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Updated: 9 months 6 days ago

End Impunity, Free Expression!

Fri, 11/01/2019 - 16:29

According to UNESCO over a thousand journalists have been killed since 2006

The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists is observed on November 2. Image by IFEX.

This op-ed was written by Annie Game, Executive Director of IFEX, the global network promoting and defending freedom of expression and information. It is republished through a partnership arrangement between Global Voices and IFEX. The article originally appeared here. 

Imagine a world without impunity, where everyone is free to exercise their right to freedom of expression and information and able to access, generate and share ideas and information in any way they choose, without fear. We do.

On this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, it’s important to recognize the essential link between the right to freedom of expression and the right to information. Journalists are too often the direct targets when either right is under attack, and ultimately, we are all victims.

Two weeks ago, the UN General Assembly voted to declare 28 September the International Day for Universal Access to Information. This was a significant victory, following a decade of sustained advocacy by numerous civil society groups, including many African members of the IFEX network.

Some people — though probably no one involved in the struggle to promote and defend freedom of expression — might have greeted this news of a new UN Day with a shrug. But they should think again, for our right to information is inseparable from our right to expression, and both are increasingly under attack.

Threats to information are coming in many forms, from attacks on journalists, to deliberate disinformation, to the obstruction of newspapers, and their impact is far-reaching: preventing people from receiving the information they need to engage with the issues they care about, exacerbating political polarisation, and undermining democracy.

Let’s take a recent high-profile example of the power of expression, and its reliance on access to information.

Last month, an estimated 6 million people took to the streets in response to the climate change crisis. The creativity of their protests inspired many as they marched; expression in action, emboldened by facts. Swedish climate activist Greta Thurnberg implored us to “listen to the scientists.” But what if the voices we need to listen to are silenced, directly or indirectly?

Voices can be silenced through censorship, or drowned out in a sea of disinformation. But in a growing number of instances, the silencing tactic used is murder. Murder without consequences. Murder with impunity.

A comprehensive study released in August 2019 revealed that killings of environmental activists have doubled over the past 15 years. In 90% of those cases, no one has been convicted — a shocking level of impunity.

As we mark another International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, this deadly form of censorship is never far from our thoughts.

UNESCO’s list of journalists who have been killed around the world — over a thousand since 2006 — is a sobering reminder. The proportion of women among fatalities has also risen, with women journalists facing increased gender-specific attacks.

Of the 207 journalists killed between January 2017 and June 2019, more than half were reporting on organized crime, local politics and corruption.

Their right to expression was ended, forever, to stop them from sharing information.

Every time such a crime goes unpunished, it emboldens others. Those who would share information in the public interest rightfully ask themselves: is this worth my life? Is it worth putting my family at risk? And if they decide that it is not, who can blame them? The ripple effects of impunity are endless.

That is why, for over eight years, the IFEX network has campaigned to end impunity for crimes against journalists and all those exercising their right to freedom of expression.

It's not work that lends itself to quick successes. As the expression goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The work does not end with finding the perpetrators; states must be held accountable for allowing or encouraging a climate of impunity in which such crimes flourish.

We embrace every win, large and small. The good news is that at IFEX we are seeing creative, collaborative, and powerful new strategies, and tangible progress.

In the past 12 months, we’ve seen the truth finally coming to light in The Gambia about the 2004 killing of journalist Deyda Hydara; a landmark ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that found the government of Colombia culpable in the 1998 murder of Nelson Carvajal Carvajal; and the historic decision by the Inter-American Commission to take to the Court the case of the brutal attack in May 2000 that nearly took the life of investigative journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima.

Just two weeks ago, we welcomed the decision by Kyrgyzstan to re-open the 12-year-old case of the murder of journalist Alisher Saipov, following sustained pressure by IFEX and its local members the Media Policy Institute and Public Association Journalists.

Imagine, these cases represent a combined 66 years of impunity.

So let those responsible for — or contemplating — violence against journalists, hear this loud and clear: long after the world’s attention may have moved on, you may think you have gotten away with murder. No. Those of us committed to fighting impunity are persistent. We do not give up. So you can never rest easy.

For us, the culture of impunity surrounding attacks on journalists represents one of the single greatest threats to freedom of expression worldwide. The progress we have made toward ending impunity would never have been possible without the resilience, persistence, and tenacity of those who fight it.

We must use our freedom of expression, to defend it. We must use it to call out crimes against journalists, and end impunity.

Netizen Report: How are protests in Lebanon affecting digital rights?

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 16:14

Technology and human rights news from around the world.

Demonstrators in Beirut. Photo shared on Twitter by @michatobia

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in technology and human rights around the world. This report covers news and events from October 13 – 25, 2019.

Mass public demonstrations have dominated Beirut, Tripoli and other large Lebanese cities since October 18, after people came to the streets to protest government corruption, failing public services and exorbitant taxation. One significant trigger of the protests was a proposed daily tax on the use of internet-based voice calling technologies offered on services like WhatsApp and Facetime.

The WhatsApp tax has been taken off the table, but the protests have grown in power and intensity each day. Social networks have been flooded with images and videos of tens of thousands of people from various walks of life demonstrating together and calling not only for policy reforms, but for early elections that would usher in a new government.

To keep up on protests in Lebanon, we're following:

There have also been violent confrontations, resulting mainly from military forces and police seeking to block protesters. According to local activists, these have led to as many as 300 arrests. Photos of arrest scenes shared on Twitter suggested that detained protesters, lined up side by side on the road, had their mobile phones taken from them.

These efforts have coincided with digital campaigns discouraging people from joining protests, shared via WhatsApp and other social media services.

Local journalists and independent media houses have been actively covering the demonstrations, while state-supported media have remained largely mum. On October 22, the head of the National News Agency was fired with little explanation. Lebanon Daily Star reporter Benjamin Redd wondered on Twitter: “Did the NNA boss, Laure Sleiman, get fired for doing her job?”

Top leaders gave speeches on October 21, acknowledging the protesters’ grievances and pledging to improve on public services and policy, but the predominant response from demonstrations has been that this is not enough. As SMEX Executive Director and Global Voices author Mohamad Najem put it:

Protestors today:
+ We don’t care about Harriri’s new reforms suggestions, before the deadline even.
+ Down with all this political system. We want a temporary government that lead new elections in the next year.
These our political demands#LebanonProtests #لبنان_ينتفض

— Mohamad محمد (@monajem) October 21, 2019

Phones are back, but the internet is still down in Kashmir

On October 14, after a 72-day communications blackout, Indian authorities in Kashmir restored SMS and call services for postpaid mobile subscriptions. But internet services and prepaid mobile connections are still suspended.

Srinagar, the main city in Jammu and Kashmir, went under complete lockdown on August 5, 2019 when the government of India revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution that provided special autonomous status to the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. Access to mobile, landline, and internet networks were suspended, while roadblocks were put on the streets and restrictions on almost all movement were enforced. Although some of these measures have since been lifted, the region continues to be heavily controlled by Indian authorities.

Why are Arabic-speaking activists (and regular users) getting censored on Twitter?

Hundreds of Twitter users — most of whom write primarily in Arabic, and are located in Egypt — either have had their tweets censored or their Twitter accounts suspended in recent weeks. Twitter has apologized for the erroneous suspensions, but didn’t explain what prompted them. Experts following the removals have observed that many appeared to be triggered by swear words, which are not forbidden on Twitter.

What at first appeared to be a series of mistakes now looks like something larger, and online activists are taking note, highlighting account suspensions with the hashtags #WeWillSpeak and #هنتكلم.

Iranian officials move to ban the Google play store

On October 9, Iranian telecommunications service providers were ordered to block Google Play, Google's official app store, “as soon as possible”. The order is said to have been issued by deputy prosecutor general in charge of cyberspace, Javad Javidnia.

If implemented successfully, this will push Iranians toward using local services that are far more vulnerable to government surveillance, censorship and the mishandling of personal data than many global online services. Even Amin Amirsharifi, the CEO of Cafe Bazaar, Iran’s largest local app store and a primary competitor of Google Play, tweeted that he did not support the move.

Zuckerberg fails to sell Facebook as a free speech beacon

In an October 18 speech at Georgetown University, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg exalted the US first amendment and portrayed Facebook as a platform that had helped make the global internet better by espousing free speech values around the world.

The speech left many internet policy and civil rights experts skeptical. “While boasting of the enlightening effects of the spread of knowledge and information, he ignores the toxic attributes of his own company,” wrote University of Virginia professor Siva Vaidhyanathan.

In a Washington Post opinion piece, NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill took the Facebook CEO to task for invoking the names of US civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., whose achievements Zuckerberg attempted to link with the company’s free speech values.

What Zuckerberg failed to note is that King was the subject of violent assaults (and finally assassination) that were the result of the same kind of hate-fueled disinformation campaigns that infect the Internet and are now aimed at a different generation of civil rights leaders.

On October 21, a coalition of more than 40 US-based civil rights organizations signed a joint letter citing the company’s “reckless disregard for civil rights” demanding that Facebook eliminate discriminatory advertising, white supremacist speech and voter suppression on its platform.

Nigerian journalist may face charges for recording conversations in prison

Nigerian journalist ‘Fisayo Soyombo may soon face criminal charges for his undercover work investigating Nigeria’s prison system. In November 2018, Soyombo deliberately defaulted on a car payment in order to get arrested and observe the criminal justice system firsthand. The award-winning journalist spent five days in police custody and eight as an inmate of Ikoyi Prison, in Lagos, where he observed, documented and later reported on multiple incidents of bribery, abuse of prisoners by guards, and other forms of corruption.

Soyombo has “has gone underground” after fleeing his residence on October 21. If found and arrested, he will be charged under Section 29 of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act [Subsection 1 (d)] for possessing and using “communication devices” within the prison to record “conversation through a mobile phone or other devices” without authorization. If convicted, he risks a fine not exceeding 2 million naira [about US$5,500], two years imprisonment or both.

Will Sudan’s transitional government protect free speech?

The transitional government put in place in Sudan in August 2019, after the ousting of Omar al-Bashir, is showing some signs of wanting to uphold freedom of expression in the country. At the UN General Assembly meeting in late September 2019, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdulla Hmadok signed the Global Pledge to Defend Media Freedom and stated that “never again in the new Sudan will a journalist be repressed or jailed.”

Earlier that month, the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, which is intended to guide Sudan’s three-year transition toward civilian rule, issued a decree placing the Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority under the authority of the Council, and away from the Ministry of Defense. But the rules and policies under which the regulator functions are still unchanged, and the authority has been a key player in deciding and implementing the former regime’s censorship policies with its filtering and blocking system.

“Lingering laws place vague restrictions on these fundamental rights and allow authorities to block and filter content without a judicial order,” writes Mohamed Suliman in an analysis for Global Voices.

New research

Digital Authoritarianism in Egypt: Digital Expression Arrests 2011-2019 – Open Technology Fund

India uses opaque legal process to suppress Kashmiri journalism, commentary on Twitter - Committee to Protect Journalists

Are we any better at judging right from wrong? Automation in content moderationNamita, GenderIT.org

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report

 

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Nwachukwu Egbunike, Mohamed ElGohary, Rezwan Islam, Leila Nachawati, Mohamed Suliman and Taisa Sganzerla contributed to this report.

Netizen Report: How are protests in Lebanon affecting digital rights?

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 16:14

Technology and human rights news from around the world.

Demonstrators in Beirut. Photo shared on Twitter by @michatobia

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in technology and human rights around the world. This report covers news and events from October 13 – 25, 2019.

Mass public demonstrations have dominated Beirut, Tripoli and other large Lebanese cities since October 18, after people came to the streets to protest government corruption, failing public services and exorbitant taxation. One significant trigger of the protests was a proposed daily tax on the use of internet-based voice calling technologies offered on services like WhatsApp and Facetime.

The WhatsApp tax has been taken off the table, but the protests have grown in power and intensity each day. Social networks have been flooded with images and videos of tens of thousands of people from various walks of life demonstrating together and calling not only for policy reforms, but for early elections that would usher in a new government.

To keep up on protests in Lebanon, we're following:

There have also been violent confrontations, resulting mainly from military forces and police seeking to block protesters. According to local activists, these have led to as many as 300 arrests. Photos of arrest scenes shared on Twitter suggested that detained protesters, lined up side by side on the road, had their mobile phones taken from them.

These efforts have coincided with digital campaigns discouraging people from joining protests, shared via WhatsApp and other social media services.

Local journalists and independent media houses have been actively covering the demonstrations, while state-supported media have remained largely mum. On October 22, the head of the National News Agency was fired with little explanation. Lebanon Daily Star reporter Benjamin Redd wondered on Twitter: “Did the NNA boss, Laure Sleiman, get fired for doing her job?”

Top leaders gave speeches on October 21, acknowledging the protesters’ grievances and pledging to improve on public services and policy, but the predominant response from demonstrations has been that this is not enough. As SMEX Executive Director and Global Voices author Mohamad Najem put it:

Protestors today:
+ We don’t care about Harriri’s new reforms suggestions, before the deadline even.
+ Down with all this political system. We want a temporary government that lead new elections in the next year.
These our political demands#LebanonProtests #لبنان_ينتفض

— Mohamad محمد (@monajem) October 21, 2019

Phones are back, but the internet is still down in Kashmir

On October 14, after a 72-day communications blackout, Indian authorities in Kashmir restored SMS and call services for postpaid mobile subscriptions. But internet services and prepaid mobile connections are still suspended.

Srinagar, the main city in Jammu and Kashmir, went under complete lockdown on August 5, 2019 when the government of India revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution that provided special autonomous status to the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. Access to mobile, landline, and internet networks were suspended, while roadblocks were put on the streets and restrictions on almost all movement were enforced. Although some of these measures have since been lifted, the region continues to be heavily controlled by Indian authorities.

Why are Arabic-speaking activists (and regular users) getting censored on Twitter?

Hundreds of Twitter users — most of whom write primarily in Arabic, and are located in Egypt — either have had their tweets censored or their Twitter accounts suspended in recent weeks. Twitter has apologized for the erroneous suspensions, but didn’t explain what prompted them. Experts following the removals have observed that many appeared to be triggered by swear words, which are not forbidden on Twitter.

What at first appeared to be a series of mistakes now looks like something larger, and online activists are taking note, highlighting account suspensions with the hashtags #WeWillSpeak and #هنتكلم.

Iranian officials move to ban the Google play store

On October 9, Iranian telecommunications service providers were ordered to block Google Play, Google's official app store, “as soon as possible”. The order is said to have been issued by deputy prosecutor general in charge of cyberspace, Javad Javidnia.

If implemented successfully, this will push Iranians toward using local services that are far more vulnerable to government surveillance, censorship and the mishandling of personal data than many global online services. Even Amin Amirsharifi, the CEO of Cafe Bazaar, Iran’s largest local app store and a primary competitor of Google Play, tweeted that he did not support the move.

Zuckerberg fails to sell Facebook as a free speech beacon

In an October 18 speech at Georgetown University, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg exalted the US first amendment and portrayed Facebook as a platform that had helped make the global internet better by espousing free speech values around the world.

The speech left many internet policy and civil rights experts skeptical. “While boasting of the enlightening effects of the spread of knowledge and information, he ignores the toxic attributes of his own company,” wrote University of Virginia professor Siva Vaidhyanathan.

In a Washington Post opinion piece, NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill took the Facebook CEO to task for invoking the names of US civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., whose achievements Zuckerberg attempted to link with the company’s free speech values.

What Zuckerberg failed to note is that King was the subject of violent assaults (and finally assassination) that were the result of the same kind of hate-fueled disinformation campaigns that infect the Internet and are now aimed at a different generation of civil rights leaders.

On October 21, a coalition of more than 40 US-based civil rights organizations signed a joint letter citing the company’s “reckless disregard for civil rights” demanding that Facebook eliminate discriminatory advertising, white supremacist speech and voter suppression on its platform.

Nigerian journalist may face charges for recording conversations in prison

Nigerian journalist ‘Fisayo Soyombo may soon face criminal charges for his undercover work investigating Nigeria’s prison system. In November 2018, Soyombo deliberately defaulted on a car payment in order to get arrested and observe the criminal justice system firsthand. The award-winning journalist spent five days in police custody and eight as an inmate of Ikoyi Prison, in Lagos, where he observed, documented and later reported on multiple incidents of bribery, abuse of prisoners by guards, and other forms of corruption.

Soyombo has “has gone underground” after fleeing his residence on October 21. If found and arrested, he will be charged under Section 29 of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act [Subsection 1 (d)] for possessing and using “communication devices” within the prison to record “conversation through a mobile phone or other devices” without authorization. If convicted, he risks a fine not exceeding 2 million naira [about US$5,500], two years imprisonment or both.

Will Sudan’s transitional government protect free speech?

The transitional government put in place in Sudan in August 2019, after the ousting of Omar al-Bashir, is showing some signs of wanting to uphold freedom of expression in the country. At the UN General Assembly meeting in late September 2019, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdulla Hmadok signed the Global Pledge to Defend Media Freedom and stated that “never again in the new Sudan will a journalist be repressed or jailed.”

Earlier that month, the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, which is intended to guide Sudan’s three-year transition toward civilian rule, issued a decree placing the Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority under the authority of the Council, and away from the Ministry of Defense. But the rules and policies under which the regulator functions are still unchanged, and the authority has been a key player in deciding and implementing the former regime’s censorship policies with its filtering and blocking system.

“Lingering laws place vague restrictions on these fundamental rights and allow authorities to block and filter content without a judicial order,” writes Mohamed Suliman in an analysis for Global Voices.

New research

Digital Authoritarianism in Egypt: Digital Expression Arrests 2011-2019 – Open Technology Fund

India uses opaque legal process to suppress Kashmiri journalism, commentary on Twitter - Committee to Protect Journalists

Are we any better at judging right from wrong? Automation in content moderationNamita, GenderIT.org

 

Subscribe to the Netizen Report

 

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Nwachukwu Egbunike, Mohamed ElGohary, Rezwan Islam, Leila Nachawati, Mohamed Suliman and Taisa Sganzerla contributed to this report.

Angolan president's reforms drive positive impact on media — but limits persist

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 15:56

President João Lourenço's political reforms have loosened free speech restrictions

A group of Angolan reporters and cameramen await former US Secretary of State John Kerry as he tours a General Electric facility in the Sonils compound in the Port of Luanda, May 4, 2014. Photo by US State Department, public domain.

Rafael Marques de Morais is a prominent Angolan journalist, anti-corruption activist and long-time government critic. Under the regime of president José Eduardo dos Santos (“JES”), who ruled Angola from 1979 to 2017, Marques was continuously harassed by the authorities for his work. While working at government-owned Jornal de Angola in the 1990s, he faced pressure for “injecting unwelcome social commentary.”

It wasn't until João Lourenço (“JLO”) succeeded JES in 2017 that journalists like de Morais began to see political reforms that helped improve the environment for media and press freedoms. These reforms, however, mainly tackled corruption. While media freedoms have apparently improved, limits from the former regime persist.

In 2019, Morais said in an interview that he lost count of how many times he had been detained since the 90s, among other obstacles

In 1999, he wrote, “The Lipstick of the Dictatorship” (“O ‘Bâton’ da Ditadura”), an article criticizing corruption and the devastating war, and was then detained on charges of defaming the president. Appalling detention conditions and abuses such as sleep deprivation pushed him to stage a hunger strike, which gained international support. He was released after 40 days, but then received a six-month suspended sentence and a fine. 

In 2015, Marques faced prosecution for defamation, for writing the 2011 book “Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola,“ published in Portugal, later released online. It documents in detail rights violations relating to mining operations. All charges were eventually dropped.

He was also put under surveillance. In 2013, he discovered that his computer was bugged by malware “which international experts linked to a multinational with strong ties to Angolan military officials.” The news and anti-corruption website he launched, called Maka Angola — “Maka,” in Kimbundu language, “refers to “a delicate, complex or serious problem”, i.e. corruption and poverty — faced numerous cyberattacks, such as denial of service attacks. 

Rafael Marques de Morais, co-recipient of the Allard Prize, speaks at the 2015 ceremony, October 1, 2015. Photo by Martin Dee, used with permission via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0.

JLO anti-corruption reforms

The reforms included unexpectedly wide-ranging issues, from the state oil company Sonangol to banking. The ongoing anti-corruption drive stamped his authority by dismissing or prosecuting numerous figures, notably previously untouchable powerful family and associates of JES — a popular move — such as his daughter Isabel dos Santos, and ex-minister Manuel Rabelais.

Today, Marques and other independent journalists are able to work more freely, thanks to an improvement in the political and media freedom environments under JLO, but limits remain. 

Media repression under former regime

During the former JES regime, independent media was curbed, with traditional media was controlled largely through government influence via direct or indirect ownership or censorship; Reporters Without Borders (RSF) lamented “exorbitant” costs for broadcast licenses and start-up costs which hinder new media actors. Low internet access has left traditional media outlets “subject to high levels of government interference” and journalists’ self-censorship, according to Freedom House (2018). Private media have also been controlled by government-linked figures.

MPLA dominance under the former regime

Colonialism, an independence war, and decades of destructive civil war, which ended in 2002, destroyed infrastructure and left a highly centralized economy dependent on high-value oil and diamonds profits, captured by a small political-military elite from armed movements, dominated by the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA). 

The former president and associates consolidated power after the war. This opaque, clientelist system neglected many, embezzled billions, and strictly, sometimes violently, controlled criticism.

Under JES’s rule, internet access gradually increased, although it remained low — measured by Internet World Stats as 22.3 percent of the population in 2019, hindering the reach of online spaces. However, as online activism and information became more dynamic, JES’ government began to clamp down on dissent. 

Back in 2016, journalist Manuel Serrano wrote that the internet became a “last frontier” for political discussion, dissidence and denouncing corruption, given reporting and demonstrating restrictions. 

Under JES, prosecutions of activists and journalists were also common. 

A well-known case was the “15+2” group of activists, who in 2015 were arrested, charged with planning a coup, for meeting to discuss the book, “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation.” This included activist-musician Luaty Beirão, who is influential on social media.

Several protested by hunger strike which drew international attention — echoed on social media — and pressured authorities to eventually drop charges. It showed the potential reach and limits of online activism and contributed to the pressure, but the issue later faded from prominence.

The regime also made use of restrictive laws that allowed it to silence critics and those who question the ruling elite’s conduct. The 2010 state security law  “penalizes individuals who insult the country or president in “public meetings or by disseminating” information with prison sentences, and the 2006 press law holds journalists “criminally liable for libelous content.”

In 2017, under JES, new media laws, known as the Social Communication Legislative Package, made defamation a criminal offense and allows for regulation and banning of online content, including social media, which Human Rights Watch said violates international obligations to press freedom. That year, academic Joana Fonseca also discussed “medium-tech” surveillance, notably, networks of informers using recording devices.

Restrictive press laws, imported surveillance technology, and the practice of arrests and court cases, were all tactics the JES regime deployed to restrict press and media freedoms.

Limited reforms

Marques acknowledged that freedom of expression improved under JLO, noting telling the Financial Times earlier this year that surveillance equipment at his home had gone. In mid-2018, Marques and editor Mariano Brás were acquitted of charges of insulting the state for a 2016 online article accusing an attorney-general of corruption. The judge said they fulfilled their journalistic duty and Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado called it a “huge victory for press freedom”. RSF improved Angola’s press freedom ranking by 12 places in 2019 and said access to state-held information had improved.  

Some judges have ruled in favor of demonstrators arrested by police, defending their constitutional right to protest and several soldiers recently received jail-time for lethally firing on protestors in 2016. Amnesty International noted that authorities “allowed peaceful demonstrations”, although criticized “new cases of human rights violations and excessive use of force by security forces” and continued unaccountability. 

Frontline Defenders said the “culture of repressing [human rights defenders]  (…) continued, albeit at a reduced level, under the new administration,” also referencing judicial and security services restrictions, and targeting of independence activists from the oil-rich Cabinda province.

Between mid-2017 and mid-2018, Freedom House ranked Angola’s internet as “partly free” and reported that ”online content remained uncensored and unrestricted” although online bots were influential on social media, notably around the 2017 elections.

Legal issues also remain; Human Rights Watch said the new 2019 penal code criminalized vaguely defined “defamation,” which could easily be used against critics

The tools for media restrictions remain and clamp-downs on sensitive topics have occurred. For example, dozens of people connected to Cabinda province’s independence movement were arrested, but judges later ordered their release. 

Recent protests mobilized on social media against high unemployment and poverty recall JLO’s promises of job-creation in his election campaign and seven activists filed a legal complaint against Luanda – the capital city – police for abuses at a march.

JLO has reiterated his intention to continue anti-corruption efforts but said not everybody supported it and that corrupt people were using misappropriated money to fund destabilization, referring to the ongoing protests. Musician Luaty Beirão criticized the rhetoric for being “just like” those of the past.

JLO's political reforms have loosened restrictions, but haven't done much to actively advance an open internet in Angola. The legal and practical tools to restrict media remain. Citizens continue to grapple with low internet access, legislation on defamation and controlled content and continued impunity for past and current violence.

Angolan president's reforms drive positive impact on media — but limits persist

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 15:56

President João Lourenço's political reforms have loosened free speech restrictions

A group of Angolan reporters and cameramen await former US Secretary of State John Kerry as he tours a General Electric facility in the Sonils compound in the Port of Luanda, May 4, 2014. Photo by US State Department, public domain.

Rafael Marques de Morais is a prominent Angolan journalist, anti-corruption activist and long-time government critic. Under the regime of president José Eduardo dos Santos (“JES”), who ruled Angola from 1979 to 2017, Marques was continuously harassed by the authorities for his work. While working at government-owned Jornal de Angola in the 1990s, he faced pressure for “injecting unwelcome social commentary.”

It wasn't until João Lourenço (“JLO”) succeeded JES in 2017 that journalists like de Morais began to see political reforms that helped improve the environment for media and press freedoms. These reforms, however, mainly tackled corruption. While media freedoms have apparently improved, limits from the former regime persist.

In 2019, Morais said in an interview that he lost count of how many times he had been detained since the 90s, among other obstacles

In 1999, he wrote, “The Lipstick of the Dictatorship” (“O ‘Bâton’ da Ditadura”), an article criticizing corruption and the devastating war, and was then detained on charges of defaming the president. Appalling detention conditions and abuses such as sleep deprivation pushed him to stage a hunger strike, which gained international support. He was released after 40 days, but then received a six-month suspended sentence and a fine. 

In 2015, Marques faced prosecution for defamation, for writing the 2011 book “Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola,“ published in Portugal, later released online. It documents in detail rights violations relating to mining operations. All charges were eventually dropped.

He was also put under surveillance. In 2013, he discovered that his computer was bugged by malware “which international experts linked to a multinational with strong ties to Angolan military officials.” The news and anti-corruption website he launched, called Maka Angola — “Maka,” in Kimbundu language, “refers to “a delicate, complex or serious problem”, i.e. corruption and poverty — faced numerous cyberattacks, such as denial of service attacks. 

Rafael Marques de Morais, co-recipient of the Allard Prize, speaks at the 2015 ceremony, October 1, 2015. Photo by Martin Dee, used with permission via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0.

JLO anti-corruption reforms

The reforms included unexpectedly wide-ranging issues, from the state oil company Sonangol to banking. The ongoing anti-corruption drive stamped his authority by dismissing or prosecuting numerous figures, notably previously untouchable powerful family and associates of JES — a popular move — such as his daughter Isabel dos Santos, and ex-minister Manuel Rabelais.

Today, Marques and other independent journalists are able to work more freely, thanks to an improvement in the political and media freedom environments under JLO, but limits remain. 

Media repression under former regime

During the former JES regime, independent media was curbed, with traditional media was controlled largely through government influence via direct or indirect ownership or censorship; Reporters Without Borders (RSF) lamented “exorbitant” costs for broadcast licenses and start-up costs which hinder new media actors. Low internet access has left traditional media outlets “subject to high levels of government interference” and journalists’ self-censorship, according to Freedom House (2018). Private media have also been controlled by government-linked figures.

MPLA dominance under the former regime

Colonialism, an independence war, and decades of destructive civil war, which ended in 2002, destroyed infrastructure and left a highly centralized economy dependent on high-value oil and diamonds profits, captured by a small political-military elite from armed movements, dominated by the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA). 

The former president and associates consolidated power after the war. This opaque, clientelist system neglected many, embezzled billions, and strictly, sometimes violently, controlled criticism.

Under JES’s rule, internet access gradually increased, although it remained low — measured by Internet World Stats as 22.3 percent of the population in 2019, hindering the reach of online spaces. However, as online activism and information became more dynamic, JES’ government began to clamp down on dissent. 

Back in 2016, journalist Manuel Serrano wrote that the internet became a “last frontier” for political discussion, dissidence and denouncing corruption, given reporting and demonstrating restrictions. 

Under JES, prosecutions of activists and journalists were also common. 

A well-known case was the “15+2” group of activists, who in 2015 were arrested, charged with planning a coup, for meeting to discuss the book, “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation.” This included activist-musician Luaty Beirão, who is influential on social media.

Several protested by hunger strike which drew international attention — echoed on social media — and pressured authorities to eventually drop charges. It showed the potential reach and limits of online activism and contributed to the pressure, but the issue later faded from prominence.

The regime also made use of restrictive laws that allowed it to silence critics and those who question the ruling elite’s conduct. The 2010 state security law  “penalizes individuals who insult the country or president in “public meetings or by disseminating” information with prison sentences, and the 2006 press law holds journalists “criminally liable for libelous content.”

In 2017, under JES, new media laws, known as the Social Communication Legislative Package, made defamation a criminal offense and allows for regulation and banning of online content, including social media, which Human Rights Watch said violates international obligations to press freedom. That year, academic Joana Fonseca also discussed “medium-tech” surveillance, notably, networks of informers using recording devices.

Restrictive press laws, imported surveillance technology, and the practice of arrests and court cases, were all tactics the JES regime deployed to restrict press and media freedoms.

Limited reforms

Marques acknowledged that freedom of expression improved under JLO, noting telling the Financial Times earlier this year that surveillance equipment at his home had gone. In mid-2018, Marques and editor Mariano Brás were acquitted of charges of insulting the state for a 2016 online article accusing an attorney-general of corruption. The judge said they fulfilled their journalistic duty and Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado called it a “huge victory for press freedom”. RSF improved Angola’s press freedom ranking by 12 places in 2019 and said access to state-held information had improved.  

Some judges have ruled in favor of demonstrators arrested by police, defending their constitutional right to protest and several soldiers recently received jail-time for lethally firing on protestors in 2016. Amnesty International noted that authorities “allowed peaceful demonstrations”, although criticized “new cases of human rights violations and excessive use of force by security forces” and continued unaccountability. 

Frontline Defenders said the “culture of repressing [human rights defenders]  (…) continued, albeit at a reduced level, under the new administration,” also referencing judicial and security services restrictions, and targeting of independence activists from the oil-rich Cabinda province.

Between mid-2017 and mid-2018, Freedom House ranked Angola’s internet as “partly free” and reported that ”online content remained uncensored and unrestricted” although online bots were influential on social media, notably around the 2017 elections.

Legal issues also remain; Human Rights Watch said the new 2019 penal code criminalized vaguely defined “defamation,” which could easily be used against critics

The tools for media restrictions remain and clamp-downs on sensitive topics have occurred. For example, dozens of people connected to Cabinda province’s independence movement were arrested, but judges later ordered their release. 

Recent protests mobilized on social media against high unemployment and poverty recall JLO’s promises of job-creation in his election campaign and seven activists filed a legal complaint against Luanda – the capital city – police for abuses at a march.

JLO has reiterated his intention to continue anti-corruption efforts but said not everybody supported it and that corrupt people were using misappropriated money to fund destabilization, referring to the ongoing protests. Musician Luaty Beirão criticized the rhetoric for being “just like” those of the past.

JLO's political reforms have loosened restrictions, but haven't done much to actively advance an open internet in Angola. The legal and practical tools to restrict media remain. Citizens continue to grapple with low internet access, legislation on defamation and controlled content and continued impunity for past and current violence.

Iran’s drive to block international services continues with Google Play ban

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 17:53

Domestic apps’ ties to the government is a serious privacy concern

Image by Small Media.

On 9 October, the Iranian judiciary sent a formal letter to telecommunications service providers ordering them to block the Google Play, Google's official app store, “as soon as possible”.

The letter was signed by Javad Javidnia, who serves as both Iran’s Deputy Prosecutor General responsible for Cyberspace, and the Secretary for the Committee for Determining Instances of Criminal Content (CDICC). This move is consistent with the authorities’ strategy to push Iranian internet users to use home-grown Iranian apps and services while limiting the availability of international services. 

Since the appointment two years ago of Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi as ICT Minister, the drive to complete the country's National Information Network (SHOMA) has been a key government priority. Although part of this project entails the much-needed expansion and improvement of Iran’s internet infrastructure, another key pillar is the rapid localisation —and in essence, nationalisation – of digital content and services.

Practically, Jahromi’s policies seek to drive Iranian internet users to migrate to domestically produced (and domestically hosted) versions of apps and online services. The danger in this is that through a lack of alternatives, Iranian users are being channelled toward local services that are far more vulnerable to government surveillance, censorship and the mishandling of personal data than many globally utilised online services. The decision to block access to Google Play bears the hallmarks of this agenda.

Iran’s domestic messaging apps 

Soroush, a local messaging and social media app, is owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Iranians can only register their Soroush accounts to their Iranian SIM cards, This represents a threat to users’ privacy since in Iran all SIM cards in Iran must be registered to a national ID and residential address. 

Bisphone is another service with ties to the Iranian government.  Research has shown Bisphone data is stored with the Telecommunication Company of Iran, which is known to be partly owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Despite Jahromi’s promises to introduce clear and comprehensive data protection regulations to mitigate existing privacy shortcomings, the proposed Data Protection and Privacy Bill that was announced in July 2018 is yet to materialise. Jahromi’s rhetoric on digital rights may differ from those of other political elites, which has occasionally led to public disagreements — his ministry, for instance, previously made public statements against filtering and data localisation policies — but the push for the use of domestic apps in Iran continues.

Given the increasing improvement in the relationship between Jahromi and the Iranian Parliament, and the body’s broad acquiescence to many of the rights-infringing policies emanating from the ICT Ministry, it seems possible that a consensus has also emerged in the legislature in support of the localisation agenda. This is a worrying development, as given the lack of any transparent and accountable processes for filtering decisions, elected official have limited opportunity to scrutinise or intervene in major filtering decisions. MPs who claim to support citizens’ rights must start to speak out when incidents such as this occur, and demand accountability.

In sum, the recent order to ban Google Play must be viewed in the context of Iranian authorities’ aggressive push to corral Iranian users into using domestic services and technologies whose data protection protocols are essentially non-existent. The policies designed by the ICT Ministry and the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, and implemented by the Judiciary, critically undermine the safety and privacy of Iranian users by stripping them of the ability to use secure and tested global services.

Iranian users must have the right to choose online tools that can keep their data secure. As long as users are forced to use domestic alternatives, their right to privacy remains in peril.

Iran’s drive to block international services continues with Google Play ban

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 17:53

Domestic apps’ ties to the government is a serious privacy concern

Image by Small Media.

On 9 October, the Iranian judiciary sent a formal letter to telecommunications service providers ordering them to block the Google Play, Google's official app store, “as soon as possible”.

The letter was signed by Javad Javidnia, who serves as both Iran’s Deputy Prosecutor General responsible for Cyberspace, and the Secretary for the Committee for Determining Instances of Criminal Content (CDICC). This move is consistent with the authorities’ strategy to push Iranian internet users to use home-grown Iranian apps and services while limiting the availability of international services. 

Since the appointment two years ago of Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi as ICT Minister, the drive to complete the country's National Information Network (SHOMA) has been a key government priority. Although part of this project entails the much-needed expansion and improvement of Iran’s internet infrastructure, another key pillar is the rapid localisation —and in essence, nationalisation – of digital content and services.

Practically, Jahromi’s policies seek to drive Iranian internet users to migrate to domestically produced (and domestically hosted) versions of apps and online services. The danger in this is that through a lack of alternatives, Iranian users are being channelled toward local services that are far more vulnerable to government surveillance, censorship and the mishandling of personal data than many globally utilised online services. The decision to block access to Google Play bears the hallmarks of this agenda.

Iran’s domestic messaging apps 

Soroush, a local messaging and social media app, is owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Iranians can only register their Soroush accounts to their Iranian SIM cards, This represents a threat to users’ privacy since in Iran all SIM cards in Iran must be registered to a national ID and residential address. 

Bisphone is another service with ties to the Iranian government.  Research has shown Bisphone data is stored with the Telecommunication Company of Iran, which is known to be partly owned by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Despite Jahromi’s promises to introduce clear and comprehensive data protection regulations to mitigate existing privacy shortcomings, the proposed Data Protection and Privacy Bill that was announced in July 2018 is yet to materialise. Jahromi’s rhetoric on digital rights may differ from those of other political elites, which has occasionally led to public disagreements — his ministry, for instance, previously made public statements against filtering and data localisation policies — but the push for the use of domestic apps in Iran continues.

Given the increasing improvement in the relationship between Jahromi and the Iranian Parliament, and the body’s broad acquiescence to many of the rights-infringing policies emanating from the ICT Ministry, it seems possible that a consensus has also emerged in the legislature in support of the localisation agenda. This is a worrying development, as given the lack of any transparent and accountable processes for filtering decisions, elected official have limited opportunity to scrutinise or intervene in major filtering decisions. MPs who claim to support citizens’ rights must start to speak out when incidents such as this occur, and demand accountability.

In sum, the recent order to ban Google Play must be viewed in the context of Iranian authorities’ aggressive push to corral Iranian users into using domestic services and technologies whose data protection protocols are essentially non-existent. The policies designed by the ICT Ministry and the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, and implemented by the Judiciary, critically undermine the safety and privacy of Iranian users by stripping them of the ability to use secure and tested global services.

Iranian users must have the right to choose online tools that can keep their data secure. As long as users are forced to use domestic alternatives, their right to privacy remains in peril.

Cry of ‘Free the [bleeping] weed!’ leads to arrest of Trinidadian cannabis advocate

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 17:44

Decriminalisation? ‘Port of Spain will [answer] with a solid yes’

Activist Nazma Muller is led away by police officers in front of Trinidad and Tobago's parliament on October 18, 2019. Photo courtesy of Nazma Muller.

On October 18, 2019, activist Nazma Muller stood on the pavement outside Trinidad and Tobago's parliament to continue to press the government to enact existing medical marijuana legislation.

In a Facebook post that morning, she announced that she would be “outside Parliament from noon to 3 pm reminding the prime minister of his promise to decriminalise cannabis and make it available for personal and medical use by June 30 of this year.”

Muller has vowed to “be there every Friday until he keeps his promise” — but on this particular Friday, the police arrested her under Section 49 of the country's Summary Offences Act, which deals with “violent language and breach of the peace” — a law which some view as counterintuitive to the freedom of expression that is enshrined in the Constitution.

Jurist and lecturer Jamille Broome, for instance, believes the law to be “very oppressive” and thinks “the only limit on obscene language should be when it incites or has the potential to incite violence.”

Anyone arrested under this law faces a fine of $200 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (approximately $30 United States dollars) or 30 days’ imprisonment.

Images posted on Muller's Facebook page show her being led away by a police officer, who also took away her sign reading, “Honk your horn for the herb.”

Supporters soon began sharing the images, with photographer Christopher H. Samlal commenting:

Dr. Nazma Muller has been detained while protesting to “Free de Ganja”. Officers advised she will we taken to CPS to be charged and processed. Please share so people can see the real threats to our democracy.
#FreeTheWeed #LegalizeIt #DemocracyWhere

In the thread that followed, Samlal said that when the police officers approached, “they said we were ‘inciting others to disrupt parliament’.” While some commenters felt the police were simply doing their job, Imtiaz Rudy Mohammed asked:

I thought parliament was inside of a building, was she trying to breach the building? Was she found with an IED [improvised explosive device] on her person? Was she in any way harming anyone or influencing harming to anyone in parliament? If all these answers are a no then she is being abused by the police. […] Free the lady let her do her civil duty.

Muller was released from police custody at around 7:30 that evening. At her October 21 hearing, she pleaded “not guilty” to the charge and the matter was adjourned to November 13, 2019.

Speaking with Global Voices by phone, Muller said that she had retained Dr. Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle and Jason Jones from New City Chambers as her attorneys and was not at liberty to discuss the details of the case. She did confirm, though, that the charge against her was “the use of obscene language to the annoyance of people in the street”. However, photos of the area outside parliament on the day in question do not capture any bystanders.

Via WhatsApp, Dr. Crowne told Global Voices that “there are serious constitutional implications in this matter”:

Here we have someone exercising her constitutional right to expression and her constitutional right to protest and both of those rights have seemingly been infringed by the state and […] it does appear to be a trend of silencing dissent, silencing unpopular speech in Trinidad and Tobago — so we are very concerned about two constitutional grounds that are triggered here — the freedom of thought and expression and the freedom of association and assembly.

Describing the process of arrest and detainment as “traumatic”, Muller said she is nevertheless emboldened to continue her fight for justice. Although the draft cannabis legislation is reportedly ready and simply needs to be laid in parliament, she says neither she nor any of the other stakeholders she has spoken to have been invited to offer feedback to help ensure its smooth passage.

The country's president has also turned down Muller's request to intervene in the medical marijuana issue.

The day after her hearing, Muller found herself at the prison located in the capital, Port of Spain — not as an inmate, but as an advocate. She shared her experience on Facebook:

To those who say the war is over, Rowley has promised to decriminalise, tell that to the citizens of this country who are packed 15 man to one stinking cell […]
I had the honour of coaching the debating team, the defending champions, to prepare for the annual prisons debate final in Woodford Square on November 13.
The question is: Should marijuana be decriminalised in Trinidad and Tobago? And Port of Spain will be answering with a very solid yes.
Until Keith Rowley brings the legislation to Parliament, marijuana is still illegal. And the police are still arresting and charging mostly young, working-class men for possession of marijuana, and sending them to the already overcrowded prison if they can't make bail.
How you think those men feel when they come out…?

To Muller, the question of cannabis decriminalisation and legalisation goes much further than medical needs, religious freedom (she is a Rastafarian) or even the right to personal use of the herb — it is intrinsically tied to many of the social ills the country faces, and to her, “freeing it” can offer much-needed relief — right across the board.

Muller will be protesting outside parliament again today, Friday October 25, and has support from Daniel Junior Sawic George — a father who staged a protest walk of his own to decriminalise cannabis because he believes medical marijuana can help his two sick daughters.

Cry of ‘Free the [bleeping] weed!’ leads to arrest of Trinidadian cannabis advocate

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 17:44

Decriminalisation? ‘Port of Spain will [answer] with a solid yes’

Activist Nazma Muller is led away by police officers in front of Trinidad and Tobago's parliament on October 18, 2019. Photo courtesy of Nazma Muller.

On October 18, 2019, activist Nazma Muller stood on the pavement outside Trinidad and Tobago's parliament to continue to press the government to enact existing medical marijuana legislation.

In a Facebook post that morning, she announced that she would be “outside Parliament from noon to 3 pm reminding the prime minister of his promise to decriminalise cannabis and make it available for personal and medical use by June 30 of this year.”

Muller has vowed to “be there every Friday until he keeps his promise” — but on this particular Friday, the police arrested her under Section 49 of the country's Summary Offences Act, which deals with “violent language and breach of the peace” — a law which some view as counterintuitive to the freedom of expression that is enshrined in the Constitution.

Jurist and lecturer Jamille Broome, for instance, believes the law to be “very oppressive” and thinks “the only limit on obscene language should be when it incites or has the potential to incite violence.”

Anyone arrested under this law faces a fine of $200 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (approximately $30 United States dollars) or 30 days’ imprisonment.

Images posted on Muller's Facebook page show her being led away by a police officer, who also took away her sign reading, “Honk your horn for the herb.”

Supporters soon began sharing the images, with photographer Christopher H. Samlal commenting:

Dr. Nazma Muller has been detained while protesting to “Free de Ganja”. Officers advised she will we taken to CPS to be charged and processed. Please share so people can see the real threats to our democracy.
#FreeTheWeed #LegalizeIt #DemocracyWhere

In the thread that followed, Samlal said that when the police officers approached, “they said we were ‘inciting others to disrupt parliament’.” While some commenters felt the police were simply doing their job, Imtiaz Rudy Mohammed asked:

I thought parliament was inside of a building, was she trying to breach the building? Was she found with an IED [improvised explosive device] on her person? Was she in any way harming anyone or influencing harming to anyone in parliament? If all these answers are a no then she is being abused by the police. […] Free the lady let her do her civil duty.

Muller was released from police custody at around 7:30 that evening. At her October 21 hearing, she pleaded “not guilty” to the charge and the matter was adjourned to November 13, 2019.

Speaking with Global Voices by phone, Muller said that she had retained Dr. Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle and Jason Jones from New City Chambers as her attorneys and was not at liberty to discuss the details of the case. She did confirm, though, that the charge against her was “the use of obscene language to the annoyance of people in the street”. However, photos of the area outside parliament on the day in question do not capture any bystanders.

Via WhatsApp, Dr. Crowne told Global Voices that “there are serious constitutional implications in this matter”:

Here we have someone exercising her constitutional right to expression and her constitutional right to protest and both of those rights have seemingly been infringed by the state and […] it does appear to be a trend of silencing dissent, silencing unpopular speech in Trinidad and Tobago — so we are very concerned about two constitutional grounds that are triggered here — the freedom of thought and expression and the freedom of association and assembly.

Describing the process of arrest and detainment as “traumatic”, Muller said she is nevertheless emboldened to continue her fight for justice. Although the draft cannabis legislation is reportedly ready and simply needs to be laid in parliament, she says neither she nor any of the other stakeholders she has spoken to have been invited to offer feedback to help ensure its smooth passage.

The country's president has also turned down Muller's request to intervene in the medical marijuana issue.

The day after her hearing, Muller found herself at the prison located in the capital, Port of Spain — not as an inmate, but as an advocate. She shared her experience on Facebook:

To those who say the war is over, Rowley has promised to decriminalise, tell that to the citizens of this country who are packed 15 man to one stinking cell […]
I had the honour of coaching the debating team, the defending champions, to prepare for the annual prisons debate final in Woodford Square on November 13.
The question is: Should marijuana be decriminalised in Trinidad and Tobago? And Port of Spain will be answering with a very solid yes.
Until Keith Rowley brings the legislation to Parliament, marijuana is still illegal. And the police are still arresting and charging mostly young, working-class men for possession of marijuana, and sending them to the already overcrowded prison if they can't make bail.
How you think those men feel when they come out…?

To Muller, the question of cannabis decriminalisation and legalisation goes much further than medical needs, religious freedom (she is a Rastafarian) or even the right to personal use of the herb — it is intrinsically tied to many of the social ills the country faces, and to her, “freeing it” can offer much-needed relief — right across the board.

Muller will be protesting outside parliament again today, Friday October 25, and has support from Daniel Junior Sawic George — a father who staged a protest walk of his own to decriminalise cannabis because he believes medical marijuana can help his two sick daughters.

Portuguese rapper causes controversy for portraying domestic violence in music video

Thu, 10/24/2019 - 08:24

Valete says his critics are “bourgeois feminists”

The Portuguese rapper Valete. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Valete, a Portuguese rapper of Santomean origin currently living in Lisbon, has faced many criticisms after releasing a video that shows a scene of domestic violence.

The music video for “B.F.F”, released on August 30, shows an armed man violently threatening his partner and her lover. On Valete's YouTube channel, the video has over a million views.

Dozens of women's rights associations in Portugal signed an open letter to Valete criticising what they said was a trivialisation of domestic violence. The letter says:

A violência contra as mulheres não é arte nem cultura. A reprodução clara de misoginia e a banalização da violência contra as mulheres não podem ser cronicamente escudadas na criação artística.

Violence against women is not art or culture. The clear reproduction of misogyny and the trivialization of violence against women cannot be routinely hidden behind artistic creation.

According to the Portuguese Association for Victim Support (APAV), which provides support to families of victims of violence in Portugal, of 28 cases of attempted murder in 2018, 11 were committed by the victim's partner or former partner.

Facing criticism, Valete published a video reply rebuffing his critics, who he calls “bourgeois feminists who do not go to Lisbon’s suburbs to get to know the lives of the women who live there.”

To the newspaper Público, Valete called the controversy “empty,” created by “a small group of popstar feminists,” and claims his artistic freedom as a creator. “If I showed the same thing in a book or a film, there would be no problem.”

Valete is the artistic name of Keidje Torres Lima, 37 years old. He started his musical career in 1997, having released two albums and made several appearances in albums of other lusophone hip-hop artists.

The controversy provoked reactions from women on social media. On her Facebook page, the Portuguese activist Marta Sousa e Silva criticized the video, and also showed support for the musician’s artistic freedom:

Tive dois pensamentos quando vi o vídeoclipe. O primeiro foi “está mesmo bem executado e representado”. O segundo foi “não me apetece ouvir isto duas vezes”.

Fiquei desiludida. Reparem: Entendo o exercício artístico. Entendo que esta música é a representação de uma narrativa, não um apoio à situação descrita.

Mas a verdade é que foi um exercício que por si só trouxe ZERO à discussão da violência de género em Portugal. Isto porque essa narrativa já nós conhecemos bem. Não é nada de novo. É a narrativa dominante. É a narrativa que traduz o que já foi até lei, há menos do que 50 anos atrás. Do valete esperaria a narrativa anti-sistema e não a vigente.

Posto isto, faz sentido censurar a música? Não, porra. Claro que não faz. Faz tanto sentido quanto dizer que quem com ela se ofende é porque é feminista burguês, parvo, da aldeia, ou quer ganhar dinheiro.

É que no final, e ao contrário do que achava, o exercício artístico até abriu possibilidade de discussão. Gerou fricção, conflito, e é na resolução das fricções e conflitos que desconstruimos estruturas falsas e construímos bases mais sólidas. Infelizmente, não é isso que se está a passar.

I had two thoughts when I saw the video. The first was “it's really well made and performed”. The second was “I don't feel like hearing this twice”.

I was disappointed. Look: I understand the artistic exercise. I understand that this song is the representation of a narrative, not an endorsement of the situation described.

But the truth is that it was an exercise that in itself brought ZERO to the discussion of gender violence in Portugal. This is because we already know this narrative well. It's nothing new. It's the dominant narrative. It's the narrative that reflects what was once the law, less than 50 years ago. From Valete I would expect an anti-system narrative and not the current one.

Having said that, does it make sense to censor the music? No, dammit. Of course it doesn't. It makes as much sense as saying that whoever is offended by it is because they're a bourgeois, foolish, village feminist, or wants to make money.

In the end, and contrary to what I had thought, the artistic exercise even opened up the possibility of discussion. It generated friction, conflict, and it is in the resolution of frictions and conflicts that we deconstruct false structures and build more solid foundations. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening.

Other reactions came from Mozambique, one of them from Capito Semente, who said he did not see anything controversial in the video:

Assisti o vídeo BFF de Valete várias vezes. Não entendo o porque de tanta agitação das feministas com a suposta incitação a violência contra as Mulheres!

Cenas fortes como as que aparecem no vídeo são muito comum em filmes que retratam a violência doméstica. Curiosamente, as mesmas feministas que criticam o vídeo apoiam-se em cenas idênticas de outros vídeos para conscientizar as pessoas a não optar por actos de violência nos seus lares. O que acharam de tão grave no vídeo da música do Valete?

I watched Valete’s BFF video several times. I don't understand the reason why the feminists are so agitated about the supposed incitement to violence against women!

Striking scenes such as those that appear in the video are very common in films that portray domestic violence. Interestingly, the same feminists who criticize the video rely on identical scenes from other videos to raise awareness about not committing acts of violence in their homes. What do they think is so bad about Valete’s music video?

The Mozambican researcher Boa Monjane, who says he supports feminism, says he is in solidarity with Valete because although he was shocked by the video, he thinks that there is a racist exploitation of the case:

Eu sou dos que se decepcionou com a música e vídeo BFF de Valete.
Agora, daí a aproveitar-se da situação para exalar ódio, preconceito e ataques (de todos os tipos) faz-me solidarizar-me com ele, enquanto sujeito negro.
Assumo as consequências!!!

I'm one of those who was disappointed with Valete’s song BFF and the video.
Now, from the point the situation was taken advantage of to spread hatred, prejudice and attacks (of all kinds) it makes me sympathize with him, as a black man.
I assume the consequences!!

Portuguese rapper causes controversy for portraying domestic violence in music video

Thu, 10/24/2019 - 08:24

Valete says his critics are “bourgeois feminists”

The Portuguese rapper Valete. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Valete, a Portuguese rapper of Santomean origin currently living in Lisbon, has faced many criticisms after releasing a video that shows a scene of domestic violence.

The music video for “B.F.F”, released on August 30, shows an armed man violently threatening his partner and her lover. On Valete's YouTube channel, the video has over a million views.

Dozens of women's rights associations in Portugal signed an open letter to Valete criticising what they said was a trivialisation of domestic violence. The letter says:

A violência contra as mulheres não é arte nem cultura. A reprodução clara de misoginia e a banalização da violência contra as mulheres não podem ser cronicamente escudadas na criação artística.

Violence against women is not art or culture. The clear reproduction of misogyny and the trivialization of violence against women cannot be routinely hidden behind artistic creation.

According to the Portuguese Association for Victim Support (APAV), which provides support to families of victims of violence in Portugal, of 28 cases of attempted murder in 2018, 11 were committed by the victim's partner or former partner.

Facing criticism, Valete published a video reply rebuffing his critics, who he calls “bourgeois feminists who do not go to Lisbon’s suburbs to get to know the lives of the women who live there.”

To the newspaper Público, Valete called the controversy “empty,” created by “a small group of popstar feminists,” and claims his artistic freedom as a creator. “If I showed the same thing in a book or a film, there would be no problem.”

Valete is the artistic name of Keidje Torres Lima, 37 years old. He started his musical career in 1997, having released two albums and made several appearances in albums of other lusophone hip-hop artists.

The controversy provoked reactions from women on social media. On her Facebook page, the Portuguese activist Marta Sousa e Silva criticized the video, and also showed support for the musician’s artistic freedom:

Tive dois pensamentos quando vi o vídeoclipe. O primeiro foi “está mesmo bem executado e representado”. O segundo foi “não me apetece ouvir isto duas vezes”.

Fiquei desiludida. Reparem: Entendo o exercício artístico. Entendo que esta música é a representação de uma narrativa, não um apoio à situação descrita.

Mas a verdade é que foi um exercício que por si só trouxe ZERO à discussão da violência de género em Portugal. Isto porque essa narrativa já nós conhecemos bem. Não é nada de novo. É a narrativa dominante. É a narrativa que traduz o que já foi até lei, há menos do que 50 anos atrás. Do valete esperaria a narrativa anti-sistema e não a vigente.

Posto isto, faz sentido censurar a música? Não, porra. Claro que não faz. Faz tanto sentido quanto dizer que quem com ela se ofende é porque é feminista burguês, parvo, da aldeia, ou quer ganhar dinheiro.

É que no final, e ao contrário do que achava, o exercício artístico até abriu possibilidade de discussão. Gerou fricção, conflito, e é na resolução das fricções e conflitos que desconstruimos estruturas falsas e construímos bases mais sólidas. Infelizmente, não é isso que se está a passar.

I had two thoughts when I saw the video. The first was “it's really well made and performed”. The second was “I don't feel like hearing this twice”.

I was disappointed. Look: I understand the artistic exercise. I understand that this song is the representation of a narrative, not an endorsement of the situation described.

But the truth is that it was an exercise that in itself brought ZERO to the discussion of gender violence in Portugal. This is because we already know this narrative well. It's nothing new. It's the dominant narrative. It's the narrative that reflects what was once the law, less than 50 years ago. From Valete I would expect an anti-system narrative and not the current one.

Having said that, does it make sense to censor the music? No, dammit. Of course it doesn't. It makes as much sense as saying that whoever is offended by it is because they're a bourgeois, foolish, village feminist, or wants to make money.

In the end, and contrary to what I had thought, the artistic exercise even opened up the possibility of discussion. It generated friction, conflict, and it is in the resolution of frictions and conflicts that we deconstruct false structures and build more solid foundations. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening.

Other reactions came from Mozambique, one of them from Capito Semente, who said he did not see anything controversial in the video:

Assisti o vídeo BFF de Valete várias vezes. Não entendo o porque de tanta agitação das feministas com a suposta incitação a violência contra as Mulheres!

Cenas fortes como as que aparecem no vídeo são muito comum em filmes que retratam a violência doméstica. Curiosamente, as mesmas feministas que criticam o vídeo apoiam-se em cenas idênticas de outros vídeos para conscientizar as pessoas a não optar por actos de violência nos seus lares. O que acharam de tão grave no vídeo da música do Valete?

I watched Valete’s BFF video several times. I don't understand the reason why the feminists are so agitated about the supposed incitement to violence against women!

Striking scenes such as those that appear in the video are very common in films that portray domestic violence. Interestingly, the same feminists who criticize the video rely on identical scenes from other videos to raise awareness about not committing acts of violence in their homes. What do they think is so bad about Valete’s music video?

The Mozambican researcher Boa Monjane, who says he supports feminism, says he is in solidarity with Valete because although he was shocked by the video, he thinks that there is a racist exploitation of the case:

Eu sou dos que se decepcionou com a música e vídeo BFF de Valete.
Agora, daí a aproveitar-se da situação para exalar ódio, preconceito e ataques (de todos os tipos) faz-me solidarizar-me com ele, enquanto sujeito negro.
Assumo as consequências!!!

I'm one of those who was disappointed with Valete’s song BFF and the video.
Now, from the point the situation was taken advantage of to spread hatred, prejudice and attacks (of all kinds) it makes me sympathize with him, as a black man.
I assume the consequences!!

Mozambican journalists and activists targeted with threats in election year

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 18:10

Threats sent via SMS are not unprecedented in Mozambique

2019 elections posters in Mozambique. Photo by the author, used with permission.

On October 15, Mozambicans cast ballots for president, parliament and provincial governors in the sixth general election held in the country since the multiparty constitution was approved in 1992.

Contested elections

The main opposition party RENAMO, as it has done at every poll since 1994, has rejected the results. It accuses FRELIMO of defrauding the ballots. The government denies this.

Meanwhile, missions by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and the European Union highlighted irregularities in the voter registry and condemned the violence it says marred the campaign season.

However, observatory missions by the African Union, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries and the Southern Africa Development Community have jointly declared that the election was conducted in an “orderly and peaceful fashion” and “in accordance with international standards,” positing that incidents of violence were “isolated” and “did not compromise the integrity of the process.”

Partial results show President Filip Nyusi headed for reelection with over 75% of the vote. His FRELIMO party, which ruled Mozambique since 1992, is expected to obtain two-thirds of the seats in the unicameral legislative and to elect all 10 provincial governors.

In this election year, human rights organizations documented several cases in which journalists and activists were threatened and subjected to pressures interfering with their work, including threats that were sent via SMS.

One day before the elections, community radio association FORCOM said on Twitter that one of its journalists, Naldo Chivite, received a threatening SMS. ‘’Chivite, you must have attention about what you will say on Tuesday [election day]. You have talked too much about the Nampula [a province in northeastern Mozambique] elections and we've accepted it. Be careful,’’ the message read, according to FORCOM.

In a press release, the association said that they filed a police report and requested protection for the journalist, adding that threats such as those violate the right to freedom of expression.

Global Voices spoke with Chivite, who said he suspected the threat was sent by members of a political party, without specifying which one. He added that he received similar threats during the 2014 elections.

Established in 2004, FORCOM is the national forum of community broadcasters in Mozambique. It has 45 community radios from across Mozambique as members.

Another case involved Tomé Balança, a broadcaster at Radio Chuabo FM. According to the radio's director Zito Ossumane, unknown persons broke into Balança's home on election day, ”torturing him and threatening him with death,” Ossumane said on Twitter. Ossumane himself said he has received threatening calls on election day:

Antecede a isso varias chamadas que eu próprio recebi enquanto gestor do canal para interromper a transmissão e paralisar os trabalhos na redação que alimentava minuto a minuto os sites do @Jornal_Txopela e da @ChuaboFm

— Zito do Rosário Ossumane (@Zitodorosario) October 17, 2019

This is preceded by several calls which I received as media manager to stop the broadcasting and stop working to @Jornal_Txopela and @ChuaboFm websites during the election day.

On January 18, Fátima Mimbire, activist and former employee of the Center of Public Integrity (CIP) received intimidating messages and death threats through social media. CIP is a civil society organization that helps with electoral observation in Mozambique.

According to Amnesty, ‘’known FRELIMO militants had been advocating violence against her on social media.’’ Member of parliament Alice Tomás called for her to be raped at that time: ‘’She talks a lot and must be raped by 10 strong and energetic men to teach her a lesson,’’ the MP said on Facebook.

These types of threats, particularly via SMS and social media, are not unprecedented in Mozambique. 

During last year’s municipal elections, several journalists, media organizations and human rights defenders received threatening messages for publishing live election results and because of their role in monitoring the poll, Amnesty said. In Tete province, Aparicio Jose de Nascimento, editor of the weekly Malacha newspaper received death threats for publishing the electoral results online.  

According to MISA-Mozambique in Tete, the threats, which were circulated via WhatsApp, forced the journalist to take refuge in an unknown place. The journalist started receiving threats in the morning of October 11, 2018 when his newspaper published municipal election results in Moatize that showed the main opposition party winning. 

He told Global Voices that he was warned by people close to him that information was circulating in a private WhatsApp group that he should be kidnapped. 

In previous elections, mobile and internet connections were key tools for election monitoring efforts in Mozambique. Citizen observers have used their cameras to document any issues or irregularities on election day to contribute to the transparency of the voting process.

Unlike some of its neighboring countries, Mozambique does not have a record of restricting access to networks at times of elections and political upheavals. For example, Malawi partially shut down the internet and social media during the counting after the May 21 vote, while in January Zimbabwe restricted access to social media, and entire networks in certain areas of the country, in response to anti-government protests.

However, threats, whether online or via SMS and calls, represent a gross violation of Mozambicans’ rights to access information and expression. They contribute to an environment of fear and intimidation for journalists and activists to do their work without interference at a time when the public needs credible reporting. 

This article is part of a series of posts examining interference with digital rights through methods such as network shutdowns and disinformation during key political events in seven African countries: Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. The project is funded by the Africa Digital Rights Fund of The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

Mozambican journalists and activists targeted with threats in election year

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 18:10

Threats sent via SMS are not unprecedented in Mozambique

2019 elections posters in Mozambique. Photo by the author, used with permission.

On October 15, Mozambicans cast ballots for president, parliament and provincial governors in the sixth general election held in the country since the multiparty constitution was approved in 1992.

Contested elections

The main opposition party RENAMO, as it has done at every poll since 1994, has rejected the results. It accuses FRELIMO of defrauding the ballots. The government denies this.

Meanwhile, missions by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and the European Union highlighted irregularities in the voter registry and condemned the violence it says marred the campaign season.

However, observatory missions by the African Union, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries and the Southern Africa Development Community have jointly declared that the election was conducted in an “orderly and peaceful fashion” and “in accordance with international standards,” positing that incidents of violence were “isolated” and “did not compromise the integrity of the process.”

Partial results show President Filip Nyusi headed for reelection with over 75% of the vote. His FRELIMO party, which ruled Mozambique since 1992, is expected to obtain two-thirds of the seats in the unicameral legislative and to elect all 10 provincial governors.

In this election year, human rights organizations documented several cases in which journalists and activists were threatened and subjected to pressures interfering with their work, including threats that were sent via SMS.

One day before the elections, community radio association FORCOM said on Twitter that one of its journalists, Naldo Chivite, received a threatening SMS. ‘’Chivite, you must have attention about what you will say on Tuesday [election day]. You have talked too much about the Nampula [a province in northeastern Mozambique] elections and we've accepted it. Be careful,’’ the message read, according to FORCOM.

In a press release, the association said that they filed a police report and requested protection for the journalist, adding that threats such as those violate the right to freedom of expression.

Global Voices spoke with Chivite, who said he suspected the threat was sent by members of a political party, without specifying which one. He added that he received similar threats during the 2014 elections.

Established in 2004, FORCOM is the national forum of community broadcasters in Mozambique. It has 45 community radios from across Mozambique as members.

Another case involved Tomé Balança, a broadcaster at Radio Chuabo FM. According to the radio's director Zito Ossumane, unknown persons broke into Balança's home on election day, ”torturing him and threatening him with death,” Ossumane said on Twitter. Ossumane himself said he has received threatening calls on election day:

Antecede a isso varias chamadas que eu próprio recebi enquanto gestor do canal para interromper a transmissão e paralisar os trabalhos na redação que alimentava minuto a minuto os sites do @Jornal_Txopela e da @ChuaboFm

— Zito do Rosário Ossumane (@Zitodorosario) October 17, 2019

This is preceded by several calls which I received as media manager to stop the broadcasting and stop working to @Jornal_Txopela and @ChuaboFm websites during the election day.

On January 18, Fátima Mimbire, activist and former employee of the Center of Public Integrity (CIP) received intimidating messages and death threats through social media. CIP is a civil society organization that helps with electoral observation in Mozambique.

According to Amnesty, ‘’known FRELIMO militants had been advocating violence against her on social media.’’ Member of parliament Alice Tomás called for her to be raped at that time: ‘’She talks a lot and must be raped by 10 strong and energetic men to teach her a lesson,’’ the MP said on Facebook.

These types of threats, particularly via SMS and social media, are not unprecedented in Mozambique. 

During last year’s municipal elections, several journalists, media organizations and human rights defenders received threatening messages for publishing live election results and because of their role in monitoring the poll, Amnesty said. In Tete province, Aparicio Jose de Nascimento, editor of the weekly Malacha newspaper received death threats for publishing the electoral results online.  

According to MISA-Mozambique in Tete, the threats, which were circulated via WhatsApp, forced the journalist to take refuge in an unknown place. The journalist started receiving threats in the morning of October 11, 2018 when his newspaper published municipal election results in Moatize that showed the main opposition party winning. 

He told Global Voices that he was warned by people close to him that information was circulating in a private WhatsApp group that he should be kidnapped. 

In previous elections, mobile and internet connections were key tools for election monitoring efforts in Mozambique. Citizen observers have used their cameras to document any issues or irregularities on election day to contribute to the transparency of the voting process.

Unlike some of its neighboring countries, Mozambique does not have a record of restricting access to networks at times of elections and political upheavals. For example, Malawi partially shut down the internet and social media during the counting after the May 21 vote, while in January Zimbabwe restricted access to social media, and entire networks in certain areas of the country, in response to anti-government protests.

However, threats, whether online or via SMS and calls, represent a gross violation of Mozambicans’ rights to access information and expression. They contribute to an environment of fear and intimidation for journalists and activists to do their work without interference at a time when the public needs credible reporting. 

This article is part of a series of posts examining interference with digital rights through methods such as network shutdowns and disinformation during key political events in seven African countries: Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. The project is funded by the Africa Digital Rights Fund of The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

Nigerian journalist under threat of arrest for exposé of police and prison corruption

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 14:31

‘Fisayo Soyombo risks imprisonment or fine, if arrested and convicted

‘Fisayo Soyombo, image from Facebook.

Investigative journalist ‘Fisayo Soyombo is at risk of arrest for an undercover inquiry he conducted in July this year, that revealed corruption in Nigeria's justice system — particularly among the police and prison service.

The Nigerian Guardian newspaper reports that Soyombo was “to be arrested at the venue” of a workshop where he was scheduled to speak on October 22 in Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria. He got a tip-off about the impending arrest which made him withdraw from the event. Consequently, Soyombo has “has gone underground” after fleeing his residence on October 21.

So @fisayosoyombo has been forced to pull out of an event he was scheduled to speak at this evening because he got tipped off that the authorities want to arrest him for his stories on our prisons.

Part 3 of #CashAndCarryPrison isn't out yet…

— Chxta (@Chxta) October 22, 2019

Read more: How Nigeria uses the law to repress free speech: The case of journalist Jones Abiri ‘Bribery, bail for sale, drug abuse, sodomy, pimping’

Adopting the pseudonym Ojo Olajumoke, Soyombo plotted his own arrest and detention to expose corruption in the justice system. He committed  an ‘offence’ which got him arrested, detained, charged to court and remanded in prison. The feigned offense was committed in November 2018, when Soyombo purchased a car worth 2.8 million naira [about US$ 8,000] for which he paid a cash deposit of 300,000 naira [about US$ 800]. But after this payment, Soyombo began to avoid the person who sold the car to him. The car owner reported to the police and this lead to the arrest of Soyombo on July 8.

With the purported offence and consequent arrest, Soyombo had the opportunity to investigate the police and prison from within.

This award-winning journalist documented his experiences during the five days spent in police custody and eight spent as an inmate of Ikoyi Prison, Lagos. This exposed monumental corruption by the Nigerian police and the officers of the Nigerian Prison Service (recently renamed as the Nigerian Correctional Service).

In Part I of his story, which was simultaneously published on October 14 in the two online newspapers, CableNG and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Soyombo explained how he exposed corruption in the country's justice system:

Of course they didn’t know I was a journalist; I had assumed a pseudonym and grown my hair long enough — for 10 months — to blend with artificial dreads. My locks were tinted in gold and almost all my facial hair removed. I cut the profile of the kind of youth the police indiscriminately railroad into their notoriously ramshackle vans for no reason, for onward transfer to their cells. One look at me and the typical policeman would have mistaken me for a compulsive hemp smoker, an incorrigible internet fraudster or a serial drug abuser.

Part II of Soyombo investigation, published a week later October 21, exposed the “drug abuse, sodomy, bribery, pimping…” and the corruption in Ikoyi Prisons, Lagos, Nigeria: 

Seeing the lack of restraint with which they discuss acts of bribery and corruption, I approach them for guidance on the allocation of accommodation in prison. Apparently, it’s a high-wire fraud involving prison officials in court and those in the yard proper. “You can get a cell for N30,000 [naira]” [US$ 83], one of the warders tells me. “You can also get for N100,000 [US$ 277] or N150,000 [US$ 417]. You can even get a N1.5million [US$ 4,170] cell.”

“A million and five hundred thousand? [naira]” I protest…

Another warder cuts in. “Don’t worry, you can never suffer in the prison yard,” he says. “As long as you have your money.”

In the Part III published on October 23, Soyombo recounts how he shared the same cell with a ‘mad’ inmate and the varied reactions of prison officials when his true “identity” as an undercover journalist was unraveled:

Over the course of my seven days in prison, it was, quite simply, too easy for me to separate the corrupt warders, who were in the majority, from the clean ones. The corrupt ones were usually pensive and jittery whenever they came in contact with me, and they were the ones who were most vicious during the initial attempt to unravel my identity. I could see the apprehension in the eyes of two of those filmed demanding and receiving bribes from me in court. The corrupt ones in the prison yard who didn’t appear in the videos were nevertheless furious, knowing it could have been them as well. The blameless ones wanted to know my mission quite alright, but they were calm and civil with me. No violence; their strategy was to engage with me and look out for any loopholes in my answers. Fair enough.

Soyombo if arrested, will be charged under Section 29 of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act [Subsection 1 (d)] for possessing and using “communication devices” within the prison to record “conversation through a mobile phone or other devices” without authorization. If convicted, he risks a fine not exceeding 2 million naira [about US$5,500], two years imprisonment or both.

Read more: Nigerian journalist Omoyele Sowore remains in jail on trumped-up charges of treason and insulting the president Hauled for exposing ‘the rot in society’

Nigerians online are angry with the news with a hashtag #KeepFisayoSafe trending on Twitter.

Chris Akor, former chairman of the editorial board of Nigeria's BusinessDay newspaper stated that journalism was Soyombo's “life passion”:

Fisayo, since his student days, have been a passionate journalist — and that turned out to be his life passion. We pray for his safety! https://t.co/Kww14ZaEpw

— Chris Akor (@krissakor) October 22, 2019

“A sad day” for a journalist to be hauled to jail for exposing societal “rot”, activist Chioma Agwuegbo lamented:

It's a sad day when journalists are hauled into jail for exposing the rot in society. @fisayosoyombo should be feted & his reports used to expunge the corrupt amongst us but it seems it is easier to shut him up than to do right by Nigeria.#KeepFisayoSafe#JournalismIsNotACrime

— Chioma Agwuegbo (@ChiomaChuka) October 22, 2019

And rather than praises, the journalist is now “hiding of his life”:

Someone goes undercover, exposes a rot, and the next logical reaction is to find him and teach him a lesson. Is this how to go forward? @fisayosoyombo should not be hiding for his life but is now having to because of credible threats. #journalismisnotacrime #keepFisayosafe

— Lolade Nwanze (@LoladeSowoolu) October 22, 2019

The Enough is Enough (EiE) movement, a youth-led coalition promoting good governance and citizen engagement in Nigeria, urged the Nigerian government to “guarantee” Soyombo's safety:

According to information received, the personal safety of the investigative journalist, @fisayosoyombo may be under threat.
We urge the @NigeriaGov to guarantee his safety.#PressFreedom#KeepFisayoSafe#CashAnCarry pic.twitter.com/QeQC3gMaZD

— EiE Nigeria (@EiENigeria) October 22, 2019

“You cannot silence the media,” Kiki Mordi, who led a BBC investigation into sexual harassment in West African universities tweeted her support to Fisayo:

#JournalismNoBeCrime

Nigeria needs to stop her constant muzzling of the press! YOU CAN NOT SILENCE THE MEDIA!

We ask that our journalists go above and beyond to cover the news, and when they do they're targeted and victimised!

It is our collective DUTY to #KeepFisayoSafe

— Kiki Mordi (@kikimordi) October 22, 2019

Netizen Chuba Ugwu said Soyombo became a target for exposing an “irredeemably rotten criminal justice system”:

#keepfisayosafe is actually trending on Twitter.

A young journalist spent months, risking life and limb, to expose what is now looking like the most corrupt and irredeemably rotten criminal justice system in the world!@fisayosoyombo is now a target.

— Chuba Ugwu (@chonsyy) October 22, 2019

The intimidation of Soyombo exemplifies the precarious state of press freedom and free speech in Nigeria. From Jones Abiri to Omoyele Sowore to Agba Jalingo; the Nigerian government has flagrantly clamped down on journalists and dissenting voices.

The head of Nigeria's Prison Service, Ja’afaru Ahmed has set up an investigative panel to “establish the authenticity” of Soyombo's exposé, “and bring the culprits to book if found guilty of the allegations”. He also denied any plans of “arresting or harassing” Soyombo.

Nigerian journalist under threat of arrest for exposé of police and prison corruption

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 14:31

‘Fisayo Soyombo risks imprisonment or fine, if arrested and convicted

‘Fisayo Soyombo, image from Facebook.

Investigative journalist ‘Fisayo Soyombo is at risk of arrest for an undercover inquiry he conducted in July this year, that revealed corruption in Nigeria's justice system — particularly among the police and prison service.

The Nigerian Guardian newspaper reports that Soyombo was “to be arrested at the venue” of a workshop where he was scheduled to speak on October 22 in Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria. He got a tip-off about the impending arrest which made him withdraw from the event. Consequently, Soyombo has “has gone underground” after fleeing his residence on October 21.

So @fisayosoyombo has been forced to pull out of an event he was scheduled to speak at this evening because he got tipped off that the authorities want to arrest him for his stories on our prisons.

Part 3 of #CashAndCarryPrison isn't out yet…

— Chxta (@Chxta) October 22, 2019

Read more: How Nigeria uses the law to repress free speech: The case of journalist Jones Abiri ‘Bribery, bail for sale, drug abuse, sodomy, pimping’

Adopting the pseudonym Ojo Olajumoke, Soyombo plotted his own arrest and detention to expose corruption in the justice system. He committed  an ‘offence’ which got him arrested, detained, charged to court and remanded in prison. The feigned offense was committed in November 2018, when Soyombo purchased a car worth 2.8 million naira [about US$ 8,000] for which he paid a cash deposit of 300,000 naira [about US$ 800]. But after this payment, Soyombo began to avoid the person who sold the car to him. The car owner reported to the police and this lead to the arrest of Soyombo on July 8.

With the purported offence and consequent arrest, Soyombo had the opportunity to investigate the police and prison from within.

This award-winning journalist documented his experiences during the five days spent in police custody and eight spent as an inmate of Ikoyi Prison, Lagos. This exposed monumental corruption by the Nigerian police and the officers of the Nigerian Prison Service (recently renamed as the Nigerian Correctional Service).

In Part I of his story, which was simultaneously published on October 14 in the two online newspapers, CableNG and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Soyombo explained how he exposed corruption in the country's justice system:

Of course they didn’t know I was a journalist; I had assumed a pseudonym and grown my hair long enough — for 10 months — to blend with artificial dreads. My locks were tinted in gold and almost all my facial hair removed. I cut the profile of the kind of youth the police indiscriminately railroad into their notoriously ramshackle vans for no reason, for onward transfer to their cells. One look at me and the typical policeman would have mistaken me for a compulsive hemp smoker, an incorrigible internet fraudster or a serial drug abuser.

Part II of Soyombo investigation, published a week later October 21, exposed the “drug abuse, sodomy, bribery, pimping…” and the corruption in Ikoyi Prisons, Lagos, Nigeria: 

Seeing the lack of restraint with which they discuss acts of bribery and corruption, I approach them for guidance on the allocation of accommodation in prison. Apparently, it’s a high-wire fraud involving prison officials in court and those in the yard proper. “You can get a cell for N30,000 [naira]” [US$ 83], one of the warders tells me. “You can also get for N100,000 [US$ 277] or N150,000 [US$ 417]. You can even get a N1.5million [US$ 4,170] cell.”

“A million and five hundred thousand? [naira]” I protest…

Another warder cuts in. “Don’t worry, you can never suffer in the prison yard,” he says. “As long as you have your money.”

In the Part III published on October 23, Soyombo recounts how he shared the same cell with a ‘mad’ inmate and the varied reactions of prison officials when his true “identity” as an undercover journalist was unraveled:

Over the course of my seven days in prison, it was, quite simply, too easy for me to separate the corrupt warders, who were in the majority, from the clean ones. The corrupt ones were usually pensive and jittery whenever they came in contact with me, and they were the ones who were most vicious during the initial attempt to unravel my identity. I could see the apprehension in the eyes of two of those filmed demanding and receiving bribes from me in court. The corrupt ones in the prison yard who didn’t appear in the videos were nevertheless furious, knowing it could have been them as well. The blameless ones wanted to know my mission quite alright, but they were calm and civil with me. No violence; their strategy was to engage with me and look out for any loopholes in my answers. Fair enough.

Soyombo if arrested, will be charged under Section 29 of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act [Subsection 1 (d)] for possessing and using “communication devices” within the prison to record “conversation through a mobile phone or other devices” without authorization. If convicted, he risks a fine not exceeding 2 million naira [about US$5,500], two years imprisonment or both.

Read more: Nigerian journalist Omoyele Sowore remains in jail on trumped-up charges of treason and insulting the president Hauled for exposing ‘the rot in society’

Nigerians online are angry with the news with a hashtag #KeepFisayoSafe trending on Twitter.

Chris Akor, former chairman of the editorial board of Nigeria's BusinessDay newspaper stated that journalism was Soyombo's “life passion”:

Fisayo, since his student days, have been a passionate journalist — and that turned out to be his life passion. We pray for his safety! https://t.co/Kww14ZaEpw

— Chris Akor (@krissakor) October 22, 2019

“A sad day” for a journalist to be hauled to jail for exposing societal “rot”, activist Chioma Agwuegbo lamented:

It's a sad day when journalists are hauled into jail for exposing the rot in society. @fisayosoyombo should be feted & his reports used to expunge the corrupt amongst us but it seems it is easier to shut him up than to do right by Nigeria.#KeepFisayoSafe#JournalismIsNotACrime

— Chioma Agwuegbo (@ChiomaChuka) October 22, 2019

And rather than praises, the journalist is now “hiding of his life”:

Someone goes undercover, exposes a rot, and the next logical reaction is to find him and teach him a lesson. Is this how to go forward? @fisayosoyombo should not be hiding for his life but is now having to because of credible threats. #journalismisnotacrime #keepFisayosafe

— Lolade Nwanze (@LoladeSowoolu) October 22, 2019

The Enough is Enough (EiE) movement, a youth-led coalition promoting good governance and citizen engagement in Nigeria, urged the Nigerian government to “guarantee” Soyombo's safety:

According to information received, the personal safety of the investigative journalist, @fisayosoyombo may be under threat.
We urge the @NigeriaGov to guarantee his safety.#PressFreedom#KeepFisayoSafe#CashAnCarry pic.twitter.com/QeQC3gMaZD

— EiE Nigeria (@EiENigeria) October 22, 2019

“You cannot silence the media,” Kiki Mordi, who led a BBC investigation into sexual harassment in West African universities tweeted her support to Fisayo:

#JournalismNoBeCrime

Nigeria needs to stop her constant muzzling of the press! YOU CAN NOT SILENCE THE MEDIA!

We ask that our journalists go above and beyond to cover the news, and when they do they're targeted and victimised!

It is our collective DUTY to #KeepFisayoSafe

— Kiki Mordi (@kikimordi) October 22, 2019

Netizen Chuba Ugwu said Soyombo became a target for exposing an “irredeemably rotten criminal justice system”:

#keepfisayosafe is actually trending on Twitter.

A young journalist spent months, risking life and limb, to expose what is now looking like the most corrupt and irredeemably rotten criminal justice system in the world!@fisayosoyombo is now a target.

— Chuba Ugwu (@chonsyy) October 22, 2019

The intimidation of Soyombo exemplifies the precarious state of press freedom and free speech in Nigeria. From Jones Abiri to Omoyele Sowore to Agba Jalingo; the Nigerian government has flagrantly clamped down on journalists and dissenting voices.

The head of Nigeria's Prison Service, Ja’afaru Ahmed has set up an investigative panel to “establish the authenticity” of Soyombo's exposé, “and bring the culprits to book if found guilty of the allegations”. He also denied any plans of “arresting or harassing” Soyombo.

Australian newspapers ‘censor’ their front pages in protest against government secrecy laws

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 00:34

Front pages of Australian newspapers on 21 October 2019. Photo from Twitter post of Australia's National Press Club

In an unprecedented show of unity, Australian media outlets ran similar stories and redacted front pages featuring the ‘right to know’ campaign in response to government actions that undermine the work of journalists.

Australia’s Right to Know coalition said that rival media groups have joined forces to defend press freedom:

The media plays a vital role in telling the public what’s really going on. But journalists and whistleblowers in Australia live in fear of criminal charges, police raids and damaging court battles that threaten their professional careers and personal freedom.

The coalition also asserted that the campaign is not just intended to benefit the media but also the public’s right to know:

Even though our coalition is made up of competing businesses, we still team up to protect Australians’ right to know. We do this because media freedom is critical for holding powerful people accountable and ensuring you know about issues like aged care abuse, secret spying on Australian citizens and mysterious land deals with foreign owners.

According to the coalition’s research, Australian governments have passed around 75 laws related to secrecy, encryption, and spying which are often used to intimidate, prosecute, and arrest journalists.

In the past year, some media offices were raided for publishing classified information. Information requests on some public matters such as elderly abuse, the number of children in adult detention centers, and public surveillance were also denied.

Paul Murphy, chief executive of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, said some laws impede the work of journalists:

The culture of secrecy that has descended through these legal provisions restricts every Australian’s right to know and goes well beyond the original intent of national security.

Journalism is a fundamental pillar of our democracy. It exists to scrutinise the powerful, shine a light on wrongdoing and hold governments to account to the people, but the Australian public is being kept in the dark about matters that affect them.

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, criticized the use of national security laws to restrict public access to information:

It’s clear the national security justification doesn’t tell the whole story of a government’s secrecy obsession when it stops journalists telling you whether your parents or grandparents are at risk in a nursing home or whether the tax office might be raiding your bank accounts.

Australian Community Media (ACM) chief executive Allen Williams explained why they are supporting the campaign:

Australians expect and deserve to know what's going on, and how and why the government decisions that affect their lives are made.

The communities we serve trust us to keep them connected and informed, so ACM is proud to support this campaign to protect the public's right to know.

Some of the demands of the campaign include the call for public sector whistle-blowers protection, enactment of a “properly functioning” freedom of information regime, and the right to contest the application for warrants for journalists and media organizations.

These are some of the Twitter photos shared by journalists in their respective newsrooms:

Took us a while but here we are… Age and Melbourne AFR newsrooms support #PressFreedom and #YourRightToKnow pic.twitter.com/VDErJKzgBE

— Sarah Danckert (@sdanck) October 21, 2019

When you miss out on the group photo but still want to participate lol #PressFreedom #righttoknow pic.twitter.com/P2qeLRW0Gc

— Madeline Hayman-Reber (@MadelineHayman) October 21, 2019

When the government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up? What stories aren't being told? #righttoknow @abcperth pic.twitter.com/JnVeyiMKyv

— Emma Wynne (@em_wynne) October 21, 2019

You have a right to know what govts you elect are doing in your name. But in Australia, whistleblowers are penalised + journalists are raided by police. It needs to change. @ConversationEDU stands with colleagues across the country supporting the @withMEAA #RightToKnow campaign. pic.twitter.com/2jYjN49t7L

— The Conversation (@ConversationEDU) October 21, 2019

Court reporters shared some of the challenges they face when access to information is restricted:

Suppressions, split trials, closed courts, inconsistently applied rules, blocked access to documents – it’s not just governments that are withholding information! Everyday court reporters are up against defence lawyers and judges. #yourrightoknow @withMEAA pic.twitter.com/21cwcfULbB

— Karen Percy (@PercyKaren) October 21, 2019

Photographers also participated in the campaign:

After photographing the press gallery members, some of the photographers and camera operators join the group. #YourRightToKnow pic.twitter.com/Fw5aLKvXDM

— David Crowe (@CroweDM) October 21, 2019

Even detained asylum-seeker and award-winning writer Behrooz Boochani tweeted his support to the campaign:

Stand up with Australian media for freedom of speech. Some Oz politicians are enemies of democracy & the system itself has a problem if it creates this kind of small dictator. This same dictatorship has been played out in the secrecy about exile of refugees.#righttoknow pic.twitter.com/iB14DpSH0x

— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) October 21, 2019

The media protest was briefly discussed in parliament with the prime minister accusing the previous government (which is now the opposition) of passing laws that gag the press. Meanwhile, the police said they will conduct a review of their policies on dealing with the media during official operations.

Australian newspapers ‘censor’ their front pages in protest against government secrecy laws

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 00:34

Front pages of Australian newspapers on 21 October 2019. Photo from Twitter post of Australia's National Press Club

In an unprecedented show of unity, Australian media outlets ran similar stories and redacted front pages featuring the ‘right to know’ campaign in response to government actions that undermine the work of journalists.

Australia’s Right to Know coalition said that rival media groups have joined forces to defend press freedom:

The media plays a vital role in telling the public what’s really going on. But journalists and whistleblowers in Australia live in fear of criminal charges, police raids and damaging court battles that threaten their professional careers and personal freedom.

The coalition also asserted that the campaign is not just intended to benefit the media but also the public’s right to know:

Even though our coalition is made up of competing businesses, we still team up to protect Australians’ right to know. We do this because media freedom is critical for holding powerful people accountable and ensuring you know about issues like aged care abuse, secret spying on Australian citizens and mysterious land deals with foreign owners.

According to the coalition’s research, Australian governments have passed around 75 laws related to secrecy, encryption, and spying which are often used to intimidate, prosecute, and arrest journalists.

In the past year, some media offices were raided for publishing classified information. Information requests on some public matters such as elderly abuse, the number of children in adult detention centers, and public surveillance were also denied.

Paul Murphy, chief executive of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, said some laws impede the work of journalists:

The culture of secrecy that has descended through these legal provisions restricts every Australian’s right to know and goes well beyond the original intent of national security.

Journalism is a fundamental pillar of our democracy. It exists to scrutinise the powerful, shine a light on wrongdoing and hold governments to account to the people, but the Australian public is being kept in the dark about matters that affect them.

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, criticized the use of national security laws to restrict public access to information:

It’s clear the national security justification doesn’t tell the whole story of a government’s secrecy obsession when it stops journalists telling you whether your parents or grandparents are at risk in a nursing home or whether the tax office might be raiding your bank accounts.

Australian Community Media (ACM) chief executive Allen Williams explained why they are supporting the campaign:

Australians expect and deserve to know what's going on, and how and why the government decisions that affect their lives are made.

The communities we serve trust us to keep them connected and informed, so ACM is proud to support this campaign to protect the public's right to know.

Some of the demands of the campaign include the call for public sector whistle-blowers protection, enactment of a “properly functioning” freedom of information regime, and the right to contest the application for warrants for journalists and media organizations.

These are some of the Twitter photos shared by journalists in their respective newsrooms:

Took us a while but here we are… Age and Melbourne AFR newsrooms support #PressFreedom and #YourRightToKnow pic.twitter.com/VDErJKzgBE

— Sarah Danckert (@sdanck) October 21, 2019

When you miss out on the group photo but still want to participate lol #PressFreedom #righttoknow pic.twitter.com/P2qeLRW0Gc

— Madeline Hayman-Reber (@MadelineHayman) October 21, 2019

When the government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up? What stories aren't being told? #righttoknow @abcperth pic.twitter.com/JnVeyiMKyv

— Emma Wynne (@em_wynne) October 21, 2019

You have a right to know what govts you elect are doing in your name. But in Australia, whistleblowers are penalised + journalists are raided by police. It needs to change. @ConversationEDU stands with colleagues across the country supporting the @withMEAA #RightToKnow campaign. pic.twitter.com/2jYjN49t7L

— The Conversation (@ConversationEDU) October 21, 2019

Court reporters shared some of the challenges they face when access to information is restricted:

Suppressions, split trials, closed courts, inconsistently applied rules, blocked access to documents – it’s not just governments that are withholding information! Everyday court reporters are up against defence lawyers and judges. #yourrightoknow @withMEAA pic.twitter.com/21cwcfULbB

— Karen Percy (@PercyKaren) October 21, 2019

Photographers also participated in the campaign:

After photographing the press gallery members, some of the photographers and camera operators join the group. #YourRightToKnow pic.twitter.com/Fw5aLKvXDM

— David Crowe (@CroweDM) October 21, 2019

Even detained asylum-seeker and award-winning writer Behrooz Boochani tweeted his support to the campaign:

Stand up with Australian media for freedom of speech. Some Oz politicians are enemies of democracy & the system itself has a problem if it creates this kind of small dictator. This same dictatorship has been played out in the secrecy about exile of refugees.#righttoknow pic.twitter.com/iB14DpSH0x

— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) October 21, 2019

The media protest was briefly discussed in parliament with the prime minister accusing the previous government (which is now the opposition) of passing laws that gag the press. Meanwhile, the police said they will conduct a review of their policies on dealing with the media during official operations.

Ahead of Tunisia elections, social media was flooded with mis- and disinformation

Mon, 10/21/2019 - 19:56

The elections authority warned of rumors ‘aimed at disrupting the electoral process’

Press conference by Tunisia's Independent High Authority for the Elections to announce results of the legislative poll of October 6. Photo by the election body [Public Domain].

This story is the first in a two-part series on mid- and disinformation online during Tunisia's 2019 presidential and legislative elections. 

Between mid-September and mid-October, Tunisians headed to the polls three times. On September 15, they voted in the first round of the presidential election, before voting again on October 6 in the legislative election. On October 13 they voted in the second round of the presidential election, in which retired constitutional law lecturer Kais Saied, an independent, was elected president.

This election season was the fourth since the 2011 uprising that toppled the 23-year-rule of autocratic president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Facebook as a source of political news

In the months leading up to the elections, mis- and disinformation spread widely across social media platforms, Facebook in particular. Its impact on the electoral process, voter turnout and public opinion became a major concern expressed by various parties, including civil society organizations and the country's independent electoral authority. 

To woo voters, political parties and candidates have used various communication channels including social media, which remains by far the most effective way to reach a large audience, and more specifically young voters. A poll conducted by research and news organization Barr al Aman found that during the 2018 municipal election campaign, 41 percent of respondents said they relied on Facebook as their primary source of news, followed by television, cited by 19 percent.

The Oxford Internet Institute's new report, “2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation“, examined disinformation operations in 70 countries (including Tunisia) carried out by “cyber troops’’—”government or political party actors tasked with manipulating public opinion online.’’ The report found Facebook to be the only platform used significantly by ”cyber troop” activities in Tunisia.

Observers of the political scene in Tunisia have noted the rise of political party- and candidate-affiliated Facebook groups and pages with substantial numbers of followers. Pages without declared ties or affiliations were also actively involved in spreading political disinformation and sponsored content praising certain parties.

Prominent Facebook groups active during the 2019 presidential and legislative elections: 
  • قيس سعيد رئيس تونس 2019 (‘Kais Saied a president for Tunisia 2019’). The group which has more than 120 thousand members was among several other pages that supported independent candidate and constitutional professor Kais Saied for the presidency. Saied was elected president on October 13, after he obtained more than 70 percent of the votes.
  • المبادرة الوطنية للدكتور عبد الكريم الزبيدي (‘The national initiative for doctor Abdelkarim Zbidi’). The group of more than 30 thousand members supported the candidacy of Zbidi, the current minister of defence, who came fourth in the first round of the presidential election after obtaining 10 percent of the votes.
  • Tous unis pour que Nebil karoui soit le president 2019 (‘All united so that Nabil Karoui becomes Tunisia’s president’). The page of more than 25 thousand followers was among several other pages that supported the candidacy of business magnate Nabil Karoui, who only obtained 27 percent of the votes in his runoff against Said. 

According to a report on social media monitoring published by the Tunisian Association for the Integrity and Democracy of Elections (ATIDE) and Democracy Reporting International, from 15 May to 15 July 2019, unofficial Facebook pages with no declared political affiliation or purpose produced 38.5 percent of the political messages in their study sample. These pages, which categorized themselves as entertainment or satirical, became more active as the elections approached. The report also posits a possible coordination among the administrators of these pages, and uses the term “page network” to describe groups of pages sharing similar content within a certain time period. 

Earlier this year, Facebook announced the removal of 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, Facebook Pages, Groups and events involved in coordinated “inauthentic behavior”. According to the company, the activity originated in Israel and targeted multiple African countries, including Tunisia. 

“The people behind this network used fake accounts to run Pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement,” announced Facebook in a press release on May 16, 2019. “They also represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians. The Page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents.”

Inkyfada, an independent investigative media website, used data collected by the Digital Forensic Research Lab to analyze the content posted by the Tunisia-related pages that were removed by Facebook. Their analysis concluded that the number of these pages, which were created between January 17 and March 12, 2019, was 11. Together, these pages nearly had 500,000 followers.

The analyzed content on these pages includes 359 publications that generated more than 1 million interactions (likes, comments, and shares) and 36 videos with nearly 8 million views

Inkyfada also reported that posts on these pages criticized many politicians, but never attacked the media magnate and presidential candidate Nabil Karoui. Five pages shared content from Karoui's television channel Nessma TV, or his charity Khalil Tounes, that either directly or indirectly favored the candidate.

‘Fake’ polls and ‘erasable ink’

Karoui spent most his electoral campaign in prison. He was arrested in late August—at the height of campaign season—on tax evasion and money-laundering charges, and was only released from prison a few days before the runoff against Saied. In the first round of the presidential election, he obtained 15 percent of the votes, while Saied cane second with 18 percent of the votes. In the second round, Saied won the presidency in with more than 70 recent of the votes.

Karoui's imprisonment led to widespread rumours about his release from jail or the withdrawal of his candidacy.

A young voter casting his vote in Tunisia's presidential runoff held on October 13. Photo by Tunisia's electoral authority [Public domain].

Another common form of disinformation that recurred throughout the election season were reports about presidential candidates withdrawing from the race to support other candidates, as well as false reports about political figures or celebrities supporting certain candidates. 

For example, prior to the first round of the presidential election, fabricated reports spread on social media about candidates Abdelkarim Zbidi, Mehdi Jemaa and Abir Moussi withdrawing from the race to support Karoui. Another false report claimed that Othman Battikh, the Grand Mufti of Tunisia, supported Saied. 

Composition of Tunisia's newly elected parliament. The Islamist Ennahdha party came first with 52 seats, followed by Karoui's newly founded Qalb Tounes party with 38 seats, and the social democratic party Attayar with 22 seats. Photo by Tunisia's electoral authority.

Multiple rumours targeting parties and candidates competing in the legislative election also proliferated on election day, including the rumor that one candidate, Olfa Terras, was arrested while trying to influence citizens. Another fabricated story claimed that candidate Seif Eddine Makhlouf, whose party won 21 seats in the parliament, assaulted a polling center official. There were also attempts to mimic and amplify incidents. After media reported on a group of people distributing money to influence voters, news spread about similar incidents that, after verification, were revealed to be inaccurate. 

Exit polling data were also subject to falsification. A few days before the first presidential round, a fake poll in the form of a screenshot incorporating the logo of SIGMA, a polling and consulting company, was widely spread on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. SIGMA's director, Hassen Zargouni, denounced the poll as fake in a Facebook post, telling Agence France Press, that “the names and figures [in the fake poll] do not match the reality and try to influence voters to favor tactical voting.”

The French embassy in Tunisia issued a press release denying any connection to the fake poll. The day after the first round of the presidential election, the embassy circulated another statement in response to false declarations attributed to the French ambassador, that criticized current presidential candidate (now president-elect) Kais Saied. 

The credibility of the electoral process was also targeted in disinformation campaigns. The vice president of the Independent High Authority for Elections took to the radio airwaves to deny rumors that the pens provided at polling stations were filled with erasable ink, adding that voters could use their own pens when voting. 

On the day of the second presdential round, Hasna Ben Slimane, another member of electoral authority, denounced social media rumours aimed at ‘'disrupting the electoral process.”

#Tunisia: @ISIETN member Hasna Ben Slimane has warned of rumors circulating on social media aimed at disrupting the electoral process and dissuading voters from heading to the polls, highlighting ISIE's efforts to ensure smooth running of election. #TAP_En pic.twitter.com/pd6aE2uXF6

— TAP news agency (@TapNewsAgency) October 13, 2019

In addition to the electoral authority, political figures, journalists, activists and voters expressed concerns regarding the spread of mis- and disinformation campaigns during the recent elections. There have also been calls by civil society groups to regulate political ads on social media.

In the second part of this story, we will highlight measures taken by affected parties, national institutions, media professionals and tech companies to counter mis- and disinformation. 

This article is part of a series of posts examining interference with digital rights through methods such as network shutdowns and disinformation during key political events in seven African countries: Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. The project is funded by the Africa Digital Rights Fund of The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

Ahead of Tunisia elections, social media was flooded with mis- and disinformation

Mon, 10/21/2019 - 19:56

The elections authority warned of rumors ‘aimed at disrupting the electoral process’

Press conference by Tunisia's Independent High Authority for the Elections to announce results of the legislative poll of October 6. Photo by the election body [Public Domain].

This story is the first in a two-part series on mid- and disinformation online during Tunisia's 2019 presidential and legislative elections. 

Between mid-September and mid-October, Tunisians headed to the polls three times. On September 15, they voted in the first round of the presidential election, before voting again on October 6 in the legislative election. On October 13 they voted in the second round of the presidential election, in which retired constitutional law lecturer Kais Saied, an independent, was elected president.

This election season was the fourth since the 2011 uprising that toppled the 23-year-rule of autocratic president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Facebook as a source of political news

In the months leading up to the elections, mis- and disinformation spread widely across social media platforms, Facebook in particular. Its impact on the electoral process, voter turnout and public opinion became a major concern expressed by various parties, including civil society organizations and the country's independent electoral authority. 

To woo voters, political parties and candidates have used various communication channels including social media, which remains by far the most effective way to reach a large audience, and more specifically young voters. A poll conducted by research and news organization Barr al Aman found that during the 2018 municipal election campaign, 41 percent of respondents said they relied on Facebook as their primary source of news, followed by television, cited by 19 percent.

The Oxford Internet Institute's new report, “2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation“, examined disinformation operations in 70 countries (including Tunisia) carried out by “cyber troops’’—”government or political party actors tasked with manipulating public opinion online.’’ The report found Facebook to be the only platform used significantly by ”cyber troop” activities in Tunisia.

Observers of the political scene in Tunisia have noted the rise of political party- and candidate-affiliated Facebook groups and pages with substantial numbers of followers. Pages without declared ties or affiliations were also actively involved in spreading political disinformation and sponsored content praising certain parties.

Prominent Facebook groups active during the 2019 presidential and legislative elections: 
  • قيس سعيد رئيس تونس 2019 (‘Kais Saied a president for Tunisia 2019’). The group which has more than 120 thousand members was among several other pages that supported independent candidate and constitutional professor Kais Saied for the presidency. Saied was elected president on October 13, after he obtained more than 70 percent of the votes.
  • المبادرة الوطنية للدكتور عبد الكريم الزبيدي (‘The national initiative for doctor Abdelkarim Zbidi’). The group of more than 30 thousand members supported the candidacy of Zbidi, the current minister of defence, who came fourth in the first round of the presidential election after obtaining 10 percent of the votes.
  • Tous unis pour que Nebil karoui soit le president 2019 (‘All united so that Nabil Karoui becomes Tunisia’s president’). The page of more than 25 thousand followers was among several other pages that supported the candidacy of business magnate Nabil Karoui, who only obtained 27 percent of the votes in his runoff against Said. 

According to a report on social media monitoring published by the Tunisian Association for the Integrity and Democracy of Elections (ATIDE) and Democracy Reporting International, from 15 May to 15 July 2019, unofficial Facebook pages with no declared political affiliation or purpose produced 38.5 percent of the political messages in their study sample. These pages, which categorized themselves as entertainment or satirical, became more active as the elections approached. The report also posits a possible coordination among the administrators of these pages, and uses the term “page network” to describe groups of pages sharing similar content within a certain time period. 

Earlier this year, Facebook announced the removal of 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, Facebook Pages, Groups and events involved in coordinated “inauthentic behavior”. According to the company, the activity originated in Israel and targeted multiple African countries, including Tunisia. 

“The people behind this network used fake accounts to run Pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement,” announced Facebook in a press release on May 16, 2019. “They also represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians. The Page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents.”

Inkyfada, an independent investigative media website, used data collected by the Digital Forensic Research Lab to analyze the content posted by the Tunisia-related pages that were removed by Facebook. Their analysis concluded that the number of these pages, which were created between January 17 and March 12, 2019, was 11. Together, these pages nearly had 500,000 followers.

The analyzed content on these pages includes 359 publications that generated more than 1 million interactions (likes, comments, and shares) and 36 videos with nearly 8 million views

Inkyfada also reported that posts on these pages criticized many politicians, but never attacked the media magnate and presidential candidate Nabil Karoui. Five pages shared content from Karoui's television channel Nessma TV, or his charity Khalil Tounes, that either directly or indirectly favored the candidate.

‘Fake’ polls and ‘erasable ink’

Karoui spent most his electoral campaign in prison. He was arrested in late August—at the height of campaign season—on tax evasion and money-laundering charges, and was only released from prison a few days before the runoff against Saied. In the first round of the presidential election, he obtained 15 percent of the votes, while Saied cane second with 18 percent of the votes. In the second round, Saied won the presidency in with more than 70 recent of the votes.

Karoui's imprisonment led to widespread rumours about his release from jail or the withdrawal of his candidacy.

A young voter casting his vote in Tunisia's presidential runoff held on October 13. Photo by Tunisia's electoral authority [Public domain].

Another common form of disinformation that recurred throughout the election season were reports about presidential candidates withdrawing from the race to support other candidates, as well as false reports about political figures or celebrities supporting certain candidates. 

For example, prior to the first round of the presidential election, fabricated reports spread on social media about candidates Abdelkarim Zbidi, Mehdi Jemaa and Abir Moussi withdrawing from the race to support Karoui. Another false report claimed that Othman Battikh, the Grand Mufti of Tunisia, supported Saied. 

Composition of Tunisia's newly elected parliament. The Islamist Ennahdha party came first with 52 seats, followed by Karoui's newly founded Qalb Tounes party with 38 seats, and the social democratic party Attayar with 22 seats. Photo by Tunisia's electoral authority.

Multiple rumours targeting parties and candidates competing in the legislative election also proliferated on election day, including the rumor that one candidate, Olfa Terras, was arrested while trying to influence citizens. Another fabricated story claimed that candidate Seif Eddine Makhlouf, whose party won 21 seats in the parliament, assaulted a polling center official. There were also attempts to mimic and amplify incidents. After media reported on a group of people distributing money to influence voters, news spread about similar incidents that, after verification, were revealed to be inaccurate. 

Exit polling data were also subject to falsification. A few days before the first presidential round, a fake poll in the form of a screenshot incorporating the logo of SIGMA, a polling and consulting company, was widely spread on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. SIGMA's director, Hassen Zargouni, denounced the poll as fake in a Facebook post, telling Agence France Press, that “the names and figures [in the fake poll] do not match the reality and try to influence voters to favor tactical voting.”

The French embassy in Tunisia issued a press release denying any connection to the fake poll. The day after the first round of the presidential election, the embassy circulated another statement in response to false declarations attributed to the French ambassador, that criticized current presidential candidate (now president-elect) Kais Saied. 

The credibility of the electoral process was also targeted in disinformation campaigns. The vice president of the Independent High Authority for Elections took to the radio airwaves to deny rumors that the pens provided at polling stations were filled with erasable ink, adding that voters could use their own pens when voting. 

On the day of the second presdential round, Hasna Ben Slimane, another member of electoral authority, denounced social media rumours aimed at ‘'disrupting the electoral process.”

#Tunisia: @ISIETN member Hasna Ben Slimane has warned of rumors circulating on social media aimed at disrupting the electoral process and dissuading voters from heading to the polls, highlighting ISIE's efforts to ensure smooth running of election. #TAP_En pic.twitter.com/pd6aE2uXF6

— TAP news agency (@TapNewsAgency) October 13, 2019

In addition to the electoral authority, political figures, journalists, activists and voters expressed concerns regarding the spread of mis- and disinformation campaigns during the recent elections. There have also been calls by civil society groups to regulate political ads on social media.

In the second part of this story, we will highlight measures taken by affected parties, national institutions, media professionals and tech companies to counter mis- and disinformation. 

This article is part of a series of posts examining interference with digital rights through methods such as network shutdowns and disinformation during key political events in seven African countries: Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. The project is funded by the Africa Digital Rights Fund of The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

Bulgaria's far-right is attempting to shut down the country's oldest human rights NGO

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 17:12

Logos of political party VMRO-BND and the civic organization Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.

The Bulgarian far-right nationalist party VMRO-BND, a member of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s ruling coalition, requested the country's chief prosecutor to cancel the registration of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), a leading local human rights NGO.

On a press release dated September 30, the party argues that the BHC is “interfering with the judiciary” by organizing seminars and other educational events with prosecutors and judges, as well as by representing clients in the European Court of Human Rights and domestic courts.

The press release adds that the BHC “has been engaging in anti-constitutional, illegal, immoral and openly anti-Bulgarian activities” and that the NGO's work is “apparently in the defense of human rights, but has, in fact, repeatedly put at risk Bulgarian citizens, as well as the good name of Bulgaria before international institutions.’’

Another accusation listed by VMRO-BND is the role of BHC in the case of Jock Palfreeman, an Australian citizen who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stabbing a Bulgarian citizen to death and injuring another in Sofia in 2007. The BHC has litigated in favor of Palfreeman, who maintains he acted in self-defense. He was granted parole in September 2019 after serving 11 years of his sentence, sparking street protests and a media outcry. VMRO says in the press release that the BHC “provides procedural protection for certain persons in cases presided over by the same magistrates it trains… through the seminars it seeks to exert pressure and influence in the resolution of cases of direct [national] interest.”

The request to dissolve the NGO was submitted by Angel Dzhambazki, deputy chairman of VMRO-BND and member of the European Parliament, and by Alexander Sidi, a Bulgarian MP with the same party.

A member of the European Union since 2007, Bulgaria took a turn to the far-right in 2017 when PM Borisov's center-right party GERB allied itself with a small coalition of nationalist parties, including the VMRO-BND — the so-called “United Patriots.” They mostly espouse socially conservative values, with varying shades of Euroscepticism, anti-globalism, Islamophobia, and Russophilia, as well as a shared aversion for human rights.

Founded in 1992, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is the oldest human rights organization in Bulgaria and a member of the pan-European Civil Liberties Union for Europe. It offers legal help to the victims of human rights abuses free of charge and its annual reports provide a public record about the state of human rights in Bulgaria. It regularly supports projects of human rights education and also gives the Human of the Year Award to individuals and organizations that contribute to the promotion and advancement of human rights in the country.

The BHC responded to the accusations on a Facebook post in which they also remembered previous attempts by VMRO to undermine them.

This is not the first time that this extremist party of a manifestly neo-totalitarian type undertakes such action. In October 2017, they wrote to the Prosecutor General to initiate prosecution against the President of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Krasimir Kanev for “sabotage”. In 2014, the same party wrote to the National Revenue Agency to initiate an investigation.

In a statement sent to Meta.mk, a news agency from North Macedonia and content partner of Global Voices, BHC President Krasimir Kanev said:

These are purely Stalinist methods. It is terrible to see that for 30 years after the democratic changes in Bulgaria, an attempt has been made to impose such Stalinist methods, to interfere with state institutions and to try to pressure civil society.

More than 80 Bulgarian and 40 foreign and international NGOs, through a coalition called Civic Solidarity Platform, expressed their support for the BHC and called for the Bulgarian government to distance itself from the threats. Their statement says:

The developments are of particular concern in a country where intolerance is on the rise, and where the safety of those who work for the protection of minorities and the most vulnerable groups of the population can no longer be taken for granted. There is currently no human rights organization in Europe that has been banned. Despite repressive measures in a number of front-line democracies in Europe, no European country has so far allowed itself to ban citizen organizations. Bulgaria should not set a dangerous precedent.

In December 2018, unknown perpetrators vandalized the bulding that houses the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee with insulting graffiti calling them “freaks, fascists, garbage, slime.” They responded with this photo, published on their Facebook page with a caption “Hate is easy, love takes courage.”

Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe, Massimo Moratti also signed a statement:

This is an unprecedented attempt to silence independent and critical voices by the authorities in Bulgaria. As a member of the European Union, Bulgaria has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law, and we expect the Prosecutor General to firmly reject the request for dissolution. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is the most respected human rights organisation in Bulgaria. Their work providing capacity-building for judges and prosecutors and legal services to people in need is crucial. Attempts to deregister them for their work are a direct assault on freedom of expression.

In 2016, the UN Human Rights Office expressed concern after two men physically attacked Kanev on a Sofia street.

Bulgarian human rights researcher Iveta Cherneva wrote for EuroNews that she doesn't “want to see the country follow the example of Hungary, where human rights NGOs and universities are pushed so hard by the authorities that they have to close and move. That is not the right path to follow.” She adds that the closing down of the BHC “would be a blow to Bulgarian leadership and its human rights record. This will be not only a test for the Prosecutor’s office but for all Bulgarians and the EU.”

Pavlina Simonoska Arsikj is Communications Coordinator with the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, a human rights advocacy NGO with similar values to, but no direct affiliation with, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.

 

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