, but I look forward to the day I will.

* Following their arrest, the bloggers and journalists were jailed in Maekelawi. Maekelawi is the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector in Addis Ababa. Political prisoners, journalists, bloggers, protest organizers among others are held there before proceeding to prison. Human Rights Watch has reported about torture, coercive interrogation methods and poor detention conditions taking place there.

by Melody Sundberg at June 26, 2015 05:03 PM

Miriam Meckel
Lehmans Schwester

WiWo_Titel_27_15_Tsipras_BLOG

Die Lehre aus Griechenland: Europa braucht eine Wirtschaftsregierung. Der Weg dahin geht nur über ein Referendum.

Aus der Pleite der US-Investmentbank Lehman Brothers haben die EU-Staatschefs, EU-Kommission und IWF eines gelernt: Kauf dir Zeit für schwierige Entscheidungen. Das ist im Fall Griechenland teuer geworden. Etwa 200 Milliarden Euro hat das Land bei der EU auf dem Deckel. Soll nicht alles abgeschrieben werden, muss wenigstens unter dem Strich etwas herauskommen.

Die Lehman-Pleite hat nicht nur die Finanzbranche verändert. Angst vor der Kettenreaktion hat auch die EU in Gestaltungslähmung versetzt und erpressbar gemacht. Während in der Finanzbranche Stresstest und verschärfte Eigenkapitalquoten für besseres Risikomanagement sorgen, pflegte Europa vor und nach Lehman einen lässigen Umgang mit vergleichbaren Vorgaben. Die Regeln des europäischen Stabilitäts- und Wachstumspakts, nach denen die Neuverschuldung nicht mehr als drei Prozent vom Bruttoinlandsprodukt betragen darf, hat Griechenland kontinuierlich, aber auch Deutschland schon einige Male gerissen. Die Lehre aus dem Griechenland-Debakel lautet: höhere Fiskaldisziplin verbunden mit regelmäßigen Stresstests für die Mitgliedstaaten.

Seit Lehman und den Folgen arbeiten die Finanzaufseher viel stärker zusammen. Das gilt für die Behörden innerhalb der einzelnen Staaten, aber auch international für den Austausch im Rahmen des Finanzstabilitätsrats. Natürlich ist Griechenland seit Jahren Dauerbrennerthema im Ecofin, dem Europäischen Rat der Wirtschafts- und Finanzminister. Vieles aber wird dort politisch ausgekungelt. Dringlichste Aufgabe ist es nun, eine Insolvenzordnung für Staaten innerhalb der EU auszuarbeiten, damit Griechenland ein Ausnahmefall bleibt.

Europa ist seit Lehman auf dem Weg zur Europäischen Bankenunion. Unterwegs haben einige noch immer viel Mist gebaut. Aber die drei Säulen – einheitliche Bankenaufsicht durch die EZB, einheitliche Bankenabwicklung und gemeinsame Einlagensicherung – sollen sicherstellen, dass sich eine Lehman-Pleite nicht wiederholen kann. Der letzte Punkt ist sensibel und auch der schwerste Schritt in der politischen Analogie, denn er läuft auf eine gemeinsame Wirtschaftsregierung hinaus. Die ginge auf Kosten der nationalen Aufgaben und Befugnisse der einzelnen EU-Staaten und stößt daher auf viel Widerstand, vor allem auch auf verfassungsrechtliche Bedenken. Deshalb geht der Weg dahin nur über einen Schritt: das Referendum.

Es stimmt: Das kann schiefgehen. Dann muss Europa mit einem deftigen Rückschlag fertig werden. Aber was ist der faule Kompromiss anderes, der sich nun seit mehr als fünf Jahren im Umgang mit Griechenland anbahnt? Die Menschen sind nicht doof. Sie haben längst verstanden, dass die griechische Lösung dem Motto folgt: Was nicht passt, wird passend gemacht. Ein Staatenbund, der auf solche Camouflagespielchen angewiesen ist, nimmt seine Bürgerinnen und Bürger nicht ernst. Er darf sich nicht wundern, wenn die im Gegenzug die Volten der Politik nicht mehr für voll nehmen.

Wenn Griechenland zu etwas gut gewesen sein soll, muss die EU einen nächsten Schritt der Integration bei gleichzeitiger Absicherung tun. Dazu bedarf es der Zustimmung im Volk über ein Referendum. Ansonsten bleibt von Griechenland ein Bündel teurer Scheinrechnungen. Und die Zustimmung zu Europa löst sich in Nichts auf wie einst die Milliarden in den Büchern der Lehman Brothers.

wiwo.de

by Miriam Meckel at June 26, 2015 04:30 PM

Global Voices
Twenty-Eight Dead in Beach Resort Attack in Sousse, Tunisia
Police reinforcements in Sousse after gunmen killed 28 people, mostly tourists, on a beach. Photo credit: Saber ben Hasen. Shared on Twitter by @subaruplus

Police reinforcements in Sousse after gunmen killed 28 people, mostly tourists, on a beach. Photo credit: Saber ben Hasen. Shared on Twitter by @subaruplus

At least 28 people, mostly foreign tourists, have been killed when gunmen opened fire on a beach in the resort town of Sousse, located 140 kilometers southern the capital Tunis.

Police killed one of the gunmen, while local media reported the arrest of another suspect.

This is the second attack targeting foreign tourists in the span of less than four months, after militants killed 22 tourists and a police officer in an attack on the Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis on 18 March.

Also Check out our coverage on Global Voices Checkdesk: Tunisia: Attack on Tourist Hotel in Resort of Sousse

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. But since 2012, Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, a militant group linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) staged a number of deadly attacks against police and armed forces. ISIS also claimed its responsibility for the Bardo Museum attack in March.

by Afef Abrougui at June 26, 2015 03:07 PM

Pictures of Chinese People Scanning QR Codes
A government-sponsored billboard in Hangzhou showcasing a suite of apps and services for tourists.

A government-sponsored billboard in Hangzhou showcasing a suite of apps and services for tourists.

Below is an edited version of “Pictures of Chinese People Scanning QR Codes” by Christina Xu, originally published on the blog 88 Bar and republished here with permission. 

On the way back to Shanghai from our fieldwork trip in rural Guizhou, my colleague Tricia Wang and I decided to go shopping at Guiyang’s Hunter City Mall. Guiyang is the capital city of the poorest province in China, but it’s recently attracted server farms from massive tech companies like Tencent and Alibaba and, with them, wealth and jobs. The mall recently went up near the fancy hotels, serving this new wealthy clientele with high-end Chinese boutiques and international brands like Uniqlo.

Wandering through the mall, we found ourselves in Croquis, a menswear boutique with enough dark tones and mesh paneling to pass for a store in SoHo. As Tricia paid for a bag she liked, the clerk held out a comically large QR code encased in a slab of plexiglass and asked if she wanted to join a VIP membership program that would offer discounts and other perks. Scanning the QR code took Tricia directly to a signup page housed in Croquis’s WeChat brand account, but she had trouble finishing the process.

A few years ago, if I was trying to pass in a circle of technologists and designers, I’d bring up the blog Picturesofpeoplescanningqrcodes for a good laugh. The site’s joke is that it’s a blog with no posts. The implication: outside the optimistic daydreams of artists and ad agencies high off of the promise of digital/physical transcendence, almost no one actually stops to scan a QR code they walk by.“Sorry, this happens all the time,” the clerk said sheepishly. “The cell phone signal is terrible in here.”

Fast forward to 2015, and the joke still works in the US. The tech-embracing among us may actually use QR codes quite often — while boarding flights and trains, to get into music shows, to pay for sandwiches using LevelUp — but the interaction always involves holding up our codes to someone else’s scanner, never the other way around. Except for the occasional optimistic marketing campaign, the noisy grids have dissolved quietly into product packaging and subway ads.

In China, however, people scan QR codes all the time.

There are two major factors that give QR codes a leg up in China:

  1. For most Chinese people, the typical URL for a Chinese web site is only slightlymore human-readable than a QR code.URLs use alphanumeric characters, and the Chinese language mostly does not. Pinyin—the phonetic system for transcribing Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet—has been taught in schools since its adoption in 1958, but for most Chinese people it’s still not necessarily an intuitive way to express the language. In fact, some of China’s most popular websites use numbers in their URLs because even rough homophones are more semantically meaningful (and convenient for users’ keyboards or input systems) than Pinyin. Alibaba’s Chinese portal, for example, is hosted at 1688.com because the numbers are pronounced “yao liu ba ba.” QR codes abstract away the need to memorize these arcane URLs altogether.
WeChat (left) and Weibo (right) both use QR codes for user discovery and desktop login. Their QR code readers will open any URL in their native browsers.

WeChat (left) and Weibo (right) both use QR codes for user discovery and desktop login. Their QR code readers will open any URL in their native browsers.

  1. More Chinese mobile users have QR code scanners installed on their devices.The typical American mobile user probably doesn’t even have a general purpose QR code scanner installed on their devices, let alone one they have regular occasion to use. Most Chinese mobile users, on the other hand, use Weiboand/orWeChat, both of which have prominently integrated, reliable scanner features.
To use WeChat’s desktop app, you have to scan the QR code with the WeChat app on the phone to log in. From experience, I can tell you that this makes using WeChat after you’ve lost your phone nearly impossible.

To use WeChat’s desktop app, you have to scan the QR code with the WeChat app on the phone to log in. From experience, I can tell you that this makes using WeChat after you’ve lost your phone nearly impossible.

Combined, these two factors mean that QR codes are everywhere in public spaces in China, both as pixelated portals to the digital world and as identity verification. They’re even in digital public places, floating above the fold on most major websites. QR codes displayed on screens make me anxious — remember Facebook Rooms?—but the use case here is clear. Like lighting a torch from a bonfire, a user aims their mobile phone at their laptop, scans the code, and takes whatever they were looking at to go.

What’s more interesting to me, though, is how QR codes are used in interpersonal settings.

Some of my first interactions with QR codes in China were around WeChat, which generates a code for each person and group in the system. WeChat offers several different options for “friending” someone you’re sitting next to, but the QR code is the one I saw used the most.

Business card for Ms. Lian Xing, a co-founder of a fair-trade NGO based in Hangzhou.

Business card for Ms. Lian Xing, a co-founder of a fair-trade NGO based in Hangzhou.

The logical extension of this is QR codes printed on business cards or propped up as signs in offices. Like taking selfies in front of landmarks or saying Instagrace, scanning someone else’s code has become integrated into social rituals.

This is why QR codes are perceived as so powerful in China by marketers, and why they’re so commonly used as retail tools. But like any other tool, the QR code has its limitations. One, as we saw in Croquis, is performance in low-signal settings; another is simply people’s tolerance for advertising.

Back in Guiyang, while Tricia finished up her checkout process, I slipped next door to Riverstone, a fashion chain with funky prints based in Chengdu, with a few stores around the Southwest of China. A QR code taped near the cash register — its plastic lamination cracked and curling with wear —caught my eye.  I asked the clerk if I could scan it. He was surprised at my interest. The code was there by mandate from the chain’s headquarters in Chengdu, he told me while trying to smooth down the plastic, but most of their customers preferred to add the salespeople on WeChat directly rather than follow the official store account. Some even go a step further.

“Real VIPs don’t want to bother with scanning, so they just give us their phone number directly,” he said. “And you, what, call them?” I asked, slightly horrified. “Yeah, we call them personally when there are sales and when it’s their birthday. It’s more special that way. They’d ignore texts and WeChat messages anyway — it’d just be more spam.”

At least where sales are concerned, sometimes elegant interactions are just no replacement for messy human warmth.

Confession: I’ve been rooting for the QR code all along. Partially, I think, because of its aesthetic inelegance, and partially because it seems fleeting. Like an AOL CD or a pianist at a silent film, the QR code is an awkward stopgap solution that can only exist at a particular moment of transition; an artifact of an era in which we made clumsy compromises about the transition between digital and analog spaces. I want them to mar my visual landscape like the gritty, visible residue of the internet springing leaks into the real world.

But maybe I’m wrong about their pending obsolescence. Scanning a QR code is a gesture, and all gestures (taking a selfie, 1–4 kisses on the cheek) can be awkward to learn. The alternative is one we’re increasingly familiar with: digital interactions designed to be “seamless,” which is to say invisible and outside of our control. No one scans a QR code without clear intention. Maybe, in the near future, we’ll find that refreshing rather than antiquated.

Further reading:

  • The history of QR codes as told by the Japanese company that invented them, Denso Wave. It’s extremely charming and I wish someone would turn it into a sports anime.
  • No to NoUI, a fantastic essay by Timo Arnall about how we shouldn’t aim for “invisible” interfaces.

Christina Xu is an organizational designer, ethnographer, and enabler based in New York.

This is her WeChat QR code.

1lMDcATG9ZLFii74iDZeIhw-500x323

 

 

by 88 Bar at June 26, 2015 03:04 PM

A Tragic Ramadan in Yemen as Saudi-Led Coalition Bombardment Continues
The eve of Ramadan in Sanaa started with Saudi coalition bombings, tweets @faizahsulimani

The eve of Ramadan in Sanaa started with Saudi coalition bombings, tweets @faizahsulimani

The holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, a month where Muslims fast in the daily hours, increase their prayers and charity, and reflect on their spirituality throughout the day. It is a month that usually brings with it peace and serenity, but sadly this hasn't been the case in Yemen this year.

Yemen has been witnessing a war for the past three months that started on March 25, when Arab Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes in the capital Sana'a. Health facilities report that over 2,800 people have been killed and 13,000 injured since the violence started in March.

The eve of Ramadan in Yemen was marked by five simultaneous explosions targeting mosques and offices in Sanaa that killed 31 people and injured dozens on June 17.

Many Yemenis hoped that the United Nations brokered Geneva talks between the Yemeni waring parties would bring with it a humanitarian ceasefire, at least during the holy month, but this was not the case.

Joyce Karam, Washington correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, tweeted:

Mohammed Jamjoom, senior correspondent at Al Jazeera English, reported on the dire humanitarian situation facing Yemen:

Despite the hardship that the country is going through, Yemenis still greeted the holy month with the usual traditions:

Yemenis started and broke their fast this Ramadan to the sounds of airstrikes, which drowned the sounds of dawn and sunset calls for prayers:

The situation wasn't any better in other parts of Yemen suffering from Houthi shellings and bombardments. Alarabi Al-Jadeed provided a grim report about the situation in central and southern Yemen.

خلت أسواق اليمن من أي تجهيزات لاستقبال شهر رمضان، وسط ركود تجاري وانتشار للسلع منتهية الصلاحية وارتفاع في أسعار السلع الضرورية والخدمات واضطرابات أمنية ونزوح داخلي. وقال مواطنون في عدن، أكثر مدينة تضرراً من الحرب التي تشنها مليشيات الحوثي وصالح على اليمنيين، لـ”العربي الجديد”، إنهم لم يشعروا بدخول شهر رمضان في ظل استمرار المعارك بين (الحوثيين) والمقاومة الشعبية. وتشهد مدينة تعز (وسط اليمن) حرب شوارع بين الحوثيين والمقاومة الشعبية بالإضافة إلى ضربات التحالف العربي بقيادة السعودية، ما أدى إلى توقف الحركة التجارية وإغلاق 95% من المحلات التجارية وفقاً لتقرير صادر عن ائتلاف الإغاثة في المدينة. وتعرض سوق المدينة المركزي للفواكه والخضروات للتدمير جراء المواجهات وتم إغلاقه بداية مايو/أيار الماضي، كما يسيطر الحوثيون على المنافذ البرية الرئيسية
للمدينة وفرضوا حصاراً اقتصادياً على الأهالي

Yemeni markets were empty of any preparations to welcome the month of Ramadan, amid the stagnation of trade, the spread of expired goods, the increased prices of essential goods and services, and unstable security and internal displacement.
The citizens of Aden, the city most affected by the war waged by Houthi militias and Saleh against Yemenis, told Al-Arabi that they did not feel Ramadan's beginning in light of the continued fighting between the Houthis and the popular resistance.
The city of Taiz (central Yemen) is witnessing street wars between the Houthis and popular resistance in addition to strikes by the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which led to a halt of commercial traffic and closure of 95 per cent of the shops, according to a report issued by a coalition of relief in the city. The city's central market for fruit and vegetables was destroyed due to the clashes and was closed in early May, in addition Houthis control the main land ports of the city and imposed an economic blockade on the residents.

The fact remains that the situation is much more catastrophic in Yemen's southern coastal city of Aden. Iona Craig, the only foreign independent journalist who reported from there, describes it “by war or by fever, the only way out of Aden is death”.

Sahar Nouraddin tweeted the following:

The UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, remarked in alarm on the situation in Yemen:

Johannes van der Klaauw, UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, and Amer Daoudi, UN regional humanitarian coordinator, warned the world about the humanitarian catastrophe:

Ahlam Hashem summarized in her tweet what it currently feels like to live in Yemen:

Despite all, Yemenis wish everyone a Ramadan Kareem.

Check out our special coverage on the war in Yemen: Humanitarian Crisis in War-Battered Yemen

by Noon Arabia at June 26, 2015 02:53 PM

More Europeans Migrate to Latin America Than Vice Versa, Study Finds
 "Leaving" Mural, by Antonio Segui, at Independencia station in the Buenos Aires metro (Argentina). More Europeans have migrated to Latin America than vice versa. Credit: Rodrigo Borges Delfim

“Leaving” Mural, by Antonio Segui, at Independencia station in the Buenos Aires metro, Argentina.
Photo: Rodrigo Borges Delfim

This post originally appeared in Portuguese on the MigraMundo blog and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Contrary to popular belief, more Europeans are currently migrating from Europe to Latin America and the Caribbean than in the opposite direction. This is the conclusion reached in a study published recently by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), titled ‘Migratory Dynamics in Latin American and the Caribbean and between Latin America and the European Union’.

The document shows that more than 181,000 Europeans left their countries in 2012, in comparison with the 119,000 Latin Americans moving in the opposite direction. The data show a reduction of 68% in the latter flow compared to 2007, when the number of migrants moving from Latin America and the Caribbean to Europe stood at over 350,000 people, its highest level ever.

Spain is at the top of the list of countries with the highest number of citizens emigrating in search of new opportunities in Latin American states, with 181,166 emigrants to Latin America in 2012. It is followed by Italy, Portugal, France and Germany.

In 2013, 8.5 million international migrants lived in Latin America (1.1 million originating from the EU), 500,000 more than in 2010 and 2.5 million more than in 2000.

“In recent years, changes in migration flows between Latin America and Europe show once again that these flows naturally evolve according to socioeconomic fluctuations and that they have the potential to act as a tool for adjusting and responding to structural economic crises”, explains Laura Thompson, assistant director-general at IOM.

Study shows that more Europeans have migrated to Latin America than Latin Americans to Europe. Credit: Divulgação

Study shows that more Europeans have migrated to Latin America than Latin Americans to Europe.
Photo: IOM/Divulgação

An example of the adjustment she mentioned is the increase in migration between Latin American countries. In 2013, Argentina took the lead, receiving 238,700 immigrants from other Latin countries (28% of the total), followed by Venezuela, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

What about Brazil?

While the migration issue is growing in importance in Brazil, which is establishing itself as a transit and destination country for migrants, the IOM study shows that Brazilians continue to migrate to other countries.

According to the IOM, Brazil is the Latin American country which sends the highest numbers of migrants to Europe, followed by Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. It is also the country which receives the highest amount of remittances from the European Union (US $1.596 billion), comprising 22% of the total amount sent to Latin America (data from 2012).

Click here to download the study (in Spanish).

Information in this post from IOM, Rádio Migrantes and El País.

by Eleanor Staniforth at June 26, 2015 01:46 PM

Shia Mosque Attacked by ISIS in Kuwait, Leaving at Least 24 People Dead
Bloodstained Shia cleric survives the suicide attack on the mosque in #Kuwait, tweets @Hayder_alKhoei

Bloodstained Shia cleric survives the suicide attack on the mosque in #Kuwait, tweets @Hayder_alKhoei

At least 24 people were killed and scores others were injured when an ISIS suicide bomber blew himself up in Al Sadeq Mosque in Kuwait today. On social media, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on the Shia mosque, the fourth such attack on Shia mosques in Gulf countries in recent months.

Last month, the ISIS claimed responsibility for two similar attacks on Shia mosques in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the heartland of Wahabbism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, which claims to be the “official form of Sunni Islam.” On May 22, a suicide bomber killed 23 people and left 102 people injured when he blew himself up in the Imam Ali Mosque in Al Qadih, in Qatif, in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. The following Friday, on May 31, three people were killed in a suicide bombing, which the ISIS Saudi branch Walayat Najd claimed responsibility for, and some 10 people were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Shia mosque in nearby Dammam.

And in November, last year, eight people were killed in Al Ahsa, also in the Eastern province, when gunmen attacked a Shia community centre, where a religious ceremony was taking place.

Check out our coverage on Global Voices Checkdesk: Suicide Bomb Attack at a Mosque in Kuwait

And now Kuwait is at the receiving end of the terror unleashed against adherents of the Shia faith by the ISIS, an Al Qaeda off-shoot which is now in control of half of Syria and huge territories in Iraq.

The news quickly spread on social media, showing graphic images of the victims and the damage in the mosque.

This video, which shows the aftermath of the attack, is being widely shared on social media:

And this is a sample of some of the photographs from inside the mosque showing some of those killed and injured in the attack:

Also on social media, the ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

And on social media, netizens expressed their shock at the attack, particularly that it happened in Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in Islam.

From Bahrain, Nasra Buashwan tweets:

Others say it is a natural consequence of states turning a blind eye to growing sectarianism spread from the pulpits of mosques and in school curricula in the region.

Maitham from Bahrain notes:

I see some of you surprised. If you spend years filling up people's minds with ideology which says the Shia are apostates and infidels, it will only be a matter of time before someone gets encouraged to blow himself up to kill the infidels

Iraqi journalist Mina Al Oraibi explains:

And Bahraini human rights activist Maryam Al Khawajah adds:

Kuwait is surprisingly implicated in openly and actively funding the ISIS.

US Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen recently pointed fingers at Kuwait for bankrolling some of ISIS activities:

a number of fundraisers operating in more permissive jurisdictions – particularly in Kuwait and Qatar – are soliciting donations to fund extremist insurgents, not to meet legitimate humanitarian needs. The recipients of these funds are often terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusrah Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the group formerly known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI).

Cohen continues:

Our ally Kuwait has become the epicenter of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria. A number of Kuwaiti fundraisers exploit the charitable impulses of unwitting donors by soliciting humanitarian donations from both inside and outside the country, cloaking their efforts in humanitarian garb, but diverting those funds to extremist groups in Syria. Meanwhile, donors who already harbor sympathies for Syrian extremists have found in Kuwait fundraisers who openly advertise their ability to move funds to fighters in Syria.

Further Reading:

by Amira Al Hussaini at June 26, 2015 01:01 PM

US-Listed Chinese Firms Flock Home to Take Advantage of Bull Market
Many U.S listed China Concept Firms are returning back to Chinese A-Share Market. Photo from flickr user: Marc van der Chijs (CC: AT-SA)

Many U.S listed China Concept Firms are returning back to Chinese A-Share Market. Photo from flickr user: Marc van der Chijs (CC: AT-SA)

Lured by China’s soaring stocks of late, many US-listed Chinese firms are rushing back to the mainland to enjoy the bullish spree, even after the market suffered a recent dramatic fall.

More than 20 Internet corporates are lining up to return to China's A-share market. Their desires have been further fueled by an announcement from Beijing that ownership limitations for foreign investors will be lifted, a big move to dismantle the complicated variable interest entity structures (VIE) for most US-listed Chinese companies. VIE is when a corporate has an operating company based in China and a holding company based abroad, which allow it to skirt rules that prohibit foreign investors from having direct control over Chinese companies that work in sensitive industries such as the Internet, education and telecommunications.

The rule has changed. China will now allow full foreign ownership of some e-commerce businesses, with the aim of encouraging foreign investment and the development and competitiveness of the industry.

Qihoo 360 Technology, an Internet security software maker listed in the United States in 2011, said it received a buyout offer from a consortium led by CEO Hongyi Zhou. Valued at about $8.6 billion, it is thus far the largest tech company to receive a “go-private” offer in recent months. The “go-private” proposal, if successful, will privatize the company and delist it from the U.S stock market.

A string of smaller Chinese companies, such as Renren, 21Vianet Group and E-House China Holdings, have all received “go-private” bids in recent weeks. Tech executives at several Chinese companies are betting on higher valuations back home, where stock markets have been on fire for some time.

Thomas Luo, founder of a tech review platform Pingwest pointed out in his column that well-established companies would not leave the global market to join the a share game:

你知道这些资本游戏充满了诡异的烟幕,但只要趁早置身其中,一定会大有收获——这就是中国概念股回归A股市场的硬道理。企业家们愿意从中分一杯羹,他们背后那些尚未退出的风险投资商更喜欢。而另一方面,这些先后从美国退市的“中概股”,在美国资本市场的故事越讲越艰难——几乎所有从纳斯达克和纽交所“私有化”的中国互联网公司,股价差不多都是一条条颓败的曲线。

The capital game is filled up with smog. But if you enter early enough, you will win — this is the logic in the return of China concept firms to the A-share market. The entrepreneurs want to have a share and the capital investors love risking for profit. On the other hand, these China concept firms, their paths in the US capital market have been difficult. All the “privatized” Chinese Internet firms that listed in Nasdaq and the New York stock exchange, the curves of their stock prices were all moving downwards.

China Concepts Stock is a term widely used in the finance sector to describe a set of stock of companies whose assets or earnings have significant activities in mainland China.

Tan Yifei, a finance news reporter, composed a satirical poem to describe the situation on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo:

天边飘过A股的风 它不停的向我召唤 当身边的土豪轻轻走过 有个声音在对我呼唤 归来吧归来哟 浪迹天涯的中概股 别再四处飘泊 故乡人傻钱多 归乡路再漫长又如何 当身边的微风轻轻吹起 吹来故乡土豪的味道 归来吧归来哟 浪迹天涯的中概股 归来吧归来哟 我要成为土豪 我要成为土豪 眼里是酸楚的泪

A-share wind flies across the sky, it keeps calling me. When local tyrants pass by, a voice keeps calling me, return return return. China concept firms wander around the world, don't float around anymore. So much easy money in their hometown, no matter how difficult, they return home. The wind blows around, brings the smell of local tyrants, return return return. I want to be local tyrants, I want to be local tyrants, eyes fill up with tears.

China's ChiNext composite index has soared more than 150 percent so far this year, eclipsing the 27 percent rise in the Nasdaq China Technology Index. Firms listed on the Nasdaq index get an average share price equal to 11 times their earnings, while on ChiNext they get above 130 times.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) has required any company to be profitable for several years before listing – a rule which excluded most Chinese Internet companies. But now profitability requirements are being eased, and there's a shortcut: a merger with a Chinese company with a listed shell.

Chinese display advertising giant Focus Media, which bailed out of New York in 2013, has planed to relist in China via a $7 billion reverse merger with rubber manufacturer Jiangsu Hongda in what analysts say is a model for returnees to follow.

Chinese companies can circumvent the stricter regulation and supervision in the US by getting listed on China's A-share market. Except for seeking more money in the stock market, those companies are also trying to stop disclosing dissatisfactory financial reports to the public.

Since 2006, “China concepts stock” in the US has suffered a credibility crisis and quite a number were under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for accounting fraud.

Pi Haizhou, a well-known financial author, warned of the negative effects of the return of China concept firms. What they are pursuing are higher price-earnings ratios and speculation other than standard management.

中概股回归A股,图的就是A股的高市盈率与A股市场的投机性,而并非是股市的规范管理,这样的出发点本身就是不正确的,并不利于A股市场的发展。

The intention for China concept firms in returning to A-share is venture seeking in a speculative market rather than standard management. Such an intention is wrong and is not good for the development of A-share market.

No wonder ordinary Chinese netizens are not excited about the wave of returnees:

租车人_石磊: 中概股回归A股??美国人不好骗,他们在美国左右不了主流媒体,他们不敢造假,他们忽悠不了政府!他们更无法逃避美国资本市场的监管!所以他们要回归,因为这些在中国只要你有钱都不是问题!海外实在混不下去了!回家骗亲人来了哈!

“Car renter Shi Lei”: China concept firms return to A-share?? Americans are not easy to cheat, they can't control the mainstream media, dare not fabricate [finance reports] and cheat the government in the US. They can't escape the management of the US capital market, that's why they have to return. In China, if you have enough money, they don't have to face these problems. They can't survive overseas and come back to cheat their relatives.

西区电台: 中概股回归的构思起于本朝新政,好几年了,说白了是用国内资金替一系列垃圾赎身,让他们赚两道钱,而美好的题目是回归祖国怀抱。这些公司当然希望离开监管严格的美国,荣归故里,假装委屈,讨价还价。蠢死了。

“West district radio station”: The whole idea about the return of China concept firms is the new policy of the current ruling bloc. It has been planned for a few years. In a nutshell, they use domestic capital to buy out the trash, let them make two rounds of profit and return to the motherland. These firms, of course, want to escape from the strictly managed US market and return home in honor. They pretended they were not that eager to return so as to lobby for a better price. A bunch of fools.

by Jack Hu at June 26, 2015 06:36 AM

June 25, 2015

Global Voices
New Black Hand Street Art Surfaces in Tehran in Response to ‪#‎LetWomenGoToStadium‬
A new from Iranian street artist has emerged depicting a male sports fan brandishing dishwashing liquid like a sports trophy. Image take from the artists Facebook page.

A new work from Iranian street artist has emerged depicting a male sports fan brandishing dishwashing liquid like a sports trophy. Image take from the artists Facebook page.

A new image by Iranian street artist Black Hand has surfaced tody on the artist's associated Facebook page. The image is in response to the online and offline #LetWomenGoToStadium protests advocating for the presence of women during the Volleyball World League men’s games in Tehran between Iran and the United States. Women, including female journalists, are banned from attending male sports matches in stadiums.

Iranian street artist Black Hand has long been a fixture on social media, offering timely commentary on events effecting Iran. Black Hand is an anonymous artist or group of artists dubbed the “Iranian Banksy” by some media outlets. Graffiti is illegal in Iran, though authorities allow street art that supports the Islamic Republic. The artist posts photos of the art on an associated Facebook page before they are removed by authorities.

This particular image shows a man wearing the national Iranian football team's jersey, thrusting a bottle of dishwashing liquid reminiscent of players holding up the World Cup trophy. A similar Black Hand image initially appeared in July 2014 with a woman posing in with dishwashing liquid around the time that the team was competing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

The artist explained on the comment section of his photo's post that the image appears in the same location as the July 2014 one, across from Tehran's Park Saee.

The June 19 volleyball match caused much excitement after the government announced some women would be allowed entry, despite the long-standing ban on women attending male sporting events. Two hundred of the 12,000 seats in the stadium were reserved for women. Security officials, however, denied the entrance of these ticket holders a few hours before the start of the game.

by Mahsa Alimardani at June 25, 2015 09:18 PM

God Sets Term Limits, Not the Constitution, Says Longtime Gambian President Jammeh
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Gambian President Yahya Jammeh with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in 2012. In Taiwan, presidents can't hold office for longer than two four-year terms, unlike The Gambia. Photo by Flickr user 總統府. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Last month, The Gambia and Togo vetoed efforts at the Economic Community of West African States to introduce a two-presidential-term limits across the region. The two countries are the only ones in the region without term limits and forced the 15-member bloc, which operates on consensus, to drop the idea.

While his counterpart may be silent, President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia has taken up the responsibility to explain why his country does not support term limits. “How long can one stay in power? It is only God who determines how long you can stay in power. It is not a human being who is responsible for making sure you stay in power,” he told New African magazine.

President Jammeh has ruled the tiny West African state since 1994 following a military coup, and in 2011 told the BBC that he will rule for “one billion years”, if God wills. He is widely criticised for human rights violations, especially against journalists, political opponents and the LGBT community.

Last month, he threatened gay people, saying: “If you do it here I will slit your throat… no-one will ever set eyes on you again.” A few days ago, a statement from the presidency said Jammeh should now be known as “His Excellency, Sheikh, Professor, Alhaji, Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh, Babili Mansa”. His latest addition, Babili Mansa, is a Mandinka phrase that means bridge building king; it was dropped in 2014.

Barely two weeks ago Jammeh threatened to pull out of both the Economic Community of West African States (ECWAS) and the African Union (AU) if the institutions are reduced to Western control:

They want to use their stooges in Ecowas to impose term limit because that is … a Western agenda. I am a pan-Africanist, but I will not subscribe to any institution that is hijacked by the West and be used against Africa. If it is the AU, I will leave AU; if it is Ecowas, I will leave Ecowas, but I will not be given lecture by any of these institutions on behalf of the West.

Jammeh was speaking at a political rally as part of activities marking his annual countrywide tour. In October 2013, the soldier-turn-civilian president pulled out of the Commonwealth describing it as a neo-colonial institution.

D A Jawo, a regular online commentator on Gambian affairs, said it is hard to imagine how Gambians can handle the negative consequences of the Gambia withdrawing from the economic community. Citizens of ECOWAS move “freely” within the region without requiring visas thanks to its protocol on the free movement of goods and services:

Therefore, with virtually all foreign embassies accredited to the Gambia being based outside the country, mainly in Dakar, one can imagine the trouble that Gambians will go through if they had to travel to Dakar to apply for visa every time they intend to travel to any country within and outside the sub-region,” Jawo noted.

Commenting on the subject on Facebook, Amadou Scattred Janneh said:

It has never been about ‪#‎Gambia‬ under Jammeh

He added:

@ChangeGambia: Dictator #Jammeh talking nonsense, again. “In next 5 yrs we are going to change our official language from English to a Gambia-n language.”

Frédéric Tendeng said:

This is absolute madness in action. The brain of this psychotic must be fully boiling with huge negative thinking traffic jam !!!

Demba A. Jawo expressed his fears:

I wonder whether Gambians can really stand the prospects of having to get a visa to travel to any country in the sub-region, which is what would happen if the Gambia leaves Ecowas or the AU. It is quite a scary

In the same thread, however, Surahata Fatty supported President Jammeh:

Please this is not madness, let gambia get out of all international organization. Who will suffer ?

Nyanchor Sanneh claimed that he is not a politician but a revolutionary because of Jammeh's tyrannical presidency:

In the mean time, I don't see myself as a politician for I have no one to engage politically as far as that DESPOTIC TYRANT is VOWING to TAKE the LAND with him to HELL. I am facing a Killer so I am a REVOLUTIONARY, married to the fight to liberate my self and help free my people. Being a revolutionary is not a sexy business It requires total commitment, a total plunge into the unknown, where friends and enemies are difficult to distinguish, lovers and haters use words with synonyms, dance to similar tones but different rhythms. It is to listen to the noise of your making, the noise of the enemy and the NOISE of the Concrete jungle where you found yourself….. This is our struggle, It is a Noble course of a selfless service, painful it is but YES to me the GAMBIA is WORTH the PAIN and MY LIFE TOO.”

It is difficult if not impossible to predict The Gambia's political and or diplomatic moves, but over the past two years, the country's autocratic leader continue to surprise the world. Whether it was the severing of diplomatic ties with long time allies such as Iran in 2010 and Taiwan in 2013 or the recent expulsion of European Union representative, Jammeh's political maneuvering remain largely unpredictable.

by Demba Kandeh at June 25, 2015 03:09 PM

DML Central
How a Digital Pen is Turning a Museum into a Library

Right now, in New York City, a digital pen is turning a museum into a library — a 21st century library, that is. And, its potential impact across civic and cultural spaces offers considerable lessons for those interested in participatory and digital learning and the future of museums.

If, like me, you work in a museum you’ve probably already guessed what I am talking about, as it’s all the buzz: the newly renovated Cooper-Hewitt’s Pen. The Cooper-Hewitt is the Smithsonian’s design museum located in NYC within the stately Andrew Carnegie Mansion. After a six-year renovation project, the museum re-opened its doors in December, returning public access to its wonderful collection of “historic and contemporary design.” While the collections on display might not have changed in any significant way, the museum offered its new visitors a radical new way to experience it: through a digital pen. 

The pen, which is given to all visitors with the price of entry, has two ends — one is the stylus, for interacting with the content on touch screens, while the other connects with icons on exhibit copy (see above image) and the aforementioned touch screens to send your identity and activity into a back-end database (why exactly I will later explain).

The most popular room in the museum is all about wallpaper (which, if anything else, is a testament to how effectively this digital tool succeeds in igniting passion around content usually unaccessible to the uninitiated). Called the Immersion Room, it lives up to its name, where I was equally immersed in visually exploring the Museum’s visual database of wallcoverings as I was creating my own and then “throwing” it onto the digital walls around me.

When I was there, I watched a teenager make a design then stand in front of the screen’s projector, wallpapering himself in the process. He held out his arms and yelled, “I’m part of the design.” Immersive indeed.

With the tap of a button, I’ve told the table I want to add my design to my collection. As I exit and walk through the halls, I expand my collection by tapping on the printed icon on the label copy of any curated item. Now, my collection has two types of objects — ones I have designed and ones designed by others owned by the Museum.

Then, I arrive at a table with locations for six people at once. I tap my identity and watch my collection appear before me. I can select any item to first learn about it and then explore a variety of filters to trip through the Museum’s collection. The option appears to design a chair. Or a hat. Or a sculpture. I drag one into my workspace and design my own object. Then, I save it to my collection.

Finally, I just doodle. I draw lines. Swirls. Curves. And the table takes my doodle and matches it against similar lines within designs already in their collection, which sends me back to exploring objects within their collection.

After an hour exploring the exhibits, I had collected many objects from the Museum’s collection, including:

  • A video for an Ultrasound Machine that looked interesting but I wanted to watch later (and perhaps show my family).
  • A mobile app that looked interesting, but was easier to add to my collection than to write down its name.
  • I was excited to see included a Stick Navigation Chart from the Marshall Islands that we also have in our own collections at the AMNH.
  • The first Whole Earth Catalog, which I had never seen before in person, and I was delighted to just have a sense that I now “owned,” albeit digitally.
  • A Time Ball, which was just so cool, and I wanted an image to share when talking about it (and I didn’t feel compelled to take out my phone camera).

As I walked through the exhibit, I found that I was experiencing a museum in a totally new way. When I visit a museum, I am often collecting information or inspiration. I know I won’t remember the details, but the feeling will linger in my bones. But now, with the Pen, the museum has also turned into a library or sorts. I am collecting information and inspiration I can explore later, at home. An exhibit to read more about. A video I can watch. An app I can download and explore. Perhaps it was also like reading my weekly Entertainment Weekly magazine, which I leave with a list of movies to watch, songs to check out, books to read. Knowing I could capture my new, momentary interests and follow-up in the future certainly took pressure off my visit — I didn’t have to fit it all in. I wouldn’t want to say it felt like shopping, but it did feel like, with each exhibit I encountered, the beginning of my experience, not the end.

Before I left the museum and returned the pen, I had to “save my visit.” Then, using the unique url provided on my entrance receipt, I could go home and check it all out — all the items I collected, all the items I designed, and even a few surprises (like videos associated with the objects, and the sand art of my face).

There’s little surprise that a techie like me would enjoy this new take on experiencing a museum. But, what about the average visitor? I just happened to write this just a few days after the museum released stats to celebrate the 100th day of the pen in action. So far, the Pen has been given to 40,846 visitors (93% of all eligible visitors so far), who collected 889,156 objects and saved 35,138 designs. Within three days of returning home, just over 25% of ticketed visitors went to their personalized web site containing their collections and designs (with a third not just visiting but then creating an account to permanently store their collection).

What institution wouldn’t want a quarter of their in-person visitors to return within days for a virtual visit? It’s a remarkable achievement. And, how did they do it? They used digital tools and digital media to turn a passive, consuming experience that relied heavily on prior knowledge into a participatory, collaborative experience accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, and digital-comfort levels.

Photos by Barry Joseph

Author: 

by mcruz at June 25, 2015 02:00 PM

Global Voices
Take a Look at the Africa the Media Never Shows You
Screenshot of some of the images found under the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMedia

Screenshot of some of the images found under the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou on Twitter.

The portrayal of Africa by mainstream media, particularly Western media, paints it as a dark, ugly, hopeless place that is ridden with civil war, militant groups, corruption, violation of freedoms, starvation, chaotic urbanisation and utter desperation. This gives people who have never being to Africa a false, misleading impression of the continent.

Africans on Twitter have came together to showcase the beauty, diversity and innovative modern architecture of the continent that Western media rarely show their audiences. It all began with the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou by Twitter user Mango:

Soon, other Twitter users from all over joined in the effort. Here's a sampling of tweets from the campaign.

Nairobi, Kenya:

Antananarivo, Madagascar:

Khartoum, Sudan:

African food:

African weddings:

Limpopo, South Africa:

Somalia:

Lagos, Nigeria:

Uganda:

Côte d'Ivoire,:

Soweto, South Africa:

Traditional African villages:

Aswan, Egypt:

Cape Verde:

There is an increasing yearning among Africans to control their narrative, and the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou is just one example. Sites like Africa is Country and This is Uganda have also come out to challenge portrayal of Africa in mainstream media.

by Prudence Nyamishana at June 25, 2015 12:12 PM

June 24, 2015

Global Voices
New Art Project Seeks to Paint the Lives Lost in Palestine
Portraits of Gaza's victims by Kerry Beall

Portraits of Gaza's victims by Kerry Beall (Source: Beyond Words Gaza)

“Wake up, my son! I bought toys for you, please wake up!’”.

Those were the words of Sahir Salman Abu Namous’ father on their way to the hospital. Four-year-old Sahir was already dead, with half his head blown away by an Israeli shrapnel. An Israeli warplane had bombed his family home in the Tal Al-Zaatar neighborhood in Northern Gaza on the July 11, 2014. Gazans were only three days into the war and already counted over 130 casualties, among whom 21 were children, in a bloodshed that would see over 2,000 Palestinians killed in 51 days.

Also Read: Hundreds Killed in War-Battered #Gaza

Sahir with his sibling (Source: Electronic Intifada). The image of Sahir's death is too brutal to show here.

Sahir with his sibling (Source: Electronic Intifada). The image of Sahir's death is too brutal to show here.

The death of Sahir was what motivated Kerry Beall, an artist from Brighton UK, to start ‘Beyond Words‘, an art project which seeks to paint the portrait of those who have lost their lives in Palestine last summer. Speaking to Global Voices Online, Beall explained how it hit her.

It all started when I read the story of Sahir Abu Namous, in a news tweet on Twitter. One of his relatives was explaining how he had died. He was only four. It wasn't another depersonalised report, it was real. It was a family member's plea of desperation and hopelessness. It was so raw,\5 in that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Sahir Abu Namous' Portrait

Sahir Abu Namous’ Portrait (Source: Beyond Words Gaza)

Beyond Words is trying to raise funds on Kickstarter in order to meet its £3,000 (US $4,711) by the end of July. With that money, Beall is planning on using it to “pay for materials, the portraits to be framed, help with getting them to Gaza, and providing an exhibition space to show them until they are collected or delivered.”

I think I'm probably not alone when I say I felt completely helpless. It's just so devastating, the sheer amount of innocent men, women and children's lives just evaporating. It's a tough and overwhelming thing to think about and I, perhaps like others, often disconnect from it it so I can function in my own life.

But that day, it struck a chord that I couldn't switch off from.

I felt compelled to do something, so I painted him. I had no idea what the response would be as it's such a sensitive topic.

I showed the portrait to his family and they loved it. It reinforced that urge to take action, so I've gone on to paint many more lives that have been lost.

Beall ended with a note of gratitude:

The reaction has been amazing, with every positive comment it reinforces the motivation I have for this project. I've been so fortunate along the way with people enthusiastic to help the project move forward. For example my friend Dan, who has been keen to get involved in spreading the word of the project, Simon and Robin from Bristol who produced the video.

Mohammed Zeyara who kindly shared the video for the project which has helped a great deal in spreading the word. A great feeling of warmth and support has been shown by the people of Palestine, and I feel I've made friends along the way with Iman, Shareef and DiaaMahmoud, who have shown invaluable support towards the project.

Here are some of the finished portraits so far. You can see more of them on the Beyond Words Facebook Page.

Mohamed Sabri Atallah, 21 years old

Mohamed Sabri Atallah, 21 years old

Sara Omar Ahmed Sheikh al-Eid, 4 years old.

Sara Omar Ahmed Sheikh al-Eid, 4 years old.

Samar Al-Hallaq, 29 years old

Samar Al-Hallaq, 29 years old

Hindi Shadi Abu Harbied, 10 years old.

Hindi Shadi Abu Harbied, 10 years old.

by Joey Ayoub at June 24, 2015 09:17 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Netizen Report: UK Spied on Human Rights Organizations in Egypt, South Africa
Army truck and soldiers in Tahrir Square, Cairo, January 2011. Photo by Ramy Raoof via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Army truck and soldiers in Tahrir Square, Cairo, January 2011. Photo by Ramy Raoof via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Hae-in Lim, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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

The UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal revealed that UK intelligence agency GCHQ spied on two international human rights organizations, the South African Legal Resources Centre and Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Both NGOs now are involved in a legal challenge against GCHQ, arguing the agency acted unlawfully and violated its own secret procedures.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has defended the rights of Egyptians to express themselves freely and without fear in public spaces both online and off since 2002. The Tribunal found that the organization’s Internet communications were intercepted, accessed and then unlawfully “retained for materially longer than permitted.” The news was disheartening for privacy and free expression advocates in Egypt who typically focus on the surveillance activities of their own government. Authorities in Egypt routinely target advocates in this sector, often on grounds of preserving national security in the face of increasingly powerful violent crime groups.

Amr Gharbeia, an Cairo-based digital activist and affiliate of the organization who has spent many years working to counter pervasive digital surveillance by the Egyptian government, tweeted in response:

In a decision that Privacy International described as “astonishing” the tribunal did not find that GCHQ's interception of the NGOs’ communications was itself unlawful. Instead, it was GCHQ's failure to follow their own secret procedures that resulted in the unlawful conduct. Errors were made resulting in communications being held for longer than they should, or selected for examination in breach of GCHQ's internal guidelines.

Privacy International has appealed the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Got a dirty mouth? Then stay off WhatsApp.

WhatsApp users in the UAE may want to watch their language while using the app: Under new rules, people swearing online at others could be fined 250,000 UAE dirhams (about USD 68,000) and even jailed. The Federal Supreme Court recently overturned a case where a man was fined 3,000 dirhams (about USD 816) after being convicted of swearing at another person on WhatsApp — the court found the punishment to be too weak.

The Right to Be Forgotten, Kremlin-style

Russia’s parliament gave initial approval for a new law that would emulate the EU’s rules on the “right to be forgotten” requiring search engines to remove outdated or irrelevant personal information from search results on request from users. The law would depart from the EU regulation in one important respect: it would force search engines to remove information about a person even if it is in the public interest. Yandex, Russia’s biggest search engine, is opposing the bill. GV’s Tanya Lokot previews what the RuNet might look like if the bill becomes law.

In China, Uber “firmly oppose[s] any sort of gathering or protest”

Uber is warning drivers in China not to get too close to protests, saying there would be consequences for those who refuse to comply and that Uber would be tracking their mobile phones in an effort to “maintain social order”. An Uber spokesperson told Quartz “we firmly oppose any sort of gathering or protest, and we encourage a more rational form of communication for solving problems.”

Kenyan blogger still missing after nearly two years

Kenyans have been tweeting about the mysterious fate of blogger and former AFP correspondent Bogonko Bosire. The author of the controversial Jackal News blog disappeared almost two years ago after publishing a series of reports on the International Criminal Court case against former President Uhuru Kenyatta. Bosire has not been seen since September 2013.

Thai man sentenced to 25 years in jail for “defaming the monarchy”

Thai Facebook user Tiensutham S. was arrested and sentenced to 50 years in prison for “defaming the monarchy” in several Facebook posts written between July and November 2014. His sentence was reduced to 25 years after he confessed to these crimes.

Singapore authorities order teen video blogger to be evaluated for autism

Singaporean blogger Amos Yee was arrested and now has been sent to rehabilitation for a video he posted criticizing the nation’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, shortly following Lee’s death. Yee has been charged with offending the religious sentiments of Christians and circulating obscene material and may soon be evaluated for autism. His case has sparked a heated debate over the role of free expression in the Asian city-state.

The European Court of Human Rights needs help understanding the Internet

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Estonian news website Delfi may be held liable for defamatory user comments, a decision that could have grave implications for websites that allow users to post comments and other types of unique content. The Media Legal Defence Initiative’s Peter Noorlander says the ruling will have a detrimental effect on freedom of speech online. “Comment sections are important. They allow for debate on issues of public interest and have become an integral part of online media.”

Facial recognition talks elicit facepalm from privacy advocates

A group of nine privacy advocates walked away from discussions to develop a voluntary code of conduct for the use of facial recognition technology with the US Commerce Department and technology industry lobbyists, saying the discussions have been so derailed that they cannot reach agreement even on the premise that “at a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement – and identifying them by name – using facial recognition technology.”

No more mobile for foreigners in North Korea (at least for now)

North Korean mobile provider Koryolink issued a notice saying that 3G Internet service will no longer be available in the country. Koryolink, which is the country’s sole provider of mobile Internet service, offered no information on when services would be available again. North Koreans have no access to the global Internet, but foreign residents and visitors have historically been able to use mobile SIM cards. The reason for the service cut remains unclear.

Better late than never, Bing hops on encryption train

Microsoft announced that it will begin encrypting Bing searches by default. This means that Microsoft will let advertisers know that the traffic came from a Bing search, but the precise search term will not be disclosed. Microsoft acknowledged that “this change may impact marketers and webmasters, [but] we believe that providing a more secure search experience for our users is important.” Google and Yahoo made encrypted search a default in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

UN Working Group calls for release of Syrian web developer Bassel Khartabil

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a position on the situation of Bassel Khartabil (aka Safadi) a web developer and transparency advocate who worked with Creative Commons, Mozilla and other open web organizations. Khartabil has been jailed in Syria since March of 2012. The Working group considers his detention arbitrary” and has called for his immediate release.

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by Netizen Report Team at June 24, 2015 05:44 PM

Global Voices
Why Is the Internet So Much Slower and More Expensive in Mali Than in Senegal or Côte d'Ivoire?
Poster de la campagne de l'association 100megaMali avec leur autorisation

Poster from the 100megaMali campaign. Used with permission

100Mega Mali, an initiative of Mali’s information and communications technology sector, is striving to push Mali’s Internet connection speeds up and prices down.

Since its launch on 27 April 2015, the #Mali100mega hashtag has gained a significant following on Mali’s Twittersphere. It was first used by Malian tech entrepreneurs, activists and bloggers to demand a “dramatic improvement in Internet speed and price”, explains Tiadiane Ball, blogger and creator of the malisanté.com start-up and the Donilab coworking space.

The campaign began with a spoof advertisement offering reduced Internet connection prices and improved connection speeds. The spoof parodied ads previously run by Orange Mali, Mali’s dominant Internet provider. It offered a speed of 2 megabits per second (Mgps) at a price of 29,000 CFA francs (about 50 US dollars) per month to probe the reactions of Mali’s Internet users. While Malians did not fall for the trap, the expat community hastily welcomed what they saw as the end of Mali’s online slog.

From its very launch, the www.100mega.ml site gave details of the ordeal faced by web users in Mali, which currently has only two Internet service providers. The site sets out charts and graphs that show figures and prices for Orange Mali, which holds the vast majority of the Malian market, and for another provider called Malitel. These figures show that Orange actually has not increased its connection speed at all since 2009. There is also a staggering difference between the rates offered by Orange in Mali, on the one hand, and in Senegal and the Côte d’Ivoire on the other. Renaud Gaudin, an IT specialist at Jokkolabs Bamako, asserts in a post on Facebook:

Nous, entrepreneurs dans les domaines des tics et de l'innovation technologique, ne pouvons en aucune manière relever le défi de l'innovation par rapport à Dakar ou Abidjan avec les tarifs et ce ridiculedébit de 384 bps que Orange Mali nous donne si chèrement.

There is no way that we, the entrepreneurs of the ICT and the tech sectors, can meet the innovation challenge as compared to Dakar or Abidjan with the prices and the ridiculous 384 bits per second (bps) speed for which Orange Mali is charging us so dearly.

Tableau comparatif des prix internet des pays de l'afrique de l'ouest via 100megaMali

Table comparing Internet connection speeds and prices in West African countries (via 100megaMali)

Since 2008, Mali’s telecommunications regulator, the Malian National Authority on Information Technology and Communication (AMRTP), has been led by Choguel Kokala Maiga – the current minister for communications and the digital economy. While the AMRTP has been fiercely criticised over its inaction in this area, the minister’s Twitter account has stayed silent, despite the many tweets and mentions it has received about the issue.

The #Mali100mega hashtag brought together the creators of the Jokkolabs Bamako start-up, the creators of the Donilab co-working space and, indeed, the entire Malian blogosphere. Their motivation for subscribing to the hashtag has a pragmatic dimension – Mali’s price and speed has prevented them from carrying out their own ICT projects and so they have joined together to speak out.

The movement, however, is not simply about a bunch of tech-heads trying to get their projects up and running. They made a short series to explain the movement's broader purpose, which is not limited to the 100megaMali campaign or to raising awareness about price discrepancies between Orange Mali and operators from the region's other countries. The movement means to challenge the ineptitude of Mali’s tech-sector regulators.

Given the growing public discontent, Orange Mali responded by inviting the movement’s leaders to a meeting held on 7 May this year. Unfortunately, the meeting did not result in any meaningful changes. Orange Mali detailed their arguments to explain the slow Internet speed, blaming the AMRTP (for not granting them access to some radio frequencies that could help unclog the traffic). However, Orange Mali remained silent on the reasons for the high pricing of their Internet package offers. Renaud Gaudin adds:

Avoir des connexions illimités avec des débits abordables, pouvant nous permettre d’exercer notre métier est le but de 100mega Mali.

To have unlimited connections at reasonable speeds and affordable prices so that we could go on working within our chosen profession – this is the aim of 100mega Mali

Not having succeeded thus far in obtaining lower prices for their groups, Jokkolabs and Donilab announced that they will have to shut down their operations. The fight for fair Internet pricing now continues on Malian’s social networks. You can use the #Mali100mega hashtag to join the campaign or to support it. The Internet is vital for Mali’s digital users, for its tech entrepreneurs and for its activists and bloggers who teach and distribute information online.

The Internet in Mali as it is now does not allow many people to carry out their online ventures. It is only thanks to lots of effort and sacrifice that some Malian IT entrepreneurs are able to stay afloat and get things done.

by Joel Gilbourd at June 24, 2015 04:40 PM

MIT Center for Civic Media
Decentralized Networks for Social Movements: AMC 2015 Liveblog

This was liveblogged at the 2015 Allied Media Conference.

Allen Kwabena Frimpong, Black Lives Matter
Tammy Shapiro, Movement Netlab
Arielle Newton, Black Lives Matter

In 2011, Occupy Wall Street held huge demonstrations in New York’s Zuccotti Park and around the world. But within months, many media outlets had proclaimed that the movement had entirely disappeared. But when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, many of the same participants in OWS organized Occupy Sandy to pick up the slack where FEMA fell short. The connections formed by OWS and later tapped to create Occupy Sandy show how decentralized networks can used to quickly organize effective responses.

Tammy likes to say that traditional organizing “takes the temperature” and acts accordingly, while decentralized movements “change the weather.”

Allen introduces some of the properties of “smart” decentralized networks: overlapping clusters, a decentralized core, and a strong periphery. Arielle adds that everyone starts on the periphery, and a big part of the organization’s job is to bring the periphery into the core. She explains that the overlapping clusters are crucial for allowing information to spread and converting weak ties into strong ones. Decentralized networks do have roles and functions, but their “hierarchies” are based on level of commitment.

Tammy adds that decentralized movements often address many issues simultaneously, unlike traditional organizations, which focus on a single issue, sometimes to the detriment of others. Platforms like InterOccupy have been important for enabling decentralized networks, but tools for organizing online networks are still lacking.

The group lists some ingredients of a healthy network. They believe intentional networks have more success because the way a group begins has a big effect on the later culture of the group. To remain healthy, groups need: relationships, infrastructure, network functions, and funding. They list many network functions, such as the “firestarter” who gets the group started and the “DJ” who keeps people excited as time goes on. Decentralized networks are using innovative funding models: rapidly applying small amounts of money, pinpointing major roadblocks, and identifying hubs that can distribute funds usefully.

by elplatt at June 24, 2015 04:21 PM

Global Voices
Hong Kong's Legislature Went Off Script, and the Pro-Beijing Establishment Is Not Happy
An infographic indicating 28 vote against, 8 vote for and 31 absent lawmakers on 18 of June on the election bill. Image from inmediahk.net's Facebook page.

An infographic showing the 28 lawmakers who voted against, eight lawmakers who voted for and 31 absent lawmakers for the 18 June election bill vote. Image from inmediahk.net's Facebook page.

Beijing's plan to bring its version of “democracy” to Hong Kong hit a snag when an electoral reform bill was vetoed on June 18 in the city's legislature — because of its own supporters’ failed walk-out.

A total of 28 legislators voted against the while, while eight voted in favor. Thirty-one pro-establishment lawmakers were absent — they had left the building just before, intending to delay the vote to wait for the arrival of their member Lau Wong-fat.

According to the city's Basic Law, any constitutional reform has to be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers, no matter if they are directly elected by the people or represent special or professional interests (known as functional constituencies). As the majority of pro-establishment legislators failed to cast their vote, even if all 28 pan-democrats voted in favor of the bill, it would still have been vetoed.

The reform proposed allowing the people of Hong Kong, a special administrative region with much autonomy from China, a direct vote for the city's chief executive instead of the current election-by-committee model. But China insisted that all candidates get majority support from a nominating committee stacked with pro-Beijing members before being allowed on the ballot. Discontent over this universal suffrage with a caveat sparked massive protests late last year, called Occupy Central and dubbed in the media the Umbrella Revolution.

The stunning veto was followed by infighting among pro-establishment lawmakers and strongly worded warnings from pro-Beijing media. The 31 lawmakers who walked out one by one shed tears in front of the cameras, apologizing to their supporters for their wrong judgement.

News outlet Wen Hui Bao urged Hong Kongers on popular Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo to kick democrats out of the legislature; otherwise, it warned the principle of “one country, two systems,” which gives Hong Kong its autonomy, could be in jeopardy:

【政改否决后 香港将会是……】未来10年,港府不会重启政改,普选遥遥无期。深圳GDP将超越香港,中央极可能会考虑2047年结束香港高度自治,并入深圳,由中央管辖。 港人唯一可以补救方法,就是“毋忘618‘泛民’抢走我一票”到明年立法会选举,运用手上选票,将泛民议员踢出议会!

After electoral reform vetoed, Hong Kong will become… …: Hong Kong's government will not put forward another political reform proposal in the next 10 years. There is no timetable for universal suffrage. [The neighboring Chinese city] Shenzhen's GDP will surpass Hong Kong, the central government may consider putting an end to Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy by 2047 and merging Hong Kong with Shenzhen, directly under the administration of the central government. The only thing Hong Kong people can do is to remember during the Legislative Council elections next year that [their voting right] was robbed by the pan-democrats on 18 June. Use your votes to kick them out of the council.

The year 2047 marks 50 years since the handover of former British colony Hong Kong to Beijing and the implementation of the city's governing Basic Law, which ensures many freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland. The agreement between the UK and China stated that Hong Kong's way of life should remain unchanged for 50 years; what will happen to Hong Kong afterward is unknown.

Indeed, the 2016 “Legco” elections are the next battlefield for Hong Kong's democracy movement. If the pan-democrats keep their seats in the legislature, it will imply that a critical number of Hong Kongers still hold out hope for a genuine democratic political system.

Judging by the comments in the news thread, many took Wen Hui Bao's statement as a political threat:

难怪香港人抵触情绪这么大!加油挺住!千万别像北京一样,到处都是村逼影响市容!

No wonder Hong Kong people feel so resentful. Add oil. Don't become like Beijing, where village guards bully and pollute the city.

很多人都不知就在这骂[…],这件事香港并没有什么错,这是民主的体现,人家只不过不想把香港变成大陆这样贪污腐化的地方而已

So many people are criticizing [the veto] without knowing what exactly happened. […] Hong Kong has done nothing wrong, the result is a manifestation of democracy. They just want to prevent Hong Kong from becoming like mainland China, full of corruption.

还2047呢,你匪能不能撑到那个时候

Now talking about 2047, I wonder if the thugs will still be alive by then.

文汇报就是香港的环球时报,希望港人不要被其恐吓到。“香港并入深圳”,亏你想得出来。如果这一幕真的发生,那么并钉在历史耻辱柱上的,不会是英国殖民者或者港人,而是某党。就是在你们拥有主权的这个时间段,香港才变成这样的。不要当所有人是傻子!

Wen Hui Bao is like the Global Times in Hong Kong. I hope Hong Kong people won't be threatened. “Hong Kong merging with Shenzhen”, how can you say such a thing? If it really happens, the party will bear the shame, not the British colonizer, nor the Hong Kong people. The changes in Hong Kong take place when it is under China's sovereignty. Don't mess around.

不要把香港同胞想得简单,你用各种威胁试图迫使港人接受伪普选,是不会成功的。看看你们的腔调,无非就是威胁取消香港自治,却不反思失败的原因,不去尊重港人的意愿,不尊重港人治港的承诺,不尊重民意 […]

Don't underestimate the Hong Kong people. You have already tried to threaten them to accept the fake universal suffrage and you failed. Listen to yourself, you use abolishing Hong Kong's autonomy to threaten people without reflecting on the reason behind your own failure — the fact that you don't respect the Hong Kong people's wish, you don't respect your own commitment to letting the Hong Kong people ruling themselves, you don't respect public opinion […]

A number of the pro-establishment lawmakers, including Reginal Ip, have blamed the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, a pro-Beijing political party, for taking the lead in staging the walk-out.

On the other hand, Wu Hon Ching, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conferenceblamed the Hong Kong government for its failure to present a concrete proposal to Beijing after the public consultation period, leaving the steering committee of China's National People's Congress to set up the framework for electoral reform.

As the mechanism of the chief executive election remain unchanged, the issue now at stake is whether current Chief Executive CY Leung will win reelection or another politician will take his place — the pro-Beijing and pro-establishment camps have majority votes in the election committee, so don't expect much diversity of ideas.

2047 is far away. Between now and then, do expect more political drama in Hong Kong.

Follow our in-depth coverage: Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution

by Oiwan Lam at June 24, 2015 03:04 PM

Bolivia Greenlights Controversial Highway, Oil and Gas Extraction in National Parks
Szymon Kochański Follow Los marchistas del TIPNIS llegan a La Paz (19/10/2011)

Protester from Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) arrived to La Paz (19/10/2011). Photo taken from the Fickr account of Szymon Kochanski under Creative Commons license.

This article by Emily Achtenberg was originally published on NACLA's website and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement. 

On May 20, Bolivian President Evo Morales issued Supreme Decree 2366, opening up Bolivia’s national parks—which are protected under the Constitution as ecological reserves—to oil and gas extraction. Just two weeks later, Morales proclaimed that his on-again, off-again plan to build a highway through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory in the Bolivian Amazon will finally be realized.

The coincidence of these announcements was not lost on TIPNIS (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory) road opponents, who have long suspected that the advancement of oil and gas interests is a major impetus behind the road. Within the TIPNIS, four areas covering 30% of the park’s territory are subject to long-standing hydrocarbons concessions. The Securé block is virtually adjacent to the proposed road.

In fact, 11 of Bolivia’s 22 national park reserves are overlapped by existing gas and oil concessions to transnationals like Brazil’s Petrobras, Spain’s Repsol, and France’s Total.  Since the “nationalization” of hydrocarbons in 2006, these companies have operated through joint ventures with YPFB, the state energy company.

Like the TIPNIS, many of these reserves are collectively titled to indigenous groups who have inhabited them for centuries, relying on their ancestral lands for subsistence. In some cases, hydrocarbons concessions cover 70-90% of the park’s territory. These parks could become virtually extinct once the contracts are operational.

While the land area conceded to gas and oil companies in Bolivia has vastly expanded under Morales—up from 7.2 million acres in 2007 to 59.3 million in 2012—activity in the national parks has been largely paralyzed due to the lack of a coherent regulatory framework for extraction—until now. Under the new Supreme Decree, permits for hydrocarbons extraction can be granted under existing or new contracts, as long as the company promises to mitigate any adverse environmental impacts, and contributes 1% of its investment towards poverty reduction and economic development in the affected area.

Critics say these measures won’t begin to compensate for the true costs of hydrocarbons exploitation, especially since the environmental and parks agencies responsible for administering them are strongly biased towards extraction. According to JorgeCampanini of the non-profit research organization CEDIB, Supreme Decree 2366 will be a “terminal sentence” for protected areas already under assault from illegal mining, deforestation, and land invasions by coca-growers.

Morales’s twin announcements highlight a central challenge and contradiction for the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) government, which has relied heavily on oil and gas extraction to finance its successful redistributive programs. This strategy has increasingly put Morales at odds with indigenous, environmental, and other civil society organizations who argue that extractivism destroys nature and communities, perpetuates dependence on transnationals, and obscures the need to develop a sustainable economic model for the future.

In contrast, the MAS government defends its extractivist and developmentalist policies as a necessary means to alleviate poverty in the present, and to create the resources for a post-extractive economy that will transition towards “communitarian socialism.” Political scientist George Gray Molina has noted that the Bolivian government’s effective take of hydrocarbons taxes and royalties, at 72%, is among the highest in Latin America. [1]

These contrasting visions crystallized in 2011-12 around the TIPNIS controversy, the most divisive conflict of Morales’s nine-year tenure. The protracted dispute ruptured the alliance of indigenous, campesino, and urban social movements that originally brought Morales to power in 2005.

Morales put the road on hold ahead of the 2014 presidential election, in favor of a well-timed government campaign to eliminate extreme poverty in the TIPNIS. He also publicly expressed regrets about the government’s flawed community consultation process. Still, he has consistently defended the road’s geopolitical importance in promoting territorial integration and regional development. Few were surprised by the project’s resurrection, especially since Morales contracted with a state company to begin construction on the initial road segment leading up to the park in 2012, with government funds.

Morales’s decision to expand the hydrocarbons frontier into Bolivia’s national parks was also not unexpected. Vice-president Alvaro García Linera offered a preview in May 2013, invoking the theme of resource nationalism to justify the policy as an “anti-imperialist strategy.” Past neoliberal governments, he argued, protected these reserves to safeguard their resources for the future benefit of foreign investors, ensuring that Bolivia would remain in a state of underdevelopment.

Since then, the government has granted new incentives for oil and gas exploration throughout Bolivia, and at least 5 new concessions in the national parks are teed up for approval. Another Supreme Decree (DS 2298), issued last March, provides for a truncated, government-dominated consultation process in conjunction with proposed hydrocarbons activities, in lieu of one that seeks the “free, prior and informed consent” of affected communities, according to their norms and procedures, as required by the Bolivian Constitution and by international accords to which Bolivia subscribes. (A multi-year effort to develop a general consulta law has apparently been abandoned, due to the government’s inability to reach consensus with indigenous and campesino organizations.)

Morales’s decision to move forward now on both the TIPNIS and hydrocarbons fronts reflects a confluence of several factors. Economically, the dramatic decline in international oil prices (which also lowers the market price of Bolivia’s gas), along with the recently documented drop in the level of Bolivia’s proven gas reserves, has created a sense of urgency to expand the hydrocarbons frontier.

With 80% of Bolivia’s gas currently exported to Brazil and Argentina, there is also a long-postponed need to expand the supply of gas for domestic uses, including industrialization. And in his recent presidential campaign, Morales promoted the vision of Bolivia as a regional energy power, promising to develop new markets for gas exports.

Politically, Morales’s landslide victory last October, with 61% of the popular vote and wins in eight of Bolivia’s nine departments, was based on a newly configured alliance of rural peasants, small producers and merchants, an emerging urban indigenous entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, and elements of conservative elite sectors who have been integrated into the MAS. This coalition, which has reshaped Bolivia’s political landscape, has substantially benefited from Bolivia’s gas-fueled prosperity and provides a broad mandate for Morales’s neo-developmentalist and extractivist policies.

As for the TIPNIS, the MAS party’s first-ever triumph in the Beni department’s gubernatorial elections—albeit after the MAS-controlled electoral commission decertified the popular rival opposition party nine days before the vote—has created a newly favorable local political climate for constructing the Beni: Cochabamba road. And the MAS party’s two-thirds control of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly will assure the votes needed to repeal the inconvenient 2011 law protecting the TIPNIS as an “untouchable” zone. While the road’s design and financing sources have yet to be determined, Morales has indicated that the Binational Social Engineering Corps, a joint venture between the Bolivian and Venezuelan military, is prepared to start construction.

Just how much push-back there will be against these initiatives remains to be seen. Groups opposed to the prevailing MAS policies have been marginalized, intervened, divided, deprived of resources, and badly weakened by the Morales government in the wake of the TIPNIS conflict. And, as anthropologist Bret Gustafson has noted, an anti-extractivist position is difficult to maintain in a country where gas is viewed primarily through the lens of resource nationalism, and as a ticket to economic prosperity.

Still, TIPNIS leader Fernando Vargas, former presidential candidate for Bolivia’s Green Party, and Adolfo Chávez, leader of the lowland indigenous federation CIDOB, have announced plans for a legal challenge to Supreme Decree 2366, an international mobilization in defense of Bolivia’s national parks, and a hoped-for audience with the Pope when he visits Bolivia in July. They will need all the help they can get.

[1] George Gray Molina, presentation at Latin American Studies Association conference, Washington DC, June 1, 2013.


Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments.

by NACLA at June 24, 2015 01:45 PM

Global Voices Advocacy
Arrested for Criticizing a Former Prime Minister, Singaporean Teen Blogger Amos Yee is Now Being Evaluated for Autism
From the Facebook page of Amos Yee

From the Facebook page of Amos Yee

A 16-year-old Singaporean video blogger named Amos Yee was arrested in March 2015 after he uploaded a YouTube video and a blog article criticizing Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore.

During his public hearing in May 2015, the judge ruled that Yee be remanded for three weeks to assess his mental and physical suitability for reformative training. On June 23 the court found Yee mentally and physically fit to undergo reformative training. In addition, a psychiatric assessment suggested that Yee may be suffering from autism spectrum disorder, and the judge ruled that Yee to be remanded for another two weeks to assess his suitability for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO). However, some people have serious concerns about the MTO being applied to people with mental illness, arguing that it can be disruptive to a person's progress.

Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests. Although there is no proven cure yet for autism, some medical care may help reduce their symptoms. For example, some medications are approved by US Food and Drug Administration to reduce irritability in children with autism. If the court decides that Yee must undergo MTO, it is not known what kind of ‘treatment’ the teen will receive.

Yee’s father said that Yee had not been assessed for autism. Online commenters suggested that Yee might be autistic earlier this year, though these comments were based chiefly on local media reports about Yee, rather than actual interactions with the teen.

For example, Starboard analyzed the autistic traits observed in Yee’s behaviors in an online forum:

His lack of social skills is demonstrated by releasing the video at the time other people are mourning the passing of a former prime minister. He lacks empathy.

His repetitive behaviour of walking and eating his banana [are] another indicator.

His lack of social development is clearly seen when he was slapped. A normal person would have looked at the assailant, but he just nurse his pain and walks away without making eye contact. All three symptoms taken together shows sign of autism.

These and other similar comments reflected common stigmas surrounding autism and other forms of mental illness in Singapore.

Others see his behavior as simply that of an overzealous teenager. Writer Alfian Sa’at wrote an article about having supper with Yee and his family:

Amos Yee, as a teenager, is as normal as they come. They chafe at authority, will always look for wriggle room and bargaining leverage, have a sharp instinct for pointing out adult contradictions and hypocrisies.

Instead of discussing Yee's behavior, Alfian Sa’at suggested that the reaction of the Singapore government is the real problem at hand:

When a brat acts up—and of course Amos can be taunting and bratty—the best thing that you can do is to ignore him and let him exhaust himself.

But no, some people decided to get all sanctimonious[…] the people who filed those police reports, the 8 policemen who arrested Amos at his house, the AGC, the man who smacked Amos[…]—all of you look so violent, hysterical, foolish and feeble. In trying to solve a ‘problem’ like Amos Yee you've only ended up displaying your own problems and neuroses–your pettiness, your cruelty, your beastliness, your insecurity–in all their garish detail.

Related GV articles:

Singaporean teenager arrested for making videos deemed offensive

Singaporean teenager video blogger sent to rehabilitation for offensive youtube video

by Global Voices Advocacy at June 24, 2015 01:36 PM

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