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Citizen media stories from around the world
Updated: 10 months 1 week ago

Is Mozambique trying to expel a foreign journalist?

Fri, 02/12/2021 - 17:11

Tom Bower is founder of the news website Zitamar News

Tom Bowker speaks with South Africa's SABC news in December 2020. Image: YouTube screenshot from SABC's channel.

British journalist Tom Bowker was verbally ordered to leave Mozambique at the end of January, one month after authorities revoked his foreign correspondent accreditation.

Bowker is the founder of the news website Zitamar News, which reports Mozambican politics and economics in English. In recent years, the website has been praised for its coverage of the armed conflict in the Cabo Delgado province through the Cabo Ligado project.

According to the newsletter of veteran Mozambique chronicler Joseph Hanlon, Bowker was summoned to immigration services on 25 January, where he was told, in the presence of his lawyer, to leave the country within five days.

On February 3, however, Bowker was still in Mozambique. According to Evidências news site, which says it has briefly spoken with the journalist, the deportation order was “merely verbal” and his residence permit is still valid.

Bowker has lived in Mozambique with his son and wife since 2014.

According to a note by Mozambique's Information Bureau (GABINFO), the government authority in charge of registering journalists, Bowker's accreditation was revoked because he was “unable to provide documents proving” Zitamar News’ registration abroad.

The note was reproduced by Evidências:

Diferentemente de outras agências noticiosas, que têm sede num determinado país e correspondentes em vários países do mundo, incluindo Moçambique, a Zitamar News tinha como sede o nosso país e vinha produzindo e editando os seus conteúdos informativos a partir de Maputo, o que contraria o espírito da Lei na qual assenta a qualidade correspondente de um órgão de comunicação social estrangeiro.

Diante dessas dúvidas, Bowker, quando solicitado, não conseguiu provar documentalmente a ligação entre a Zitamar News e a Zitamar LP (esta última empresa encontra-se registada na Inglaterra e desenvolve actividades de prestação de serviços, incluindo de informação), embora tenha sido por ele identificada como sendo a empresa proprietária da Zitamar News, na base da qual lhe fora atribuída a acreditação.

Perante as irregularidades verificadas, o GABINFO solicitou a devolução do cartão de acreditação como jornalista estrangeiro emitido a favor do senhor Thomas Andrew Bowker, com as suas devidas consequências legais.

Unlike other news agencies, which are based in a particular country and maintain correspondents in several other countries around the world, including Mozambique, Zitamar News was based in our country and was producing and editing news out of Maputo, which contradicts the spirit of the Law defining the quality of correspondent of foreign media outlets.

In light of this context, Bowker, when requested, was unable to provide documents proving the connection between Zitamar News and Zitamar LP (the latter a company registered in the United Kingdom that provides services, among them information services), identified by him as the parent company of Zitamar News and on for which the accreditation was granted.

In view of these irregularities, GABINFO has requested the rescindment of Mr. Thomas Andrew Bowker's accreditation card as a foreign journalist, with all the due legal consequences.

MISA-Mozambique, a press freedom advocacy group, issued a statement condemning the authorities’ act:

O MISA-Moçambique manifesta sua profunda preocupação e repúdio perante a decisão do Governo de expulsar o jornalista e editor.

De particular preocupação está o facto de a decisão ter sido tomada de forma arbitrária, sem o seguimento dos procedimentos legais que, quanto ao MISA, eram pertinentes para este caso, como, por exemplo, a não fundamentação da decisão, assim como a sua transmissão por via oral, sem qualquer documento oficial escrito.

Deixa transparecer que se esteja a usar as instituições do Estado para a movimentação de expedientes políticos de manifesta ilegalidade.

MISA-Mozambique expresses its deep concern with and objection to the government's decision to expel the journalist and editor.

Of particular concern is the fact that the decision was made arbitrarily, without following the legal procedures that, for MISA, were relevant in this case. The decision had no legal basis and it was communicated verbally, without any official written document.

It appears that the state institutions are being used for political demands.

Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei formally arrested for alleged spying in China

Fri, 02/12/2021 - 07:39

Tensions between Australia and China continue to intensify

Screenshot from ABC TV 7.30 video: Cheng Lei's family speaks out for the first time since her detention in China on February 9, 2021

Australian journalist and television presenter Cheng Lei has been formally arrested and accused of unlawfully supplying or intending to supply state secrets or intelligence overseas, according to Chinese authorities.

Cheng, who was the anchor for a business program on state television’s China Global Television Network (CGTN), was detained in August 2020. The Chinese government was called out at the time for so-called “hostage diplomacy.”

Members of her family spoke out on the ABC (Australia) 7.30 current affairs program.

Journalists working in China for foreign media have faced numerous difficulties recently. Australian journalist Bill Birtles, the 7.30 reporter for this story, was the ABC Beijing correspondent before making a rushed exit home in September 2020. He explained some of the background during the 7.30 segment:

Cheng Lei was taken away six weeks after ASIO [Australian security] raided the homes of four Chinese state media journalists in Sydney.

The anti-foreign interference investigation prompted Beijing to target Australian journalists in China but it's not clear if Cheng's arrest is related to the tense diplomatic relationship, because four months after she was taken away, her close friend, Haze Fan, a Chinese journalist working for American media, was also detained on national security grounds.

There is a much broader context of tensions between Australia and China involving trade, security and diplomacy.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has dismissed claims by China that Australia is trying to interfere in their judicial system. Payne responded that Cheng Lei “deserves the basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and human treatment to be met in accordance with international norms.”

Another prominent case involves the continuing detention by Chinese authorities of writer and popular online commentator, Chinese-Australian Yang Hengjun, since January 2019. The latest news concerning Cheng Lei has been greeted online in Australia with anger and frustration. Laoch’s tweet captured the growing reaction “Down Under” against the Chinese Communist Party:

Gotta love the #CCP. Telling us to stop interfering with our citizens.

The tide will turn

China urges Australia to ‘stop interfering’ following formal arrest of Australian journalist Cheng Lei via @SBSNews

— Laoch (@Laoch16) February 8, 2021

Brisbane Twitter user Bob Bruce raised the possibility that Cheng Lei may have been involved in breaches of Chinese national security:

Australia has a habit of spying on its neighbours but if Cheng Lei was recruited by us we are responsible.

— Bob Bruce (@Qskeptic) February 10, 2021

Paul Barrett, former Secretary of Australian Departments of Defence and Primary Industries & Energy, drew parallels with the way that imprisoned Aussie journalist, Julian Assange, has been treated by his government:

This morning on @RNBreakfast Senator Payne said (re Cheng Lei) Australia would always stand up for the rights of its citizens for due legal process, fair trial, humane treatment blah blah.

Someone should tell her about Julian #Assange.

— Paul Barratt (@phbarratt) February 8, 2021

Australian journalist Peter Greste, who spent 440 days in jail in Egypt, has continued his strong support for Cheng Lei. In a statement for the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, he is quoted as saying that:

…Chinese authorities have had ample time to gather evidence, and unless they are willing to show it, they should release Cheng immediately.

China’s record on press freedom is already deeply troubling. In the absence of evidence, Cheng’s arrest only adds to the impression that Beijing does not care about the freedom of the press. Her case stands as a clear warning to other journalists to support the government or risk being imprisoned too.

Several news stories were posted to Reddit, where there was lively discussion.

Defamedprawn raised an issue that many others agreed with:

I don't mean to be harsh, but the lady is an anchor [for] CGTN, which is very much an arm of the regime. For instance, they're notorious for televising forced confessions and pretending they're interviews.

So should I feel sympathy for this person?

Catalyst1945 showed cynicism about whether the Australian government would take any real action:

Can’t wait for our spineless prime minister to do nothing.

Given the nature of Chinese trials, it is possible that we may never know what motivated her detention:

After surviving almost six months in a secret detention facility, experts fear Australian journalist Cheng Lei’s journey through China's opaque legal system is only just beginning.

— SBS News (@SBSNews) February 10, 2021

Meanwhile, Australia faces claims of hypocrisy over lack of judicial transparency. Ann raised the contentious issue of its own secret trials:

Australia's secret trials [Witness K, his lawyer, Witness J etc] do not to help obtain the release of women like #ChengLei

— Ann (@rosmci) February 8, 2021

Security concerns and legal ambiguities threaten the future of Ukraine's ‘State in a Smartphone’

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 17:42

Data security concerns abound over the country’s digital governance reform

The “state in a smartphone” project is one of the most ambitious developments of the current Ukrainian government. Photo by JESHOOTS-com on Pixabay.

One year ago, the Ukrainian government released the revolutionary mobile application Diia (Ukrainian for “action”), a cornerstone of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s campaign promise of making public services convenient and easily accessible via the internet.

The Diia mobile app — and its accompanying online e-services portal — allows citizens to digitize their national ID and biometric passport, personal tax number, student ID, and more, and the digital documents wield the same legal power as the original paper ones. Within a year, Ukraine became the fourth European country to have a digital driver’s license and the first country in the world to have a digital passport.

However, a massive data leak last year has raised concerns about the level of protection around users’ personal information. In May 2020, activists discovered about 900 GB of citizens’ personal data being traded by an anonymous chatbot on the popular messaging platform Telegram. The dataset included passport numbers, personal tax numbers, residence information, driver’s licenses, social media passwords, and even bank details of millions of Ukrainians.

Some public officials accused Diia of leaking data from government registries, while security experts recalled that the Ministry of Digital Transformation had yet to release any security documentation for the app. While journalists and researchers were able to confirm that part of the datasets had come from Ukrainian government registries, no evidence implicating Diia directly has been found.

On the anniversary of its launch, Diia app boasts over 6 million users. At the same time, IT specialists and digital rights defenders continue to call on the government to consider all of the risks that e-government and digital identification technology carry, as these may potentially undermine the public's trust.

Digitizing the nation

While the idea of digitizing public services is not new to Ukraine, Zelensky's is the first administration that has made e-governance a top priority or established a separate ministry entirely dedicated to it — the Ministry of Digital Transformation, headed by Mykhailo Fedorov.

Originally presented in the spring of 2019, the ambitious “State in a Smartphone” program envisioned moving all public services online and providing the majority of the citizens with a means of digital identification. It was later expanded to include goals such as increasing people's digital literacy, expanding internet infrastructure, and creating favorable conditions for the development of the information technology (IT) industry.

If implemented successfully, the program could help combat corruption by minimizing the interference and arbitrary decisions of public officials, while significantly reducing state bureaucracy.

In addition, Minister Fedorov has proudly noted that not a single hryvnya from the state budget had been spent on the development of the Diia app — its development team comprised 35 volunteers from the well-known software engineering company EPAM Systems. They later transferred the completed product and relevant technical know-how to the state.

How secure are citizens’ data in Ukraine?

Initially, the ministry announced that Diia used BankID technology from several leading Ukrainian banks for user authorization, and that it utilized a secure cloud server for the transfer of encrypted data.

Still, few disclosures were made about the security of citizens’ personal data on the app, and security specialists cautiously noted that not enough was known about Diia's security testing.

No independent security audit seemed to have been performed, for example — hardly acceptable for technology to which millions of citizens would be entrusting their personal information. In fact, the app's first public bug bounty program was not launched until December 2020.

The leaks have made clear that the standard of data security at the state level in Ukraine remains inadequate — including a weak legal data protection regime, poor enforcement, and the lack of appropriate protection measures within state institutions themselves. Synchronization of data from various government registries into one portal or app is therefore likely to result in additional vulnerabilities to external attacks.

Moreover, in December 2019, the government granted the Ministry of Internal Affairs the power to verify and aggregate citizens’ data from multiple state registries, providing the law enforcement body with access to data from at least five government registries, including those that handle civil, tax, social security, healthcare and voter information. Alarmingly, the data sharing was to be carried out as a part of an “experimental” process that lacked comprehensive legal safeguards ensuring citizens’ right to privacy.

According to an analysis by digital rights advocates from Digital Security Lab, as of August 2020, the interior ministry had not yet developed a methodology for such verification, but this has not prevented it from gaining access to the vast trove of citizens’ personal data.

Vita Volodovska, a lawyer with Digital Security Lab, concluded:

Якщо у випадку із цифровими відображеннями документів у смартфоні, “експериментальний” доступ до інформації, здійснюється хоч і без повної відповідності принципу правової визначеності, але лише за згодою користувачів, то передача масивів персональних даних з державних реєстрів до МВС в рамках іншого експерименту, без згоди громадян та будь-якого незалежного контролю, суперечить вимогам чинного законодавства та Конституції України.

Whereas in the case of digital display of documents in smartphones, ‘experimental’ access to information is carried out with the consent of users, albeit without full compliance with the principle of legal certainty, the transfer of personal data from state registries to the interior ministry in another experiment, with neither the consent of citizens nor any independent control, contradicts the requirements of current legislation and the Constitution of Ukraine.

The app's future will likely depend on the state's ability to ensure that citizens’ data are digitized in accordance with the highest standards of privacy, security, and human rights.

Saudi court reduces sentence of prominent doctor held since 2017

Tue, 02/09/2021 - 19:08

Saudi-US Walid Fitaihi was penalized for his opinions

Image of prominent TV presenter and physician Dr. Walid Fitaihi, from his own Facebook account.

After three years of incarceration, travel bans, and torture, prominent U.S.-Saudi physician and TV presenter Dr. Walid Fitaihi’s case has recently reached a somewhat happy ending, in what is perceived as the result of changing winds in Washington that resulted in Riyadh losing a strong ally in the White House. 

In January, a Saudi appeals court nearly halved an initial sentence of six years which the Harvard-educated physician was handed in December on several charges, including “breaking allegiance with the ruler by sympathizing with a terrorist organization,” “offending other countries and their leaders,” and “obtaining a foreign [U.S.] nationality without prior permission from Saudi authorities”.

The court also suspended the remainder of his sentence, Reuters reported, which means he won’t serve more jail time. A six-year travel ban which was ordered against Dr. Fitaihi in December was also narrowed down to 38 months.

The famous motivational speaker was arrested following comments he's made on Twitter against other Arab states and their leaders.

Fitaihi was detained in November 2017 in an anti-corruption spree of arrests ordered by Saudi Prince Mohamed bin Salman, which included members of the ruling family and businessmen and drew global condemnation. The physician was held for 21 months without trial or charges and was tortured. Seven members of his family were banned from traveling in the meantime.

The breakthrough in his case came in tandem with two other U.S. nationals whose cases witnessed sudden and swift resolutions.

On Thursday, the State Department said the kingdom had conditionally released two dual Saudi-U.S. citizens detained in a crackdown on civil society there, and reduced a sentence for a third, Dr. Walid Fitaihi, convicted of “disobedience” to the government.

— Ellen Knickmeyer (@EllenKnickmeyer) February 5, 2021

Days after the appeals court issued its reduced sentence, Dr. Walid Fitaihi’s medical centre in Saudi received a prestigious award, triggering mockery and confused reactions on social media.

Ma’n Asharif, a Saudi with over 6,400 followers, wrote: 

قصة #وليد_فتيحي :
-نوفمبر 2017: تم اعتقاله وتعذيبه لقرابة 21 شهر
(خلال هذه الفترة تم نشر مقاطع تخوينية عديدة ضده من الوطنجية)
-اغسطس 2019: تم الإفراج عنه مؤقتاً والمحاكمة مستمرة
– 9 ديسمبر 2020 : حكم بالسجن 6 سنوات
– 18 يناير 2021 : الغاء الحكم و التكريم بجائزة

عش رجبا ترى عجبا

— معن الشريف (موشو) Mosho (@Mosho_NZ) January 18, 2021

- November 2017: He was arrested and tortured for nearly 21 months

- August 2019: He was temporarily released, and the trial continues

- December 9, 2020: Sentenced to 6 years in prison

- January 18, 2021: Decision cancellation and he is getting an award

Live longer and you witness wonders.

Another Saudi, Omar Ben Abd Al Aziz reacted humorously :

انا اخاف انام واصحى القى الدكتور فتيحي وزير الصحة .. على مهلك ياحكومة بليز

— عمر بن عبدالعزيز Omar Abdulaziz (@oamaz7) January 18, 2021 

I am afraid to sleep and then wake up. Then there is Dr. Fitaihi, who became Minister of Health… O’ Government, do take it easy, please!

In recent months, particularly in the lead up to and following the election of Joe Biden as U.S.’ president, several cases of Saudi detainees that have drawn wide global sympathy, but were overlooked by the Trump administration, have seen positive developments.

Women's rights activist Loujain Al Hathloul is due to be released in March after a court in December sentenced her to nearly six years in jail, down from the maximum jail term of 20 years which the public prosecutor had demanded. Hathloul has already served the majority of her term in pre-trial detention.

More recently, three members of the Shia community who were detained as minors and were initially sentenced to death had had the penalty commuted on February 7.

Many other detainees, imprisoned for voicing opinions conflicting with Saudi leadership, remain behind bars, including distinguished cleric Salman al-Odah, Abd Al Aziz At Tarifi, Awad al Qarni, Omar Al Muqbil, among others.

The string of positive developments has been linked to the new U.S. administration, which has vowed to reassess its ties with autocratic regimes in the region, having already cut off support and weapons sales to the oil-rich kingdom over its gory war in Yemen that resulted in a humanitarian crisis. 

Several observers have opined that the speedy legal endings of these cases of interest to Washington are to avoid them being used as “bargaining tools” as ties between the two historic allies are seen to dampen.

Lost and found: The struggle to preserve Nepal's linguistic heritage

Tue, 02/09/2021 - 15:39

Of 129 spoken languages identified in 2019, at least 24 are endangered

Image by Monika Deupala. Via Nepali Times. Used with permission.

This article by Alisha Sijapati was originally published in Nepali Times and an edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

At last count, in 2019, Nepal had 129 spoken languages, but even as new ones are identified, others are becoming extinct.

At least 24 of the languages and dialects in Nepal have become “endangered,” and the next three ones on the verge of disappearing are Dura, Kusunda, and Tillung, each of which has only one speaker left.

“It will not surprise me if these three languages will be the next to go. With no one left to speak, we will not be able to save them,” says Lok Bahadur Lopchan of the Language Commission of Nepal, which is entrusted with preserving Nepal’s linguistic diversity.

If a language is spoken by fewer than 1,000 people, it is categorised as “endangered.” Lopchan predicts that over 37 more languages spoken in Nepal are in that category and likely to disappear within the next 10 years.

According to the Language Commission of Nepal‘s 2019 annual report, the languages most commonly spoken in the country are Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Nepal Bhasa, Bajjika, Magar, Doteli and Urdu, in that order.

But just as there are languages disappearing, new ones that had never been recognised are being found in far-flung parts of the country, including Rana Tharu which is spoken in the western Tarai, Narphu in a remote valley in Manang, Tsum in the Tsum Valley of Upper Gorkha, Nubri Larke in the Manaslu region, Poike and Syarke.

Child reading Newar folk story, “Dhaplaan Khyaa,” by Durgalal Shrestha. Photo: Ashish Shakya via Nepali Times. Used with permission.

“It is fortunate that these languages have been identified, but it is unfortunate they are spoken by very few people, and could very soon die out,” says Lopchan, who adds that every two weeks, an indigenous language goes extinct somewhere in the world.

Even those that are among the top 10 most spoken in Nepal are losing their first-language status. Parents insist on proficiency in Nepali or English in school to ensure good job prospects for their children. And ever since King Mahendra’s reign, the state has pushed Nepali as the lingua franca to the detriment of other national languages.

Supral Raj Joshi, 29, is a voice actor and grew up speaking Nepal Bhasa (Newar language) at home. But from primary school onwards, it was Nepali and English only in class, and he soon forgot his mother tongue. Speaking Nepali with his family, it suddenly struck him how much of his culture he had lost with the language.

“The loss of Nepal’s languages is the result of deliberate state policy; our linguistic heritage was swept away to promote a national character,” says Joshi.

King Mahendra instituted measures to create a unified Nepali identity through dress, language, and even dismantled democracy and instituted the partyless Panchayat system that he said: “suited the Nepali soil.”

Experts say that the decision to enforce the idea of nationalism through one language restricted indigenous communities from speaking their ancestral tongue.

Maithili script. Image via Nepali Times. Used with permission.

“The dominant class made its language the national language, and in doing so, other languages suffered collateral damage,” says Rajendra Dahal, Editor of Shikshak magazine. “The end of a language is not just a loss for a community, but for the country and the world.”

At the Language Commission of Nepal, there is a sense of urgency to save the three languages that each have only one speaker left. It has partnered with 45-year-old Kamala Kusunda, the only living person in the world who speaks Kusunda. She now runs a small private school in Dang to teach the language to over 20 students.

“If I die, then my mother language dies with me too. I had to revive this language for its value to our people, and the hope of keeping our ancestral language alive,” Kamal Kusunda told Nepali Times over the phone.

Read More: Hope for dying Nepali language wanes as one of the last fluent speakers passes away at 85

Muktinath Ghimire in Lamjung has a similar task. As the only remaining speaker of Dura, he is preparing to start a school to teach the language to others in the community. “We can’t let this language die,” he says.

Other languages like Tsum, more recently identified as distinct dialects, were already endangered by the time they were identified as being unique.

“Older people in Tsum Valley exclusively speak Tsum, but the younger generation is losing the language,” says Wangchuk Rapten Lama, a fluent Tsum speaker himself who is working to expand its use by introducing the language to children through cultural activities.

Canada-based linguistic anthropologist Mark Turin worked with the Thangmi in Dolakha District and Sindhupalchok District to document their endangered language.

“To speak of linguists saving languages is just as ludicrous as suggesting that Apps and digital technologies save the language,” he says. “Neither is true, and field linguistics is still dominated by quite colonial and extractivist models of knowledge production.”

He says speakers of indigenous languages like the Thangmi deserve recognition as they work tirelessly to reclaim, rejuvenate and revive their ancestral languages, often in the face of considerable opposition.

After Nepal went into the federal mode, it was expected that schools across the country would teach regional languages. Article 31 of the Constitution says: ‘Every Nepali community living in Nepal shall have the right to acquire education in their mother tongue up to the secondary level, and the right to open and run schools and educational institutions as provided for by law.’

The Curriculum Development Centre along with rural municipalities introduced a “local curriculum” bearing 100 points. While some schools offer mother tongues as an option, a majority choose the “local curriculum.”

In October 2020, Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya made it mandatory for schools to teach Nepal Bhasa from Grade 1-8. But there was a mixed reaction from parents, with many feeling it would burden the students and their Nepali and English would suffer.

Languages stop evolving once people stop conversing in them. Ancestral languages are also needed to root people in their heritage and give a distinct identity. This is becoming more and more difficult all over the world with globalisation and the internet.

“My little children only speak English,” says Saraswati Lama who is married to a Rai, and works for a non-profit in Kathmandu. “My daughter learned it from YouTube and she taught it to her younger brother.” Neither Lama, nor her husband speak their own mother tongues and use Nepali to speak with one another.

But these days, it is in the Nepali diaspora that the country’s linguistic heritage seems to be valued more. Sujan Shrestha was born in Kathmandu but moved to the US while he was in high school. Now a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, he says his wife and children only speak English and Nepal Bhasa, and no Nepali.

“Nepal Bhasa gives the kids an identity, and connects them to the extended family, especially their grandparents. It is about teaching our kids cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness towards other cultures and people.”

Join us LIVE on January 29 for ‘The Milk Tea Alliance: Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong's unified fight for democracy’

Sat, 01/23/2021 - 22:04

The session will be live-streamed on Facebook Live, YouTube, and Twitch.

Join Global Voices on January 29 at 1pm UTC/GMT for a new episode in our GV Insights series of virtual conversations: “Milk Tea Alliance: Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong’s unified fight for democracy”—a lively discussion about the “Milk Tea Alliance” and the impact of this transnational youth protest movement in East Asia and beyond, with experts from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand, as well as with members of the Global Voices community.

The session will be live-streamed on Facebook Live, YouTube, and Twitch.

The “Milk Tea Alliance” is a netizen-powered initiative that mobilized young internet users and activists in Thailand, Taiwan, and Hong Kong in 2020. It takes its name from a popular drink sold on the street and in cafes in the region. The movement initially emerged in Thailand in defense of Thai social media influencers who were targeted by patriotic trolls in mainland China. Later, it saw Twitter users from Hong Kong and Taiwan expressing solidarity with Thais who were pushing back against Chinese trolls. Eventually, the informal network became a platform in the campaign for democratic reforms, while highlighting the aggression of the Chinese government and its supporters.

The webinar provides an opportunity to examine the origins of the Milk Tea Alliance; its spread and impact in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; the response in mainland China; media coverage of the campaign; and its far-reaching consequences in other parts of Asia as well as its prospects in 2021 given that February will mark the first anniversary of the youth-led movement in Thailand, while crackdown intensifies in Hong-Kong and threats are made by Beijing-supporters against Taiwanese activists.

See Why are young people protesting in Thailand, a compilation of Global Voices’ extensive coverage of protests inspired by the Milk Tea Alliance in Thailand in 2020. 

To review and explain the events of the past year and discuss the future of the movement, we have invited the following panelists, who represent independent media outlets in Asia which were among the first to feature the Alliance and which and closely monitored its spread across the region.: 

  • Oiwan Lam, Global Voices’ regional editor for Northeast Asia. Lam is a media activist based in Hong Kong where she has founded a number of citizen media initiatives, including and She also teaches a MA course on New Media and Society under the Global Communications Program in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  • Darika Bamrungchok, a Thai journalist and member of the EngageMedia platform, and also a contributor to Global Voices.
  • Anna Lawattanatrakul, the English-language assistant editor of the Bangkok-based publication Prachatai, which is also a Global Voices media partner.
  • Brian Hioe, the founding editor of the Taiwan-based New Bloom magazine, which covers Taiwan and the Asia Pacific region in English.

The discussion will be moderated by Mong Palatino, Global Voices’ Southeast Asia and Oceania regional editor, who has also covered the events.

The webinar is free and open to the public and will be live-streamed on Facebook Live, YouTube, and Twitch. Viewers will have the opportunity to comment and pose questions to the speakers. The session will be conducted in English.

We look forward to having you join us on Friday, January 29 at 1pm GMT (click here to convert to your local time zone)!

Chinese-Australian cartoonist Badiucao walks a fine line to avoid being politically hijacked

Sat, 01/23/2021 - 18:33

Image by Chinese-Australian cartoonist Badiucao alluding to the fact that several companies, including Muji, are believed to purchase cotton harvested by ethnic Uyghur prisoners in Xinjiang. Image used with permission.

Being in the middle of two countries currently engaged in one of their worst rows in years is a difficult space to navigate, even more so if one is an outspoken visual artist. This is precisely the case of Badiucao, a Chinese-Australian cartoonist known for his stand on human rights, freedom of expression and fight against racism who, even while being targeted by Beijing supporters, finds himself increasingly isolated and alienated by all sides in Australia.

Born in mainland China, Badiucao sought political asylum in Australia where he is now a citizen. His art seeks to act as a voice of reason, denounce political instrumentalization and support human rights globally.

A turning point in bilateral relations between Australia and China came in 2020, significantly worsened by a series of economic, political and ideological disputes that still remain unsolved. Until last year, both countries enjoyed an economic honeymoon: in 2014, Canberra and Beijing announced their relationship to be a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. By the time they reached the peak of their economic integration in 2019, China had absorbed over a quarter of Australia's trade, and in that year alone, 1.4 million Chinese tourists had visited Australia.

By 2020, the partnership deteriorated as Australia raised serious concerns about issues of human rights and democracy in the context of the many Chinese-Australian citizens, Hong Kong and pro-Taiwan students that were targeted and sometimes attacked by pro-Beijing supporters in Australia. Beijing rejected the criticism and retaliated by imposing a series of bans on key Australian imports. The situation escalated towards the end of 2020 when China decided to stop purchasing key commodities, such as coal, from Australia — a ban that possibly caused power shortages for millions of Chinese.

In an interview by phone with Global Voices, Badiucao suggested that the diplomatic fall-out should not have come as a total surprise:

I think the problem has been present for a very long time, because it was never mutually beneficial. China sees Australia as a ground for infiltration, from education to politics to media. For such a long time, the Australian government was short-sighted about this relationship, it only saw the economic benefit, but [not] much beyond. 

The COVID-19 pandemic did not help matters. Many of the estimated 260,000 Chinese students who were in Australia in 2019 were prevented from returning, and Canberra accused Beijing of a lack of transparency in its management of the pandemic. The impasse has damaged both sides: society and government bodies have engaged in anti-China or anti-Australia movements, some of them violently racist.

Wine label designed by Badiucao calling for other countries to buy Australian wine after China banned its imports. Image used with permission.

To explain the crisis, Badiucao points to a fundamental difference in values and tolerance for criticism between the countries:

Australia has realized that this toxic relationship has to end and that basic values, such as freedom and democracy, can no longer be overlooked. Canberra wants to make clear [that] the relationship must be mutually beneficial, and that Beijing needs to know the difference in their value systems. However, China is not used to any kind of criticism of its government, and responds in an outrageous manner, particularly under Xi Jinping's strategy of wolf warrior diplomacy. 

The cartoonist believes the crisis is a healthy eye-opener not only for Australia, but for the rest of the world, when determining whether to depend economically on China:

I think that because of the geographic locations of China and Australia, we are the first country in the free world seeing the problems of this relationship. China is not willing to play by the rules like other democratic countries. I hope there could be an alliance against those bully threats China can project on countries like Australia, as in the case of the wine exports.

A narrow space for democracy

While this crisis might indeed be a wake-up call, Badiucao is finding it increasingly difficult to make his voice heard in Australia. While the right and far-right have a strong anti-CCP (Chinese Communist Party) line, that discourse, he explains, often includes elements of xenophobia and racism. Many on the left, meanwhile, are afraid to criticize China in the name of political correctness, lest they be accused of supporting racism.

Within Australia's Chinese communities, the narratives are even more complex and do not favour Badiucao. An estimated 1.2 million Chinese Australians (nearly six percent of the total population), come from very different geographies, as Badiucao decodes:

We often overlook the differences within the community: there are second or third generations; they don’t really know much about what is happening in mainland China, and they might have a sense of nostalgia more related to Jackie Chan movies. There are also recent Hong Kong immigrants who have a different understanding of their identity and political stand. But here is the bottom line: we have to tell the difference between people [and] government. The Chinese government does not represent the Chinese people. Unfortunately, some Chinese-Australians are brainwashed by platforms […] in Australia.

Badiucao thinks the Australian government is not doing enough to communicate this distinction between the Chinese government and being Chinese, and that it needs to invest in the Chinese-Australian community much more efficiently in order to counterbalance Beijing propaganda filtering through WeChat and TikTok. 

Cartoons for human rights

For Badiucao, the best way to spread the message of universal human rights is through his art. Political cartoons require no or little translation and can be immediately understood worldwide. Paradoxically, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on his outreach. Offline art events have virtually stopped, but Badiucao has always relied on social media to share his art, which has worked to his advantage.

His cartoon transposing the iconic Beijing 1989 TankMan to the context of Trump's America shows how powerful his integration of global images can be:

Image of the 1989 Tiananmen Square iconic Tank Man transposed to the context of Trump's America, by Badiucao. Image used with permission.

Political satirical art may be global, but Badiucao warns against the manipulation around this form of freedom of expression that occurs in authoritarian countries like China. In November and December 2020, Wuhe Qilin (乌合麒麟 ), a satirical artist based in mainland China, released a series of photoshopped images pointing at an investigation conducted by Australia's own military, which found that the country's soldiers may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Badiucao explains why one should be very careful when comparing the role and function of cartoon art in China and in democracies:

I wouldn't use the term ‘artist’ or ‘political cartoonist': the whole narrative [that] he is an independent artist who cares about human rights in Afghanistan is bogus. Here is a telling detail: the work he posted on November 23 on Weibo has no signature of the user ID and no time stamp, which is mandatory as per Weibo regulations. This could indicate Wuhe Qilin himself provided the original copy to the Chinese authorities. Besides, for a long time, he smeared Fang Fang, the author of the Wuhan Diary, [portraying her] as a villain hired by the CIA. He is not an independent artist, because there is no such thing as independence in China. If you don’t collaborate, you don’t have a shred of space to survive or you end up in prison. 

Baiduacao responded to Wuhe Qilin via a series of images showing a PLA (People's Liberation Army) soldier repeating the same gesture aimed at Uyghur, Tibetan and Hong Kong people, wondering whether China would allow Wuhe Qilin to be critical of his own country's violations of human rights:

New Art

Australia‘s war crime in Afghanistan is indeed a national disgrace & must b condemned.

However i wander when China will allow an independent investigation on its own genocide on #Uyghur #Tibetans & brutal crackdown on HK?!@ScottMorrisonMP @MarisePayne @SenatorWong

— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) November 30, 2020

Which colonial statues are being torn down in Latina America?

Sat, 01/23/2021 - 12:45

For many, destroying statues is another way to demolish, symbolically, the ideas of oppression, slavery and colonialism.

The Piurek demolish statue of Sebastián de Belalcázar. Illustration by Edgar Humberto Álvarez, used with permission.

Is it an act of vandalism or a necessary revision to brutal historic events? Online debates around the destruction of public statues seem to have reached a fever pitch during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, but these acts are far from being a recent phenomenon. While there are fewer documented cases of statues being toppled or modified in Latin America, the past couple of years have seen a rise in activism around public statues in countries across the region. In particular, the anniversary of Christopher Colombus’s arrival to the Americas on October 12 revives old discussions and wounds about Spanish colonization and its effects, almost 530 years later.

In 2019, Mapuche indigenous community members tore down statues of Spanish conquerors, such as Pedro de Valdivia and Diego Portales, in Chile. In 2004, the statue of Colón en el Golfo Triste in Caracas, Venezuela was demolished and replaced with statues of indigenous people. However, the act was called into question because it did not arise at the initiative of indigenous groups, but from alleged interests of politicians at the time.

More recently, in September 2020, a group of indigenous Piurek people demolished the statue of Spanish conqueror Sebastián de Belalcázar — founder of the cities of Cali and Popayán in Colombia's Cauca Department. The statue was located atop the Morro de Tulcán, a sacred cemetery site from the pre-Columbian era.

According to an official statement by the Southeast Movement of Indigenous Authorities, the decision was made after the Piurek held a symbolic trial of Belalcázar for massacres and crimes against indigenous people, as well as the dispossession and appropriation of their lands and inheritances.

The downfall of the Belalcázar statue occurred in the context of various demonstrations against the historical violence and threats committed against indigenous groups, including the recent wave of assassinations of some of their leaders. The Piurek demand that the Belalcázar statue not be restored, as the mayor of Popayán stated, but rather that a monument of someone who “redignifies” the identity of their peoples be erected.

A month later, on October 10, in Mexico City, a statue of Christopher Columbus was removed by local authorities for maintenance. Since it was made two days before the commemoration of the arrival of Columbus to America, it was speculated that the decision was a reaction to fears that the statue may be taken down. A few months before, a call was made on the internet to request that the Government of the Mexican capital remove the sculptures that pay “homage to colonialism.”

Two days later, a group of activists from the organization Mujeres Creando took to the Plaza de Isabel de Castilla in La Paz, Bolivia and renamed it and renamed it Plaza de la Chola globalizada (Plaza of the globalized Chola). Isabel I of Castile financed Columbus’ expedition in 1492. During the demonstration, protesters adorned the statue clothes typically worn by Cholas, or indigenous Bolivian women.

“Plaza de la Chola globalizada”. Screenshot of the video “Plaza Chola Globalizada” by Miguel Hilari on YouTube.

María Galindo, founder of the organization that led the protest, claimed to have received a variety of criticisms for the act which she associates with deeply rooted racism in Bolivian society.

In an interview in El País, the activist claimed they intend to make visible the consequences of colonialism and to question notions of beauty and worth that disparage indigenous women:

“Spanish colonialism brought the idea of the white woman […] as the queen, the employer, the owner of the world […] a model of woman, of beauty and virtue, a very specific subject of femininity that works to this day in Latin American societies” and that colonial idea, according to Galindo, created the perception of indigenous women as “the ugly, the unwanted, the one destined for the cheapest and hardest jobs.”

Collapsed statue of Juniper Serra in Los Angeles, California Video screenshot of ABC7 on YouTube.

In the United States, where these events have been more frequent, some demolished statues have been figures linked to Spanish colonization. In June 2020, a group of anti-racism protesters in Los Angeles tore down the statue of Fray Junípero Serra — the founder of the first Christian missions in California. Jessa Calderón, an artist and indigenous activist said that “[t] his is only the beginning of the healing of our people’s wounds,” highlighting that the historical imposition of religion was linked to acts of “horror, brutality, and oppression.” For Calderón, “seeing this statue is like forcing a Jewish person to walk past a statue of Hitler every day.”

Scholars and activists weigh in on the toppling of statues

In interviews conducted by the newspaper El País,  professors and activists discussed the significance of these acts. Professor of Hispanic Literature at the University of Southern California Roberto Ignacio Díaz considers that “[t] here is a kind of collective fury (…). Not in a negative sense. It is a rebellion in a positive and epic sense”. While Díaz admits that demolishing statues may be construed as vandalism, he points out that the act may also become a memorable, historic event.

Professor of Political Science at the University of Los Andes Sandra Borda, prefers not to classify these events as vandalism, and proposes to analyze the reasons and messages behind them. Díaz also adds that demolishing statues “…is not erasing history. History is written in books. Monuments, in general, are made to honor the events that a country is proud of and on which it wants to debate”.

History “should always be revisionist”, in the same way that “medicine is constantly updated”, according to Erika Pani, historian at the Colegio de México. History professor Manisha Sinha at the University of Connecticut echoes this sentiment, noting that these processes consist in evaluating whether the statues, present for decades and even centuries, represent the democratic values that currently guide the countries where they are placed.

Mexican Mixe activist Yásnaya Aguilar Gil focuses on the symbolism of the demolition of statues, which “does not always go against a specific character, but against the symbolic charge that it represents”. People also seek to demolish, symbolically, the ideas of oppression, slavery and colonialism.


A digital artist depicts the lives of Thais and the struggle for democracy

Sun, 01/10/2021 - 18:42

Global Voices interviews artist Pssyppl about protest art and the prospects for the democracy movement

‘Life as Bangkokian 01’. Digital painting by pssyppl, used with permission. It portrays a young citizen flashing the ‘Hunger Games’ salute which is used by young protesters in Thailand in their campaign for democratic reforms.

Many artists supported the youth-led protest movement that demanded democratic reforms in Thailand in 2020. One of these artists is Pssyppl, described by BK Magazine as a “fast-emerging artist and designer, who produces dark, largely satirical digital paintings that reflect the burning issues of our time.”

In an article featuring him and other artists in BK Magazine, Pssyppl shared this description of his artistic vision:

My digital artwork focuses on events that are happening around me—events that leave me with a certain feeling inside my head, and then that feeling is molded and visualized in a sarcastic way through digital paintings. The reason I did these pieces is because of anger—anger that I cannot say anything or do anything to resist this corrupt system [that rules Thailand]. Art is my only way to express this smoldering emotion inside my mind.

Anger does indeed appear to be a key driving force behind the digital artworks Pssyppl publishes on Instagram. One of them depicts Thais’ resistance against a government that uses the repressive Section 112 law to arrest those who criticize the monarchy.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

This artwork was featured by news website New Naratif and includes a description from the artist:

We the people have been oppressed, manipulated and controlled by higher powers for as long as I remember. Now that their ivory tower has started to tremble, it’s time for us to rise up for a better future not just for ourselves, but also for the generations to come.

Another artwork criticizes the military, which staged a coup in 2014 and continues to dominate the civilian government despite the holding of elections in 2019.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

I symbolised this rotten system of Thailand into the character of a general. The system that barks order at you and you will follow. The system that tells you from the other side of the poster that you already have a good life, don’t ask questions, don’t try to change the way things are. The system that hides all those bodies of the people that try to fight for their life, distorting history and turns people against each other. In the end, this is just a poster. You either choose to believe in the ‘system’ that is trying to control you through the artwork, or together, we can fight the system and tear it down to the ground.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

I interviewed Pssyppl via Twitter about the importance of art in sustaining the pro-democracy protest movement in Thailand:

In my opinion, in the country where people cannot speak out the fact and spread out the truth, art, music, performance and any other form of expression other than words are quite important. They are the alternative ways for people to express their feelings, to make people listen.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

I also asked him about the prospect of the campaign for democracy in 2021:

We have come a long way since the coup seven years ago. The fight is going to be long and it might last longer than 2021 in my opinion. I can’t really tell what the future would hold, but changes are coming and the glimpse of hope is starting to surface. Now that there’s covid-19 around, we have more responsibility than before. It is going to be a slow process but I believe that we surely are progressing.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

This is his message to fellow artists:

To me, it’s of utmost importance that you never doubt yourself. There’s gonna be the work you hate, you are gonna feel tired and confused whether you’ve chosen the right part. But if it’s what you love, never stop do art. If you fail, try and fail again until you fall in love with your failure.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

A digital artist depicts the lives of Thais and the struggle for democracy

Sun, 01/10/2021 - 18:42

Global Voices interviews artist Pssyppl about protest art and the prospects for the democracy movement

‘Life as Bangkokian 01’. Digital painting by pssyppl, used with permission. It portrays a young citizen flashing the ‘Hunger Games’ salute which is used by young protesters in Thailand in their campaign for democratic reforms.

Many artists supported the youth-led protest movement that demanded democratic reforms in Thailand in 2020. One of these artists is Pssyppl, described by BK Magazine as a “fast-emerging artist and designer, who produces dark, largely satirical digital paintings that reflect the burning issues of our time.”

In an article featuring him and other artists in BK Magazine, Pssyppl shared this description of his artistic vision:

My digital artwork focuses on events that are happening around me—events that leave me with a certain feeling inside my head, and then that feeling is molded and visualized in a sarcastic way through digital paintings. The reason I did these pieces is because of anger—anger that I cannot say anything or do anything to resist this corrupt system [that rules Thailand]. Art is my only way to express this smoldering emotion inside my mind.

Anger does indeed appear to be a key driving force behind the digital artworks Pssyppl publishes on Instagram. One of them depicts Thais’ resistance against a government that uses the repressive Section 112 law to arrest those who criticize the monarchy.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

This artwork was featured by news website New Naratif and includes a description from the artist:

We the people have been oppressed, manipulated and controlled by higher powers for as long as I remember. Now that their ivory tower has started to tremble, it’s time for us to rise up for a better future not just for ourselves, but also for the generations to come.

Another artwork criticizes the military, which staged a coup in 2014 and continues to dominate the civilian government despite the holding of elections in 2019.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

I symbolised this rotten system of Thailand into the character of a general. The system that barks order at you and you will follow. The system that tells you from the other side of the poster that you already have a good life, don’t ask questions, don’t try to change the way things are. The system that hides all those bodies of the people that try to fight for their life, distorting history and turns people against each other. In the end, this is just a poster. You either choose to believe in the ‘system’ that is trying to control you through the artwork, or together, we can fight the system and tear it down to the ground.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

I interviewed Pssyppl via Twitter about the importance of art in sustaining the pro-democracy protest movement in Thailand:

In my opinion, in the country where people cannot speak out the fact and spread out the truth, art, music, performance and any other form of expression other than words are quite important. They are the alternative ways for people to express their feelings, to make people listen.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

I also asked him about the prospect of the campaign for democracy in 2021:

We have come a long way since the coup seven years ago. The fight is going to be long and it might last longer than 2021 in my opinion. I can’t really tell what the future would hold, but changes are coming and the glimpse of hope is starting to surface. Now that there’s covid-19 around, we have more responsibility than before. It is going to be a slow process but I believe that we surely are progressing.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

This is his message to fellow artists:

To me, it’s of utmost importance that you never doubt yourself. There’s gonna be the work you hate, you are gonna feel tired and confused whether you’ve chosen the right part. But if it’s what you love, never stop do art. If you fail, try and fail again until you fall in love with your failure.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pssyppl (@pssyppl)

North Macedonia court rejects lawsuit by journalists over 2017 Parliament attack

Sat, 12/12/2020 - 01:04

Judges claim plaintiffs failed to prove that a widely documented event took place

A mob of 200 VMRO-DPMNE supporters stormed the Macedonian Parliament on April 27, 2017. Screengrab from TV 24 Vesti.

This story is partly based on reporting by Global Voices content partner News Agency, a project of Metamorphosis Foundation.

A Skopje court rejected on December 10 a lawsuit filed by three journalists against the Macedonian state in relation to the 2017 mob attack of the Macedonian Parliament, citing a “lack of evidence” that “public protests took place in front of the Parliament that day.”

On April 27, 2017, around 200 supporters of the then-ruling party VMRO-DPMNE stormed the Macedonian Parliament after the party failed to form a government. The mob included masked men armed with batons, who attacked opposition politicians and journalists. The event was widely condemned internationally at that time and is known in Macedonia today as “Bloody Thursday.”

Sixteen people, among them senior members of VMRO-DPMNE, have since been convicted to a total of 211 years in prison for organizing or inciting the attack. However, an amnesty law passed in December 2018 acquitted most of the participants.

The three journalists who filed the lawsuit – Nataša Stojanovska, Dušica Mrgja and Goran Trpenoski – were at Parliament that day. They seek financial compensation for non-pecuniary damages.

According to a 2017 report by the United States’ state department, “21 journalists were threatened or barred from reporting, and six journalists were beaten while covering a demonstration that later resulted in the storming of the parliament building on April 27.”

Subsequent trial records showed that police officers, as well as special forces stationed near the Parliament, waited several hours before intervening.

The December 10 court ruling came as a shock not only to the plaintiffs but the wider journalist community and Macedonian civil society.

According to the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, who is the legal representative of the three journalists in the case, video recordings of the incidents on April 27 were provided in the court proceedings; those videos are also public, widely accessible online.

On a statement, the Association condemned what it called a “shameful verdict”:

Фактот што судот не признава повреда на правото на слободата на изразување и бара од новинарите да докажат општо познати факти, дека имало упад во Собранието од страна на лица кои јавно демонстрирале на 27 април 2017 година е тенденциозен и преставува преседан во контекст на овој случај.

Исто така, небулозно е тврдењето на судот дека новинарите немале право да бараат надомест на нематеријална штета за претрпени душевни болки и наведува дека двете немале телесни повреди. Скандалозен е фактот што судот не признава дека душевната болка, страв и траума кој биле доживеани од страна на присутните новинари е проблематично и притоа се имплицира дека немале телесни повреди тужителите.

The fact that the court refuses to recognize the violation of the right to freedom of expression and demands the journalists to prove widely known facts — that the raid on the Parliament was carried out by those who were at the public demonstrations — is biased and represents a precedent in the context of the case.

Also nebulous is the court's assertion that the journalists were not entitled to claim non-pecuniary damages for the mental pain they have suffered, stating that two of them had no bodily injuries. It is scandalous that the court does not recognize the emotional pain, fear and trauma experienced by the journalists, while implying plaintiffs had no bodily injuries.

Stojanovska, one of the plaintiffs, expressed her outrage on a widely shared Facebook post:

Следиот пат кога политичарите ќе решат меѓусебно да се убиваат, новинарите треба да бидат неми посматрачи, бидејќи судиите во земјава ги отфрлаат тужбите за 27 ми април, со образложение дека не сме биле повредени а судот не знаел дали надвор имало терористички чин, јавни демонстрации или манифестации.
Дали сте свесни дека ако не бевме таму и ако не известувавме жртвувајќи го сопствениот живот, целиот настан можеше да заврши поинаку?!
Дали сте свесни дека неказнивоста за 24 декември, доведе до 27 април? Дали сте свесни каква порака праќате?
Дали вака треба да изгледа лицето на правдата?
Ваквите пресуди се срам за државата!
Но, нема да не премислат и натаму професионално да известуваме штитејќи го интегритетот на професијата, но и личниот интегритет.
Дали истото важи за судиите, политичарите, секој сам ќе процени.

Next time the politicians decide to kill each other, maybe the journalists should just act as silent observers, because the judges in this country refuse lawsuits related to April 27, with the justification that the court didn't know that a terrorist activity and public demonstration were going on outside.

Do you realize that if we, the journalists, were not there risking our lives to report, the events could have turned out very differently?!

Do you realize that the impunity of December 24, 2012, led to April 27, 2017? Do you realize what kind of message you are sending?

Is this be the face of justice? Such verdicts bring shame to the state!

No, they won't change our minds or drive us away from professional reporting, or from protecting the integrity of our profession and our personal integrity.

Whether the same can be said of the judges and the politicians, you are left to decide.

The 2012 events to which Stojanovska refers were the violent protests that took place outside Parliament on December 24, when the police also forcibly expelled several journalists and opposition MPs from the building.

A group of journalists sued the Macedonian state at the European Court of Human Rights (EUCH), which in February 2017 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering the government to compensate them with a sum of 5,000 euros each for non-pecuniary damages. However, nobody has been criminally prosecuted for the incident.

‘Everyone who participated in the attack must be punished’

“As the darkest day in Macedonian history, April 27 has become synonymous with political trade-offs, scandalous amnesty and incomplete justice,” Dusica Mrgja, one of the plaintiffs, told in June 2020.

Mrgja is a reporter with TV 24 Vesti; she says it was because of the live crews reporting the event that the incident ended without fatal victims.

Journalist Dušica Mrgja in front of Macedonian Parliament. Courtesy photo, used with permission.

Mrgja testified in an investigation conducted by the Public Prosecutor's Office in 2017, which she hoped would bring the perpetrators to justice. That didn't happen.

In June 2020, in an interview with the Media Reforms Observatory, a project of Metamorphosis Foundation that monitors media legislation, she said:

Очекував државата да ми се оддолжи со правда. Истото го мислев и кога како сведок се појавив два пати во судница да сведочам, но попусто. Раката сè уште ми беше во завои, ударите по лице и глава бледнеа, но „флешбековите“ од сета крв на 27 април и те како беа свежи. Свежи се и по три години и болни, особено поради правдата која не ја дочекав.

I expected that the state would repay me with justice. I thought the same thing when I appeared as a witness in court to testify, twice, but it was all in vain. My hand was still bandaged, the blows to my face and head were fading, but the flashbacks of all the bloodshed on April 27 remained quite vivid. They remain vivid and painful even after three years, especially because of the injustice I witness.

In the same interview, Mrgja remembered that it was fear that kept her going that day: “I knew that the louder and more detailed I was on air, the better the chances of survival for everyone.”

At the same time, she says, going live made her more vulnerable as the perpetrators recognized her, and began to insult and attack her. She says:

Предавничке, Сороспијо, Слуга на Заев,  „Шиптарска ку***“ беа само дел од навредите со кои ме „почестија“. Ме удрија од ѕид, добив толку јак удар во раката што рамото и ден денес ме боли. Добив и удар по лице. Кога побарав помош од член на собраниското обезбедување, добив одговор „Не можам ништо да направам“ . Локвата крв од собраниските ходници, ме прогонуваше со ноќи во сонот.

Traitor, Soros’ slut, Zaev’s servant, “[ethnic slur for Albanian] whore” were just some of the insults addressed to me. They pushed me against a wall. My arm hit the wall so hard, my shoulder still hurts. I was punched in the face. When I asked a security guard for help, he answered, “I can’t do anything.” The image of a pool of blood on the parliament corridors haunted me at night in my sleep.

Nataša Stojanovska, journalist. Courtesy photo used with her permission.

Mrgja recalls the harrowing moment when the Special Forces stormed in with smoke grenades and she began to suffocate. As she desperately tried to leave the room, the perpetrators barred her.

“Then I thought ‘this is it, I’m not coming out alive,’ all while texting my family ‘I’m fine, don’t worry,'” she said.

Her colleague Nataša Stojanovska, who works for TV Telma, also told that April 27 will forever be etched in her memory.

“We were not only prevented from reporting, but my life and the lives of my colleagues were also endangered, just as the lives of the politicians,” she said.

Stojanovska adds that the memories of that dramatic day cannot be erased even after three years.

“I still feel the trauma today. That is why everyone who participated in that attack must be punished.”

Correction note: A previous version of the story mistakenly stated that the court verdict was made on December 11. The correct date is December 10. We apologize for the mistake.

The fight against fake news: A restrictive policy for online freedom of expression in Senegal

Fri, 12/11/2020 - 23:32

The policy lacks clear definition for what constitutes ‘fake news’

View of Ouakam, a district in northwest Dakar, Senegal. Photo by Gabriel de Castelaze via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have revolutionized the world and ushered in great change in all segments of society. One of the most spectacular upheavals relates to the production and circulation of information. Once the prerogative of media professionals, the creation and dissemination of information is now within the reach of any citizen with internet access.

This new situation has amplified the phenomenon of so-called “fake news.” Each person has the ability to deliver news to the public whether it is true, false — or just a joke. In Senegal, the government’s attempts to control this type of content raises questions about how to fight against fake news without infringing on rights and freedoms, particularly online freedom of expression.

The core mechanism to fight against fake news in Senegal is based on provisions of  Article 255 of the penal code, which states:

The publication, dissemination, disclosure or reproduction, by any means whatsoever, of false news, fabricated, falsified or falsely attributed to third parties, shall be punishable by imprisonment for one to three years and a fine of 100,000 to 1,500,000 francs [about $185-$2,773 United States dollars] when the publication, dissemination, disclosure, reproduction, whether or not made in bad faith, will have led to disobedience to the laws of the country or harmed the morale of the population or brought discredit on public institutions or their functioning.

This provision lacks a definition for “false news,” which may lead authorities to abuse it. During the coronavirus pandemic, for example, several citizens were summoned to the police for denying the existence of COVID-19 on their social media platforms or for having doubted its existence in videos.

Abdoulaye Mbaye Pekh,  a well-known traditionalist, and Selbé Ndom, a clairvoyant, were summoned by the national police in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, for disseminating unfounded and unscientific claims online related to the coronavirus, following a complaint submitted by the National Committee for the Management of Epidemics.

Police severely lectured Pekh and Ndom and made them apologize in order to avoid transfer to the public prosecutor's office of the court of Dakar. They were told that Senegalese citizens are not free to share opinions on the coronavirus that are contrary to the official government narrative on COVID-19, and risk being brought to justice.

This raises serious questions about how to identify the line between expressing an opinion — which can not be characterized as false — and delivering information that can be judged false or true.

The adoption of this law requires a clear definition of fake news so that citizens are aware of what constitutes a violation. The potential for widespread online fake news indeed has serious repercussions offline for security, health and politics.

Nevertheless, some analysts say these risks should not be limiting factors for freedom of expression on- or offline. Freedom of expression is a fundamental pillar in a democratic society. Article 10 of Senegal’s constitution states:

Everyone has the right to freely express and disseminate his opinions by word, pen, image, and peaceful march, provided that the exercise of these rights does not infringe on the honor and consideration of others, or on public order.

Freedom of expression deemed abusive or excessive can in principle only be sanctioned by the judiciary. Only the judge should have the power to characterize a particular piece of information or news as false or true. However, the Press Code provides otherwise in Article 192: “In exceptional circumstances, the competent administrative authority … may, in order to prevent or halt an attack on state security or territorial integrity, or in the event of incitement to hatred or incitement to murder, order:

  • The seizure of the dissemination media of a press company;
  • The suspension or cessation of the broadcasting of a program;
  • The temporary closure of the press organ.”

Again, “cases of exceptional circumstances” are not clearly defined by the law. This means that when administrative authorities judge an online expression false, they may, without the intervention of the judge, order a media seizure from the online media company that disseminated it. This amounts to a liberticidal law that seriously undermines freedom of expression online.

Regulating expression on the internet should not allow authorities to infringe on digital rights, especially without first defining a clear, precise and comprehensible legal basis for all.

JONCTION, a digital rights advocacy group in Senegal, recommends legal revision of the central mechanism used to fight fake news. Indeed, this legislative reform is necessary to harmonize national texts with international human rights instruments, particularly concerning freedom of expression. This revision should be done in consultation with all stakeholders, taking into account all the specific needs of virtual spaces that enable expression of all kinds.

As stated in Point II of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa:

No individual shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression. Any restrictions on freedom of expression must be imposed by law, serve a legitimate purpose, and be necessary in a democratic society.

Belarusians mourn the death of young opposition supporter

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 21:56

Raman Bondarenka was the fourth protester killed in Belarus

Detail from an illustration of Raman Bondarenka by Belarusian artist Ania Redko, 2020. Used with permission.

Belarus is in mourning. On November 20, thousands of protesters arrived at the Church of the Resurrection in the capital of Minsk to pay their respects to Raman Bondarenko, a 31-year-old activist who died in police custody.

The mourners were not deterred by the cold. Winter has done little to diminish the protests which have seized the country since presidential elections in August. Their catalyst was an attempt by Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, to stay in power for a sixth consecutive term. Those who take to the streets to oppose him have faced police violence, detention and torture.

One symbol of this movement are ribbons in red and white, the colours of the country's previous national flag. They are now ubiquitous at mass protests as a sign of opposition to the government. So when Bondarenka spotted a group who had arrived to remove them from a courtyard near his home in Minsk on the evening of November 11, he headed out to confront them.

The men beat Bondarenka so severely that he fell to the pavement, hitting his head several times during the attack. He was then driven away in a minibus and surfaced in police custody. By the evening of November 12, Bondareka lay in an intensive care unit at a city hospital, where he died of brain damage after several hours’ surgery.

One of the first summaries of the event was provided by Anton Motolko's popular Telegram channel, which included some footage along with a summary:

Приехали ябатьки с женщинами и детьми срезать ленты. Вышли люди. Завязалась драка. Повыскакивали челы в масках и запихнули человека в бус.

“I'm with Batka” supporters arrived with women and children in order to cut ribbons. People came out. A fight ensued. Guys in masks appeared from nowhere and shoved a man into a bus.

— @Motolkohelp, Telegram, November 11, 2020

The phrase “I'm with Batka”, using the president's folksy moniker, refers to a top-down attempt during the protests to launch a civic movement in support of Lukashenka. While the authorities have suggested that the group, all in plain clothes, were merely “concerned citizens”, the exact identity of Bondarenka's attackers remains unknown.

When Lukashenka commented on Bondarenka's death on November 13, he described the assailants as one of 500 “public order squads” who aimed to remove “pro-Nazi symbols”. And while Belarusian officialdom has urged a transparent and thorough investigation, their line is simply this: Bondarenka got into a brawl between opposition and regime supporters.

Lukashenka also affirmed the Investigative Committee's declaration that Bondarenka was found to have been drunk at the time of the fight. Yet this was denied wholesale by doctors in anonymous interviews to the prominent online news portal Tut.By. Bondarenko's mother later provided the independent newspaper Nasha Niva with scans of her son's blood test results, which showed zero percent ethanol.

Katerina Borisevich, the Tut.By journalist who reported on the allegations of Bondarenka's drunkenness, was detained on November 19 and now faces criminal charges for disseminating confidential medical information.

Furthermore, an investigation by the Russian investigative website MediaZona's identified further gaps in the official account of events. Through examining CCTV footage and interviewing residents near the scene of the attack, its journalists established that the police in fact arrived at the courtyard at 22:30, seemingly paying no attention to the minibus to which Bondarenko had been dragged against his will. This complicates accounts, including that of Lukashenka, that the police had themselves called an ambulance for Bondarenka. The same camera footage suggested that several of these individuals had surveyed the area well before removing the ribbons, implying something rather more organised than a spontaneous action by pro-Lukashenka supporters.

And so, Belarusians’ anger at their government — though few if any protesters still consider it theirs — is now newly inflamed by the possibility of a cover-up. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenka's opponent in the election who has fled to the European Union, recently declared Bondarenka a “Hero of Belarus”. EU officials have threatened new sanctions against Belarusian officials, whom they hold responsible for Bondarenka's death.

Bondarenka's last words, “I'm going out”, shared with a WhatsApp group for local residents, have become a rallying cry and a hashtag (#ЯВыхожу) for a new wave of demonstrations. Judging by reports shared on the popular NEXTA Telegram channel, these have taken diverse forms, from workers at state-owned enterprises downing their tools for a minute of silence to flower laying ceremonies in the squares of nearly all the country's largest cities. Thousands also attended a vigil in the courtyard where Bondarenka was detained, chanting “we will not forgive, we will not forget”.

More traditional mass protests have also been held. On November 15, police used tear gas and water cannon against thousands of demonstrators; the Viasna Human Rights Centre estimates that at least 928 were detained that day alone.

In recent days, Belarusians have posthumously acquainted themselves with the young man whose portrait they hold as they face down riot police.

He was a military veteran, an art teacher, and a designer. He was also the creator of a popular protest mural in Minsk:

Роман Бондаренко – автор мурала диджеев Перемен. У меня всё.

— Альбарутэнец (@sp_oleg) November 14, 2020

Raman Bondarenka was the creator of the “DJs for change” mural. That's all I can say.

Even some public officials have voiced dismay. Valery Voronetsky, a deputy in the Belarusian parliament and ambassador, wrote the following on his Facebook page:

Боль, смутак і жалоба… Гвалт мусiць быць спынены! Закон і справядлівасць – адноўлены!

Such pain, misery and mourning… This violence must end! The law and justice must be restored!

— Valery Voronetsky, Facebook, November 13, 2020

“Bondarenko's death was a bomb in Belarusian society, and it has lead to a growth in protest activity. Not an exponential one, but a significant one”, explains Artyom Shraibman, a political analyst and regular contributor to Tut.By.

“Even the authorities have understood how sensitive this is, so have decided not to call Bondarenko an enemy who deserved his death. On the contrary, Lukashenka expressed his condolences, even while authorities have implicitly suggested that the opposition are guilty by creating such havoc and protests in the first place”, Shraibman told GlobalVoices in an interview.

Perhaps what was remarkable about Raman Bondarenka was how unremarkable his biography was — and how easy that makes it for Belarusians to identify with his fate. They appear convinced that it could befall them, too. The following text, which has circulated on opposition blogs and social media channels for several days, gives form to that foreboding:

Роман Бондаренко служил в спецназе, и это его не уберегло.

Роман Бондаренко не участвовал в митинге, и это его не уберегло.

Роман Бондаренко не держал в руках никакую символику, и это его не уберегло.

Роман Бондаренко вышел из дома, чтобы узнать что происходит. Это стало причиной его смерти.

Перед тем, как спуститься вниз, Роман написал “Я выхожу”.

Raman Bondarenka served in the special forces, but that didn't save him.

Raman Bondarenka wasn't participating in a protest, but that didn't save him.

Raman Bondarenka wasn't holding any symbol in his hands, but that didn't save him.

Raman Bondarenka left his home to find out what was going on. That was the reason for his death.

Before going down, Raman wrote “I'm going out”

— Text from

Those fears are informed by precedent. After months of protest, many Belarusians have relatives or friends who have been detained and beaten at police stations.

With the death of Bondarenka, at least four Belarusians are thought to have died during protests since the presidential elections in August. One was Alyaksandr Taraikovski, who may have been killed by police in Minsk on August 10.  Another was Alyaksandr Vikhor, who died in a detention centre in the city of Homyel on August 12. The third was Hennady Shutov, who died on August 19 from a gunshot wound to the head after police used live ammunition on protesters in Brest on August 11.

In the words of Belarusian researchers Alena Minchenia and Nadzeya Husakouskaya, change has already come to Belarus. These deaths bring “a shared sense of living through grief and pain, which cannot be undone”.

The fear is that they also put paid to any hopes of a peaceful transition of power. For some observers, Bondarenka's death was not simply a tragic misstep amid havoc without a clear culprit, but the predictable result of a methodical and paced increase in indiscriminate violence by the Belarusian authorities.

“The death of Roman did indeed intensify the protest mood. But the following events mobilised people to an even greater degree: how the OMON [riot police] dispersed those who had gathered to honour his memory on Sunday, and how protesters had to hide for 15 hours without water or food in the basement of the apartment building where Raman used to live. To add to this, in the following days the water supply [was cut off] to the Novaya Baravaya neighbourhood, which has a strong protest mood and where people hang out white-red-white flags. People believe that the problem is intended to humiliate them”, remarked Kaciaryna Šmacina, a Research Fellow at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, in an interview for GlobalVoices.

“The authorities are out of touch with reality and are using more and more repression towards their own population”

Find out more about the turmoil in Belarus

In the Middle East, words escape prison walls to inspire freedom and hope

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 16:46

Image by Ohergo/Pixabay

This post was written by Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in the MENA region.

Human rights defenders have nothing but words to defend the civil and human rights of their people. Their enemies, on the other hand, have all the conventional weapons at their disposal, including imprisonment, in their attempt to end peaceful work aimed at building a prosperous future for all.

Human rights activism continues, though, even from within the confines of a prison cell. “Human rights work does not end with imprisonment,” says Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who in 2017 went on six hunger strikes to demand his rights and those of other prisoners of conscience, while serving life imprisonment for his peaceful human rights work.

His words inspired an online event in Arabic, English and Persian languages ​​entitled “The Prisoner and the Pen,” which was held by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Amnesty Westminster Bayswater on October 22, 2020. Here we feature some of the thoughts of imprisoned human rights defenders and those of others who participated.

In her poem, “Letter to my father,” Maryam Al-Khawaja, herself an activist, summarises the volcano of pain that rages in the hearts of the families of prisoners of conscience:

How do I tell you

That there are days I long to be a child again

To live in a world I thought I understood
In a world I felt safe

Because you and mama were my superheroes

In another part, expressing her disappointment at not achieving her dreams in a free and just world, she adds:

Baba you’ve been in their prison for 9 years

And to understand me,

I need to tell you about the world

The dreams we had

The dreams we fought for

The price you paid so your daughters could grow up in a better world

Did not go as we hoped

Then, she speaks with strength and clarity of the support that repressive governments are receiving, and the suffering activists face as they seek a safe haven:

And the suffering of the immigrant activists

We live in the same world

Where the West talks about human rights

Then props up those who violate them

In the name of creating jobs and economics

Then rears its ugly head

To those who dare seek refuge from the prop ups

To punish them for existing 

Ahmed Mansoor is a dreamy poet, who scatters love like soft raindrops on everyone, and says, “I will make a sun for you with my hands and hang it on the balcony of my heart.” In 2007, the Emirati poet published his first anthology, entitled Beyond the Failure. An excerpt from one of the poems of this collection, entitled “Excess of Fire” talks about time and pain:

Time does not bore my wound anymore

For I have no wound and there is no such a thing as time and no consolation

Syrian human rights lawyer and activist, Razan Zaitouneh, chose to live among her people, share their pain, help them, and did not try to leave to escape the serious threats that she received before her abduction, despite the offers she received to migrate to the West. She lived through the siege in Ghouta in the countryside outside Damascus, and on November 18, 2013, she wrote an article entitled, “In the Diaries of the Siege … The resistance is consumed by waiting,” stating:

“I was destined to experience the siege with a friend of mine who spent many years in prison. Hardly an event goes by without her comparing the siege to prison, saying that the two experiences are greatly similar in more ways than one.”

Prominent feminist activist Dr. Hala Al-Dosari read a letter written by Nouf Abdulaziz, published after her arrest on June 6, 2018, including the following paragraph that explains the tragedy that human rights defenders and activists face when they are treated as enemies because of their peaceful human rights activities:

“Hello, my name is Nouf, and I am not a provoker, inciter nor a wrecker, nor a terrorist, nor a criminal or a traitor. I am the daughter to a great mother who suffers because of me—as I think—and a daughter to an honourable and honest family that has undergone a lot of harm because of what happened to me. I am a postgraduate student that never got the chance to finish her education. I usually sum up myself with a few characteristics: a writer, a reading addict since I was six years old, my father tells me that I am intelligent; I am a quiet girl except for the questions that storm my mind.

“In efforts to end this silly introduction, I will talk to you and share some of the questions that overcome my mind: Why is our homeland so small and tight, and why am I considered a criminal or an enemy that threatens it!”

Nassima Al-Sada is a prominent human rights defender from Saudi Arabia who was arrested on July 30, 2018. She wrote many articles defending civil and political rights including women's rights—such as her right to drive a car. In this excerpt from “Dreams of 2014 for the Advancement of Saudi Women,” she talks about unfulfilled dreams:

“We still have a long way to go in achieving the remaining human rights, which are characterised by being indivisible and inalienable. In order for people to exercise them, there must be written mechanisms and procedures and an effective institutional structure that protects, monitors, and oversees their implementation.”

Finally, an excerpt from the poem “To my mother” by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:

I yearn for my mother's bread,
My mother's coffee,
Mother's brushing touch.
Childhood is raised in me,
Day upon day in me.
And I so cherish life
Because if I died
My mother's tears would shame me.

Our longing for our detained colleagues does not fade but grows day after day so that our dreams grow to make our countries governed by principles of justice, freedom, equality and human dignity.

Somali journalists say new media law will muzzle free press

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 15:23

Somalia’s media community unanimously rejects the new media law

Media workers in Somalia face arbitrary detentions, targeted assassinations and repression under draconian media laws, December 12, 2012. Photo by Tobin Jones via Wikimedia  / AMISOM public domain CC0 1.0.

With the recent passage of a controversial media bill into law by Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmjo, Somalia’s media workers worry about what may lie ahead for journalists who are already struggling in a hostile media environment.

The bill, signed on August 26, contains 41 articles on the media and how they should conduct their work. The law will restrict media workers and will give the state unrestrained power over the media.

Why are civil societies and the media crying foul over the bill?

According to Abdalla Mumin, secretary-general of the Somali Journalist Syndicate, a press rights group, the recently signed media law will bring the press under the direct government control as if all media is state-run media. This violates the constitution and paves the way for a more restrictive environment in which journalism becomes a crime.

He wrote an impassioned tweet on the matter in August after the bill passed:

When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.

— GEORGE R. R. MARTIN, A Clash of Kings

— Abdalle Ahmed Mumin (@Cabdalleaxmed) August 28, 2020

The media bill decries that the government will issue licenses to journalists and can withdraw at any time, for any reason, if the journalist is deemed too critical. The Ministry of Information accredits journalists rather than a press association or independent, nongovernmental media organizations.

The law clearly allows the state to control and direct media workers whether they are working for the state-run media or otherwise. This holds media practitioners as hostages to the state and compromises their impartiality. There is no place other than authoritarian states where media workers seek licenses and accreditation from the government.

In August, top press chief Abdinur Mohamed Ahmed said 16 articles have been omitted from the bill and others amended in an interview with BBC Somali. But media associations still decry the bill and deem it oppressive.

Former President Hassan Sheikh initially signed the controversial bill into law in 2016, and ever since, media associations and civil society groups have led campaigns to reverse the law due to its draconian nature. Progress was made when the current president came to power and ordered a review of the law, but the review alone did not meet the demands of media practitioners and civil rights defenders.

On August 31, former Information Minister Mohamed Abdi Hayir remarked that Somalia is not the only country where the government issues media licenses, during a talk show hosted by Universal TV (a Somali satellite TV station). In response, the Somali Journalist Syndicate Secretary Mumin lashed out at the information minister, accusing him of copying from dictatorial states where freedom of the press is nonexistent.

Somalia’s media community are also protesting the bill’s call for the formation of a media council, wherein the government will have unparalleled hegemonic power over all media associations.

The nine-member council, consisting of three members from independent media, three members from civil society, and three government members, will have the final say on holding media workers accountable. They will also look into the complaints against the media and make decisions about license withdrawals from media houses. But media organizations consider this council a “censorship” board and are worried that ahead of Somalia’s upcoming elections, this could prove problematic for dissenting voices.

Somalia’s media is flourishing despite constant challenges.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ impunity index, Somalia is among the most dangerous places for a journalist to work. CPJ says 26 murders of journalists in Somalia remain unsolved. Although the number of murder cases has declined, harassment from authorities persists in the form of illegal detention, arbitrary arrest and denied access to information.

Some Somali media workers have paid the ultimate price for their chosen profession. Since 2017-2020, 11 journalists were killed and their perpetrators have not yet been held accountable. This culture of impunity creates an environment where journalists fear for their safety and therefore hesitate to report.

Eleven journalists were killed in the country in the past four years: 3 in 2017; 4 in 2018; 2 in 2019 and 2 in 2020, making the country to remain as one of the most dangerous places for journalists across the globe. @sjs_Somalia @forfreemedia

— Somali Media Association- SOMA (@SomaliMedia13) November 3, 2020

Journalists also face the risk of arbitrary detention, either due to critical Facebook posts or conducting interviews that authorities don’t approve of.

The latest victim of a government crackdown on media is Abdullahi Kulmiye Addow, a broadcast journalist who interviewed an Islamist-leaning businessman who is critical of the Somali government and African Union peacekeepers. After Addow’s radio station released a trailer for the interview, agents from the Somali national intelligence and security agency raided his home on the night of October 18, and kept him at their headquarters for five days. He was later released when his radio station agreed not to air the full interview in exchange for Addow’s release.

Editor Abdul Aziz Gurbiye, of Goobjoog media, a privately owned media house, was arrested on April 14, over a Facebook post in which he alleged that Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo appropriated a COVID-19 ventilator machine for himself that was meant for public use. Five days later, he was released on bail. After two months of back and forth, a court battle ensued that ended in a guilty verdict, and Gurbiye was charged with spreading false information and offending the president’s honor. He was sentenced to six months but was allowed to pay a $200 fine instead of imprisonment.

Press associations and media owners have come together to warn against the implementation of the media law. They allege that Osman Dubbe, the new information minister, is seeking support from the international community and that he sent a solicitation letter to potential donors on November 7, to support the law’s implementation.

On November 18, Somali media associations called upon Dubbe to come to the negotiating table for a thorough review of the bill.

During today's journalists consultative conference in #Mogadishu, we jointly raised our concerns on attempts by the new Minister of Info to hastily implement
the draconian #Somali Media Law, safety of the working journalists & denounced the rise of threats against the press.

— Somali Journalists Syndicate – SJS (@sjs_Somalia) November 17, 2020

Since the 1991 fall of the military regime, the media landscape has shifted from a single state-run media to multiple outlets. But with remnants of the old draconian law still existing and applied, any gains made may be in vain.

Media associations and civil society groups in Somalia have loudly protested against the imposition of this law that will hamper free press and shrink an already narrowing political space. Without a free press, justice disappears and authoritarianism takes over.

Stop playing politics or face a ban, Nintendo warns Animal Crossing gamers

Sun, 11/22/2020 - 11:25

“What Animal Crossing represented was not just entertainment […]”

Joshua Wong, via Twitter / HKFP file photo.

The following post was written by Candice Chau and originally published on Hong Kong Free Press on November 21, 2020. This edited version is republished on Global Voices under a content partnership agreement.

Japanese video game giant Nintendo has told players of its hit game Animal Crossing: New Horizons to stop adding political or commercial content. The warning came after a variety of users worldwide – including Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners – started sending messages of this nature.

The game has been a hit since its launch in March, selling over 20 million copies by September. It allows users to craft tools, decorations and other creature comforts from scratch on their own deserted islands.

Nintendo told businesses and organisations to “refrain from bringing politics into the game,” and said those who breached the guidelines could be banned.

However, some users have utilised its features — which include communicating with one another via direct messaging, sending postcards, updating their passport status and creating bulletin-board posts — to send political messages.

In Hong Kong, some players have been creating pro-democracy and anti-government content, including flags with protest slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” funeral photographs of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and “villain-hitting” sessions aimed at Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam.

The game has since been pulled from Chinese grey market online shopping platforms.

United States President-elect Joe Biden is among those who hoped to capitalise on the game’s popularity. Prior to the election, Biden’s campaign launched its own virtual island, allowing players to “volunteer” at the island’s campaign headquarters and visit polling stations. Under the new guidelines, the island is likely to be banned:

Nintendo bans brands from using Animal Crossing: New Horizons for politics

— Eurogamer (@eurogamer) November 19, 2020

Activist Joshua Wong told Hong Kong Free Press that he had taken part in a number of virtual protests in the game this year:

What Animal Crossing represented was not just entertainment during lockdown, but also a reflection of happenings in real life. It provides an alternative when institutional channels of expression are restricted…It is a shame that Nintendo overlooked the significance of this game.

An internet with borders: A perspective from Pakistan

Fri, 11/20/2020 - 15:56

Platforms are losing their appeal to journalists and activists

Image credit: Nick Youngson via (CC BY-SA 3.0).

This article was written by Farieha Aziz, co-founder of digital rights advocacy group, Bolo Bhi.

In Pakistan, social media has become an informational battleground for regional and domestic politics. 

We have seen foreign disinformation campaigns on Twitter, and heavy government pressure on platforms to adjust moderation policies to suit its own agenda. This has been backed by repressive new rules targeting speech, and even bans on platforms, restoring access to them only if they toe the line. There have even been instances where politicians, activists and journalists have found themselves subject to organized campaigns that flagged their social media activities for alleged breaches of the platforms’ rules, which can result in their accounts being suspended or shut down. All of this is in addition to the harassment and pressure which journalists, activists, academics, organisers and participants of women’s marches, and religious minorities in Pakistan have faced for years. This harassment is now being driven online by hashtags, but is still backed by very real risks of violence. In the push and pull, between governments and platforms, users’ interests are often left by the wayside.

Each time companies reach a middle ground with governments to keep their services operational while cloaking their actions in the interest of users they deal a blow to local advocacy efforts aiming to create a rights-based discourse that holds discretion and powers of corporations and governments to account. The popularity of a platform in any region is dependent on the number of users. For a jurisdiction to appeal as a market for investment, the numbers also matter. Users of platforms perform this function, which platforms and governments both benefit from. But when it comes to what may or may not be available for viewing on a platform, which content gets removed, on which grounds, through what process and recourse available to users, these are decisions made either unilaterally by a company or government, or collaboratively between governments and platforms. Users are not considered to be primary stakeholders by companies or governments, where decision-making is concerned. 

For years, civil society in Pakistan has battled against repressive laws and government actions limiting speech. But now, the way that companies frame and enforce their community standards is as much a cause for concern as the laws and mechanisms governments enact to restrict speech. Clearly, whether it is user-based complaints under platforms’ community standards or rules or the process of accepting “legal requests” from governments to remove content or suspend accounts, both have a considerable impact on expression. What these content moderation mechanisms entail, including how decisions are made, and the question of who decides, and whether they should be making these decisions in the first place, requires a lot more attention. But despite the enormous importance of platforms’ decisions, an enormous deficit of transparency remains.

At the 2015 RightsCon summit, civil society organizations called for expanded transparency reports by platforms. The statement read:

…Without greater qualification of the data published and clarity on the process companies follow to determine whether a request is legal or is made by a legitimate legal entity, and how the determination to ultimately restrict content or hand over user data is made, the report’s usefulness to users, researchers, journalists, and advocates is limited.

For transparency to be meaningful and useful, reports must contain more than just numbers and categories. In 2020, we’re no closer to this.

As companies enter markets around the world and, thereby, different legal jurisdictions, applicability of local laws and compliance with them places all kinds of constraints on expression. What were earlier apprehensions or considered threats to a borderless internet is a reality today. This is the age of the internet with borders.  

Government requests are typically categorised separately in transparency reports; however, if the nature of the content or accounts identified in the requests happen to violate a company’s rules, they are typically absorbed into sections of the reports that cover a company’s own actions to enforce its rules. What this fails to take into account is the resources state regulators have at their disposal as compared to private individuals, to monitor and report content. Unless all government requests are categorised separately despite falling under terms of service moderation, there will be no way of determining the volume of requests by governments and regulators, which is an indicator of their priorities and a way of holding them to account for the exercise of their powers.

Where does the end-user figure in the companies’ end game to keep their platforms up and running and governments’ attempts to exercise maximum control over them? In Pakistan, it seems the newly revised and approved―but not improved―Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020, will only exacerbate this dilemma. Opposed by local digital rights groups and foreign platforms through the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), the earlier version of the Rules required platforms to take down and restrict content within short time frames. Failure to comply would result in fines and a ban on services. Over the summer, the regulator issued notices under Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and blocked several apps such as, Bigo, TikTok, Skout, SayHi, Tagged, Grindr and Tinder, restoring access only when companies agreed to tailor their content moderation policies to a locally palatable version approved by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. News reports suggested not much has changed in the Rules―a public version was only made available on November 18, 2020. 

Caught between government overreach and corporate compliance, users are in double jeopardy. The experience of navigating platforms is becoming increasingly cumbersome for them. They are either being driven off platforms completely or forced to remain as silent spectators rather than active participants. Except for those engaged in manipulation, disinformation and abuse, platforms are fast losing their appeal, particularly to journalists and human rights defenders. They must remedy this by deploying resources to understand and address issues faced by users instead of facilitating governments more than they already do. 

This article was developed as part of a series of papers by the Wikimedia/Yale Law School Initiative on Intermediaries and Information to capture perspectives on the global impacts of online platforms’ content moderation decisions. You can read all of the articles in the series on their blog, or on their Twitter feed @YaleISP_WIII.

Angolan police violently cracked down on protest against postponement of local elections

Mon, 11/16/2020 - 16:23

Six journalists were reportedly arrested

Police face protesters in Luanda. YouTube screengrab taken on October 26, 2020.

On October 24, activists and members of opposition political parties took to the streets of the Angolan capital Luanda in protests against the postponement of local elections, which were met forcefully by police forces.

The protest, which also called for more employment for young people, came in the wake of the September demonstrations against police violence.

Since Angola's independence in 1975, its municipalities have been governed by committees appointed by provincial governors, who in turn are appointed by the country's president. This year would be the first time that Angolans would elect municipal leaders by popular vote.

The vote’s suspension was due to the delay in adopting legislation to regulate it. In an official statement, President João Lourenço, of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, even denied that the elections had been postponed, saying that they had not even been scheduled. The explanation did not convince opposition parties.

The police arrested 103 people for “disobedience” and “rioting” during the demonstration, according to Jornal de Angola. Deutsche Welle Africa reported that six journalists were among those arrested:

Trata-se de um grupo composto por 90 homens e 13 mulheres, acusados de arruaça e desobediência às autoridades. A tentativa de manifestação decorreu em atropelo ao novo Decreto Presidencial sobre a Situação de Calamidade Pública, que restringe os ajuntamentos na via pública a cinco pessoas.

A marcha, frustrada pela Polícia Nacional, contou com centenas de participantes, incentivados por activistas da sociedade civil e por membros da direcção da UNITA.

They are a group made up of 90 men and 13 women accused of rioting and disobedience to the authorities. The attempted demonstration took place in violation of the new Presidential Decree on the State of Public Emergency, which restricts street gatherings to five people.

The march, frustrated by the police, had hundreds of participants, encouraged by civil society activists and members of the [opposition party National Unity for the Total Independence of Angola] UNITA leadership.

The police were on the streets of Angola's capital in the early hours of the day, when the first arrests reportedly occurred.

Demonstrators in front of police in Luanda. Screengrab YouTube taken on October 26, 2020.

In a report published by the Angolan newspaper Jornal de Angola, the Executive Secretary of the Permanent Committee of the Political Commission of the party National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the largest opposition party, said:

A marcha organizada pela sociedade civil é um direito constitucional que deve ser respeitado…não estando o país sob Estado de Sítio ou Emergência, os únicos capazes de restringir o exercício destes direitos, nada justificava o impedimento de uma manifestação com o uso da força desproporcional pelas autoridades, tal como se assistiu.

A march organised by civil society is a constitutional right that must be respected… the country is not under a state of siege or emergency, the only [powers] that may restrict the exercise of these rights; nothing could justify preventing a demonstration with the use of disproportionate force by the authorities, as has been seen.

A member of parliament from UNITA told Agencia Lusa that he had been detained for about an hour, accusing the authorities of “excessive use of force” and of acting illegally.

One of the voices speaking out in favour of the protests was communicator Silvio Nascimento, who was indignant at the police treatment of protesters. Silvio said that the Angolan people “woke up to reality” and that “it is time to fight for the future”.

Similar accounts came from other participants in the protest, according to VOA:

Houve uma repreensão bastante violenta. Não havia razão para o regime usar uma força desproporcional, porque a manifestação era pacífica.

There was a really violent reaction. There was no reason for the regime to use disproportionate force, because the demonstration was peaceful

Speaking to DW África, Luston Mabiala, a young man who was at the demonstration, said that he had been assaulted together with his friends. He says he saw police firing real bullets and tear gas canisters in the area where there were street vendors.

Fomos agredidos fisicamente e de imediato fomos escorraçados da via pública e empurrados nos becos do bairro que eu desconheço. Somente lembro que foi nas imediações do Mercado dos Congoleses.

Resistimos à pressão da polícia e regressamos novamente ao mercado, onde fomos surpreendidos por uma centena de polícias armados das unhas até aos dentes que começaram logo a disparar à queima roupa

We were physically assaulted and quickly dragged out of the public street and pushed into the alleys of a neighbourhood that I don't know about. I only remember that it was near the Congolese Market.

We resisted the police pressure and returned again to the market, where we were surprised by about a hundred policemen armed from to the teeth who immediately started shooting at close range

In the same report from DW África, one of the protest organizers said that he was a victim of police brutality. The activist said that the protest only aimed to peacefully demand the holding of public elections across Angola's 164 municipalities:

Pretendíamos apenas exigir que o Presidente João Lourenço marque a data das eleições autárquicas. Angola está atrasada 45 anos, desde que se tornou independente. Por isso, acho que é necessário que o Presidente esteja preparado para partilhar o poder, para que Angola esteja ao mesmo nível de desenvolvimento com os outros países.

We only intended to demand that President João Lourenço set the date for the local elections. Angola is 45 years behind, since it became independent. So I think it is necessary that the president be prepared to share power, in order for Angola to be at the same level of development as other countries.

The police spokesman in Luanda, Nestor Goubel, said on October 24 that the police force did not have an assessment of operations to allow them to respond to people's complaints. The police official also denied the arrest of journalists who were covering the demonstration.

According to Jornal de Angola, the ruling MPLA party urged its members to use social media to support the government:

Perante dezenas de militantes e dirigentes de distintas estruturas e organizações internas do partido, Daniel Neto notou que a desvalorização dos esforços do Governo, notória nas publicações feitas por alguns jovens, confirma a influência nociva das mensagens de formações políticas da oposição sobre os investimentos, projectos e perspectivas para o desenvolvimento da vida das populações.

Devemos contrapor a deturpação das mentes por discursos preparados para confundir os lúcidos e arrastar os menos informados.

In front of dozens of activists and leaders of different internal party groups and organizations, Daniel Neto remarked that the undervaluation of the government's efforts, common in the comments of some young people, shows the harmful influence of messages from opposition political groups about investments, projects and prospects for the development of people's lives.

We must combat the distortion of minds by discourses designed to confuse the lucid and draw in the less informed.

Thai LGBTQ+ activists and pro-democracy protesters march together for equality

Mon, 11/16/2020 - 09:59

They also state demands for reforms of the Thai monarchy

Protesters holding a large Pride flag as the march move onto Silom Road. Photo and caption from Prachatai

The original version of this article was published by Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand, and was edited and republished by Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Thai women, members of the LGBTQ community, and pro-democracy protesters joined a Pride parade on November 7 in Bangkok to call for equality for all marginalized groups, as well as for Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation, a new constitution, and monarchy reform.

The march, organized by the gender equality activist groups Seri Toey Plus and Women for Freedom and Democracy, started at the Samyan intersection in central Bangkok. Carrying several large rainbow flags as well as placards calling for gender equality, marriage equality, abortion rights, and legalization of sex work, protesters marched along Rama IV Road, before stopping on Silom Road, a landmark in the center of the city.

READ MORE: Why are young people protesting in Thailand?

During the march, the Women for Freedom and Democracy group, joined by a group of drummers from the theatre group B-Floor, organised a performance of a Thai version of the Chilean feminist anthem “A Rapist in Your Path” to protest against sexual violence, victim blaming, and rape culture.

Originally conceived by the Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis and sung in Spanish, the song has been translated and sung at women’s rights protests across the world as a way of speaking out about sexual violence and the patriarchal power structure that represses women.

The Thai version was translated by the Women for Freedom and Democracy Group. The lyrics state that “the state that ignores our voice is the state that rapes us”, and name “the police, the military, the courts of justice, the entire country, the monarchy” as complicit in gender-based violence.

The Thai version also uses imagery from the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, which is also popular in Thai culture. The story refers to Rama’s wife Sita, who was forced by her husband to walk through fire to prove her purity after her long captivity by Rama's rival Ravana.

Arriving at the Saladaeng Intersection, the protesters sat down and hold up their hands in the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute while the national anthem is played from speakers on the truck leading them. Photo and caption from Prachatai

The march stopped under Bangkok skytrain Saladaeng BTS Station, where protesters used the truck that led the march as a stage for dances and speeches on various social issues, such as legalization of sex work, abortion rights, gender-based discrimination in STEM fields, sexual harassment against women activists, being LGBTQ in a Muslim community, ethnic group and immigrant rights, and the patriarchal power structure in the Thai monarchy. The event included a performance by a group of drag queens.

The activists also spoke out against sexual harassment and called for women and LGBTQ people to be represented on protest stages, and stated the pro-democracy movement’s three demands, which are Gen Prayut’s resignation, a new constitution, and monarchy reform.

LGBTQ rights and sex worker rights activist Sirisak Chaited dressed in a towel with the message “sex work is not a crime” during the march to call for the legalization of sex work. Photo and caption from Prachatai

A Hong Kong reporter's account of the crackdown on press freedom under the national security law

Thu, 11/12/2020 - 10:07

She wants to continue her journalism career and safeguard the truth

Leung Ka Lai. Image from the Stand News. Used with permission.

This is the final installment of a story, originally published in Chinese, on The Stand News. It was translated into English by Global Voices and will be published here in five parts with permission. Read parts one, two, three, and four.

Freedom of speech is under siege in the city of Hong Kong following the enactment of the national security law.

Many foreign journalists have reportedly failed to renew their work visas, pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was raided and its founder Jimmy Lai arrested, accused of collusion with foreign forces.

The latest drama concerned the arrest of Choy Yuk-ling, a reporter who had worked for the city's public broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong. On November 2, police arrested Choy as part of an investigation into the Yuen Long mob attack incident. The incident occurred on July 21, 2019, when a pro-Beijing mob attacked protesters returning home inside the Yuen Long subway station. The police claimed that the reporter violated the Road and Traffic Ordinance for making a false statement during her research on the details of a vehicle involved in the attack.

All the signs thus far suggest that working in the field of journalism has become a dangerous endeavor.

Beijing announced its plan to enact the draconian national security law in Hong Kong in May 2019. As the term “national security” is so vaguely defined, critical speech could be interpreted as provoking hatred toward the authorities. This has led to a silencing effect that swept across the city.

A number of prominent columnists including financial experts Simon Lee and Michael Suen on Apple Daily news terminated their columns in the newspapers, several influential Facebook public pages were deleted by their administrators — including one ran by former Secretary of the Civil Service Joseph Wong — a number of websites vanished, and many social media users deleted their user accounts.

The risk of speaking out under one's real name is getting higher and higher.

Leung Ka Lai, a journalist working for Apple Daily, interviewed protesters and written feature stories about the anti-China extradition protests.

On August 10, the date when Jimmy Lai was arrested and Apple Daily’s office was raided by about 200 police officers, she was shocked. Yet, she somehow anticipated this as she had removed all the interviewees’ details and notes from the office and deleted all the chat records from her mobile phone in July.

She also deleted a public page on Facebook which was opened on August 31, 2019, after a major city-wide anti-China extradition protest. She used the page to share videos that she took and some of her journalistic notes. One of her videos showing riot police officers beating up young protesters inside a church in Sai Wan Ho on November 11, 2019, had attracted 2 million views. Through the page, she also received a large number of tips. At the same time, she was doxxed and harassed online.

Her major concern is to prevent the leaking of information regarding her source:

I don’t worry about myself. The safety of my interviewees is more important than mine and I don’t want to risk the exposure of their details.

She lived with the fear that she would eventually be arrested for being a journalist. This year, when she was reporting on the anniversary of the protests on June 12, she was trapped in a police kettling. Riot police pulled her backpack and grabbed her phone while she was live-streaming. She was searched and detained for 45 minutes.

Apple Daily used to have reporters’ byline in each of its reports. Such practice has been suspended since July 1 as the NSL was enacted. The most worrisome fact about the national security law, as pointed out by the paper's legal consultant is that the interpretation of the law is at the hands of Beijing.

Leung has been a journalist for about 15 years. She believes that the aim of the police raid was to instigate fear.

On August 27, about two weeks after the raid Chinese state-funded media, the People’s Daily, stated that Apple Daily is a dangerous “political organization.” Such political labels could lead to the shutdown of the media outlet under the draconian law.

The crackdown on Apple Daily has extended to its supporters. During the raid, netizens expressed their support to the paper by buying stocks of its parent company Next Media Group, which led to a rocket surge of its stock price. Two weeks later, on September 10, police arrested 15 stock buyers under the charge of “conspiracy to defraud” and “money laundry.” In the past, abnormal activities in the stock market would be investigated by the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong and the Securities and Futures Commission.

Leung is worried that Beijing would outlaw media outlets that are not loyal to them:

The space for free press is diminishing… I fear that very soon we will be forced to leave the industry, or they will shut down Apple Daily. If you want to remain a journalist, you have to work for pro-establishment media outlets such as Wen Wei Po or Ta Kung Pao.

The situation is extremely scary. But I will continue to stay in the industry until there is no more space. I am prepared to work as a freelance journalist. What we are facing now is not just the survival of Apple Daily but the whole independent media sector.

She wants to continue her journalism career and safeguard the truth:

We have to prevent the scenario that after 30 years, people would say that June 4 had never taken place. We have to carry on with our work until there is no more space.