You are here

Global Voices - category 'freedom of speech'

Subscribe to Global Voices - category 'freedom of speech' feed Global Voices - category 'freedom of speech'
Citizen media stories from around the world
Updated: 1 year 1 month ago

The mother of detained blogger Le Anh Hung speaks out about prison abuse in Vietnam

Sun, 03/15/2020 - 15:54

Political prisoners are allegedly being psychologically mistreated

Vietnamese blogger Le Anh Hung was arrested for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of organizations and individuals.” Screenshot of YouTube video.

This article is from The 88 Project, an independent news site covering Vietnam, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

One form of psychological abuse in Vietnamese prisons is sending political prisoners to mental institutions against their will, even though they have no history of mental illness. Le Anh Hung's case is one such example. Hung, a blogger and reporter, who often wrote articles sharply criticizing the Vietnamese government, was detained in a mental health facility in 2013 for ten days after police arrested him at his workplace.

Hung was arrested again on July 8, 2018, under Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code, for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of organizations and individuals”. He has been in pre-trial detention ever since.

On April 1, 2019, the investigation agency of the Hanoi public security suddenly transferred Hung to the Central Mental Hospital. On April 24, after the facility had conducted its mental health evaluation, the authorities transferred Hung back to prison, but by May, he was again sent to a mental health hospital. The reason for constantly moving him back and forth remains unclear.

According to his family, throughout the process, Hung appeared exhausted, thin, and generally unhealthy, but urged people to protest on his behalf and request that the authorities stop his forced mental health treatment.

In June 2019, Hung’s mother sent an application to authorities asking for his release so that she could care for him at the family’s home. She said her son's good health degenerated and his spirits were low after being subjected to forced mental health treatments while in detention. Prior to his imprisonment, she confirmed that Hung was healthy and strong, both physically and mentally. It is unclear how the authorities reacted to the petition but Hung remains in detention.

The 88 Project recently interviewed Hung’s mother, Ms. Tran Thi Niem, about his current condition and her desire to care for her son at home. She called on the international community to advocate for Hung’s release. Watch the interview below:

The week of March 8, 2020, fellow activists revealed that Le Anh Hung had called his mother to let her know the authorities had once again increased his anti-psychotic medication, which he is being forced to take against his will. Hung reportedly told his mother the meds made him feel very sick, but he has no choice but to take them, and pleaded with her to call on the international community to raise awareness about his situation.

How Chinese social media platforms control information on COVID-19

Sun, 03/08/2020 - 01:01

New research shows China's web censors have blocked 516 coronavirus-related keywords

Image from the Stand News.

Canada-based Internet censorship research organization, Citizen Lab, points out in their latest report, “Censored Contagion: How Information on the Coronavirus is Managed on Chinese Social Media“, that on December 31, 2019, China’s web censors introduced a new list of 45 coronavirus-related keywords to block online discussion about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. According to the report's authors, the scope of censorship broadened in February 2020, with the identification of 516 coronavirus-related keyword combinations blocked on the messaging and social media app WeChat between January 1 to February 15.

The research notes that at the initial stage of the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, the censorship curbed alerts to the public on the threat of the then-unknown virus. Later, the censored contents were broadened to include criticisms of top leaders and officials, government policies, speculative stories, any reference to Dr. Li Wenliang, and Chinese netizens’ demands for political change. Prior to being investigated by the police, Dr. Li was among a number of Wuhan-based medical practitioners to first raise the alarm about the new coronavirus. He died as a result of the virus on February 6, sparking online criticism of the Chinese authorities.

Coronavirus-related blocking updated on December 31, 2019

Citizen Lab's research found that on December 31, 2019, one day after a number of medical workers — including the late Dr. Li — attempted to alert the public to the spread of a new SARS-like virus, the Chinese web censors updated the list of blocked terms on social media.

YY, a Chinese streaming platform, introduced 45 coronavirus-related blocked terms in its mobile application on December 31, 2019. The list included “Wuhan unknown Pneumonia”(武漢不明肺炎), “unknown SARS” (不明沙市), “SARS variation”(沙市變異), “P4 virus research lab”(P4病毒實驗室), “Wuhan fresh food market”(武漢海鮮市場), and “Wuhan censored epidemic outbreak”(武漢封禁疫情).

As social media platforms in China are obliged to follow the instructions of the country's Propaganda and Cyber-administration Authorities, the finding shows that Beijing was well aware of the outbreak since last December. However, instead of informing the public of the health threat, it banned news of the virus from circulating online. On the same day the newly-blocked terms were introduced, eight netizens were arrested for spreading rumors. It was later revealed that the “rumor-mongers” were medical workers — among them, the late Dr. Li — discussing the outbreak with family members or peers on WeChat groups.

WeChat, in fact, adopted a more sophisticated censorship system. While some sensitive terms like “June Fourth” and “Tiananmen Square” are completely blocked, the app has been using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect the semantic meaning of the texts — which means only a certain cluster of keywords would trigger censorship. The research team therefore ran tests on WeChat between January 1 to February 15, identifying at least 516 keyword combinations that were blocked. Should a user send messages containing those combinations, the messages would remain blocked in the server and not delivered to the intended recipient.

The research team then grouped the keywords into content categories:

Censored COVID-19-related keyword combinations cover a wide range of topics, including discussions of central leaders’ responses to the outbreak, critical and neutral references to government policies on handling the epidemic, responses to the outbreak in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, speculative and factual information on the disease, references to Dr. Li Wenliang, and collective action.

Criticism of Chinese president Xi Jinping censored

Among the 516 keyword combinations, 192 are related to China’s top brass and their role in handling the outbreak. In fact, 87 percent of the terms in this category contains references to Chinese President Xi Jinping, such as “Xi Jinping + formalism + epidemic prevention” (習近平+形式主義+防疫), “Xi Jinping goes to Wuhan” (習近平到武漢), “Someone [a substitution of Xi Jinping] + in person” (某人+親自), and “Xi Jinping + epidemic spread” (習近近+疫症蔓延).

After Wuhan was locked down on January 23, many netizens wondered why the Chinese leader did not go to the city in person to lead the battle against COVID-19. Instead, Xi entrusted Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to visit the center of the epidemic. Such criticism soon became a key target of the censors, as shown in the censorship patterns above.

The second most censored content terms were related to criticisms of government and Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-related institutions, and their policies regarding containment of the outbreak. As many as 138 keyword combinations were found in this category, including wordplay on COVID-19, calling it the “virus of officialdom” (官狀病毒), as well as “local officials + epidemics + central government + cover-up” (地方官+疫情+中央+隱瞞), “Wuhan + CCP + crisis + Beijing” (武漢+中共+危機+北京), “hold + criticize China + Two Sessions + cover up” (舉行+批評中國+兩會期間+隱瞞), and “CCP + pneumonia + performance + rule” (共产党+肺炎+表现+统治).

In addition to the CCP and central government authorities, other institutions that triggered semantic censorship include the China Red Cross, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and the China Central Television Station (CCTV).

The China Red Cross was heavily criticized for corruption in its handling of citizens’ donations to Wuhan. As for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, speculations had been circulating on social media since late January that the Novel Coronavirus originated from its lab. Meanwhile, CCTV was slammed by netizens for its censorship practices, such as closing the comment function of its live-stream of the Spring Festival Gala.

Criticisms of central and local governments’ policies to fight the outbreak were also heavily censored, as reflected in keyword combinations like “Centralized Quarantine + Wuhan Lockdown” (集中隔离 + 武汉封城), “public opinion guidance + Politburo + centralized leadership + standing committee” (傳播 + 判死刑 + 危害公共安全 + 病毒), “public opinion guidance + Politburo + centralized leadership + standing committee”(舆论引导 + 政治局 + 集中统一领导 + 常委会)and “since January 3 + notified US of + epidemic”, (1月3日起 [+] 30次向美方通报 [+] 疫情信息).

Although the compulsory quarantine measures in Wuhan and other cities have been praised for their effectiveness in containing the spread of the virus, Wuhan residents were angry that the government offered little support in the early days of the lockdown, leaving medical workers and their patients in a desperate situation.

Chinese netizens were also shocked by a statement made by a high court in Heilongjiang which, in its interpretation of existing criminal law, stressed that anyone who intentionally and maliciously spread the virus to undermine public safety could be sentenced to death. As more cities and regions in China required close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients to be quarantined, there were conflicts between law enforcement officers and citizens who refused to subscribe to the policy. The court statement therefore served as a warning to those considering resistance.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s daily briefing on February 3, 2020, about the Chinese government having “notified the United States of the epidemic and [China’s] control measures 30 times altogether since January 3”, generated mockery online, as Chinese citizens were only made aware of the outbreak after CCTV aired pulmonologist Dr. Zhong Nanshan’s interview on January 20. People were outraged that even amidst the outbreak, CCP leaders continued to view political propaganda as more important than public accountability.

Dr. Li Wenliang and political reform demands

News about Dr. Li's death and calls for political reforms also triggered censorship. Citizen Lab's research identified 26 combinations on this content category, including “coronavirus + human transmission + Li Wenliang” (冠状病毒+人传人+李文亮), “epidemic + color revolution + Li Wenliang”( 疫情+颜色革命+李文亮), “epidemic + virus + Li Wenliang + Central government (疫情+病毒+李文亮+中央), “Wuhan + 5 demands” (武汉+五大诉求), and “Wuhan + Liberate” 武漢+光復. Borrowing political vocabulary like “5 demands” and “liberate” from the 2019 Hong Kong protests, many netizens called for freedom of expression reforms after learning of Dr. Li's passing.

News about the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan also faces censorship. About 99 keyword combinations in the research were related to the Chinese-speaking regions, like “Medical workers + strike + partial close the border checkpoints” (醫護人員+罷工+局部封關), “Carrie Lam + Puppet” (林鄭月娥+傀儡), “mask + Taiwan + export + nation” (口罩+台灣+出口+國家), “Macau + government + wear mask” (澳門+政府+戴口罩).

In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s refusal to tighten control on border checkpoints after the Lunar New Year faced strong public criticism; there was also speculation that Beijing did not approve the border control measures. Medical workers from government-funded public hospitals took the lead in launching a strike to press the Hong Kong government to tighten border control, and pro-Beijing groups in Hong Kong pressured the government-appointed Hospital Authority to punish its employees. In Taiwan, the government’s decision to ban the export of masks created an uproar on social media in mainland China.

Speculation and fact both subjected to censorship

The report found 38 keyword combinations related to speculative or non-official claims, such as “Wuhan pneumonia epidemic out of control” (武漢肺炎疫情失控), “Wuhan + Infection + Tens of thousands” (武漢+感染+十幾萬), and “Shanghai + Background + Drug + Virus” (上海+背景+药物+病毒).

While some academic studies have estimated that the scale of the outbreak could be as many as hundreds of thousands infected in Wuhan, such discussions are not allowed in China. Even though official data on March 6 showed that there were 49,797 infections in Wuhan, the Chinese government never admitted that the city was out of control, even after the January 23 lockdown of the city, during which many Wuhan residents were calling for help on Weibo and WeChat.

Reports from government-affiliated media outlets also triggered blocking on WeChat, via 23 keyword combinations including “Relevant + Disease control + Travel ban + Virus” (有关+疾病控制+旅行限制+病毒), and “Pneumonia + Disease control and prevention + Virus + Medical journal” (肺炎+疾病预防控制+病毒+医学期刊).

On March 1, China’s Provisions on Ecological Governance of Online Information Content became effective. These regulations provide a legal framework for enforcing content platforms to censor vaguely defined “harmful” or “negative information”, including exaggerated headlines, celebrity gossip, vulgar or sexually suggestive content, and “inappropriate comments and descriptions of natural disasters and large-scale incidents”.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many critics raised concerns about the Chinese media's failure to alert and inform the public, and the implications of such information repression on global public health. In its report, Citizen Lab stressed the need for the international society to address the problem:

Censorship of the COVID-19 outbreak is troubling, and shows the need for thorough analysis of the effects of information control during a global public health crisis. Countering misinformation and uninformed speculation related to the epidemic may help keep public fear in check and remove information that would mislead people about how best to protect themselves. However, restricting general discussions and factual information has the opposite effect and limits public awareness and response.

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.

In Pakistan, petition to ban prominent women's march stifles feminist voices

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 16:39

‘Restrictions should not be put on freedom of expression’

“Aurat March” 2020 posters. Image by Shehzil Malik. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated worldwide every March 8 to highlight the women’s rights movement. In Pakistan, the celebration has become prominent since 2018, when a platform of Pakistani feminist organisations called Hum Auratien — We are Women in Urdu — organised marches in three different cities. In 2019, they successfully held marches in additional cities throughout Pakistan.

This year, however, Hum Auratien faces a challenge: A petition filed by advocate Mohammad Azhar Siddique, in the Lahore High Court on Monday, February 24, 2020, seeks a permanent ban on the march, deeming it “anti-state” and “un-Islamic.”

What is Aurat March?

On March 5, 2018, a group of feminist and social organisations — namely, The Feminist Collective, Women's Collective and Girls at Dhabas — united under Hum Auratien and announced that an “Aurat March” or “Women's March” will be held on March 8 in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, to demand economic, reproductive and environmental justice for women.

Read more: Aurat March (Women's March) marks resistance against misogyny in Pakistan

Poster of Aurat March 2020, Image by Shehzil Malik. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Over the past two years, women rallied across Pakistan to raise awareness of women's issues and demand their rights as equals. They held marches in major cities in which women, girls and also men of all ages participated. The marchers held and displayed placards with messages denouncing patriarchy.

Read more: Aurat March breaks barriers against patriarchy in Pakistan

Aurat March Pakistan has a manifesto that speaks to inclusivity for feminist women, transgender individuals, non-binary persons and gender and sexual minorities who stand against patriarchal structures that leads to sexual, economic and structural exploitation of women.

‘Freedom of expression cannot be curbed’

The court accepted Siddique's petition, which stated that International Women's Day should be to “recognise and appreciate women for their achievements as well as [display] solidarity … but not to cross all limits or criticize and abuse the men.”

In the petition, he further mentioned that Aurat March is a “misdirection and a failed attempt to raise grave issues commonly faced by women,” as “there are always offensive messages through placards.” The petition also claims that “various anti-state parties [are] funding this so-called ‘Aurat March’ with the sole purpose of spreading anarchy among the masses. Their hidden agenda includes spreading anarchy, vulgarity, blasphemy and hatred against the very norms of Islam.”

UNCENSORED | Chairman Judicial Activism Panel, @AzharSiddique explains why he filed a petition against @AuratMarch at Lahore High Court.

Watch full conversation in the link below.https://t.co/ubdAPhamlG

— M Azhar Siddique (@AzharSiddique) February 29, 2020

Aurat March has once again faced backlash on social media. When the petition was filed in the LHC, many netizens celebrated it:

This is good news!!

More than anti-state, they are anti-Islam!

As a Muslim country, all marches and campaigns against Islam must be banned!

Kudos to the person who filed the petition to stop this vulgarity! Well done!!

Ban #AuratMarch2020 #BanAuratMarch https://t.co/KNROqjXAPo

— Junaid S. Hayat (@JunaidSHayat) February 24, 2020

Supporters of Aurat March condemned the backlash, stating that holding a peaceful protest is a democratic right:

“Why didn't LHC just throw the petition out? We're not violent, we've done nothing illegal, we're only demanding the rights that the constitution has already promised us”, @shmyla responds to petition filed in LHC against #auratmarch2020

Watch full: https://t.co/CM2aVei7Rt pic.twitter.com/iQFEYLSwn0

— NayaDaur Media (@nayadaurpk) February 24, 2020

Every time I think I understand how fragile masculinity is, I find myself re-educated. Filing a petition in the high court to prevent #AuratMarch2020 from taking place is so telling. #thisiswhywemarch , jackasses.

— Aisha Amir Ahmed (@bardophile) February 24, 2020

Hearing the petition February 27, Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Mamoon Rashid Sheikh said, “restrictions could not be put on freedom of expression,” according to a report from Dawn media.

The hearing was attended by lawyers and human rights activists, among whom senior lawyer and rights activist Hina Jillani was also a part. She responded to various questions and spoke in defense of Aurat March. The judge asked both parties to file their replies by the next hearing and sought responses from security agencies and civil society to assess security arrangements and potential threats.

Jilani, speaking to media after the hearing, said:

Hina Jilani schooling on what decency means #AuratMarch2020 #AuratMarchLahore pic.twitter.com/Tnm3q9EWdZ

— shmyla #AuratMarch2020 (@shmyla) February 27, 2020

As far as decency is concerned, we know more about decency than these petitioners. We learn it from our parents; these people will not tell us about our values; we know what our social values are. These are just dirty mindsets that seek out obscenity in everything.

Organisers of Aurat March in Sukkur, Sindh, were threatened by religious-political parties, which was condemned by the Karachi chapter of Aurat March.

Head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) (JUI-F) Sindh Maulana Rashid Mehmood Soomro said in a video message that Aurat March was aimed at spreading vulgarity and nudity. He also said that the JUI-F supported rights granted to women by Islam, but cannot allow slogans like “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” (“My body, My Choice”).

While addressing a rally in Karachi, Sindh, on February 29, 2020, Maulana Fazlur Rehman urged party workers to make sure that Aurat March does not take place:

Wherever you see such elements, ask the law [enforcement authorities] to stop them, but if the authorities provide protection to such protests, then get ready for any sacrifice. We cannot let religion and our cultural values be bad-named.

In a recent development, a woman named Rubina Jatioi presented a petition in Sindh High Court on February 28, 2020, against slogans at Aurat March. She urged in the petition that “immoral slogans” at the march should be banned and Aurat March “does not help women get any rights”. While the SHC said that there was no solid ground to file a petition as she did not have documents to back her claims, she was asked to come prepared at the next hearing.

As the day of the 2020 march draws closer, all eyes are turned to the Lahore High Court to rule on the merit of the petition — to see if the law upholds the rights of women to demonstrate peacefully or surrender to the very forces against whom they are raising their voices.

In Pakistan, petition to ban prominent women's march stifles feminist voices

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 16:39

‘Restrictions should not be put on freedom of expression’

“Aurat March” 2020 posters. Image by Shehzil Malik. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated worldwide every March 8 to highlight the women’s rights movement. In Pakistan, the celebration has become prominent since 2018, when a platform of Pakistani feminist organisations called Hum Auratien — We are Women in Urdu — organised marches in three different cities. In 2019, they successfully held marches in additional cities throughout Pakistan.

This year, however, Hum Auratien faces a challenge: A petition filed by advocate Mohammad Azhar Siddique, in the Lahore High Court on Monday, February 24, 2020, seeks a permanent ban on the march, deeming it “anti-state” and “un-Islamic.”

What is Aurat March?

On March 5, 2018, a group of feminist and social organisations — namely, The Feminist Collective, Women's Collective and Girls at Dhabas — united under Hum Auratien and announced that an “Aurat March” or “Women's March” will be held on March 8 in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, to demand economic, reproductive and environmental justice for women.

Read more: Aurat March (Women's March) marks resistance against misogyny in Pakistan

Poster of Aurat March 2020, Image by Shehzil Malik. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Over the past two years, women rallied across Pakistan to raise awareness of women's issues and demand their rights as equals. They held marches in major cities in which women, girls and also men of all ages participated. The marchers held and displayed placards with messages denouncing patriarchy.

Read more: Aurat March breaks barriers against patriarchy in Pakistan

Aurat March Pakistan has a manifesto that speaks to inclusivity for feminist women, transgender individuals, non-binary persons and gender and sexual minorities who stand against patriarchal structures that leads to sexual, economic and structural exploitation of women.

‘Freedom of expression cannot be curbed’

The court accepted Siddique's petition, which stated that International Women's Day should be to “recognise and appreciate women for their achievements as well as [display] solidarity … but not to cross all limits or criticize and abuse the men.”

In the petition, he further mentioned that Aurat March is a “misdirection and a failed attempt to raise grave issues commonly faced by women,” as “there are always offensive messages through placards.” The petition also claims that “various anti-state parties [are] funding this so-called ‘Aurat March’ with the sole purpose of spreading anarchy among the masses. Their hidden agenda includes spreading anarchy, vulgarity, blasphemy and hatred against the very norms of Islam.”

UNCENSORED | Chairman Judicial Activism Panel, @AzharSiddique explains why he filed a petition against @AuratMarch at Lahore High Court.

Watch full conversation in the link below.https://t.co/ubdAPhamlG

— M Azhar Siddique (@AzharSiddique) February 29, 2020

Aurat March has once again faced backlash on social media. When the petition was filed in the LHC, many netizens celebrated it:

This is good news!!

More than anti-state, they are anti-Islam!

As a Muslim country, all marches and campaigns against Islam must be banned!

Kudos to the person who filed the petition to stop this vulgarity! Well done!!

Ban #AuratMarch2020 #BanAuratMarch https://t.co/KNROqjXAPo

— Junaid S. Hayat (@JunaidSHayat) February 24, 2020

Supporters of Aurat March condemned the backlash, stating that holding a peaceful protest is a democratic right:

“Why didn't LHC just throw the petition out? We're not violent, we've done nothing illegal, we're only demanding the rights that the constitution has already promised us”, @shmyla responds to petition filed in LHC against #auratmarch2020

Watch full: https://t.co/CM2aVei7Rt pic.twitter.com/iQFEYLSwn0

— NayaDaur Media (@nayadaurpk) February 24, 2020

Every time I think I understand how fragile masculinity is, I find myself re-educated. Filing a petition in the high court to prevent #AuratMarch2020 from taking place is so telling. #thisiswhywemarch , jackasses.

— Aisha Amir Ahmed (@bardophile) February 24, 2020

Hearing the petition February 27, Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Mamoon Rashid Sheikh said, “restrictions could not be put on freedom of expression,” according to a report from Dawn media.

The hearing was attended by lawyers and human rights activists, among whom senior lawyer and rights activist Hina Jillani was also a part. She responded to various questions and spoke in defense of Aurat March. The judge asked both parties to file their replies by the next hearing and sought responses from security agencies and civil society to assess security arrangements and potential threats.

Jilani, speaking to media after the hearing, said:

Hina Jilani schooling on what decency means #AuratMarch2020 #AuratMarchLahore pic.twitter.com/Tnm3q9EWdZ

— shmyla #AuratMarch2020 (@shmyla) February 27, 2020

As far as decency is concerned, we know more about decency than these petitioners. We learn it from our parents; these people will not tell us about our values; we know what our social values are. These are just dirty mindsets that seek out obscenity in everything.

Organisers of Aurat March in Sukkur, Sindh, were threatened by religious-political parties, which was condemned by the Karachi chapter of Aurat March.

Head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) (JUI-F) Sindh Maulana Rashid Mehmood Soomro said in a video message that Aurat March was aimed at spreading vulgarity and nudity. He also said that the JUI-F supported rights granted to women by Islam, but cannot allow slogans like “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” (“My body, My Choice”).

While addressing a rally in Karachi, Sindh, on February 29, 2020, Maulana Fazlur Rehman urged party workers to make sure that Aurat March does not take place:

Wherever you see such elements, ask the law [enforcement authorities] to stop them, but if the authorities provide protection to such protests, then get ready for any sacrifice. We cannot let religion and our cultural values be bad-named.

In a recent development, a woman named Rubina Jatioi presented a petition in Sindh High Court on February 28, 2020, against slogans at Aurat March. She urged in the petition that “immoral slogans” at the march should be banned and Aurat March “does not help women get any rights”. While the SHC said that there was no solid ground to file a petition as she did not have documents to back her claims, she was asked to come prepared at the next hearing.

As the day of the 2020 march draws closer, all eyes are turned to the Lahore High Court to rule on the merit of the petition — to see if the law upholds the rights of women to demonstrate peacefully or surrender to the very forces against whom they are raising their voices.

Philippine media groups celebrate as tech companies accused of cyber attacks pledge to promote press freedom

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 16:19

IP Converge and Suniway faced a lawsuit over DDoS attacks

Members of Altermidya and other media groups during the filing of a civil case against tech companies accused of cyber attacks. Source: Facebook

Several Philippine media groups settled a case with tech companies accused of providing infrastructure for cyberattacks. The companies have signed an agreement that includes a pledge to protect press freedom.

In December 2018, independent news websites Bulatlat, Altermidya, Kodao, and Pinoy Weekly reported that they were targeted with distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS). They accused state-backed groups of initiating the attacks which they claimed were meant to intimidate and silence media groups. They linked the shutting down of their websites as a result of these attacks with the decline of press freedom under the government of Rodrigo Duterte who became president in 2016.

Qurium, a Sweden-based media foundation, helped in stopping the DDoS and identifying tech companies IP Converge and Suniway as the source of the cyber attacks. IP Converge is a Philippines-based Cloud Services Provider, while Suniway Group of Companies Incorporated, registered both in Hong Kong and the Philippines, provides “network support to Chinese and Filipino companies in the Philippines.’’

In March 2019, a civil case was filed by the beleaguered news websites against IP Converge and Suniway.

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines supported the filing of the suit:

This civil action sends a clear message to those who seek to silence the independent Philippine media: Not only will you fail, we will fight back. We will fight back because we cannot allow you to deprive our people of their right to the information they need to chart their individual and collective futures, we cannot allow you to deprive them of their voice. We will fight back because no less than democracy and our basic freedoms are at stake.

The companies refuted the allegations and filed a countersuit against their accusers for besmirching their reputation.

During the pre-trial conference in September, IP Converge admitted that it leased 64 IP addresses to Suniway, which were earlier traced by Quirium as the source of the attacks.

In February 2020, the case was settled with all parties expressing commitment to protect press freedom. Here’s an excerpt from their joint statement issued on 24 February:

[The parties] express their utmost respect and full support of press freedom as a constitutional guarantee and a tenet of a democratic society.

…..defendants commit to support a free press. Effective mechanisms to combat such attacks shall further be improved to prevent a repeat of this kind of situation.

Bulatlat issued a statement describing the outcome as a victory for press freedom:

This is a small victory in our fight for press freedom. We call on all tech companies not to allow their infrastructure to be used by enemies of the truth.

We will remain vigilant in countering cyber attacks and other forms of violations to our right to publish news and analyses relevant to the Filipino people.

In an interview with Global Voices, Butlatlat editor Ronalyn Olea mentioned the relevance of the case in the campaign against media-related cyber attacks.

The civil case filed by alternative media groups is the first case filed in relation to cyber attacks against the media. The parties to the case have pledged commitment to uphold press freedom and ensure mechanisms to prevent their infrastructure from being used by enemies of the truth. This also serves as a warning to cyber attackers that they cannot hide behind their VPNs forever.

Olea added that they have legal remedies to ensure compliance in preventing cyber attacks:

The joint agreement is a binding agreement and we have submitted it to the court handling our case. It does not tie our hands from filing future cases if similar incidents happen again.

“The filing of the civil case is just one aspect of the campaign,’’ Olea said, before adding:

The overwhelming support from press freedom watchdogs, digital rights advocates, fellow journalists, among others greatly helped in our campaign to uphold our right to publish

.

Philippine media groups celebrate as tech companies accused of cyber attacks pledge to promote press freedom

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 16:19

IP Converge and Suniway faced a lawsuit over DDoS attacks

Members of Altermidya and other media groups during the filing of a civil case against tech companies accused of cyber attacks. Source: Facebook

Several Philippine media groups settled a case with tech companies accused of providing infrastructure for cyberattacks. The companies have signed an agreement that includes a pledge to protect press freedom.

In December 2018, independent news websites Bulatlat, Altermidya, Kodao, and Pinoy Weekly reported that they were targeted with distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS). They accused state-backed groups of initiating the attacks which they claimed were meant to intimidate and silence media groups. They linked the shutting down of their websites as a result of these attacks with the decline of press freedom under the government of Rodrigo Duterte who became president in 2016.

Qurium, a Sweden-based media foundation, helped in stopping the DDoS and identifying tech companies IP Converge and Suniway as the source of the cyber attacks. IP Converge is a Philippines-based Cloud Services Provider, while Suniway Group of Companies Incorporated, registered both in Hong Kong and the Philippines, provides “network support to Chinese and Filipino companies in the Philippines.’’

In March 2019, a civil case was filed by the beleaguered news websites against IP Converge and Suniway.

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines supported the filing of the suit:

This civil action sends a clear message to those who seek to silence the independent Philippine media: Not only will you fail, we will fight back. We will fight back because we cannot allow you to deprive our people of their right to the information they need to chart their individual and collective futures, we cannot allow you to deprive them of their voice. We will fight back because no less than democracy and our basic freedoms are at stake.

The companies refuted the allegations and filed a countersuit against their accusers for besmirching their reputation.

During the pre-trial conference in September, IP Converge admitted that it leased 64 IP addresses to Suniway, which were earlier traced by Quirium as the source of the attacks.

In February 2020, the case was settled with all parties expressing commitment to protect press freedom. Here’s an excerpt from their joint statement issued on 24 February:

[The parties] express their utmost respect and full support of press freedom as a constitutional guarantee and a tenet of a democratic society.

…..defendants commit to support a free press. Effective mechanisms to combat such attacks shall further be improved to prevent a repeat of this kind of situation.

Bulatlat issued a statement describing the outcome as a victory for press freedom:

This is a small victory in our fight for press freedom. We call on all tech companies not to allow their infrastructure to be used by enemies of the truth.

We will remain vigilant in countering cyber attacks and other forms of violations to our right to publish news and analyses relevant to the Filipino people.

In an interview with Global Voices, Butlatlat editor Ronalyn Olea mentioned the relevance of the case in the campaign against media-related cyber attacks.

The civil case filed by alternative media groups is the first case filed in relation to cyber attacks against the media. The parties to the case have pledged commitment to uphold press freedom and ensure mechanisms to prevent their infrastructure from being used by enemies of the truth. This also serves as a warning to cyber attackers that they cannot hide behind their VPNs forever.

Olea added that they have legal remedies to ensure compliance in preventing cyber attacks:

The joint agreement is a binding agreement and we have submitted it to the court handling our case. It does not tie our hands from filing future cases if similar incidents happen again.

“The filing of the civil case is just one aspect of the campaign,’’ Olea said, before adding:

The overwhelming support from press freedom watchdogs, digital rights advocates, fellow journalists, among others greatly helped in our campaign to uphold our right to publish

.

Internet shutdowns in 2019: India continued to top list of worst offenders

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 16:11

The shutdowns in 2019 were longer and geographically more targeted, says report

India internet shutdown map, January 2010 – March 2017. Created by National Law University Delhi and the Centre for Communication Governance (CC BY)

India topped the list of countries that shut down the internet in 2019 with a staggering 121 shutdowns, more than half the 213 events recorded around the world, according to digital rights advocacy group Access Now.

Globally, 33 countries switched off access as compared to 25 in 2018, the #KeepItOn report on internet shutdowns in 2019 said.

1/ In collaboration with the #KeepitOn Coalition, we have been documenting #internetshutdowns since 2011. Today we launched our 2019 report. Below are some of the trends we observed https://t.co/pJdCf3em2J pic.twitter.com/F2FMLJgOuX

— Access Now (@accessnow) February 25, 2020

The shutdowns in 2019 were longer, geographically more targeted and included slowing down access to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Following India, Venezuela was a global leader for shutdowns, blocking access to social media platforms at least 12 times.

After Venezuela, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, and Ethiopia were the countries with the most shutdowns.

Pakistan had five incidents of mobile or broadband services being switched off while Indonesia experienced three.

Myanmar imposed the year’s longest internet shutdown in its Rakhine and Chin states where 500,000-600,000 Rohingya Muslims reside.

Authorities in Bangladesh also shut down mobile internet connections in refugee camps where mostly Rohingyas reside. The shutdown has been imposed since early September 2019 and it is still ongoing.

Governments justified their actions by claiming they were meant to help ensure public safety, increase national security and to stop the spread of fake news, among others.

Kashmir: the world’s second-longest shutdown in 2019

After scrapping the special provisions from its constitution regarding the Jammu and Kashmir state, the Indian government banned public gatherings, detained local leaders, cut off telephone lines and imposed a complete blackout of the internet for 175 days — the second-longest shutdown globally in 2019.

It was also among the longest shutdowns recorded in India to date.

Some of these restrictions were lifted after India’s Supreme Court criticized the shutdown, termed indefinite internet blackouts unconstitutional and asked authorities for a policy revisit.

The ruling, however, failed to provide any immediate relief.

As of now, residents in India-administered Kashmir are only allowed to access slow 2G internet connections, are blocked from accessing most social media platforms, and can only visit white-listed websites that are vetted by the government.

Besides Kashmir, #KeepItOn documented incidents of internet shutdowns in other Indian states “to stifle dissenting voices.”

Petitions were launched across high courts in different Indian states challenging the shutdowns ordered following nation-wide protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens in Assam.

While a court in Gawuhati city forced the Assam state government on December 20, 2019, to restore internet connectivity, which was disconnected on December 11, 2019, after demonstrations in 10 state districts, a court in Kerala also ruled on September 19, 2019 in favour of a petition requesting right to internet access in a girls’ hostel at night.

“Shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir comprised about 68% of the shutdowns in India, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and West Bengal,” Access Now said.

The most common government rationale for shutting down the internet in India was “precautionary measure” or restoring public order.

The network restrictions, the report said, have served to hide a series of egregious human rights violations in Kashmir such as detaining and beating children, and restricting travel and access to the disputed region.

The full report can be accessed here.

Internet shutdowns in 2019: India continued to top list of worst offenders

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 16:11

The shutdowns in 2019 were longer and geographically more targeted, says report

India internet shutdown map, January 2010 – March 2017. Created by National Law University Delhi and the Centre for Communication Governance (CC BY)

India topped the list of countries that shut down the internet in 2019 with a staggering 121 shutdowns, more than half the 213 events recorded around the world, according to digital rights advocacy group Access Now.

Globally, 33 countries switched off access as compared to 25 in 2018, the #KeepItOn report on internet shutdowns in 2019 said.

1/ In collaboration with the #KeepitOn Coalition, we have been documenting #internetshutdowns since 2011. Today we launched our 2019 report. Below are some of the trends we observed https://t.co/pJdCf3em2J pic.twitter.com/F2FMLJgOuX

— Access Now (@accessnow) February 25, 2020

The shutdowns in 2019 were longer, geographically more targeted and included slowing down access to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Following India, Venezuela was a global leader for shutdowns, blocking access to social media platforms at least 12 times.

After Venezuela, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, and Ethiopia were the countries with the most shutdowns.

Pakistan had five incidents of mobile or broadband services being switched off while Indonesia experienced three.

Myanmar imposed the year’s longest internet shutdown in its Rakhine and Chin states where 500,000-600,000 Rohingya Muslims reside.

Authorities in Bangladesh also shut down mobile internet connections in refugee camps where mostly Rohingyas reside. The shutdown has been imposed since early September 2019 and it is still ongoing.

Governments justified their actions by claiming they were meant to help ensure public safety, increase national security and to stop the spread of fake news, among others.

Kashmir: the world’s second-longest shutdown in 2019

After scrapping the special provisions from its constitution regarding the Jammu and Kashmir state, the Indian government banned public gatherings, detained local leaders, cut off telephone lines and imposed a complete blackout of the internet for 175 days — the second-longest shutdown globally in 2019.

It was also among the longest shutdowns recorded in India to date.

Some of these restrictions were lifted after India’s Supreme Court criticized the shutdown, termed indefinite internet blackouts unconstitutional and asked authorities for a policy revisit.

The ruling, however, failed to provide any immediate relief.

As of now, residents in India-administered Kashmir are only allowed to access slow 2G internet connections, are blocked from accessing most social media platforms, and can only visit white-listed websites that are vetted by the government.

Besides Kashmir, #KeepItOn documented incidents of internet shutdowns in other Indian states “to stifle dissenting voices.”

Petitions were launched across high courts in different Indian states challenging the shutdowns ordered following nation-wide protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens in Assam.

While a court in Gawuhati city forced the Assam state government on December 20, 2019, to restore internet connectivity, which was disconnected on December 11, 2019, after demonstrations in 10 state districts, a court in Kerala also ruled on September 19, 2019 in favour of a petition requesting right to internet access in a girls’ hostel at night.

“Shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir comprised about 68% of the shutdowns in India, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and West Bengal,” Access Now said.

The most common government rationale for shutting down the internet in India was “precautionary measure” or restoring public order.

The network restrictions, the report said, have served to hide a series of egregious human rights violations in Kashmir such as detaining and beating children, and restricting travel and access to the disputed region.

The full report can be accessed here.

YouTuber in Mozambique kidnapped after denouncing a self-proclaimed prophet

Fri, 02/28/2020 - 14:03

‘Beleza em Pessoa’ is one of Mozambique's most famous YouTubers

Screengrab of the YouTube page of “Beleza em pessoa.” made by the author

The Mozambican YouTuber Arsénio Amós was kidnapped on 5 February supposedly in retaliation for one of his videos. He was released the following day through the help of the police.

Known online as “Beleza em Pessoa”, Arsénio is recognized for humorously discussing various issues on his channel, with emphasis on social and political life in Mozambique. His channel “Arte & Vida” (Art and Life) has over 80 thousand subscribers, making it one of the country’s most popular YouTube channels.

In his recent videos, Arsénio commented on how Mozambican self-proclaimed “prophets” accumulate wealth by lying on their religious teachings. One of them focuses on the irregularities in the religious activity of Joe Williams, a Mozambican self-proclaimed prophet who today is suspected of being involved in the YouTuber’s kidnapping.

On 6 February, after the kidnapping of Arsenio, an audio attributed to Williams in which he threatened the young YouTuber was shared across social networks. 

In another video published on 25 January, the YouTuber highlighted the fact that some of these ‘prophets’ did not like his channel’s approach and that he had received death threats.

Screengrab of the newspaper Notícias, 7 February

In the following days, photos began to circulate showing Arsénio Amós in handcuffs at a Maputo police station. In the photos, Joe Williams could be seen talking to a police officer.

On 7 February, the country's largest newspaper, Notícias, reported that the Williams had been arrested for attempted kidnapping. The police said they were already following his movements, and had been alerted by undisclosed sources that he was with the captive YouTuber in a car.

At the time of publication, Williams was in police custody. He is the prime suspect for being behind the kidnapping, and will also be investigated for “illegal accumulation of wealth” and corruption.

This phenomenon of prophets is not exclusive to Mozambique as it's also being reported in several African countries. They promise cures for diseases and resurrection after death and are usually linked to churches whose origins are unknown.

The photos that circulated soon after the incident showed the YouTuber with his mouth shut with tape, to which Zarito Mutana, a Facebook user, reacted:

Muito triste que fizeram com o Blogueiro “Beleza em pessoa” recebi muitas fotos que nao dignifican [sic] a nossa polícia, aquilo parece se, ser um rapto que uma detenção, espero estar errado porém, acho que trata-se de uma vingança do Joe William contra o jovem.

Alguém deve parar esse mostro, alguém deve parar de chamar este mostro nas TV`s, alguém deve dizer basta ao Joe William…

Very sad what they did to the blogger “Beleza em pessoa”… I hope I’m wrong, but I think it is Joe William’s revenge against the young man.

Someone should stop this monster, someone should stop calling this monster on television, someone should just tell Joe Williams “enough”…

The politician and television commentator, Domingos Gundana, criticized the way the YouTuber was detained.

NÃO ALGEMEM A LIBERDADE DE EXPRESSÃO!

Bom dia amigos meus e amigos de meus amigos, espero que esteja tudo bem com cada um de vocês, onde estiverem.

Estou postando as imagens abaixo desta escrita com profunda indignação, apesar de não ter todos os detalhes dos contornos que levaram ao tal Profeta a sair da essência do ser homem de Deus para o mundano.

Mas porque as imagens já rodam o mundo, torna dificil, ficar indiferente. Já se previa que o jovem tal Profeta, disso não é, mas pelo menos se sabe que ele conhece a palavra de Deus, e se isso for verdade, então se esqueceu do dito, ” PERDOAI A QUEM VOS TEM OFENDIDO, PARA QUE O VOSSO PAI DO CEU, POSSA PERDOAR AS VOSSAS OFENSAS” ou a outra ” AQUELE QUE NUNCA PECOU, ATIRE A PRIMEIRA PEDRA”.

Imagine se o Nyusi, Guebuza, Chisaano, Dhlakama ou Ossufo, saissem por ai a processar ou mandar prender todos os que lhes falam cada coisa, as cadeias ja nao tinham espaços .

Imagine se os Bispos da Universal fossem assim, saindo por ai a processar cada pessoa que os fala contra ou contra suas acções e de suas Igrejas.

Este tal de Profeta, vai calar a boca de todos nesta pátria? Mas ele é o primeiro que chama os irmaos de futxeka, de pobres, e faz videos estupendos.

Libertem o jovem Beleza em pessoa e deixem ele fazer o seu trabalho de informar.

Viva a liberdade e abaixo ignorância.

Lord bless

DON’T SHACKLE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Imagine if the Universal Bishops were like that, going around suing everybody who speaks against them or against their actions and those of their churches.

This so-called Prophet, is he going to shut everybody up in this country? But he's the first one who calls his brothers futxeka, poor people, and makes stupendous videos.

Release the young Beleza em Pessoa and let him do his job of informing [people].

Long live freedom and down with ignorance.

A similar comment was made by the journalist and historian Euclid Flavio:

ÁPICE DO ANADMISSIVEL

Penso que o Profeta joel williams, já esta a exagerar. Nestas imagens podemos ver o Blogueiro DA BELEZA EM PESSOA, submetido a situações de tortura antes de chegar nas autoridades de Justiça, supostamente porque o Blogueiro, terá manchado a HONRA E BOM NOME do nosso Profeta.

Isto não podemos admitir. Que se faça algo. É preciso compreender que Da Beleza não é assassino, é um profissional “Honesto”. Isto não. Repito: não.

APEX OF UNACCEPTABILITY

I think the Prophet Joel Williams is already exaggerating. In these images we can see the blogger BELEZA EM PESSOA, subjected to torture before reaching the authorities of Justice, supposedly because the blogger has stained the HONOUR AND GOOD NAME of our Prophet.

We can't allow this. Something must be done. You have to understand that Da Beleza is not a killer, he's an “honest” professional. Not this. I repeat, no.

Much has been speculated over the origin of Williams’ wealth, which is still unknown.

Others have suggested that the kidnapping happened in retaliation not for the criticisms made by the YouTuber, but for the non-fulfillment of a supposed contract between Williams and Arsenio for the YouTuber to speak well of him on his channel, although this is only speculation. This possibility was raised by journalist Virgílio Conjo:

Contractar serviços de acessória de imagem é normal. Mas, tal deve ser feito dentro de um contracto com as cláusulas bem definidas: objectivo comunicacional, Target, formatos e por aí.

Os blogueiros, apresentadores de Rádio e televisão estão a prestar um mau serviço de acessória as figuras públicas em benefício das soupinhas. O que eles não sabiam é que um dia o feitiço vira contra o feiticeiro.

Eles, durante muito tempo ajudaram JW a sair das merdinhas nem!… e, não tardou, não tendo mais espaço para tanta merda JW atacou os próprios blogueiros…

Contracting services for image enhancement is normal. But, this must be done within a contract with well defined clauses: communication purpose, Target, formats and so on.

Bloggers and radio and television presenters are providing a poor service to public figures for the benefit of donations. What they didn't know is that one day the spell turns against the wizard.

They, for a long time, helped JW to get out of the shit… and, without delay, not having room for so much shit, JW attacked the bloggers themselves…

 

What kind of rumours were circulating during the 2020 Taiwan presidential election?

Fri, 02/28/2020 - 01:32

Summer Chen. Photo by Huang Hung Yu, used with permission.

During the campaign preceding Taiwan's January 2020 presidential elections, the widespread use of social media platforms, such as Facebook and LINE to share news from unreliable sources, significantly affected people's ability to make well-informed choices at the polls. As a result, a number of initiatives have emerged to counter the spread of disinformation in Taiwan.

The Taiwan Fact-Check Center is the first Taiwanese news organization certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), a global network of fact-checking associations dedicated to promoting best practices in the field.

The Center already played a role in countering the spread of disinformation during the 2018 local elections that were paired with a multi-question referendum. As some of the referendum questions were about LGBT rights and energy policies, certain political groups made use of disinformation to mobilize people to vote in their favour.

For example, anti-LGBT groups had then spread the idea that the impact of LGBT rights on sexual education could affect their and others associated homosexuality with AIDS. Meanwhile, pro-nuclear energy groups launched a smear campaign against residents of Orchid Island who have suffered from nuclear waste pollution for years. Pro-Kuomintang (KMT) groups used unverified reports from mainland China to slam Taiwanese authorities for failing to provide assistance to Taiwan tourists at Kansai airport when Typhoon Jebi struck the region in 2018. A Taiwanese diplomat committed suicide as the fabricated story went viral online.

Ahead of the 2020 Taiwanese presidential election, Wang Liqiang, a self-proclaimed Chinese spy revealed to Australian media outlets that Beijing had an army of information operators campaigning for the opposition KMT candidate, Han Kuo-yu. Rumors were also circulating that Beijing had infiltrated numerous media outlets in Taiwan. In view of this, Global Voices’ Chinese language editor Huang HungYu interviewed Summer Chen, the Chief Editor of Taiwan Fact Check Center to find out what exactly were the rumors circulating in Taiwan during the January 2020 presidential election.

GV: Can you share your observations about the spread of disinformation during the presidential election?

Summer Chen (SC): Before August 2019, the majority of rumors were related to health issues. Between September and November 2019, more policy-related disinformation emerged, including disinformation around LGBT rights. We also verified a number of stories about the Hong Kong anti-extradition protests. We observed that in online and in traditional media outlets, there was quite a lot of messaging using Hong Kong’s extradition protests to attack the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Between September and November, we published 66 verification reports, and 15 of them were about the Hong Kong anti-extradition protests and cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China. Between November 2019 and January 2020, there were 14 false reports about unfair election arrangements. After the election, rumors accusing officers at polling stations of tampering the ballots also emerged.

GV: Have the rumors affected the results of the elections? 

SC: Just a few days before the election, we saw a rumor about Wuhan pneumonia [now called COVID-19] circulating on Facebook. It claimed that Taiwan had a confirmed case, and urged voters to wear a mask when going to the voting stations. It was confirmed to be a false piece of information at the time. The effect of it was very negative as it could spread fear. Many Taiwanese who live in mainland China travel back to Taiwan to vote [as distance voting is not possible], thus some might have been deterred from going to voting stations for fear of being infected. After we published our verification report, our center issued a joint statement with another fact-check group, MyGoPen against the manufacturing of social panic. Facebook also took measures to reduce the reach of posts about the outbreak of the new coronavirus in Taiwan before the election.

GV: Do you think Beijing’s information operators were behind the spread of election-related rumors and disinformation in Taiwan?

SC: Our center cannot track down the exact origin of rumors. There are some traces indicating that Beijing may have been involved. Sometimes we could see the use of simplified Chinese characters in the text and identify slogans. Some of the rumors about the anti-extradition protests were obviously originating from Hong Kong but spread to Taiwan, yet we don’t have hard evidence to prove this. Regardless of their origin, we don't want to allow rumors to affect voting behavior in Taiwan. In my own opinion, the majority of rumors were aimed at dividing Taiwanese society. By provoking people’s emotion and splitting the community into two political camps: either pro or anti-Han Kuo-yu. Some people would simply look at disinformation as a joke and laugh at people who spread the rumors. However, we have to ask this question: why would people still disseminate stories that they know we wouldn't not believe in? For example, whenever the verification reports about Han Kuo-yu were released, people would start mocking Han’s supporters in the comment section. This may as well be the very intention of disinformation — to divide society.

GV: Do you have another example about how disinformation divided Taiwanese society?

SC: After the election, there were rumors about election results tampering. For example, an edited video taken in a polling station showed that when the polling officer announced the result of the vote for Han Kuo-yu, another polling officer counted the vote under Tsai Ing-wen’s record [The reason for this was in fact that the officer counting the vote was in fact registering the previous, yet because of the way it was recorded, it looked indeed suspicious] In my opinion, this rumor was orchestrated by Beijing to divide society. In Taiwan, the pro-Beijing KMT is still the dominant party in local government bodies. The election result could not be tampered unless the KMT was involved. Moreover, as indicated in past elections, Taiwan’s election system is rather mature, and there has been no serious complaints about elections in the past. After the presidential election, the KMT did not demand a recount or question the fairness of the results. Hence, it is very likely that the rumor is manufactured and spread by Beijing’s information operators.

Despite exile, Evo Morales’ influence in Bolivian politics endures

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 15:45

The former indigenous president was barred from running for senator in the May elections

Evo Morales. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

On January 18, 2020, the crowd at the inauguration of the Yacumo Technological Institute in northwest Bolivia was surprised by a familiar voice.

Through a microphone placed near a phone on speaker, former president Evo Morales, in exile since November 2019, said:

Lamento mucho todo lo que ha pasado, pero quiero decirles con mucho respeto que tenemos la obligación de unirnos y recuperar nuestro proceso de cambio.

I am very sorry for everything that has happened, but I want to tell you with great respect that we have the obligation to unite and reclaim our process of reform.

That wasn't the first time the former indigenous president showed up at an inauguration over the phone. In December 2019, Entre Ríos Deputy Governor Wálter Ferrufino called Morales on the phone during the opening ceremony of a market in the area. Weeks later, Ferrufino was detained for four hours at a Bolivian airport on his way to Argentina, where he was to attend a meeting with Morales and his Movement for Socialism (MAS) party.

El pueblo boliviano vuelve a llamar por teléfono a Evo Morales para que sea él quien inaugure una obra. Anteriormente inauguró una obra en la provincia Oconnor, razón por la que el Subgobernador se encuentra detenido. Esta ocasión la obra se inauguró en el departamento de Beni. pic.twitter.com/qBaKMfbTGu

— La Resistencia Bolivia (@ResistenciaBo) January 19, 2020

The Bolivian people call Evo Morales by phone once again so that he can inaugurate a project. He previously participated at the opening of a project in the Oconnor province, which is why the Deputy Governor is detained. This time the project is in the department of Beni.

Both phone calls attest to Morales's enduring influence in Bolivian politics despite his being in exile since he stepped down amid military pressure in November 2019.

Morales became the first-ever indigenous president of Bolivia — a country where more than 40 percent is of indigenous origin — in 2006. In November last year, he won his third reelection on a vote some international observers considered fraudulent. Protests against Morales erupted and, five weeks later, the army “advised” Morales to resign — an event that Morales and his supporters see as a coup d'etat. A wave of resignations within his party ensued.

In December, the Bolivian prosecution issued an arrest warrant for Morales on charges of “sedition and terrorism” after he allegedly threatened to “besiege cities” amid the protests against his reelection.

After the power vacuum left by MAS, the presidential line of succession pointed to Jeanine Añez, a right-wing opposition lawmaker and second vice-president of the Senate. Since her arrival to power as interim president, she has been accused of racism against indigenous peoples and of leading Bolivia into a “brutal right-wing regime” with fundamentalist Christian views.

New elections are scheduled for May 3. MAS’ presidential candidate is Luis Arce, Morales’ former Minister of Economy. Also running are MAS’ rivals Carlos Mesa and Jorge Quiroga, who ruled Bolivia between 2001 and 2005, as well as Añez. The elected candidate will be sworn in on August 6, when Bolivia celebrates Independence Day. 

Morales, who first sought exile in Mexico before settling a month later in Argentina, has been accused by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Bolivia's interim president Jeanine Añez of contravening the Montevideo Treaty on asylum, which states that “asylum seekers will not be allowed to (…) participate in or influence political activities.”

Yet, neither Bolivia nor Mexico ratified the treaty, according to Mexico's Secretary of Interior, Olga Sánchez Cordero, and Mexico, under the government of leftist president Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, has defended Morales’ right to “freedom of speech.” Since November, Bolivia's relations with Mexico and Argentina have soured.

Yerko Nuñez, Añez's right-hand man, considered Morales's phone calls at the inauguration “outrageous,” a “joke”  and a “usurpation of duties.”

Resulta jocoso, pero al mismo tiempo indignante, oír al expresidente inaugurar obras por teléfono. Usurpa funciones y agranda la lista de delitos por los que debe responder ante la justicia #boliviana.

— Yerko Núñez Negrette (@yerko_nunez) December 27, 2019

It is a joke, but at the same time an outrageous act, to hear the former president inaugurate projects by phone. You just usurp the functions and add to the list of crimes for which you must respond to the #bolivian justice.

- Yerko Núñez Negrette (@yerko_nunez) December 27, 2019

Morales sought to register as a candidate for the Senate in the upcoming elections on May 3, 2020, but the Bolivian Electoral Tribunal rejected his candidacy on the grounds that he did not meet the requirement of having permanent residency in Bolivia.

Long-distance relationship

According to the analysis published in World Politics Review by columnist Frida Ghitis, Morales was the kingmaker behind the candidacy of Luis Arce, the former Minister of Economy who will represent MAS in the upcoming presidential elections.

Arce, who took political asylum in Mexico and Argentina along with Evo, and who is being investigated for corruption by the interim government, returned to Bolivia on January 28, 2020. A march in his support was held in La Paz on February 3 after his and David Choquehuanca's candidacies (the latter as vice-president) were accepted by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Some MAS leaders prefer Choquehuanca, who is indigenous, to run for president instead of Arce. Esperanza Calle, a journalist with the newspaper El Alteño, says that it seems that Morales does not want another indigenous leader to “overshadow him”:

La decisión de Evo, desató una serie de críticas por parte de los dirigentes que siempre apoyaron el partido azul y político del actual gobierno. Unos califican el hecho como “traición a las organizaciones sociales” y otros como una actitud de “soberbia” ya que supuestamente la exautoridad no quiere a nadie que la “haga sombra” en el campo indígena.

Evo's decision unleashed criticism from the leaders who have always supported the MAS party and the politics of the current government. Some describe his actions as a “betrayal of social organizations” and others as “arrogance” because the former authority supposedly does not want anyone to “overshadow” his indigenous status.

In January, Morales provoked outrage after he declared that “if I would return (…) we must organize, like the armed militias of the people in Venezuela.” He retracted his call three days later.

Following Morales's statement on his intentions to return to Bolivia, the Interior Minister of Bolivia's interim government, Arturo Murillo, said that Evo Morales “has a cell with his name” in the San Pedro de Chonchocoro jail in La Paz.

Columnist Ghitis says:

Con la fecha de las elecciones determinada y los partidos que están escogiendo sus candidatos, Morales esta luchando para guardar su influencia.

With the elections date already set and the parties choosing their candidates, Morales is struggling to keep his influence.

Literature as a gateway for exploring Indian-Nepali hybridity: Interview with author Prajwal Parajuly

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 09:27

“Translations will keep the world sane”

Nepali-Indian author Prajwal Parajuly. Photo used with permission.

India and Nepal share a 1,750 km-long border that is open to people in both directions. This proximity has created a complex relationship of cultural and economic exchange as well as conflicts around issues of citizenship, border delimitation and the fine political balance with China and Pakistan.

To find out more about this relationship, I asked Indian-Nepali author Prajwal Parajuly, who writes about the different ways Nepali and Indian-Nepali identities are experienced around the world, his thoughts on the issue. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Filip Noubel: You are a Nepali-Indian English language author, grew up in Sikkim, and have been invited in March to the Paris Salon du Livre (Book Fair) to represent Indian literature. How do you relate to this mix of cultural and linguistic affiliations?

Cover of the French translation of Parajuly's novel “Land Where I Flee”. Image used with permission

Prajwal Parajuly (PP): I am of Indian of Nepalese heritage, with parents from two different countries. I also grew up in a former Himalayan kingdom—Sikkim, that was annexed by India in 1975. I think it’s perfectly okay to get goosebumps when one hears Jana Gana Mana, the Indian national anthem, but to feel more at home in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, than one does in any big Indian city. It’s okay to pledge allegiance to one country and have a lot in common with another.

I consider both English and Nepali my first languages. I think and dream in English but often pray in Nepali. Nepali is a beautiful language: I can speak endlessly about the onomatopoeic deliciousness you find in abundance in it. We laugh galala. We spit pyachcha. We sit thyaachakka. I have on more than one occasion called my novel “Land Where I Flee” a love letter to the Nepali language.

What a privilege it is to represent Indian literature at a book fair in Paris. I like this idea about a festival having a guest country of honour. It brings a spotlight on books one wouldn’t have ordinarily picked up, it brings up the importance of translations. Translations will keep the world sane.

FN: Your first published book, “The Gurkha’s Daughter”, is a collection of short stories describing the life of Nepali people, including in the diaspora, and spans from Bhutan to New York. Your second book, “Land Where I Flee”, takes place in Sikkim but is also a story about exile and homecoming, and touches upon issues of gender definition. Why are mixed or shifting identities such an important source of your inspiration?

PP: Let me tell you a story. In 2001, a group of us visited Bombay and Goa. It was an exciting time, but we often confronted confused looks from “heartland” Indians. Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, may loosely rhyme with “Bangkok,” but that was still no reason for a fellow Indian not to know where it was. We were thought of as being from Thailand or Bhutan. Many Indians didn’t even know that Sikkim was a part of India. Anyone who grows up in the northeast of the country will have encountered questions of identity more than the average Indian. There’s no escaping it for the Nepali-Indian who has to stress her nationality every time she mentions her ethnicity. That’s the reason a map prefaces every story in “The Gurkha’s Daughter” and why all editions of “Land Where I Flee” also have maps. It was as much to inform my reader in Missouri as it was for the benefit of my average Indian reader. The northeast is almost always a footnote in the average Indian’s consciousness.

I've always been fascinated by gender identity, by fluidity in sexual identity. “Land Where I Flee” has a eunuch character. I can think of at least two other books that were published in the last several years with prominent eunuch characters. I think every South Asian wants to write about eunuchs.

Kathmandu's iconic Boudhanath, one of the largest stupas in Nepal. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

FN: Who are, according to you, the Nepali and Indian authors who deserve more global attention, possibly translation, according to you?

PP: Where do I begin? Narayan Wagle, who is likely the biggest-selling Nepali-language writer in the world, deserves to be translated widely. I would also mention Nepali-language writer Indra Bahadur Rai. Tashi Choppel, whose “How to Collect a Folktale“, was recently published by Rachna Publications, deserves global readers. He’s undoubtedly one of the best poets in the country. Others include Chetan Raj Shrestha, Sandip Roy and Sumana Roy. For us to understand Nepal through non-fiction, Sujeev Shakya’s Unleashing the Vajra is a must-read. I am also looking forward to Amish Raj Mulmi’s new book on Nepal and China. Sanu Lama and Bir Bikram Gurung—Nepali-language writers from Sikkim and Darjeeling—also deserve a worldwide readership.

Street scene in Kathmandu. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

FN: Your books have been and are being translated. How close do you work with your translators?

PP: I work very closely with the translators. I enjoy the process, a translator’s interpretation of my work. Benoîte Dauvergne, my French translator, and I had worked before for a wonderful French magazine called Jentayu. Collaborating with her on “Fuir et revenir” felt like being reunited with a close friend. My parents translated my book into Nepali. My characters often speak in Nepali, so for their conversation to be rendered in English by me entailed a process of translation. In many ways, my translators are translating conversations that are already translated. Translators are such amazing people. To translate is a selfless act.

Bookstore in Patan city near Kathmandu. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission. 

FN: What’s the reading culture like in India and Nepal now? We hear about independent bookstores struggling in the West. Are things any different in South Asia? 

PP: You’ve caught me at a strange time. I just discovered that pirated copies of my books have infiltrated the market. I guess I should be flattered because the bottom line is that people are reading. Of the hundreds of challenges I face as a writer, I never thought tackling counterfeit copies would be right up there. I have spent the last few days exchanging emails with my publishers and distributors about what actions they will take. It is a most exciting time to be a writer in India if the proliferation of literary festivals is any indication. I am amazed by what I see at Rachna Books, my hometown bookstore. The store has become a tourist destination. Imagine a bookstore being on every must-visit list! People are reading, and books sell. When in Kathmandu recently, I went to Nepalaya, my Nepali-language publishers, and saw that the Nepali translation of “The Gurkha’s Daughter” had sold over 10,000 copies. Isn’t that wonderful? The book being read by the very people it was about in the very language the characters speak in? Heart-warming. The book has reached the most remote corners of Nepal.

Justice for Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera comes at a steep price

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 22:04

In a plea bargain, Kabendera's release hinges on $118,000 in fines

Erick Kabendera coaching journalists. Photo by Pernille Bærendtsen, used with permission.

On February 24, 2020, Tanzanian freelance journalist Erick Kabendera was released from prison but faces hefty fines on charges of money laundering and tax evasion.

The beleaguered journalist entered into a plea bargain with the Kisutu Resident Magistrates Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after spending seven months behind bars, according to a report by BBC Swahili. During his time in prison, Kabendera was denied medical attention and was prevented from attending the funeral of his mother, who died while he languished in prison.

On July 29, 2019, six plainclothes policemen forcefully removed Kabendera from his home in Dar es Salaam, and took him into police custody. Police say Kabendera had failed to obey a summons to investigate the status of his Tanzanian citizenship. But authorities soon switched track and accused Kabendera of money laundering, tax evasion and organizing unspecific crimes. These types of financial crimes prevented him from the option of bail.

Between January to July 2019, Kabendera “knowingly furnished assistance in the conduct of affairs of a criminal racket, with intent either to reap profit or other benefit,” and during that time, he failed to pay his taxes on $75,000 USD worth of income, according to the original charge sheet, as described by Reuters.

As a journalist, Kabendera has been critical of Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s administration and has spoken out in favor of press freedom. Human rights activists saw Kabendera's arrest as a way to instill fear among journalists and others critical of the ruling party and current administration.

The day after his release, prominent writer and columnist Elise Eyakuze wrote a moving letter to Kabendera in The East African:

Erick, I pray that you are faring as well as you can. It was a shock of course to hear of your arrest on charges of money laundering, tax evasion, crime, but not entirely unexpected considering the difficult times that the media is facing. Freedom of speech has always been dangerous business, Tanzania being no exception. But we had our halcyon days, didn’t we?

Read more: Tanzanian journalist faces trumped-up charges after abduction and detention No justice for Kabendera

Kabendera's family and supporters welcomed the news of his release, but the fact that he had to pay a hefty fine for his freedom and plead guilty on these economic crimes charges was a major disappointment. Many have expressed their concern on social media how his case was handled.

Amnesty International's director for East and Southern Africa tweeted:

“While it is welcome news that Kabendera is out of prison close to seven months later, it is outrageous that he had to pay such a hefty fine to gain his freedom.”

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africahttps://t.co/nnJkXfwv7l

— Я¡ž¡ (@IzRizi) February 25, 2020

The organized crime charge was dropped, but Kabendera was convicted on tax evasion and money laundering charges and he was fined a total of 273 million Tanzanian shillings ($118,000 United States dollars), according to The Citizen.

Muthoki Mumo, Committee to Protect Journalists’ sub-Saharan Africa representative, said:

We welcome the end of Erick Kabendera’s nearly seven-month imprisonment on charges that were transparent retaliation for his critical journalism. … However, we are deeply concerned that even after months in detention without the prospect of bail, during which he suffered illness and lost his mother, Kabendera’s ordeal is not yet over as these cripplingly heavy fines continue to hang over his head.

According to CPJ, ‘‘the court ordered Kabendera to pay a fine of 100 million Tanzanian shillings ($43,000) for the money laundering charge, a fine of 250,000 shillings ($108) for the tax evasion charge, and 173 million shillings ($75,000) in compensation for the tax evasion.’’

Kabendera already paid some of these fines, but the remaining tax evasion compensation must be paid over a six-month period, according the BBC and a statement from Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition.

‘Extortionist state’

Netizens on Twitter sounded the alarm on the conditions of Kabendera's release.

Opposition politician Zitto Kabwe, Leader of Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo),  met with Kabendera at his home in Dar es Salaam, hours after his release and tweeted:

Great to meet and hug Erick Kabendera @kabsjourno at home. So sad that my friend will live, at least momentarily, with a criminal records for crimes he didn’t commit. The extortionist state under @MagufuliJP really wanted to break this honest man. His crime? Journalism #Tanzania pic.twitter.com/GRJi85bOsk

— Zitto Mwami Ruyagwa Kabwe (@zittokabwe) February 24, 2020

Writer Kizito Makoye tweeted to defend Kabendera's innocence:

I still firmly believe the charges against Erick Kabendera are 100% false, he has been forced to buy his freedom out!!

— Kizito Makoye (@kizmakoye) February 24, 2020

Renowned human rights activist Boniface Mwangi of Kenya lashed out at the Magufuli administration on Twitter over the Kabendera case using the Swahili language hashtag #UhaiNaHakiTanzania, which means “life and rights Tanzania”:

Erick Kabendera was jailed illegally and blackmailed to sign a plea bargain. @MagufuliJP is a dictator and Tanzania is slowly becoming a police state. Magufuli is a polished version of Idi Amin, Moi and Kagame. #UhaiNaHakiTanzania https://t.co/pyd2yYkZr2

— Boniface Mwangi (@bonifacemwangi) February 25, 2020

To which the Club Magufuli Twitter account replied:

No matter how much hatred you spew against Tanzanians, Erick Kabendera will forever be a convicted felon!

— Club Magufuli (@ClubMagufuli) February 25, 2020

Still missing, still behind bars

While Kabendera walks free, there are still other human rights activists and journalists who are in jail or remain missing.

Journalist Azory Gwanda, who was investigating high-profile killings in the Rufiji area, went missing in November 2017. In July 2019, Tanzanian foreign minister Palamagamba Kabudi announced during a BBC interview that Gwanda was dead, sparking demands for a full investigation into the circumstances of his mysterious disappearance and alleged death. But through a government spokesman, Kabudi later denied that the journalist was dead.

Human rights activists Tito Magoti and Theodory Giyani, who were both detained in December 2019, remain behind bars on accusations of financial crimes. The courts adjourned their case for the fifth time, according to the Legal and Human Rights Center, where Magoti worked as a program officer. 

Read more: Abduction of human rights activist echos chilling trend in Tanzania

Human Rights Watch has called Magoti and Giyani's arrests troubling, especially in the months leading up to the presidential elections in October:

These arrests come as Tanzania’s human rights record continues to deteriorate under President John Magufuli. Since 2015, the government has cracked down on civil society by passing repressive laws, censoring media, and arresting government critics, including journalists and several opposition politicians.

Last year, police arrested Erick Kabendera, who had written for several international outlets critiquing Tanzanian politics. Like Magoti, he was also charged with non-bailable offenses of economic crimes, and has been in detention since last July awaiting trial. If Kabendera’s case is any indication, Magoti could also face several months awaiting trial.

These arrests are especially troubling as Tanzania gears up for general elections later this year. Rather than stifling dissent, the government should be allowing healthy debate and upholding the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in its own constitution.

“Parental pin”: the Spanish far-right's fight to control public education

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 14:58

Spanish Twitter users responded with humor

Screenshots of false images shared by the far-right party Vox to support their policy of a parental veto in schools. Created by the author using images from maldita.es CC BY-SA 3.0

Since the start of 2020, the Spanish far-right political party Vox intensified its policy campaigns months after having enforced the approval of its “parental pin” regulation in the Spanish Autonomous Community of Murcia, in southeastern Spain. In Murcia, the regional government — a coalition between the conservative parties Partido Popular and Ciudadanos — needs Vox's support to vote its budget.

This “parental pin”, referring to security systems on mobile phones, has been applied in schools in Murcia since September 2019, and Vox wants to extend this initiative to Madrid and Andalusia. Spain is now caught in an incendiary debate on public education.

Vox argues that parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit, and therefore want parents to give their “express authorisation for any subject, discussion, workshop or activity that touches on socially controversial moral questions or on sexuality” given in schools by non-staff members.

By using this parental veto, parents in Murcia can prevent their children from participating in extra-curricular discussions and workshops.

These workshops focus on a variety of topics, such as sex education, misogynistic violence, gender equality, LGBTQI diversity or immigration, all of which are topics that Vox calls “indoctrination” by “lobbies”, reflecting the stance of the most traditional denomination of the Catholic Church.

Groups such as the National Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transgender People and Bisexuals say that the workshops they organize fall under Spanish education law, which highlights “values in favour of personal freedom, responsibility, democratic citizenship, solidarity, tolerance, equality, respect and justice, as well as assistance in overcoming any type of discrimination.”

The Minister for Education, Isabel Celaá, declared that the “parental pin” goes against this law. She filed a contentious-administrative appeal against the policy and wants it immediately suspended.

The Student's Union and the feminist group Libres y Combativas (Free and Combative), meanwhile, have called for a general strike on 6 March to protest against a “regression to Francoist brutality.” According to analysts, Vox brings back ideas from the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who ruled over Spain for almost four decades.

Controversy on social media

The debate is fierce on social media, where people have been expressing their opinions on the policy. The Minister for Equality, Irene Montero, clearly expressed the government's position on the matter:

PP y VOX siguen empeñados en cuestionar a los profesores y profesoras de este país, en atacar la escuela pública y las instituciones que nos permiten vivir en común. La educación en igualdad y afectivo-sexual es un derecho. https://t.co/7OscZZHIZ8

— Irene Montero (@IreneMontero) 24 January 2020

PP and Vox persist in their questioning of teachers in this country and attacking public education and the institutions that allow us to live side by side. Education on equality and on affective-sexuality matters is a right. https://t.co/7OscZZHIZ8

— Irene Montero (@IreneMontero) 24 January 2020

Many used humor in criticizing the policy:

- Buenas tardes, ¿usted es el profesor de Historia del Arte de mi hijo?
– Sí.
– Quería informarle que mañana no asistirá a clase por el pin parental.
– ¿Y eso?
– Porque impartirá Barroco y somos una familia neoclásica. No puede adoctrinarlo con semejantes delirios churriguerescos

— José de León (@Jose_de_leon) 21 January 2020

“Good afternoon, are you my son's History of Art teacher?
“Yes.”
“I just wanted to let you know that he won't be in class tomorrow due to the parental pin.”
“Why's that?”
“Because you're teaching them about Baroque and we are a neoclassical family. I won't let you indoctrinate him with these Churrigueresque delusions.”

— José de León (@Jose_de_leon) 21 January 2020

Aplicarle el pin parental a tu hijo para que no se esconda a fumar entre las clases de Masturbación Colectiva y Adoración a Satán.

— Antílopez (@antilopez) 22 January 2020

Putting the parental pin on your child so that they don't sneak out to smoke between Group Masturbation and Devil Worship classes.

— Antílopez (@antilopez) 22 January 2020

Twitter user Anzarda expressed doubt about the influence teachers have on their students:

Me parece enternecedora la fe que tiene la derecha en los profesores. No soy capaz de que pongan una tilde y voy a ser capaz de que se hagan maricones….

— Anzarda (@Anzarda1) 18 January 2020

It's adorable how much faith the law has in teachers. They can't even teach us how to spell correctly and yet they're able to turn us gay…

— Anzarda (@Anzarda1) 18 January 2020

Some personalities have been defending the veto like Pablo Casado of the Partido Popular and current leader of the opposition in Parliament:

Mis hijos son míos y no del Estado, y lucharé para que este Gobierno radical y sectario no imponga a los padres cómo tenemos que educar a nuestros niños. Saquen sus manos de nuestras familias. https://t.co/9sbwdbxZrm

— Pablo Casado Blanco (@pablocasado_) 17 January 2020

My children are mine, not the State's, and I will fight to ensure that this radical and sectarian government doesn't instruct parents how to educate our children. Get your hands off our families. https://t.co/9sbwdbxZrm

— Pablo Casado Blanco (@pablocasado_) 17 January 2020

Strategy of misinformation

In the middle of this controversy, Vox is accused of launching a campaign of misinformation, trying to show why the parental veto is needed. Their members and supporters circulated a series of images and videos on Twitter with messages indirectly related to educational activities.

Different websites exposed these far-right hoaxes, especially fact-checking websites such as Newtral or Maldita.es.

Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, Vox's representative in Congress, had to give an explanation during an interview with broadcaster RTVE about a video which a Vox political candidate had shared online. Although the video is from an artistic performance filmed in Brazil, Iván compared it to sex education in Spain:

¿Por qué es necesario el pin parental que Vox propone? Para que los padres puedan negarse a que sus hijos les enseñen este tipo de burradas. (…) Aunque lo que hayamos visto ahí sea una ‘performance’ es una burrada. (…) Así adoctrinan a menores de seis años en sexología en las escuelas de La Rioja.

Why is Vox's parental pin policy necessary? So that parents can refuse to let their children be taught ridiculous things like this. (…) Although what we see here is a performance, it is still ridiculous. (…) This is how children under six are being indoctrinated in sexology in schools in La Rioja.

Vox has been sharing hoaxes about the topics in the extra-curricular activities for a long time. Fact-checking website Maldita Hemeroteca has compiled several of these hoaxes:

Zoofilia, fetichismo con los pies, relaciones sexuales homosexuales entre niños: Lo que Vox afirma (erróneamente) que enseñan en las escuelas para defender el “pin parental”.

Todo ahora en @Juliaenlaonda https://t.co/x333wmnMge

— MALDITA HEMEROTECA (@Mhemeroteca) 21 January 2020

Bestiality, foot fetishes, homosexual relations between children: Vox incorrectly claims that these are what schools are teaching in order to defend their “parental pin”.

Available now at @Juliaenlaonda https://t.co/x333wmnMge

— MALDITA HEMEROTECA (@Mhemeroteca) 21 January 2020

Solving a non-existent problem?

The controversy doesn't seem to respond to a real demand from parents. Journalist Rosa Roda, who is from Murcia, wrote that:

265.000 alumnos de Infantil, Primaria y Secundaria y ni una sola queja o denuncia registrada en la Consejería de Educación por actividades o charlas complementarias inadecuadas en colegios e institutos de la región de Murcia.

[there are] 265,000 children in pre-school, primary school or secondary school, and not one complaint or allegation was made to the Department of Education regarding unsuitable extra-curricular activities or discussions in schools in the region of Murcia.

The same can be said for Madrid, where Vox also intends to impose the parental veto:

El consejero de educación de Madrid (PP) ha dado datos sobre las quejas por charlas en los colegios: “Con un 1.240.000 alumnos, 53.000 docentes,1.200 centros tenemos constancia de UNA por escrito y DOS en twitter. Fue la inspección y comprobó que no había ocurrido nada”.

— Adela Molina (@adelamolina) 20 January 2020

The Minister of Education in Madrid (of the Partido Popular) has provided the following data regarding complaints made about discussions in schools: “With some 1,240,000 students, 53,000 teachers and 1200 schools, we have recorded ONE complaint made in writing and TWO on Twitter. This investigation was carried out and the result was that nothing had happened.”

— Adela Molina (@adelamolina) 20 January 2020

The controversy has been intensifying and peaked when Twitter suspended Vox's Twitter account for “inciting hatred,” when Vox told socialist MP Adriana Lastra that they weren't going to tolerate “public money financing paedophilia.” At the time of writing, the account remains suspended.

Twitter users were unable to resist pointing out the irony of this suspension:

Que Tuiter le haya aplicado el Pin Parental a la cuenta de Vox se coloca como firme candidato a momento poético del año.

— Miguel Montejo (@miguelmontejo74) 22 January 2020

Twitter applying the Parental Pin to Vox's account is in the running for the most poetic moment of the year.

— Miguel Montejo (@miguelmontejo74) 22 January 2020

Rising attacks against journalists for reporting about the conflict in north Mozambique

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 11:39

Authorities said media stories about the attacks ‘demoralize’ defense forces

Military tank of the Armed Forces of Defense of Mozambique on parade on the day of inauguration of President Filipe Nyusi, January 15, 2020. Photo: Alexandre Nhampossa, used with permission

The Mozambican state has been unable to stop the extremist attacks that have plagued the northern province of Cabo Delgado for more than two years already. In addition, there has been an increasing number of threats made against journalists who are covering the issue.

For example, journalists such as Amade Aboobacar and Estácio Valoi, and researcher David Matsinhe, have been arrested in 2019 by state forces for their reports about the conflict.

In a more recent case, Professor Julião Cumbane suggested on Facebook that journalists reporting on the attacks should be silenced by the military, police and secret services, who can use “extra-judicial” methods, if necessary. Cumbane added that news stories about the conflict “demoralize those who have the DUTY to defend our country and glorify its attackers.” Cumbane is also president of the National Company of Science and Technology after being nominated by the government of President Filipe Nyusi in late 2019.

The suggestion of Cumbane is similar to what Egídio Vaz wrote on his Facebook page. Vaz is one of Nyusi's advisers in the area of communication and the manager of the president's social media networks. Vaz wrote that the attacks should not be “used to sell newspapers”, and he described the papers reporting on the conflict as “news agencies” of extremist attackers.

Both Cumbane and Vaz echo the public pronouncements of President Nyusi who said that some newspapers write “against sovereignty” in reference to those who report about the attacks and allegedly reveal the fragility of the Defense and Security Forces of Mozambique.

[Os jornalistas em causa] disseminam essa mensagem, escrevem nos seus jornais coisas contra a soberania sem eles terem a consciência que essa defesa está a ser feita por pessoas com grande sacrifício.

The journalists spread these messages, [they] write in their newspapers against sovereignty without being aware that our national defense is courtesy of people [who made] a big sacrifice.

Rising threats against freedom of expression

The Media Institute of Southern Africa has also warned about rising threats to freedom of expression in Mozambique. The group warned that threats were primarily aimed at journalists reporting about the attacks. The civil society group Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) has also condemned the media-related attacks and advised journalists to continue performing their duty of informing the public.

O CDD condena veementemente as ameaças contra a liberdade de imprensa e solidariza-se com os jornalistas da Carta de Moçambique, a quem os incentiva a continuarem a informar os moçambicanos e o mundo em geral sobre os ataques em Cabo Delgado.

The CDD strongly condemns threats against press freedom and sympathizes with the journalists, [and] encourages them to continue to inform Mozambicans and the world in general about the attacks in Cabo Delgado.

Updates on the impact of the conflict

The attackers are unknown armed people who burn houses, attack schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure, loot goods in private shopping centers, abduct women, among other actions.

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has estimated that more than 100,000 people had been displaced due to escalating violence. One of the organization's experts told UN News about the deteriorating situation on the ground:

Na ilha de Matemo tive que entrevistar um refugiado que teve que fugir. A vila foi atacada. Um dos filhos ficou para trás para tentar salvar alguns bens da família e para levar junto. Ele foi pego por um desses membros desses grupos armados e acabou sendo decapitado.

On the island of Matemo I had to interview a refugee who had to flee. The village was attacked. One of the children stayed behind to try to save some family assets and to take it with them. He was caught by one of these members of these armed groups and was beheaded.

More than 900 people have been killed already since the attacks began in October 2017, according to South African news publication Independent Online.

As the number of casualties continues to increase, President Nyusi hinted that his government is now open to cooperating with other countries in combating the attacks subject to certain conditions. This was welcomed by the United States of America and Russia which readily extended their offer to help.

The situation of insecurity is also affecting new investments in the province, which is at the center of attention for the implementation of three large projects for the production of Liquefied Natural Gas, with investments in the order of US $ 50 billion.

Fiji poet and activist Peter Sipeli promotes storytelling for LGBTQ+ rights in the Pacific

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 11:32

Peter Sipeli during a TEDx talk in Suva, Fiji. Source: Facebook

Fiji poet and activist Peter Sipeli has been campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights through storytelling.

Peter established a poetry shop and collective that organizes readings, slam events, publishes anthologies and collections of poetry, prose or writings of young Fijians. Peter is also known for conducting spoken word sessions to highlight the experience of LGBTQ+ individuals in Fiji.

In an email interview with this author, Peter shared how art is integral to advocacy, talks about the challenges that artists and activists face in Fiji, and highlights the need to rethink how advocacies are conceptualized in the Oceania region.

Peter observed how development issues are framed in many ways that do not totally capture the lived experiences of Pacific Islanders. Peter said colonialism is partly to blame for discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

I think the problem we face in Fiji and generally across the Pacific is that the unjust laws that govern the lives of LGBTQ+ people are archaic and the ones created by the British that our people after independence have inherited; and that all these are not only reflected in our laws, but in Christian ideals as well that pervade and blur cultural ideas, and so we are left working to remind our peoples that before ‘contact’ we were quite sexually diverse and sexuality was very fluid.

Peter noted that colonial legacy has prevented Pacific peoples from interacting with each other:

I think the problem even we in the Pacific face is that we are so busy looking down working in our own burrows that we don’t look up to see other people in the Pacific, in Asia, across the world in Africa and beyond. There need to be newer ways of seeing that allows us to look at creative work being used for societal change so we can not only know but to learn from each other.

Too often the utterance that we hear in the Pacific, is ‘Asia, Pacific region’ and Asia is so large that they cannot even see us. The Pacific is broken up in three parts, parts that the colonizers created 1) French Pacific – that is locked from us because of language 2) the North Pacific, that was colonized by the Americans, we are unable to see them because of geographic location … they’re so far north, we know a little about their nuclear history and us 3) the Anglo pacific and we all work in isolation from each other… there are political and trade relations but the people are divorced from each other.

To remedy this, Peter tapped into the arts to create “a newer and more human conversation about rights, about pain and how we Pacific Island people are able to work to repair the rift that was caused by the colonizers.” Peter adds:

The idea behind ‘storytelling for advocacy’ is about remembering. In the Pacific, if you speak truth and do so with power and with resonance about a lived experience, and the levels of fracture of that experience and indicate to different audiences this reality, people understand, people are awakened to our needs and our work for equal rights.

Peter discussed how storytelling, instead of merely relying on legislative lobbying, became an effective approach to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights:

Too often the rights conversation is a linear one that talks about only one aspect of gaining equality, about advocating for rights, through this movement towards legislature and policy shift. I wanted to create a human conversation about the pain that we endure, that ostracization, and unpack that for people to see into. I also allow the talk to delve into scripture and to look deeply at the parts of the Bible that speak against homosexuality and to demystify these aspects for the audience, to again create a conversation about the biblical text and find kinder ways of caring for people.

Peter said storytelling proved ‘transformative’ in the sessions they conducted with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center and even with members of the military and police.

I think my work through poetry and through the storytelling for advocacy is finding new ways of having a conversation about creating kinder communities for LGBTQ+ people.

Finally, Peter emphasized the need to develop a ‘new way of seeing’ in the Pacific:

I think we need all collectively to find a new way of ‘seeing’ so we might appreciate, learn and thus become humanly connected to each other in a deeper way that can overcome meaningless utterances.

Watch Peter's TEDx talk about ‘storytelling as advocacy’ through this YouTube video

Can the anti-infiltration law successfully block pro-Beijing media in Taiwan?

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 07:31

Former Taiwanese vice president and Kuomintang honorary Chairperson Lien Chan's calligraphy for the MasterChain platform. Via MasterChain's Twitter.

On 31 December 2019, Taiwan passed a law aimed at countering the influence of “hostile foreign forces” within the country, including a provision for misinformation. The anti-infiltration law has caused heated debate, and many view it as an attempt to curb Beijing's influence in Taiwan. After the law was enacted, pro-Beijing media platform MasterChain announced that it would leave the Taiwanese market in protest. While some worry that the law may have a strangling effect on freedom of speech, others interpret the outlet's departure as proof that the anti-infiltration law is indeed deterring “red media”.

The anti-infiltration law mainly prohibits foreign entities from interfering in elections, lobbying, and political contributions, as well as spreading false information about elections in an attempt to disrupt social order.

During the debate of the draft, the New Power Party (which advocates for Taiwan's independence) proposed several amendments directly targeting “red media” outlets. This included prohibiting anyone from following the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) instruction in commissioning, financing, or controlling broadcast media, and conducting political advertising or publicity on behalf of the CCP. In the end, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) turned them down because they wanted to maintain broader language related to election manipulation by any hostile foreign government and not specifically the CCP. However, the Mainland Affairs Council went on to suggest that the issue of “red media” infiltration should be discussed within the frame of radio and television laws.

MasterChain and the ‘united front doctrine’

Apprehension about Beijing's influence in Taiwan's media environment is part of larger concerns over what Beijing calls a “united front” or an alliance of political, military, religious, media forces to oppose Taiwan's independence.  

Cross-straight political ties figure greatly in MasterChain's operations. The platform launched in April 2019 and went on to become the first Taiwanese outlet given permission to set up an office in China. MasterChain's founder, Chuang Li-ping, penned a book that supports the 92 Consensus, also known as the “One-China consensus”, and the company's operation center and business promotion center are headquartered in two large mainland Chinese cities.

The platform's strategy of hiring a number of former Taiwanese officials as senior media personalities is perceived by experts as an attempt to create a cross-strait intelligence network.

Chang Yu-shao, a researcher at the Cross-Strait Policy Association, points out:

形象宣傳、情報蒐集與組織布建,是中共政治統戰攻勢所必備的指導原則與工作方針,而大師鏈同時具備這三種功能。

Image-making, intelligence and network development are the necessary guiding principles and working principles for the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) “united front” political offensive. Master Chain fulfills those three functions at the same time.

However, there are very few outlets that are as openly pro-Beijing as MasterChain. The majority of pro-Beijing outlets keep their relations to the mainland hidden or indirect, the Want Want Media Group being a typical example.

In the past, Want Want chairman Tsai Yen-ming made statements supporting the CCP's stance and sold pages in his newspapers to the Chinese government. It was even discovered that Want Want group's China Times received subsidies from the Chinese government.

According to sources from Taiwanese independent media platform Up Media, before the January 2020 elections, Tsai Yen-ming told top executives in his media group to stop coverage of the protests against the anti-infiltration law so as to not appear openly pro-Beijing. However, behind the scenes, the media group continued to push the narrative that the anti-infiltration law went against freedom of speech. This was intended to trigger a strong reaction in public opinion and bolster momentum for the pro-Beijing Kuomintang (KMT)'s election campaign.

Although the China Times daily, which belongs to the Want Want group, issued a statement denying any pressure from Beijing, it began to publish a series of editorials before the election condemning the anti-infiltration law, arguing the law was targeting the Want Want Media Group.

Anti-infiltration or anti-red media?

In May 2019, several Taiwanese media outlets were invited to Beijing to participate in the “4th Cross-Strait Media Summit“. The event was considered to be a way for the CCP to strengthen the ‘united front’ in the media sector.

The following month, a march was launched in Taiwan to “reject red media and safeguard Taiwan's democracy”. The initiative came from Hwang Kuo-chang, a member of the Legislative Yuan at the time, who called on the government to review a number of laws and propose a draft of the anti-infiltration law.

Given how close relations are between Taiwan and mainland China, China's business interests can easily be covered up leading many media scholars to doubt the eventual effectiveness of the anti-infiltration law.

In addition, the internet is more difficult to police and Beijing can rely on media agencies in Singapore or Malaysia to influence public opinion in Taiwan without being present on the island.

How Russia influences Serbian media

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 17:51

Criticism of the Kremlin is almost non-existent in Serbian public discourse

Serbian tabloids. Photo by Zoran Drekalović/Istinomer, used with permission.

This article is made possible through a partnership with Transitions, a Prague-based publishing and media training organisation.

An opinion poll conducted by the Institute for European Affairs in September 2019 shows that 23 percent of Serbian citizens believe Russia is Serbia's largest aid donor. In reality, Russia hasn't made the top 10 of Serbia's largest donors since 2000, according to the data by the Ministry of European Integration. The EU tops the list with 2.96 billion euros in aid, followed by USA with 696 million.

What is generally believed to be the reason for such perception is the prevalence of Russian-sponsored media in Serbia, whose coverage not just aligns with the Kremlin's geopolitical interests, but also frequently promotes misleading and out-and-out wrong information. Dr Precious N. Chatterje-Doody of Manchester University explained this approach in a statement for Ukrainian fact-checking service StopFake:

By mixing fact and fiction, playing on popular sentiments among foreign audiences and trying to sway public opinion in a particular direction that serves Moscow’s interests, they systematically pursue the Kremlin’s geopolitical goals, while discrediting journalistic principles in the process.

Disinformation in Serbian media is particularly alarming when considering the influence it holds over the Balkans. Zoran Andonovski, editor-in-chief of Skopje-based Meta.mk News Agency, explains:

The geographic proximity, the long common history in the former Yugoslavia and cultural similarities all contribute to the elevated image of Serbia, resulting in the perception that any information (or disinformation) coming from there should be accepted at face value, without need for verification. The Serbian media market is much larger than the Macedonian, for example, its media companies are much more developed and economically powerful, so they can afford high volume of original production which “impresses” the less confident Macedonian media workers, in particular from small or startup online portals.

One example is Moscow-founded news portal and radio station Sputnik Serbia. It reaches large Serbian-speaking audiences in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. It usually provides mixes neutral news with analysis aligned with pro-Kremlin interests, but according to a report by the Bosnian fact-checking organization Raskrinkavanje.ba, it is a major hub of a disinformation network in the Balkans.

In most cases, Sputinik columns and analyses adopt an anti-EU instance — for example, a recent article argued that the Western Balkan countries will “never” join the EU. Another says that Western alliances are gradually “dissolving” due to discordance between its members. Sometimes, they will boost the conspiracy theory that NATO wants to destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church — citing the freedom of religion law passed in Montenegro, a NATO member, as proof.

According to Gemius Audience rating, in December 2019, Sputnik had 1,132,547 website visitors. It was ranked the 21st most-read media portal in Serbia, while it also broadcasts content in Serbian via Sputnik radio.

Amplification of domestic and regional reach via republishing

In 2019, pro-Kremlin content targeting Serbian audiences was mainly distributed through Russian media platforms such as Sputnik Serbia or lesser-known web portals such as News Front and Geopolitica.

Serbia's print press also promotes similar content — two examples are daily newspapers Politika and Večernje Novosti, with the latter regularly republishing Sputnik content. According to Gemius Audience, Vecernje Novosti online is the 5th most-read media portal in Serbia — it received almost 15 million visitors in December 2019.

A newspaper kiosk in Belgrade, Serbia. Photo by Zoran Drekalović/Istinomer, used with permission.

B92, a former liberal-oriented news portal recently flipped its editorial line to pro-Russian after it changed owners.

News agencies such as Tanjug, owned by the Serbian government, as well as SRNA, owned by the government of the Republic of Srpska, the Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), also publish pro-Kremlin content.

According to the Serbian fact-checking portal Raskrikavanje, more than 700 false or unsubstantiated news stories were published on the front pages of three Serbian tabloids (Informer, Alo and Srpski Telegraf) in 2018. These false or unfounded news articles usually describe Russian President Vladimir Putin in a positive light, for example claiming he will “defend Serbia from the West,” or that he will “save Kosovo for Serbia”.

Front pages of Serbian tabloid Srpski Telegraf. Two of the headlines say: “Putin is ready to enter Kosovo with the Army” and “America's horror plan for Kosovo.” Photo by Zoran Drekalović/Istinomer.

Pro-government tabloids cultivate the president's image of a self-sacrificing martyr. Headline screams “The West gives 100 million euros for toppling Vučić!” Photo by Zoran Drekalović/Istinomer.

Raskrikavanje's annual analysis indicated that the four tabloids with the highest circulation have published over 917 “false or unfounded claims” on political issues in 2019, while entertainment and sports topics were not analyzed.

Najviše laži je izrečeno na račun opozicije i njihovih lidera, dok se u isključivo pozitivnom svetlu predstavljao Aleksandar Vučić, ali i ruski predsednik Vladimir Putin.

„Riznica” laži je tokom cele godine bila i spoljna politika – pohvalno se pisalo o Rusiji i saradnji sa njom, dok su dežurni neprijatelji, kao i uvek, bili Albanci, kosovski lideri i NATO. Najave specijalnih ratova protiv Vučića, udari na njega, lažne tvrdnje o špijunskim aferama i aferi Krušik, takođe su bile dominantne teme.

Most of the lies concern opposition parties and their leaders, while the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and the Russian President Vladimir Putin were presented in an extremely positive light.

Foreign politics was a fountain of lies throughout the year — with praises to cooperation between Russia and Serbia while Albanians, Kosovo leaders, and NATO playing the role of villains. Dominant themes included Vučić as the victim of attacks, false claims about spying affairs, and the Krušik affair.

Serbian online media serve as a source of news and entertainment content for media in neighboring countries. In North Macedonia, Serbian content is translated (often poorly) into Macedonian and sometimes into Albanian.

Another example is Russian-branded alternative medicine magazines, which are printed in Serbia and sold in newstands in all the former Yugoslav countries. Some of them also publish local editions in Macedonian, Croatian, and Slovenian languages. Some of those publications use health-related content to promote the image of Vladimir Putin.

Criticism of Russia almost non-existent

A study by the Belgrade-based Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) showed that the EU, U.S., and China were presented neutrally in all types of media in Serbia in 2019, while NATO was portrayed negatively and Russia positively.

The research results were made available to Global Voices prior to their official publication as part of a content-sharing partnership.

Results of the CRTA research. Used with permission.

CRTA's research monitored Serbian daily newspapers (Blic, Informer, Kurir, Vecernje Novosti), news portals (Blic, B92, Kurir, Telegraf) and TV news and morning shows (RTS1, Pink, TV Happy, Prva).

The methodology considered not just the tone of the text and headline, but also the angle, the photographs, and the ascribed importance and space to each article or story.

The research also found that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić was the most quoted Serbian official in 2019, but was never quoted in stories that were negative towards Russia or China. Vučić was quoted mostly in a neutral manner in articles about the EU and the U.S.

Results of the CRTA research. Used with permission.

Raša Nedeljkov, program director at CRTA, in a statement for Global Voices, pointed to the seeming contradiction between the over-representation of Serbian officials in pro-Russian content and the Serbian government's efforts to join the EU:

Our monitoring of the most influential media in Serbia shows that the highest officials, such as the country's president, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of defense, and the prime minister have not been quoted negatively about Russia or China. Still, their quotes with a negative tone about the EU, U.S. and NATO are widely present. This is not in line with the program of work of the Serbian government which states that Serbia's main strategic goal is accession to the European Union.

CRTA monitoring identified that privately-owned media with a wide reach, such as the newspaper Blic and the television station TV Pink, produced negative reporting only about the EU and U.S. There was no negative reporting on Russia and China.

Serbia's Public Service Broadcaster (RTS) had more positive articles on Russia than on the EU, and did not publish any negative pieces on Russia and China.

Results of the CRTA research. Used with permission.

Russian and Chinese officials are dominantly quoted in pieces that were positive to their countries, while the US, EU and NATO officials in neutral pieces.

The bias present in the Serbian media sphere can adversely affects the ability of Serbian citizens to participate in the democratic process in an informed and rational manner, while unprofessional media practices contribute to spread of cross-border disinformation.

How Russia influences Serbian media

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 17:51

Criticism of the Kremlin is almost non-existent in Serbian public discourse

Serbian tabloids. Photo by Zoran Drekalović/Istinomer, used with permission.

This article is made possible through a partnership with Transitions, a Prague-based publishing and media training organisation.

An opinion poll conducted by the Institute for European Affairs in September 2019 shows that 23 percent of Serbian citizens believe Russia is Serbia's largest aid donor. In reality, Russia hasn't made the top 10 of Serbia's largest donors since 2000, according to the data by the Ministry of European Integration. The EU tops the list with 2.96 billion euros in aid, followed by USA with 696 million.

What is generally believed to be the reason for such perception is the prevalence of Russian-sponsored media in Serbia, whose coverage not just aligns with the Kremlin's geopolitical interests, but also frequently promotes misleading and out-and-out wrong information. Dr Precious N. Chatterje-Doody of Manchester University explained this approach in a statement for Ukrainian fact-checking service StopFake:

By mixing fact and fiction, playing on popular sentiments among foreign audiences and trying to sway public opinion in a particular direction that serves Moscow’s interests, they systematically pursue the Kremlin’s geopolitical goals, while discrediting journalistic principles in the process.

Disinformation in Serbian media is particularly alarming when considering the influence it holds over the Balkans. Zoran Andonovski, editor-in-chief of Skopje-based Meta.mk News Agency, explains:

The geographic proximity, the long common history in the former Yugoslavia and cultural similarities all contribute to the elevated image of Serbia, resulting in the perception that any information (or disinformation) coming from there should be accepted at face value, without need for verification. The Serbian media market is much larger than the Macedonian, for example, its media companies are much more developed and economically powerful, so they can afford high volume of original production which “impresses” the less confident Macedonian media workers, in particular from small or startup online portals.

One example is Moscow-founded news portal and radio station Sputnik Serbia. It reaches large Serbian-speaking audiences in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. It usually provides mixes neutral news with analysis aligned with pro-Kremlin interests, but according to a report by the Bosnian fact-checking organization Raskrinkavanje.ba, it is a major hub of a disinformation network in the Balkans.

In most cases, Sputinik columns and analyses adopt an anti-EU instance — for example, a recent article argued that the Western Balkan countries will “never” join the EU. Another says that Western alliances are gradually “dissolving” due to discordance between its members. Sometimes, they will boost the conspiracy theory that NATO wants to destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church — citing the freedom of religion law passed in Montenegro, a NATO member, as proof.

According to Gemius Audience rating, in December 2019, Sputnik had 1,132,547 website visitors. It was ranked the 21st most-read media portal in Serbia, while it also broadcasts content in Serbian via Sputnik radio.

Amplification of domestic and regional reach via republishing

In 2019, pro-Kremlin content targeting Serbian audiences was mainly distributed through Russian media platforms such as Sputnik Serbia or lesser-known web portals such as News Front and Geopolitica.

Serbia's print press also promotes similar content — two examples are daily newspapers Politika and Večernje Novosti, with the latter regularly republishing Sputnik content. According to Gemius Audience, Vecernje Novosti online is the 5th most-read media portal in Serbia — it received almost 15 million visitors in December 2019.

A newspaper kiosk in Belgrade, Serbia. Photo by Zoran Drekalović/Istinomer, used with permission.

B92, a former liberal-oriented news portal recently flipped its editorial line to pro-Russian after it changed owners.

News agencies such as Tanjug, owned by the Serbian government, as well as SRNA, owned by the government of the Republic of Srpska, the Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), also publish pro-Kremlin content.

According to the Serbian fact-checking portal Raskrikavanje, more than 700 false or unsubstantiated news stories were published on the front pages of three Serbian tabloids (Informer, Alo and Srpski Telegraf) in 2018. These false or unfounded news articles usually describe Russian President Vladimir Putin in a positive light, for example claiming he will “defend Serbia from the West,” or that he will “save Kosovo for Serbia”.

Front pages of Serbian tabloid Srpski Telegraf. Two of the headlines say: “Putin is ready to enter Kosovo with the Army” and “America's horror plan for Kosovo.” Photo by Zoran Drekalović/Istinomer.

Pro-government tabloids cultivate the president's image of a self-sacrificing martyr. Headline screams “The West gives 100 million euros for toppling Vučić!” Photo by Zoran Drekalović/Istinomer.

Raskrikavanje's annual analysis indicated that the four tabloids with the highest circulation have published over 917 “false or unfounded claims” on political issues in 2019, while entertainment and sports topics were not analyzed.

Najviše laži je izrečeno na račun opozicije i njihovih lidera, dok se u isključivo pozitivnom svetlu predstavljao Aleksandar Vučić, ali i ruski predsednik Vladimir Putin.

„Riznica” laži je tokom cele godine bila i spoljna politika – pohvalno se pisalo o Rusiji i saradnji sa njom, dok su dežurni neprijatelji, kao i uvek, bili Albanci, kosovski lideri i NATO. Najave specijalnih ratova protiv Vučića, udari na njega, lažne tvrdnje o špijunskim aferama i aferi Krušik, takođe su bile dominantne teme.

Most of the lies concern opposition parties and their leaders, while the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and the Russian President Vladimir Putin were presented in an extremely positive light.

Foreign politics was a fountain of lies throughout the year — with praises to cooperation between Russia and Serbia while Albanians, Kosovo leaders, and NATO playing the role of villains. Dominant themes included Vučić as the victim of attacks, false claims about spying affairs, and the Krušik affair.

Serbian online media serve as a source of news and entertainment content for media in neighboring countries. In North Macedonia, Serbian content is translated (often poorly) into Macedonian and sometimes into Albanian.

Another example is Russian-branded alternative medicine magazines, which are printed in Serbia and sold in newstands in all the former Yugoslav countries. Some of them also publish local editions in Macedonian, Croatian, and Slovenian languages. Some of those publications use health-related content to promote the image of Vladimir Putin.

Criticism of Russia almost non-existent

A study by the Belgrade-based Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) showed that the EU, U.S., and China were presented neutrally in all types of media in Serbia in 2019, while NATO was portrayed negatively and Russia positively.

The research results were made available to Global Voices prior to their official publication as part of a content-sharing partnership.

Results of the CRTA research. Used with permission.

CRTA's research monitored Serbian daily newspapers (Blic, Informer, Kurir, Vecernje Novosti), news portals (Blic, B92, Kurir, Telegraf) and TV news and morning shows (RTS1, Pink, TV Happy, Prva).

The methodology considered not just the tone of the text and headline, but also the angle, the photographs, and the ascribed importance and space to each article or story.

The research also found that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić was the most quoted Serbian official in 2019, but was never quoted in stories that were negative towards Russia or China. Vučić was quoted mostly in a neutral manner in articles about the EU and the U.S.

Results of the CRTA research. Used with permission.

Raša Nedeljkov, program director at CRTA, in a statement for Global Voices, pointed to the seeming contradiction between the over-representation of Serbian officials in pro-Russian content and the Serbian government's efforts to join the EU:

Our monitoring of the most influential media in Serbia shows that the highest officials, such as the country's president, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of defense, and the prime minister have not been quoted negatively about Russia or China. Still, their quotes with a negative tone about the EU, U.S. and NATO are widely present. This is not in line with the program of work of the Serbian government which states that Serbia's main strategic goal is accession to the European Union.

CRTA monitoring identified that privately-owned media with a wide reach, such as the newspaper Blic and the television station TV Pink, produced negative reporting only about the EU and U.S. There was no negative reporting on Russia and China.

Serbia's Public Service Broadcaster (RTS) had more positive articles on Russia than on the EU, and did not publish any negative pieces on Russia and China.

Results of the CRTA research. Used with permission.

Russian and Chinese officials are dominantly quoted in pieces that were positive to their countries, while the US, EU and NATO officials in neutral pieces.

The bias present in the Serbian media sphere can adversely affects the ability of Serbian citizens to participate in the democratic process in an informed and rational manner, while unprofessional media practices contribute to spread of cross-border disinformation.

Coronavirus death of whistleblower Li Wenliang sets Chinese social media on fire

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 15:56

Viral image online. Via Twitter

Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was one of the eight Wuhan-based doctors who alerted peers and friends online on December 30, 2019 about the outbreak of a new coronavirus. He disregarded a ban on sharing sensitive information on social media and was investigated by the police, who accused him of spreading rumors. He eventually contracted the new coronavirus, and died on February 6. News of his death has since spread like wildfire on Chinese social media, as netizens display messages and images expressing anger, frustration and grief, and pointing fingers at the government.

Li Wenliang dies twice: the government tries to cover up the news of his death

The world received conflicting reports about the timing of Li's death, as state censors intervened in an attempt to control the news, and ordered Wuhan Central Hospital to freeze the announcement of his death. The Hong-Kong-based news outlet The Initium has detailed the attempt to manipulate the news:

The news about the death of Li Wenliang appeared in a number of news outlets at around 9:30 pm on February 6. In less than two hours, the topic ‘Dr. Li Wenliang passed away’ became a top search with 20 million search records, 540 million views and 73,000 posts on Weibo, the main Chinese social media platform. But after leading news outlets withdrew their posts, and Caixin magazine published a report stating that the medical team was still attempting to rescue Li, the search record had lowered to 1.9 million at around 11:30 pm, before disappearing altogether.

One hour later, at around 12:20 am on February 7, a reporter from a business news outlet who was standing outside the ICU ward of Li wrote on his Weibo that Li's heart beat has stopped at 9:30pm, but that he was attached to an oxygenation machine. At 12:40 am, the Wuhan Central Hospital posted a message on Weibo urging netizens to “pray for Li” as the medical team was still attempting to save his life. Multiple Weibo outlets then published positive comments urging netizens to let Dr. Li “rest in peace”.

At the same time, unverified claims citing screen-capture and sources from a medical staff chatroom alleged that the medical team from the hospital had been instructed to “buy time” and refrain from announcing Li's death without approval from the authorities.

At this point, Chinese citizens could no longer withhold their anger. Weibo was flooded with comments and images slamming the authorities for manipulating Li's death (comments via the Initium):

心跳停止,卻不讓人死,用時間換維穩,極其可恥

His heart has stopped beating and you don't let him die. To buy time in exchange of maintaining stability. This is extremely shameless.

君要臣死,臣不得不死;君不要臣死,臣不得好死。

If the emperor wants his official to die, the official must then die; if the emperor does not allow his official to die, the official will have a miserable death.

拖延幾分鐘,說還在搶救,這是輿論控制的老手段,這叫延宕情緒,直接公佈死訊公眾憤怒太大,要把憤怒轉化為對奇跡的失望。現在大家不就覺得憤怒少了很多嘛。

You can say that it is a rescue attempt if it lasted for a few minutes. For those who are familiar with the manipulation of public opinion, this is called ‘emotional managing’. Brutally announcing his death would trigger an outburst of grief and anger. By shifting the news to a possible miracle, the emotion evolves from anger to disappointment. Don't we see now that anger has diminished significantly?

The comments mentioned above point at a usual practice applied in the case of sensitive topics that could lead to online protests: the authorities order social media platforms to censor, delete or spin content to change trends into the desired direction, meaning less critical of the government's action, as seen in this message shared in Chinese chat rooms:

关於武汉市中心医院李文亮医生去世一事,要严格规范稿源,严禁使用自媒体稿件擅自报导,不得弹窗 push,不评论、不炒作。互动环节稳妥控制热度,不设话题,逐步撤出热搜,严管有害信息。

About the death of doctor Li Wenliang from Wuhan Central Hospital, control the source of information. News outlets should not accept and take information sources and reports from independent bloggers. Do not use pop-up window to push the news. No commentary, no hype are allowed. Control the ‘temperature’ [of the discussion] with the comment function. Do not generate topics, gradually make the news disappear from the “hot search” section, strictly control harmful information.

Ordinary hero

This time, the attempt to manage emotions failed as the manipulation of the timing of his death became obvious. Li Wenliang quickly became an icon, an ordinary hero, as many people have come to see his life and death as a reflection of their own fate.

A poem attached to Li Wenliang's portrait circulating online captures widespread public sentiment:

生受訓戒
死受輿控
夜深雪重
悲憤無言

When alive, threaten with disciplinary measures
When dead, use propaganda policy to control
Snow is heavy and darkness deep at night
Grievance and anger are beyond words

When Li and the other seven doctors were questioned by the police for spreading rumors, they were forced to sign a letter to “admit” their wrongdoings and promise that they would not commit similar crimes again, or else face legal prosecution. Their alleged crime: informing relatives, friends and colleagues within a chat room about a SARS-like outbreak in Wuhan. When the matter was taken to court, the judge criticized police for their abusive definition of rumor. On January 31, the news outlet Caixin interviewed Li, who said: “What is more important is that people know the truth, compared to my own vindication. A healthy society should have more than one voice.”

Li's statement indicates that he does not see himself as heroic, but aspires for a healthy society that can only be sustained if people know the truth.

Li is survived by his two parents and his pregnant wife. None of them were able to say farewell to him, as his body was cremated, according to an update by Radio Free Asia.

Mainland Chinese journalist Jia Jia commented on the implications of casting Li as a hero:

请在一个普通人的意义上悼念李医生,因为我们任何一个普通人,都可能重蹈他的悲剧。没有什么英雄,当所有人都怯懦的时候,那个稍微不那么怯懦的人就会成为英雄。如果只是说了一句正常的话而成为英雄,那么他妈的这个世界就全是谎言。这种荒诞不经的事每天都在发生。有一天,当你稍微勇敢一点点,危险就会逼近。所以,丧钟为每个人而鸣。你明白了吗?

Please commemorate Dr. Li as an ordinary person because all of us who are ordinary people might share his tragic fate. There are no heroes as such but people who, in a time of cowardice, can for a short moment lift that cowardice and become heroes. If a person becomes a hero just by saying something ordinary, this world is a fxxking sack of lies. But such ridiculous things happen every day. One day, when you show some signs of being brave, just a bit, you step into a dangerous zone. The bell of Li's death is ringing for all of us. Do you get it?

Demanding free speech

Chinese citizens anger and grievance have quickly evolved into variations of “five demands,” which have become a form of political of political statement that evolved out of the 2019 Hong Kong's protests. Below is one set of five demands circulating online:

五大诉求,缺一不可:撤回对李文亮的训诫;撤回所有删帖命令;撤销所有因言获罪的指控;成立独立调查委员会,彻底追究涉事官员责任;立即归还人民言论自由。

Five demands, not one less: withdraw the police's warning of disciplinary measures; withdraw all censorship orders; drop all charges; establish an independent investigation commission to punish officials involved [in the cover-up of outbreak]; return the right to freedom of speech to the people.

Young people are also using the video platform Douyin to express their demands for free speech. Twitter user @yingyi8798 puts together short clips from Douyin and posts them on Twitter:

“让大家知道真相比自己平反更重要, 一个健康的社会不应该只有一种声音。” ——李文亮 pic.twitter.com/9XbAFFfvn5

— yingyi (@yingyi8798) February 7, 2020

What is more important is that people know the truth, compared to my own vindication. A healthy society should have more than one voice. — Li Wenliang

Not surprisingly, demands for free speech are being labelled as a color revolution by pro-government patriots. The same label was attached to Hong Kong's anti-government protests. Below are two typical comments copied from WeChat.

不知道什么是“阿拉伯之春”、什么是“颜色革命”的网友们,好好感受一下今晚的微博吧!某些势力某些人,你们要发起总攻了吗?你们真的是在担忧和哀伤吗?不!李医生只是你们用来挑拨煽动的幌子!

For those who don't know what is the “Arab spring” and “color revolution,” you can experience it on Weibo tonight! Specific forces, specific people, are you launching a grand attack? Are you really grieving? No You just use doctor Li to incite the public to cause trouble!

颜色革命的节奏一波又一波,还记得去年十一发朋友圈的自己吗?zf固然有错,就错到要推翻它的地步?疫情如此严重,不能仅仅看见当初的错误,一个医生的去世能被上升为国家,体制,香港,台湾问题等等层面,还是你们义愤填膺的理由吗?

Waves and waves of color revolution are being orchestrated. Do you still remember your [patriotic pride] on national day last year? The government may have made mistakes, but have we reached the point to overthrow it? The pandemic is so serious now, and we can't just focus on the mistake made at the very beginning. The death of a doctor is now turned into criticism of the state and of the political system, and it is all being connected to what happened in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Don't you see how your anger is being channeled?

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the impact of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Pages