You are here

Global Voices Online: Middle east, north africa

Subscribe to Global Voices Online: Middle east, north africa feed Global Voices Online: Middle east, north africa
Citizen media stories from around the world
Updated: 8 months 3 weeks ago

Winning a literary award won't set you free: An interview with author and asylum-seeker Behrooz Boochani

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 19:59

Screen shot from the movie documenting Behrooz Boochani's life at Manus Camp.

Even though Australia is a country of migrants, its current treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers is cause for both domestic and international outrage. This situation is perhaps best embodied by Behrooz Boochani, an Iranian-Kurdish writer, filmmaker and journalist who is also a refugee. Boochani spent six years in the refugee camp of Manus. While the camp, which is located in Papua-New Guinea, closed in 2017, Boochani was transferred to Port Moresby, his future status uncertain.

Boochani's determination to survive and testify about the conditions in the camp drove him to achieve an incredible feat: he kept a diary and used WhatsApp messages to assemble a prize-winning memoir, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, which won the Victorian Prize for Literature and the Victorian Premier's Prize for Nonfiction in January 2019.

According to reports, and to Boochani's own account in his book, at least 16 people lost their lives in detention camps. There are numerous other documented examples suicide, self-harm, and extreme violence. Reports indicate detainees, including women and children, slept in moldy tents with mice and cockroaches and received inadequate health care. This violence is a consequence of Australia's offshore processing policy, which is designed to deter people from coming to Australia by punishing those who have come by boat seeking safe haven.

Here is the trailer of a documentary movie produced on a mobile phone by Behrooz Boochani showing the Manus camp:

I was recently able to speak to Boochani in Farsi using WhatsApp. Here is a translated and edited version of my interview:

Fred Petrossian: Many consider that refugees and asylum seekers were treated as criminals in these detention camps while committing no crime. You believe it was far worse. Can you explain?

Behrooz Boochani: It is very important to emphasize that people in these camps had no rights. While criminals in prison enjoy certain basic rights, even in the worst systems, such as the right to make phone call, refugees and asylum seekers in these camps were deprived of those basic rights.

Time is the most important thing to describe this system. People who are sent to prison know how long their sentence is, but we did not, and we do not know when can we leave this place. This creates real mental torture. Besides, there is only one season on this island. This is really disturbing, because you do not feel time passing.”

FP: In such conditions, how was resistance even possible? 

BB: There are two categories of resistance. One is individual, such as the hunger strike. People have different personal forms of resistance: I started to write, another person cultivated a one square-meter garden, one sang. Self-harm is also a form of resistance: using your body as your only weapon because a body is a political subject. I can count over 100 times when people did that to themselves. And it has been reported as a practice common among refugees in several reports.

Another category of resistance was collective, group action against the system. The most significant rebellion in this prison was in February 2014. Both sides, camp guards and detainees, used violence, leading to the death of one refugee, Reza Barati. For two weeks, detainees conducted peaceful demonstrations. The second action took place in January 2015, when 800 people went on hunger strike for two weeks. The camp authorities started to use violence, moving some leaders to prison, attacking two camps and beating many people. The third action happened in 2017 when detainees did not want to move to new locations. This lasted 23 days and was peaceful, but in the end we were attacked and many were injured. The fact that we are attacked as refugees by locals is motivated by Australian propaganda that describes us as a danger to society.

FP: You wrote that Australia used the “fear factor” to divide refugees and locals. Refugees were presented as criminals and locals as barbarians. Did this discourse ever stop impacting people?

BB: This system is based on fear, and from the early days, it created distrust and hostility among locals and refugees. Both groups became victims of this system. But when the refugees started going outside and got in touch with locals, this discourse faded, while suspicion remained.

FP: Why did Australia refuse New Zealand's offer to relocate 150 refugees and called it “a marketing opportunity for smugglers”?

BB: This is because Australia's Liberal party never wants to end the detention camps, for several reasons: first, the Liberal party uses this detention policy to scare people in its competition with the Labour Party, basically saying ‘if we are not around, boat people will come back’. This argument is false. Boats are not coming because they are forcefully turned away. The Manus and Nauru camps have had no deterrence impact. There are also large sums of money involved in this detention policy, with billion of dollars spent in corruption schemes. Finally, one of the reasons why people suffer is racism and sadism.

FP: Recently, a refugee from Manus said while receiving a human rights award in Switzerland, that he was amazed at how public opinion is unaware of Australia's detention camps. How is this possible? What can we do to raise awareness?

BB: I kept writing for six years, day and night. The most important challenge is that we are facing a liberal Western government and this creates a kind of positive image in public opinion. There are some art and literature creations in Manus that will find their way out and can raise awareness. For example my book will be published in 25 countries, and my film will be screened in several international festivals. Through the language of art, people can understand the system better than through the media.

In Australia itself, the debate around the camps is raging. The Labour party claims that Peter Dutton, Australia's home affairs minister, has lost control of Australia’s borders, saying 80,000 people have arrived by plane to claim asylum since 2014. There are also accusations of corruption, as this policy requires billions of dollars in spending and also creates jobs.

While a number of international stars and organizations, including Hollywood star Russel Crowe and Amnesty International, have denounced the abuses taking place, some politicians have also hailed Australia's model. Matteo Salvini, Italy's former deputy prime minister, long cited Australia’s migration system as a global ideal. Some argue Trump's attack on asylum-seekers was conceived in Australia.

Withheld in Turkey: How the government exploits removal requests to silence critical and independent voices

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 14:10

Twitter and other platforms ‘[do] not want to anger the Turkish government’

Cartoon by Khalid Albaih [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0].

On August 4, the Ankara Criminal Court of Peace issued an order to withhold access to four Twitter accounts in Turkey. The order affects the accounts of Oya Ersoy, member of the left-wing HDP party (People's Democratic Party) ; Turkish music band Grup Yorum, and two accounts related to the Gezi Park protest movement; Taksim Gezi Parki and Gezi Savunmasi. 

Ersoy, whose account is certified, is a lawyer and politician. In 2018 she was elected as a parliament member representing the opposition People's Democratic Party (HDP).

Grup Yorum is a veteran Turkish folk band known for their political songs since 1987. “Yorum” means “to comment” and many of the band's songs look at the problems in the country and channel criticism in lyrics of their songs. For years, their concerts have faced bans and censorship in the country. Most recently, the band's July concert was banned in the Turkish province of Hatay, and 12 people were detained for singing their songs on the day of the concert. In February 2018, six of its members were declared terrorists. Two of them fled the country for France.

The Taksim Gezi Parki account was set up at the onset of Gezi Park protests, while Gezi Savunmasi tracks court proceedings of protesters and activists arrested during the Gezi Park protests. The 2013 protests first started as an environmental protest movement against the planned demolition of Gezi Park in Istanbul, before turning into a nationwide anti-government uprising bringing together hundreds of thousands of protesters. 

At the time of publication, Twitter was yet to comply with the decision, and all four accounts were still accessible in Turkey. The basis for the court's decision was the protection of national security and public order, in accordance with Law No. 5651 on the Regulation of Publications on the Internet.

These four accounts are among hundreds—if not thousands— of Twitter accounts targeted by the Turkish government using the platform’s ‘’Country Withheld Content” tool (CWC). In 2010, Twitter unveiled the tool which allows it to censor content on a country by country basis. At that time, Twitter may not have completely envisaged how its tool could be abused by a number of increasingly authoritarian countries where social media platforms have been targeted by the authorities in the face of growing crackdown and censorship, most notably Turkey.

In fact, one of the Turkish government’s tactics to silence users on the internet and deny them their rights to access and impart information, is submitting requests to Twitter and other platforms to withhold content deemed in violation of its local laws. When platforms refuse to comply, they could be blocked, a risk commercial platforms may not be willing to undertake in a market with nearly 60 million internet users.

For example, in 2013, during the popular Gezi Park protests during which protesters and activists used Twitter and other social media platforms to report on the demonstrations while traditional Turkish broadcasters didn't over it, the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described the platform as a “scourge“. 

In March 2014, the Turkish government blocked the platform for spreading audio recordings that appeared to implicate Erdoğan’s inner circle in a corruption investigation. The government said the platform did not respond to court rulings to remove some links. At a local election rally at that time, Erdoğan said that he had a court order and vowed to ‘’eradicate Twitter’’. 

While the Twitter ban has since been lifted, the Turkish government has continued to exploit Twitter’s country-withheld content tool to silence users on the platform.

Removal requests received by Facebook and Google

In 2018, Facebook restricted access to more than 2,300 items in Turkey at the request of the authorities. These restrictions took place on Facebook and Instagram and affected items like posts, comments, and accounts and media that were deemed in violation of local laws such as Law No. 5651 which ”covers a range of offenses including personal rights violations, personal privacy, defamation of Ataturk”.

Google received a total of 10,379 removal requests and 57,851 total items named for removal since 2009 over a number of violations related to national security, privacy, ”obscenity/nudity” and defamation. Between the second half of 2009 and the end of 2017, Google restricted access to 19,423 of the items on its different services including Youtube, Google Search and Blogger.

According to the most recent Twitter transparency report, covering the second half of 2018, Turkey submitted more than 5,000 requests for content removal, more than any other country. One of the most disturbing conclusions of the report is that Turkey, together with Russia, are the top two countries when it comes to the volume of global requests, leading with a total of 74 percent of the total removal requests made to Twitter.

The Turkish government is adopting the same tactic with other platforms including Facebook, Youtube, WordPress and even the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. 

In fact, access to all versions of Wikipedia has been blocked by the Turkish government since 2017 for refusing to take down entries containing accusations against the Turkish government of supporting terrorist groups in Syria. At that time, the government accused Wikipedia of ‘’running a smear campaign against Turkey’’, and blocked it using Law No. 5651 or the Internet Act of 2007. 

Domestic laws used to withhold content 

The Turkish government repeatedly refers to domestic legislation such as Law No.5651 and others to request platforms to carry out censorship on their behalf, and to block them when they do not comply. 

In fact, under Law No.5651, hosting companies are required to take down illegal or infringing content once served with a notice from the authorities. However, what counts as illegal content in Turkey includes speech that is protected under international human rights standards. For example, law No. 5651 prohibits the defamation of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Article 301 of the Penal Code contains provisions prohibiting the “denigration of the Turkish nation” and state institutions such as the parliament and the government. Article 299 of the same code prohibits insults against the President.

In addition, the list of government and judicial institutions with power vested in them to request blocking through court order or directly is extensive. These include the criminal judgeships of peace who have the power to order the removal of content and the closure of websites under No. 5651 and law No. 5846 on Intellectual and Artistic Works. Other bodies such as the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA), which the telecommunications industry regulator, the Access Providers Union  established in February 2014 and the Information Technologies and Communication Board can issue administrative censorship decisions under certain circumstances.


The implications of these platforms’ compliance with government requests is detrimental to freedom of expression and press freedom. 

In January 2018, Buzzfeed published a story documenting Twitter accounts that were blocked in certain countries, chief among them Turkey. According to the authors, the Turkish government ”have led Twitter to block hundreds of users for what appear to be political reasons.”

According to a data set collected by Buzzfeed of more than 1,700 Twitter accounts withheld in at least one country between October 2017 and January, the Committee to Protect Journalists identified at least 59 accounts belonging to journalists and media outlets withheld in Turkey.

During the second half of 2018, Twitter identified 253 accounts of verified journalists and news outlets that were the subject of 146 legal removal demands. In response to the demands, the company said that it withheld three tweets and one account in Turkey for violating local anti-terrorism laws.

Ahmet Sabanci, a freelance journalist, told Global Voices in an interview that companies like Twitter comply with domestic court decisions because they “do not want to anger the Turkish government. The same compliance goes for Russia and other countries”. Sabanci added that although an account holder can protest the decision of the platform, ”it happens so often and the chances of winning the case are so slim that people keep opening new accounts”.

Throughout the second half of 2018, Twitter filed legal objections for court orders from Turkey that specifically involved journalists or news outlets, but none of these objections prevailed. In fact, between  2014 and 2017 only 3 percent of the objections filed by Twitter were accepted by Turkish courts.

While the Buzzfeed data set offers a glimpse into the accounts impacted by the Turkish government’s use of the CWC tool, it remains unclear just how many of the withheld accounts belong to the representatives of the Turkish civil society and human rights defenders. In fact, Twitter and other platforms do not publish the list of accounts they withhold for violating local laws. 

‘Complicit’ in crackdown

In its 2012 blog post announcing the CWC tool, Twitter said that ”one of [its] core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice”. ”We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t. The Tweets must continue to flow”, the company added.

But it remains to be seen whether this statement holds true today, when countless countries, including Turkey, keep resorting to national laws to silence online critical voices inside the country on a regular basis.

”Twitter, Facebook, [and] Google…are responsible to their shareholders primarily, I don't consider them as guardians of free speech”, Efe Kerem Sözeri, a Turkish researcher based in the Netherlands, said back in 2018. ”But the imbalance in the tools they offer to users versus governments make them complicit in the authoritarian rulers’ crackdown against the opposition”, he added. 

Originally intended to keep the tweets flowing, Twitter's CWC tool—and similar tools provided by other platforms— seem to have actually contributed to the silencing of critical voices in Turkey.

Talking trash: Lebanese citizens continue to mobilize to solve the garbage crisis

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 16:42

Garbage continues to burn anywhere and everywhere

Photo courtesy of Waste Management Coalition: used with permission.

Lebanon has a major garbage problem but a solution remains elusive after environmental activists protested against the government's plan to build incinerators, citing environmental and health risks. 

The government then decided to postpone building incinerators made during talks held within the municipal council in Beirut, the capital, in July 2019 —nearly four years after people first took to the streets in protests.

 In an interview with Global Voices, Sally Khourry, an environmental activist and political science student based in Beirut, says: 

Lebanon does not currently have the technological capacity to safely dispose the harmful emissions created by incinerators nor can we expect authorities to enforce any laws or legal framework that would be needed to be set up to control incinerators.

Read more: For Lebanon’s elderly, the ongoing garbage crisis is a tight noose

The is the most recent in the government’s series of failures to solve the country’s waste crisis, which began in 1997, when they established Naameh, a landfill near a village in south Lebanon, — as a temporary dumping site. However, the government postponed its closure for nearly two decades until 2015, when activists forcefully shut down the site.

In an interview with Global Voices, Samar Khalil, an activist and an environment and chemical safety officer at American University of Beirut, says:

Naameh landfill which was supposed to last for [less than] 10 years, reached full capacity several years earlier and they kept expanding it till 2015 without taking any initiative to improve waste sorting and composting. People living in its vicinity eventually decided that they don't want to accept the expansion of the Naameh landfill anymore and they closed the roads leading to the site.

But the government, notorious for corruption and mismanagement in public sectors, failed to provide an alternative. For years, the government has disposed and burnt garbage anywhere and everywhere — including on city streets. 

Soon after Naameh’s closure in 2015, a movement called “You Stink” (tul‘it rihetkun in Arabic) began by mobilizing activists — particularly youth — on social media and it quickly gathered hundreds of thousands of supporters, both online and on the streets.

Rise Above – Lebanon's Political Garbage via @YouTube #youStink @SalamTammam #كلن_يعني_كلن #طلعت_ريحتكم

— طلعت ريحتكم YouStink (@YouStinkLeb) March 7, 2016

Demonstrations spread countrywide with protesters demanding a sustainable solution to a situation deemed a “national health crisis” by Human Rights Watch. Protesters also called for government reforms to curb widespread corruption that continues to disrupt public services.

Photo courtesy of Waste Management Coalition: used with permission.

“[In October 2018], an integrated solid waste management law was enacted by the parliament and the Ministry of Environment was given six months to develop a strategy,” adds Khalil. “Till now the strategy has not been completed or approved by the council of ministers.”

Read more: Animal carcasses, tires, and medical waste: A new report highlights the health risks of Lebanon's trash crisis

But, despite a lack of a solution in sight, Khalil and Khourry, among many other activists, are actually relieved that the government decided to halt on the incinerator plan. 

“We don’t think incinerators are a good solution for Lebanon,” Khalil said.

Khalil works for Waste Management Coalition (WMC), a group of civil society organizations and environmental activists that have been actively working on stopping the implementation of incineration projects through “awareness-raising, open debates with the mayor, campaigns, lobbying with political parties and other stakeholders”.

Hazardous materials are burned in incinerators that can lead to harmful emissions that must be disposed of properly. 

WMC, among several other environmental NGOs in Lebanon in recent years, is working on raising awareness about and pushing for changes that enable a more circular economy — one that prioritizes waste minimization, reuse and recycling.

“Garbage is a huge problem in Lebanon, especially on beaches,” explained Peter, our local expert in Lebanon.

The young people, which included student and Syrian refugees who live in the area, gave up their weekend to collect bags of rubbish because they want change.

— CAFOD (@CAFOD) July 17, 2019

The group is currently reviewing the integrated solid waste management law and pushing for a complete amendment of it.

“WMC was established because Lebanon lacks a vision and strategy on sustainable waste management,” Khalil said. “This is due to authorities’ recurring failures to find comprehensive, sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions in this sector.”

We’re living with so much disconnect in Lebanon.
While beirut & suburbs are on the brink of a waste crisis, North Lebanon has already been swept for the past 3 months with overflowing garbage stacked across all dumpsters.@fady_jreissati @saadhariri

— Jinane AZ (@jinaneAZ) July 4, 2019

Several youth-led environmental NGOs in Lebanon are trying to fill the gap left by inadequate waste management and disposal systems in the country.

Recycle Lebanon works on advocacy for waste minimization and community involvement, including the establishment of an open data source where people can access countrywide green initiatives. Another NGO collects glass waste and brings it to a small town in southern Lebanon where glassblowers use it as part of a long-held tradition in the area.

Talk about #entrepreneurs solving real problems: this Beirut-based startup called @CompostBaladi came into being following the waste management crisis in the city in 2017, and is today a social enterprise competing in @MITEFarab's #ASC2019. All the best, guys! #MITEFArab

— Aby Sam Thomas (@thisisaby) March 29, 2019

Khourry notes the role of youth in the movement: 

People have been protesting and mobilizing on the failure of the waste sector for years now and even though policy-wise, a substantial change is yet to be reached, the youth have definitely become mobilized. Not only are we demanding changes, we are actively taking part in the political process and challenging the corrupt political elite.”

#Lebanon #Beirut #Pollution #Garbage #Rouche
Keep your city clean, what a shame! Garbage here and there with no presence from the municipality.

— Ahmad M. Karkouti (@AhmadMKarkouti) June 29, 2019

During Lebanon’s last elections, several environmental activists ran for parliamentary elections and a recent initiative is now working to unify all the various environmental NGOs, groups, and independent activists under one coalition, Khalil tells Global Voices.

“The government is listening to what we are saying but not taking our comments and feedback seriously because they have their agendas,” Khalil says. “We are delaying their bad decisions but more efforts and pressure is needed.”

UAE frees activist Osama al-Najjar after 5 years in detention

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 09:59

Al-Najjar was jailed for denouncing his imprisoned father's torture

Osama Al-Najjar remained in detention, despite completing his jail sentence. Photo Credit: activist's Twitter account

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have freed activist and political prisoner Osama al-Najjar after detaining him for more than five years.

Al-Najjar, who was arrested in March 2014, served a three-year jail sentence for posting tweets denouncing torture in UAE prisons. Despite completing his sentence, he remained in arbitrary detention for more than two years, before he was released on August 8, rights groups said.

Thrilled to learn of the release of 3 prisoners of conscience earlier today: #OsamaAlNajjar, Badr Al-Bahri and Othman Al-Shehi.
We hope that #UAE authorities will release other prisoners of concience still detained arbitrarily.@ICFUAE @MENA_Rights @BillLaw49 @Nader_SM

— ICJHR-GENEVA (@ICJaHR) August 8, 2019

In November 2014, the state security chamber of the federal Supreme Court, whose verdicts cannot be appealed, sentenced Osama to three years in jail under the country's cybercrime law on a number of charges that include “instigating hatred” against the state and “designing and running a website [with] satirical and defaming ideas and information”. He was convicted over tweets denouncing his father's torture in prison and calling for his father's release and other prisoners of conscience in the Emirates.

Osama's father, Hussain al-Najjar, is one of 94 Emirati activists who were prosecuted en masse in 2013 for calling for political reform in the Emirates on charges related to “harming state security”. He is currently serving 11 years in prison.

Osama was due to be released on 17 March 2017, but at the request of public prosecution, the court deemed him a ”threat” to national security and kept him in administrative detention at the infamous al-Razeen prison in Abu Dhabi, where prisoners, including political detainees, are subjected to ill-treatment and torture.

”Two other detainees, Badr al-Bahri and Othman al-Shehi, whose initial sentences expired in April 2017 and July 2018 respectively, have also been freed”, the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) said in a statement.

Al-Bahri and al-Shehi were arrested over their links to al-Islah, which was a legally registered Islamist political movement in the UAE before it was banned by authorities in 2014.

Many political prisoners remain in detention in the UAE, despite repeated calls from human rights groups for their release.

We welcome the release of Osama Al Najjar, Badr Al Bahri & Othman Al Shehi, who were detained arbitrarily in the #UAE.

We call for the unconditional release of all peaceful critics & human rights defenders, including Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser Bin Ghaith, and lawyer Mohamed Al Roken.

— MENA Rights Group | منَا لحقوق الإنسان (@MENA_Rights) August 8, 2019

Prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence over comments he posted online. Prior to his arrest in March 2017, he campaigned online on behalf of jailed activists in the UAE, including Osama al-Najjar. Academic Nasser Bin Ghaith is also serving a ten-year jail sentence over tweets critical of the UAE authorities.

Netizen Report: Amid WhatsApp attacks, advocates launch legal challenge against Israeli malware maker

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 00:22

Stylized photo of surveillance cameras. Image by Corey Burger via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in technology and human rights around the world. This report covers news and events from May 10 – 17, 2019.

On May 13, WhatsApp users in multiple countries were targeted with malicious software developed by the Israeli company NSO group and deployed by governments that had purchased the software.

The software appears to have taken advantage of a technical flaw in WhatsApp, that has since been repaired. The attacks were uniquely malicious because of the ease with which they can infect a person’s device — by simply receiving a call or message, a user could unknowingly enable the software to install itself on their device, giving attackers broad access to their private communications and activities.

NSO Group is the creator of the notorious spyware Pegasus, which the company exclusively sells to governments, typically making contracts with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Once installed, the software ostensibly allows the attacker to see and document everything that victims do and say on their devices, capturing messages, location and many other pieces of data. It has been linked to attacks on activists and journalists in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where it was found on a device belonging to now-jailed human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor.

In response to this and other attacks that have been documented in recent years by advocacy and tech research groups including The Citizen Lab at University of Toronto and Amnesty International, the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at New York University and Global Justice Clinic are taking legal action in an effort to stop the company from selling this type of software. They have filed a legal challenge demanding that Israel's Ministry of Defence revoke the export license of NSO Group.

Their petition argues that NSO Group is violating international human rights law by allowing governments to target human rights activists, as opposed to aiding them solely in “fighting crime and terror,” as dictated by their licensing agreement.

NSO Group is also facing lawsuits filed by individuals accusing the company of helping the governments of Mexico and the United Arab Emirates to surveil members of civil society. Late last year, a Canada-based Saudi dissident filed another lawsuit, alleging that the software had allowed Saudi authorities to snoop on his communications with journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the lead-up to Khashoggi's October 2018 murder at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

Safety tips: How to protect your device and update your WhatsApp

States and companies join ‘Christchurch Call’ to curb violent extremism online

A group of government leaders, tech companies and civil society experts met in Paris on May 15 to discuss the role of the internet in preserving public safety and human rights in the aftermath of the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019. Several of the governments and companies later signed a non-binding document known as the “Christchurch Call,” a set of principles and commitments concerning the creation and distribution of viral, violent content online.

Spearheaded by the government of New Zealand, the Christchurch Call aims to be “consistent with principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression” and indicates that any regulation resulting from the deliberations should adhere to international human rights standards. The call also urges internet companies to provide greater public transparency about their policies and processes for removing (and appealing the removal of) violent content.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon have joined the call. Alongside New Zealand and several EU governments, Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan and Senegal have signed on. The US declined to sign, with the White House citing its “respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

Somalia blocks social media for student exams

The Somali government announced that it will shut down access to social media platforms from May 27-31, in an effort to prevent secondary school students from cheating on end-of-year exams. The exam period was postponed in early May, after officials discovered that a copy of exam answers had leaked online. The secretary of education made the announcement on state television on May 13 and offered no details on which platforms would be blocked.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, Seif Magango, criticized the move, arguing that Somali officials should “explore ways to secure the integrity of the exams without resorting to regressive measures that would curtail access to information and freedom of expression.”

Singapore approves ‘anti-fake news’ law

Singapore’s parliament approved the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act on May 8, 2019. Commonly known as the anti-fake news law, the Act gives broad, unchecked powers to government ministers to compel website administrators, internet service providers, and even private chat groups to immediately correct or remove ‘fake news’ from their domains. But the law's definition of what counts as fake or false is remarkably vague.

In a letter to Singapore’s prime minister, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye wrote:

“I am concerned that this overbroad definition of falsehood will lead to the criminalization and suppression of a wide range of expressive conduct, including criticism of the government, and the expression of unpopular, controversial or minority opinions.”

Two men in Bangladesh arrested for non-violent Facebook posts

Two men in Bangladesh were arrested after private citizens filed lawsuits against them concerning posts they had written on Facebook. One, Henry Swapon, had criticized a local bishop. The other, Imtiaz Mahmood, had commented on ethnic conflict in the country’s Chittagong region.

Swapon is now facing charges under the Digital Security Act, a 2018 law that criminalizes various types of online speech, ranging from defamatory messages to speech that “injures religious values or sentiments.”

New research


Subscribe to the Netizen Report



Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, L. Finch, Rezwan Islam, Mong Palatino and Taisa Sganzerla contributed to this report.

Mauritanian blogger escaped the death penalty, but remains behind bars

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 18:36

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir was convicted of apostasy in 2014.

Ould Mkhaitir was sentenced to death in 2014 over an opinion piece published online.

Despite having his death sentence commuted more than a year ago, Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir is still in prison.

Ould Mkhaitir was sentenced to death in 2014 over an opinion article published on the website of the newspaper Aqlame. In the article, entitled “Religion, Religiosity and Craftsmen”, Ould Mkhaitir criticised the role of religion in Mauritania’s caste system, using stories from the lifetime of prophet Muhammad to support his argument. The original article has since been taken down by Aqlame, but is still available online.

A court convicted him of “apostasy” and sentenced him to death under Article 306 of the Mauritanian Penal Code.

In April 2016, a court of appeal upheld his sentence and referred his case to the Supreme Court, which then returned it to the appeal court for ”procedural irregularities”. In November 2017 his death sentence was commuted and reduced to two years in jail and a fine by the court of appeal. However, despite having already served more than two years in prison, the authorities did not release Ould Mkhaitir. Almost 18 months after the appeal court's decision to release him, he remains behind bars.

On April 24, 2019 Mauritania's justice minister said that Mkhaitir was in “temporary detention” and that “only the Supreme Court can rule on his fate.”

Article 306 of the Penal Code previously provided that if the convicted person “repents” before his or her execution, the Mauritanian Supreme Court could commute the death sentence to a jail sentence of between three months and two years, and a fine.

But in April 2018, the Mauritanian National Assembly passed a law making the death penalty mandatory for anyone convicted of “blasphemous speech” and acts deemed “sacrilegious.”

“The timing of the enactment of the law just a few months after the court of appeal ordered Mkhaïtir’s release appears to be related to his case,” Human Rights Watch said in November 2018.

Critiques of racism and the caste system are taboo in Mauritania, and have spurred many political and legal threats against journalists and activists in recent years. In 1981, Mauritania became the last country on earth to officially abolish slavery, and only criminalized the practice in 2007. But since that time, UN officials and human rights workers have documented evidence that thousands of people, many of them ethnic Haratines of black African origin, are still enslaved, living in situations of forced labour, or otherwise facing caste-based discrimination.

The Mauritanian government denies that slavery still exists in the country, and many people like Ould Mkhaitir, who speak out against the practice and discrimination against Haratines, have been jailed and prosecuted. Last September, authorities jailed and charged activist Abdallahi Salem Ould Yali with incitement to violence and racial hatred for posting messages in WhatsApp group denouncing the plight and the marginalisation of his community.

Running counter: An interview with a French publisher of Turkish literature

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 08:04

One of the growing number of titles translated and published by Kontr. Photo used with permission.

Sylvain Cavaillès is an Istanbul-based French translator and the founder of Kontr, the only French publisher focusing exclusively on contemporary Turkish literature.

Turkey has a rich literary tradition, but with the exception of 2006 Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, Turkish authors aren't ordinarily published in French. Sylvain wanted to change that when he founded Kontr in 2017.

Going by the Turkish spelling of the French word contre, which means “against”, the small publisher's portfolio has eight titles so far, most of them by Turkish writers of Kurdish origin — and almost all translated to French by Sylvain himself.

The following is an abridged transcript of an interview I did with Sylvain in April 2019 about this unique literary enterprise.

Filip Noubel: How did you get involved in modern Turkish literature? Isn't it a rather unusual career choice for a Frenchman with no Turkish roots in his family?

Sylvain Cavaillès: C’est le résultat d’un processus assez long et complexe. Mon premier vrai contact avec la littérature turque s’est fait en français en 2003. J’ai découvert en librairie Quarante chambres aux trois miroirs de Murathan Mungan, et l’une des nouvelles de ce recueil m’a particulièrement marqué sur le moment, au point que je me rappelle très clairement avoir regretté de ne pas connaître le turc pour pouvoir traduire cet auteur et échanger avec lui. Quelques années plus tard, j’ai commencé à passer beaucoup de temps à Istanbul et à apprendre la langue, et lorsque j’en ai été capable je me suis naturellement mis à lire en version originale. En 2012, j’ai pris la décision de reprendre des études, et j'ai fait un master, puis une thèse de doctorat sur les écrivains kurdes de la littérature turque contemporaine, que j’ai soutenue en 2018. 

Sylvain Cavaillès: It is the result of a rather long and complex process. My first real encounter with Turkish literature happened in French in 2003. I discovered Murathan Mungan’s collection of short stories, called Üç Aynalı Kırk Oda, or Forty rooms with three mirrors, in 2003 in a bookstore. One of his short stories really made an impression on me, and I remember thinking it was a pity I didn’t speak Turkish, so that I could translate this author and communicate directly with him. Several years later I started spending time in Istanbul and learnt Turkish, and once fluent, I started reading in Turkish. In 2012, I went back to University, did a Master and eventually finished my PhD on Kurdish authors in contemporary Turkish literature in 2018.

FN: What is your editorial line? And what part of Turkish literature would you like francophone readers to discover?

SC: Le nom de Kontr représente pour moi, notamment, ce qui est à la marge, à la périphérie, et doit lutter pour exister. Et cela peut s’appliquer à la fois aux groupes humains et aux genres littéraires. Kontr aura toujours cette dimension de « contre-courant ». Les auteurs que Kontr a publiés jusqu’à présent (Murathan Mungan, Murat Özyaşar, Seyyidhan Kömürcü, Cihat Duman et Mehmet Said Aydın) ont tous un lien avec les régions kurdes de Turquie. L’apparition récente de cette nouvelle géographie littéraire au sein de la littérature turcophone m’a semblé être l’un des traits les plus intéressants du paysage littéraire turc actuel, et ce sont ces auteurs que j’ai voulu faire découvrir au public francophone en priorité. Toutefois, deux titres qui paraîtront cette année ne relèvent pas de ce domaine.

SC: The name of the publishing house, Kontr, represents what is at the margin, and must fight to exist, whether it is as a community or as a literary genre. Kontr will always be ‘running counter’. The authors published by Kontr  – Murathan Mungan, Murat Özyaşar, Seyyidhan Kömürcü, Cihat Duman et Mehmet Said Aydın, are all connected to the Kurdish regions of Turkey. The recent emergence of this new literary landscape within the Turkish-speaking literature seems to me the most interesting aspect of contemporary Turkish literature. These are the writers I want to introduce to francophone audiences in the first place. Yet two titles scheduled for this year are by authors who are not connected to Kurdish areas.

FN: Did the Pamuk phenomenon help to promote Turkish literature in translation, or has it obscured other writers?  

SC: Le phénomène Pamuk a eu un double effet d’occultation, d’une part, mais aussi une sorte d’appel d’air : le Nobel de Pamuk a sans aucun doute éveillé un intérêt du lectorat français pour la littérature turque.  Mais en 2018, les deux seuls auteurs de Turquie dont on parle sont Aslı Erdoğan et Selahattin Demirtaş, simplement parce qu’on comme « Ces écrivains qui font trembler le dictateur », formule cliché dont le seul but est de faire vendre des livres. Ce n’est pas Orhan Pamuk qui aujourd’hui occulte les auteurs de son pays, mais ce genre de clichés faciles. Concernant la promotion de la littérature turque en tant que telle, Kontr est aujourd’hui la seule maison qui, à son échelle, s’y consacre entièrement.

SC: The Pamuk phenomenon has had a double effect: it has concealed the rest, and yet set a trend. The attribution of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Pamuk in 2006 did stir an interest for Turkish literature in France. But in 2018 Turkish literature is reduced to only two authors, Aslı Erdoğan and Selahattin Demirtaş, simply because they are categorized as “the writers who make the dictator shake”. This is a cliché intended to help books sell. Indeed it is not Pamuk who is concealing the rest of Turkish literature, but such cheesy clichés. Today Kontr is the only publishing house that focuses exclusively on Turkish literature in French.

FN: What are the challenges you encounter in your work? Since you translate contemporary literature, are you in direct touch with your authors in the process?

SC: Les plus grandes difficultés que j’ai pu rencontrer jusqu’à présent avaient trait à l’oralité d’une part, mais aussi à la régionalité. Certaines expressions idiomatiques n’ont cours que dans une région bien délimitée du territoire. Dans la plupart des cas, je parviens à résoudre la difficulté par moi-même. Mais s’il le faut, j’en parle avec l’auteur. C’est sans doute pour Rire noir, de Murat Özyaşar, que j’ai le plus échangé avec l’auteur. Murat a un style très particulier, très oral, musical, rythmique, syncopé, et hybride car il est dans une situation de bilinguisme et, comme il le dit et l’écrit lui-même, son turc est contaminé par la syntaxe du kurde. Il m’a donc fallu tenter d’appliquer au français le traitement que lui-même applique au turc. Cela a été à la fois mon plus grand défi en tant que traducteur mais aussi l’expérience la plus enthousiasmante que j’ai vécue.

SC: The most challenging aspects are spoken language and regional idioms. Certain expressions are limited to one particular region. Usually, I manage to solve them on my own. When needed, I discuss it with the author. I did that a lot with Murat Özyaşar for his book Sarı Kahkaha, translated as “Rire noir” in French [translated as “Yellow Laughter”, in English]. His style is peculiar, very oral, musical, syncopated, hybrid since he operates in a bilingual environment. As he said himself, his Turkish is “contaminated by the syntax of the Kurdish language.” I thus had to apply to French the same process he applies to Turkish. This has been my biggest challenge as a translator, but also the most exciting experience.

FN: How do you define your mission as you combine the work of a translator and independent publisher? Do you see yourself as a literary activist?

SC: Être à la fois traducteur et éditeur indépendant n’a pas été un choix mais une contrainte imposée par le contexte de l’édition française. Lorsqu’on vous fait patienter pendant des années, lorsque vos traductions, bien qu’elles n’aient été ni payées, ni publiées, apparaissent malgré tout sur des sites internet libraires, vous êtes obligé, si vous voulez que les auteurs que vous défendez soient publiés, de créer votre propre structure d’édition. Le premier livre de Kontr est sorti parce qu’une éditrice française avait laissé son auteur, Mehmet Said Aydın, sans nouvelles après lui avoir promis de faire son livre. Aydın est venu me trouver en me demandant de trouver une solution. Je lui ai promis de faire son livre, sans même croire qu’il y aurait une suite éditoriale à ce geste. Mais une fois ce premier livre publié, j’ai compris que je n’avais pas le choix. Je ne me suis jamais considéré comme un activiste, pourtant j’ai créé une maison d’édition qui s’appelle Kontr et qui s’est construite contre un certain nombre de choses. En premier lieu contre contre certains comportements qui ont cours dans l’édition, et contre les diktats qui tentent de nous faire croire que les lecteurs francophones n’aiment pas certains genres, tels la nouvelle ou la poésie. Je ne crois pas que ma posture se définisse fondamentalement par rapport à ce qui se passe dans la sphère politique. Mon but est de transmettre la littérature que j’aime et qui me semble être la littérature qui compte, aujourd’hui en Turquie. Même si je crois fermement en certaines causes, la cause ne justifiera jamais mes choix éditoriaux. Une maison d’édition est avant tout une maison, où l’on invite ceux que l’on aime. Pas une machine à fabriquer des produits, des étiquettes, ou à faire de l’argent.

SC: I did not become a translator and independent publisher by choice, but because of the situation of the French publishing industry: I had for years experienced endless waits, unpaid and unpublished translations that yet show up as available titles on websites. In the end I had no choice but to set my own structure in order to publish the writers I promote and translate. The first book published by Kontr is the result of a French publisher not fulfilling her promise to publish the author Mehmet Said Aydın. He came to me to ask for help, which I did, thinking this was a one-time operation. Once he was published, I realized I had no choice but to continue. I have never considered myself an activist, yet my publishing house is called Kontr (Against) and is indeed conceived as going “against” certain things. Against the behaviour of certain publishing houses, against the diktats that want to convince us that francophone readers do not like certain genres, such as short stories or poetry. But my take is not fundamentally defined by politics, my goal is to convey the literature that I enjoy, and that matters today in Turkey, in my view. A publishing house is a home where one invites the ones he likes, it is not a factory aimed at producing goods, labels or at making money.

Kontr's founder, Sylvain Cavaillès. Photo used with permission

FN: Turkey is now in a phase of a challenging political and cultural transition. A number of authors and literary translators are now in prison, or live in exile. How does this impact your work and your vision for the future of Kontr?

SC: La situation à laquelle vous faites référence fait comme partie de la définition de la Turquie, qui est constamment en phase de transition politique et culturelle. Aujourd’hui l’attention de l’Occident se focalise sur la figure de l’actuel président et, avec l’aide de la médiatisation de quelques figures emprisonnées, on imagine un pays où la création littéraire serait bâillonnée. Or, les écrivains en prison auxquels vous faites allusion sont avant tout des opposants politiques. Aujourd’hui, en Turquie, personne n’est en prison ou en exil à cause de son œuvre littéraire, ceux qui sont inquiétés le sont à cause de leur engagement politique. Il y a certes un climat de peur, et sans doute un peu d’autocensure chez certains auteurs et éditeurs. Mais cela n’empêche pas le second livre de Selahattin Demirtaş de paraître ces jours-ci chez l’un des éditeurs turcs les plus importants. Globalement, le monde politique ne se soucie pas de littérature. Pour finir, cette instabilité dont vous parlez, loin d’être une menace, est sans doute ce qui justifie l’existence de Kontr, car les auteurs que nous publions et continuerons à publier, sont des écrivains qui ont un certain positionnement au sein de la société turque et qui construisent une œuvre littéraire d’importance.

SC: The situation you are referring to is part of what defines Turkey, a country that is constantly in a process of political and cultural transition. Today the West is focused on the figure of the current President, and the media paints a picture of a country where authors are not allowed to speak. But the authors who are in prison today are political opponents. Today, if someone is in jail, it is not because of their literary production, it is because of their political engagement. There certainly is a climate of fear and probably a certain level of self-censorship among certain authors and publishers. Yet Selahattin Demirtaş’ second book will soon be published by one of the largest publishing houses in Turkey. Generally speaking the political sphere pays little attention to literature. To conclude, the instability mentioned here is not a threat but rather an opportunity justifying Kontr’s existence, because the writers we publish and will continue to publish are authors who position themselves and build major literary works.


‘Envision a new war': the Syrian Archive, corporate censorship and the struggle to preserve public history online

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 00:36

Images of war keep disappearing from Silicon Valley.

“Damascus-Old City – Umayyad Mosque- دمشق- المدينة القديمة – الجامع الأموي,” Damascus before the war. Photo by Hani Zaitoun (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This post was written as part of a partnership between Global Voices and Monument Lab, an independent public art and history studio based in Philadelphia, US.

One of the most haunting images of war in the modern era shows five young children running barefoot from a cloud of smoke. At the center is a naked girl, screaming in pain from the effects of a napalm bomb that South Vietnamese troops, propped up by the US military, had mistakenly dropped on her village.

“The Terror of War,” also known as “Napalm girl,” was captured by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut in 1972 and appeared in major newspapers across the world, including the New York Times.

Although showing a photograph of a naked child went against the Times’ and other newspapers’ policies, editors made an exception because of the illustrative nature of the image. The photo later won a Pulitzer prize and left an enduring mark on public understanding of the Vietnam War and its consequences for civilians.

In 2016, this very same photo was censored on Facebook. The image was uploaded by Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper, as part of a historical review of the war. It was taken down by Facebook almost immediately afterwards, because it depicted a naked child.

In response, Aftenposten editor-in-chief Espen Egil Hansen wrote an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg imploring him to “envision a new war where children will be the victims of barrel bombs or nerve gas. Would you once again intercept the documentation of cruelties?”

Facebook soon thereafter reinstated the image. In an interview with The Guardian, a PR spokesperson explained that Facebook had reversed its decision because the image of the girl, Kim Phuc, was “an iconic image of historical importance.”

‘Envision a new war’

There is no need to envision or imagine this “new war” that Hansen described in his plea to Zuckerberg. It is already happening, in Syria.

I recently watched a series of videos showing the aftermath of a sarin gas bombing in Idlib province, in 2017. Several of them show chaotic scenes at a medical center. In one, a teenage boy lies on the floor, barely conscious, with foam oozing from his mouth, a telltale sign of sarin gas exposure. Another shows a child of maybe three or four years lying on a table in a medical center. A man stands over him and explains in Arabic how the child succumbed to the deadly gas. The man keeps his face out of the frame.

These are a just few of thousands, perhaps millions of videos of this kind. Syria’s may be one of the most documented wars in human history. How will this overabundance of videos and pictures affect how the war is understood in the future? And what consequences will they bring for the war’s perpetrators?

While it has become increasingly difficult and dangerous for professional media outlets like AP or the New York Times to cover the war, it is being thoroughly documented all the same. With mobile phones in hand, Syrians have been recording and photographing bombings, shellings, nerve gas and chemical weapon attacks and uploading these images to the internet. The video I mentioned above was taken by SMART News Agency, a group known for documenting the work of the White Helmets in Aleppo.

Millions of media files are moving around online, and constantly shifting public understanding of the war and its effects on people’s lives. This abundance of documentation has the potential to serve as testimony for the public record and even evidence of war crimes, if regime leaders are one day brought before the International Criminal Court. It has the power to provide the public with a collage of information and memory of the war, the people whose lives it changed and took away, and the place where all this happened.

But the sheer abundance of material at hand — tens of millions of files and counting — is almost impossible to parse or search without guidance.

A group of technologists in Berlin is trying to change this, one media file at a time.


Listen to author and Advox director Ellery Biddle discuss these issues with WITNESS’ Jackie Zammuto, on the Monument Lab podcast:


Building the Syrian Archive

Syrian technologist Hadi Al-Khatib left his country for Berlin, Germany in 2011. Later that year, he began helping a group of Syrian lawyers who were trying to gather evidence of human rights violations at the start of the war. The group was overwhelmed with digital media files and had no strategy for verifying or classifying the abundance of digital media that was already pouring out of the country.

This was in 2011, when the social uprisings that spread across the Arab region were at their peak, changing the course of history in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and beyond. Al-Khatib had seen firsthand how digital documentation of human rights violations could spark protest and shift public understanding of major events in a country’s history.

But he also knew how complicated this kind of documentation could become. The world’s most accessible social media platforms were optimized for clicks and advertisements, not for verification, categorization or contextual understanding.

Al-Khatib recruited a few colleagues to figure out how they could help. The trio spent the next three years collecting, verifying and categorizing digital media files from the war.

A collage of images of chemical weapon attacks and victims. Collage by Adam Harvey, Syrian Archive (CC BY-SA 4.0)

In 2014, they launched the Syrian Archive, a public database that today contains more than five million images and video files from the war.

The Syrian Archive is not your average online library. The homepage features investigations of airstrikes by Russian planes, chemical attacks, and shellings that have destroyed hospitals, bakeries and mosques.

The site highlights evidence of chemical weapons attacks, which are forbidden under international humanitarian law.

The keywords and categories one uses to search the archive offer a stark sense of its holdings. One can search videos of attacks by the type of weapon used — barrel bombs, cluster munitions, drones and sarin gas are among just a few of the options in the “weapons used” drop-down menu.

It’s the kind of work normally undertaken by a UN agency or international humanitarian organization. But as the archive’s materials note, these institutions have not kept up with the pace of this war. The French Foreign Ministry and the UN Commission of Inquiry into Syria have confirmed that 163 chemical weapons attacks have taken place in Syria. The Syrian Archive has documented 212.

If they don’t do this work, Al-Khatib says, the materials — and everything they can tell us about the war — may soon become impossible to check or verify. Some of it may be lost altogether.

“This data is useless if it’s not labeled or searchable,” Al-Khatib told me when we met in Berlin some months back. “But if there’s context, there are lots of things we can do.”

The goal of their work, most immediately, is to provide journalists and human rights workers with datasets that are searchable, verified and contextualized by local and subject matter experts. In a not-too-distant future, the group expects these videos and images will serve as evidence in war crimes cases against the parties involved, thanks in part to partnerships with the UN High Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley Law School.

Beyond preserving evidence, Al-Khatib also envisions the archive offering future generations rich material for reconstructing, historicizing and memorializing the war, the people whose lives it changed and took away, and Syria as a country.

“For me, what is most important is to make sure this data is going to be available for the next 10, 20 years,” he says. “I imagine this could contribute to a museum, or a digital memory space.”

But right now, the team has little time to make meaning or narratives from these images. They just know that the images need to be preserved.

Images of war are disappearing in Silicon Valley

To gather this data, Al-Khatib and his colleagues work directly with local journalists and humanitarian groups documenting the war. They rely heavily on Facebook and YouTube, the primary platforms where these groups and countless individuals upload their files. They estimate that 90% of the media files in the archive come to them by way of these two social media behemoths.

He and his colleagues have identified several hundred sources across the social web, mainly Facebook pages and YouTube channels, from which their systems automatically capture images and videos each day. This allows them to classify and archive material in ways that these corporate platforms are not built to accommodate.

But increasingly, they are capturing files not only for the sake of archiving them, but to prevent them from disappearing altogether.

Faced with rising pressure from governments to rid their networks of violence and hatred, companies like Facebook and YouTube’s parent company Google are scrambling to censor graphic violence and anything that could be linked to violent extremist groups like ISIS. Thousands of videos and photos from the Syrian war have disappeared along the way.

Videos that could be used as evidence against perpetrators of violence have been deleted upon upload, or censored by the companies shortly after they are published. They are often impossible to replace.

Al-Khatib says they have to do better than this. “The companies have a responsibility to preserve these materials,” he says. “It’s evidence.”

The Syrian Archive team, including Hadi Al Khatib, right. Photo courtesy of Syrian Archive (CC BY-SA 4.0)

He explains that right now, there are only small, partial solutions to the problem. For example, YouTube allows users to reclaim videos that they’ve uploaded, but which were rejected for violating the company’s rules prohibiting extreme graphic violence.

But, he asks: “What if the source is not alive? What if the source is arrested? What if the source doesn’t have access to email?” These are incredibly common predicaments in Syria.

And there is a great deal of material that never even sees the light of the public internet. We talk about how Google uses machine learning technology to scan videos for terms of service violations, like extreme graphic violence. In some cases, videos are rejected and purged from the site before they even become public.

“We have no idea what doesn’t make it onto the site,” Al-Khatib says. “We don’t know everyone. So if they don’t keep it [on their devices], that’s that.” He seems to care deeply about every video, as if each one is part of the story.

Among the millions of files, there are surely some that could one day become “iconic image[s] of historical importance,” rising to the level of Nick Ut’s photo of the young Kim Phuc running for her life.

But if the person who captures them puts them into the hands of companies like YouTube and Facebook, and then loses her device, or even her life, the image may be lost forever.

How is technology telling our history?

While millions of people have the power to capture these images, a mere handful of privately-owned and operated companies are the ultimate arbiters of what becomes public and what does not. With minimal regulation or accountability mandates to comply with under US law, and increasing pressure to keep violence off their networks in Europe, companies are routinely disposing of this material.

Who is actually reviewing these videos and deciding what stays and what goes? Sometimes companies pay people to do this work, but over the past two years, machine learning tools and other types of artificial intelligence have become a favored (and more affordable) solution to this problem. While AI tools are very good at recognizing the content of an image — such as a naked child, in the case of Kim Phuc — they may never have the capacity to judge its context or legal significance.

Unlike Ut’s photograph, carefully considered and contextualized by Ut and his editors at AP, depictions of the Syrian war increasingly are at the mercy of technical, non-human systems that decide which images to allow and which ones to censor.

How should social media companies contend with this abundance of images and video circulating online, some of which may serve as vital evidence of war crimes or human rights violations? And how can people who witness these events document and preserve them in the interest of public knowledge?

What if we had a “social media” space where information was organized based on its context, legal significance and cultural meaning? How might we see the present time, and the past, differently?

The Syrian Archive may be setting the course for a new kind of public space online, moving away from Silicon Valley models that are all built to generate attention for the sake of ad revenue.

While the future of its subject matter remains painfully uncertain, there is some light in knowing that in the years to come, those who want to tell stories of Syria will have this rich archive of data and stories from which to draw.

Listen to author and Advox director Ellery Biddle discuss these issues with WITNESS’ Jackie Zammuto and public art scholar Paul Farber on the Monument Lab podcast.

Jailed Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor's life is at risk, after six weeks on hunger strike

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 16:14

Mansoor has not eaten since 17 March.

Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence in the UAE. Photo Credit: Martin Ennals Foundation, via Citizen Lab.

This post was co-authored by Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Joe Stork, chair of the GCHR advisory board.

Our friend Ahmed Mansoor, a courageous human rights defender and father of four children, is in solitary confinement in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), serving a 10-year sentence for the “crime” of speaking out publicly about violations of human rights in the UAE.

Ahmed, who serves on the advisory boards of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, has been arrested and jailed in his country multiple times since 2011. His current ordeal began in March 2017, when he was arrested and later convicted of insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols,” publishing “false reports” on social media.

Our friend is being held in an isolation ward in Abu Dhabi's Al-Sadr prison, where he has no bed to sleep on and no water in his cell. He is not allowed regular family visits or other rights and privileges accorded to other prisoners, such as regular telephone calls and access to books, newspapers, and TV. He is not allowed to walk outside or participate in sports. These are all standard affordances for prisoners convicted of violent crimes.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the UN Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners both consider prolonged solitary confinement to be a form of torture.

On 17 March, Ahmed began a hunger strike to protest poor prison conditions and his unfair conviction for his human rights activities. Since that time, his health has deteriorated significantly. His eyesight has begun to fail, as often happens to people who have endured a prolonged period without food (see the graphic below).

Ahmed's story

In March 2017, security forces raided Ahmed Mansoor's home in Ajman, where he lived with his wife Nadia and four young sons. Officers took him away, along with his mobile phones, laptops and other electronic equipment belonging to him and his family. The official UAE news agency reported that he was detained for using social media to publish “flawed information” and “false news” to “harm the reputation of the state.” The government refused to disclose his whereabouts, or allow him access to his lawyer or family.

More than a year later, on 30 May 2018, the Abu Dhabi daily newspaper The National reported that the State Security Chamber of the Federal Appeal Court had convicted Mansoor of insulting the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols,” publishing “false reports” on social media, and “seeking to damage the relationship of the UAE with its neighbours.”  The court sentenced him to 10 years in prison and fined him one million Emirati dirhams (US $270,000).

The entire trial was closed to media, diplomats and other outside observers. The charges and the conviction manifestly violate Mansoor’s right to free expression and opinion under international law. His conviction and sentence were upheld on 31 December 2018 by the Federal Supreme Court.

Mansoor began his work in defense of human rights in 2006 and since 2011 has been no stranger to incessant government harassment and persecution.

In April 2011, he was imprisoned with four other human rights defenders — the UAE 5 — for more than seven months after signing a petition addressed to the president of the UAE, in which they called for empowering the legislature and extending voting rights to all adult UAE citizens in elections for the Federal National Council. He and the other defendants were convicted of insulting the UAE’s rulers and jailed, but Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE president, pardoned them the following day. Since that time, authorities have refused to return Mansoor’s passport, effectively denying him the right to travel.

In September 2012, Mansoor was physically attacked by an individual at Ajman University, hours after he participated by video in an event at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Mansoor sustained injuries to his head, neck and hands. This attack came six days after he was physically assaulted by another individual also at Ajman University. Mansoor, who suspected that the attacks were orchestrated by state security, complained to the police on both occasions, to no avail.

Mansoor also has been subject to surveillance and spyware attacks. In 2014, his Twitter account was hacked. In August 2016, he received anonymous text messages urging him to click on an attachment that purported to include information about detainees whom UAE security services had subjected to torture. The Toronto-based Citizen Lab examined the messages and determined the attachment was spyware intended to hack, access and control his iPhone.

He also has been the target of harassment and death threats on social media. These have coincided with  smear campaigns in Emirati media.

On 6 October 2015, Mansoor was named the winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders of 2015 for being “one of the few voices within the UAE who provides a credible independent assessment of human rights developments in the country.” However, he was prevented from attending the ceremony due to the de facto travel ban imposed on him since 2011.

The European Parliament, UN Special Rapporteurs, and human rights organisations have all called for Ahmed's immediate and unconditional release.

Under UAE law, prisoners sometimes can apply for an early release after serving two-thirds of their sentences. Human rights groups, however, fear that Ahmed will have to serve the full 10-year sentence, if not more. There is also concern that he will be kept in unlawful detention after serving his sentence, as with others such as Osama Hussein Al-Najjar, a young blogger arrested for protesting the sentencing of his father. And once released, our colleague will also be placed “under surveillance” for three years.

Ahmed Mansoor’s life is at risk as a result of the terrible conditions of his imprisonment, which compelled him to undertake a hunger strike in March. We call on international mechanisms including the UN system to intervene urgently to ensure that the UAE government release Ahmed Mansoor and allow him to seek medical treatment without any delay.

Along with a dozen other human rights groups, we urge readers to support Ahmed Mansoor by joining our campaign for his release, by posting messages of support on a Facebook page created by his friends and on Twitter under the hash tag #FreeAhmed.

Learn about the physiological effects of a hunger strike with the infographic below, created by our partners at Visualizing Impact.

Netizen Report: Saudi Arabian authorities arrest three bloggers and execute 37 prisoners, several of them protesters

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 00:07

Your weekly dose of global technology and human rights news.

Image licensed to public domain, without attribution.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in technology and human rights around the world. This report covers news and events from April 20 – April 26.

In Saudi Arabia, 37 prisoners were executed by beheading on April 23. Most of those killed belonged to the Shia Muslim community, a minority in the kingdom. All were men.

According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, 14 of those executed were arrested after joining anti-government protests. Both groups say the men were forced to confess to “protest-related crimes” after being tortured, and that they later sought to retract their confessions in court, as they were given under duress. They were nevertheless sentenced to death.

Lynn Maalouf, who serves as Amnesty International’s Middle East research director, called the executions “another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within the country’s Shi’a minority.”

Just a few days prior, three Saudi bloggers were arrested as part of an ongoing crackdown on journalists and activists that drew headlines in October 2018 with the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

Authorities haven’t publicly stated why they’ve detained Naif al-Hindas, Ali al-Saffar and Redha al-Boori, who have not been active as writers for some time. In 2015, Al-Saffar and al-Boori had written about regional security issues, and Al-Hindas wrote about philosophy, feminism, and other cultural and political topics up until mid-2018.

As of December 1, 2018, there were at least 16 journalists in prison in Saudi Arabia. All told, these legal cases and executions demonstrate the extreme measures the Saudi government is willing to take in order to prevent criticism and legitimate media work in the kingdom.

Sri Lanka blocks social media after deadly attacks

Within hours of the bombings that killed hundreds of people at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, authorities blocked major internet and mobile services including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. Reactions to the move were mixed, with many expressing frustration with both the government and social media platforms, which have proven inept at controlling the spread of violent speech and disinformation in times of public emergency.

Ugandan rights leader detained in Tanzania, then deported

Leading digital rights advocate Wairagala Wakabi was detained at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on April 25 when he flew to the country from his native Uganda to help lead a workshop on human rights and technology. Wakabi is the Executive Director of the Uganda-based Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), one of the foremost organizations working on digital rights in Africa.

Wakabi was deported back to Uganda after several hours of interrogation, during which he was denied access to a lawyer. Attorneys from the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition attempted to advocate on his behalf, but were told only that Wakabi was being deported on “national interest” grounds.

In a statement to CIPESA, they called upon members of the East African Community (EAC) “to condemn this tendency of disturbing citizens of EAC when travelling within the subregion.”

French journalist arrested while covering Yellow Vests protest

French police arrested journalist Gaspard Glanz while he was covering a Yellow Vests protest in Paris on April 20. Glanz founded the news agency Taranis News, which primarily covers protests and social movements online. Glanz spent 48 hours in detention before he was released and charged with “contempt of a person holding public authority” for giving the middle finger to a police officer. He was also banned from covering the protests, pending the start of his trial on October 18.

Riding with Careem? Be careful — your driver might call you later

The UAE-based ride-hailing app Careem, which was recently acquired by Uber, has been sharing passengers’ full names and real phone numbers with drivers. Beirut-based digital rights group SMEX reports that this has led to drivers attempting to contact passengers through Facebook and other means, posing a threat to riders’ safety and privacy. On the SMEX blog, Abed Kataya wrote:

Careem….appears oblivious to the implications and risks of sharing users’ personal data, even going as far as to deny that a phone number constitutes personally identifiable information.

SIM card schemers exploit Pakistan’s biometric ID system

Law enforcement officials in Pakistan arrested seven people who they say were running an identity theft scheme in which they captured identity data — including people’s fingerprints — from unsuspecting individuals, and then used this information to obtain mobile SIM cards, which they then sold to people who used them to carry out criminal activities.

Pakistan made it compulsory for people to present biometric identity information (typically fingerprints) in order to purchase SIM cards in 2008, a move that authorities say brought a decrease in extortion, kidnapping and fraud by “deanonymizing” SIM cards.

EU tempers ‘anti-terrorism’ tech policy, but problems are far from over

On April 16, the European Parliament approved a policy directive that would require internet platforms to remove online posts deemed to be “terrorist content” within an hour of receiving an order from competent authorities. Lawmakers voted to delete provisions of the directive that would have required platforms to use automated “prior censorship” filters and to monitor the information they transmit and store, in order to detect and remove terrorist content. While human rights groups have welcomed the removal of these provisions, they remain concerned about the one-hour deadline.

In a statement, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now “welcomed” this improvement, but then emphasized their doubt that the proposal’s objectives could be achieved. In a statement, the groups said:

Across Europe, the inflation of counter-terror policies has had disproportionate impact on journalists, artists, human rights defenders, and innocent groups at risk of racism.

The internet is still shut down in Chad

As of April 2019, people in the central African nation of Chad have been without internet access for a full year. Service providers attribute the disruption to technical problems, but organizations like Internet without Borders say that the government has ordered mobile phone companies to cut internet access, most likely owing to public discontent over the enduring reign of Chadian President Idriss Deby, who has been in office since 1990. In 2018, Deby moved to change Chad’s constitution so that he could retain office until 2033.

New research


Subscribe to the Netizen Report



Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Nwachukwu Egbunike, L. Finch, Talal Raza and Taisa Sganzerla contributed to this report.

A look at United Arab Emirate's renewable energy goals

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 00:15

UAE wants to get 30% of energy from clean energy by 2030

A parabolic trough which collects solar heat in Abu Dhabi called “Shams 1″. Image credit: Masdar via Flickr

In January, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a report outlining the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) market trends and analysis on the renewable energy sector. The United Arab Emirates, the report said, hosts up to 79 percent of the installed solar Photovoltaic capacity in the GCC. The country also “managed to attract some low-cost solar Photovoltaic projects without offering subsidies.”

So what is the UAE doing to increase energy from renewable sources and how is it meeting the goals it set for itself?

Solar energy

As of 2016, the UAE produces this many gigawatts of electricity through solar and biogas energy:

!function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!["datawrapper-height"])for(var t in["datawrapper-height"]){var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+t);e&&(["datawrapper-height"][t]+"px")}})}();And this is how many megawatts of electricity the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is producing through solar energy as of 2016:

!function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!["datawrapper-height"])for(var t in["datawrapper-height"]){var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+t);e&&(["datawrapper-height"][t]+"px")}})}();Dubai, however, opened its first solar park in 2013, so until then, no electricity was produced from solar energy in the Emirate:

!function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!["datawrapper-height"])for(var t in["datawrapper-height"]){var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+t);e&&(["datawrapper-height"][t]+"px")}})}();

The UAE has installed capacity for both Photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power.

As part of Dubai Clean Energy Strategy to generate 75 percent of Dubai’s power from clean energy by 2050, Dubai will build the largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project on a single site in the world, which is expected to begin power generation within the next five years.

Meanwhile, Sharjah, the third largest emirate in the country, is aiming to build a solar-powered ‘sustainable city’ some 11 kilometers away from the Sharjah International Airport. The government of Umm Al Quwain, another emirate of the UAE, is also pursuing a plan to build a 200-megawatt solar park in Falaj al Mu’alla are of the emirate.

Meeting climate change goals

In September 2016, the UAE signed and ratified the Paris Climate Agreement which aims to mitigate and limit climate change. However, the goals set by the UAE are being deemed as “highly insufficient” by some organizations. For example, Climate Action Tracker says that the UAE’s climate commitment for 2021 is “is not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement.”

Besides, the UAE also subsidizes prices for crude oil and natural gas even though petrol and diesel are subject to a 5% VAT. Yet, the UAE’s petrol and diesel prices are well below the global average. As of April 2019, the global petrol price was USD 1.14 per liter while UAE’s price stood at a mere USD 0.57 per liter.

This is clearly not enough to significantly and drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels in the country.

Other renewable energy options in the UAE

In 2017, as per IRENA, the UAE already had 0.85 megawatts of installed capacity for wind energy.

The UAE is also investing more in bioenergy. For example, Masdar (a renewable energy company)  signed a development agreement in 2017 with environmental management company Bee'ah to develop the UAE’s first waste-to-energy power plant. This plant will be located at the Waste Management Center in Sharjah.

Priscilla Joseph, part of BactoWatt, a startup which aims to recover bioenergy from wastewater told Global Voices that:

Apart from solar energy, there is also growing demand for bioenergy, especially for technology that converts waste to energy in the UAE. Right now it is only in its initial stages, but we hope to soon turn bioenergy technology into a commercially viable product.

The UAE aims to meet 30 percent of its energy needs from clean energy by 2030. Currently, the UAE claims to have 0.54 percent of its clean energy share, and this includes both renewable and nuclear energy.

Worldwide, IRENA set a target of meeting 65 percent of energy via renewable sources by 2050. However, IRENA also predicted that at current trends, the world can only meet 25 percent of that goal.

A worried Joseph also said, “We really need to figure out a way to bridge that 40 percent gap.”

Sex abuse and harassment cases prompt protests at Turkey's university campuses

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 16:24

Students protest for safe spaces as authorities downplay gender equality

Protests at Ankara University on April 8. Photo by the University Collective of Women. Permission to use.

Earlier this month a 23-year-old woman alleged that she was beaten and raped by a 54-year-old professor working at Ankara University whilst she was serving as the vet on duty at the private veterinary clinic the professor co-owned.

In her testimony, the young woman, whose name has been redacted by local media as C.B. claimed that Professor Hasan Bilgili offered her dinner and asked her to drink with him.

She then explained what happened when she refused the offer:

He forced himself on me and kissed me. He hit my head three or four times on the floor. I passed out. When I opened my eyes, it was 1.30 AM.

‘Do not complain’

The first person the young woman saw when she woke up was Bilgili's business partner, a veterinary surgeon called Serkan Durmaz.

He told her:

Something happened between you and him. Do not complain. These things will get you into trouble.

The gynaecologist she was taken to see by Bilgili and Durmaz, Huseyin Senyurt, had a similar message:

Even if you complain, nothing will happen. Just take this medicine.

Hasan Bilgili was arrested after C.B filed charges against him.

Standing in the dock at a pre-trial hearing he called the claims a conspiracy against him, and cited his status as a married man in his defence.

Ankara University released a statement via Twitter:

Üniversite dışında özel bir
klinikte yaşanan cinsel saldırı
haberi ihbar kabul edilerek,
saldırı faili olduğu iddia edilen
öğretim üyesi hakkında
soruşturma başlatılmış ve
adı geçen açığa alınmıştır.

— Ankara Üniversitesi (@AnkaraUni) 6 Nisan 2019

The news about the sexual assault at a private clinic outside the university was submitted and an investigation targeting the alleged assailant was launched. The aforementioned person has been suspended.

Not the first time

Hasan Bilgili had been accused of mistreating women before.

According to a Hürriyet newspaper report, both Hasan Bilgili and his brother Ali Bilgili, a pharmacology professor at the same university, were accused of harassing women students in 2007 and faced court as a result.

The judge ordered Ali Bilgili to be suspended from university work as a result of the accusations, while Hasan Bilgili had his pay docked. Both eventually returned to their positions.

Hurriyet newspaper article covering accusations against the Bilgili brothers in 2007.

More recently, in 2016, Hasan Bilgili was the subject of further sexual assault allegations, this time made by an exchange student who was studying at his veterinary department.

Students’ protest: We will not stay silent

The day after the rape case went viral on Twitter, Ankara University students began a protest on campus targeting authorities’ perceived inaction over previous sexual harassment complaints.

During the protest, students chanted “we do not want a rapist teacher.”

The protests found an echo on social media.

Öğrencilerden eylem: “Tecavüzcü hoca istemiyoruz”

Ankara Üniversitesi'nde profesörlük yapan Hasan Bilgili, genç kadın hekimi darp ederek cinsel saldırıda bulundu. Olay üzerine üniversite öğrencileri bugün bir eylem gerçekleştirerek “sessiz kalmak suça ortak olmaktır” dedi.

— Yol TV (@YolTV) 8 Nisan 2019

The students said: “Staying quiet means taking part in the crime.”

Ankara Üniversitesi Veteriner Fakültesi'nde öğretim üyesi olan Prof. Dr. Hasan Bilgili kendisine ait hayvan hastanesinde çalışan veteriner Ç.'ye tecavüz etmesinin ardından Ankara Üniversitesi Veteriner fakültesi öğrencileri protesto ederek basın açıklaması yaptı.

— ali haydar çelebi (@ali_haydar_1234) 8 Nisan 2019

After a teacher at Ankara University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Hasan Bilgili, raped B.Ç, who worked at his veterinary clinic, Ankara University Veterinary Faculty students staged a protest and issued a press statement.

Gender equality deferred

The topic of sexual violence has been especially highly charged in Turkey ever since the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) controversially withdrew in February from its commitment to the ‘Gender Equality Attitude Certificate’, a document which bound it to incorporate gender equality principles across its work.

The higher education regulator's president cited aspects of the document “inappropriate for our values” as a reason for its withdrawal.

The University Collective of Women, a group founded in 2007 by women university students, told Global Voices that Turkish university campuses are increasingly becoming places of fear for many women.

“Students in faculty warn each other not to enter the rooms of teachers alone,” a spokeswoman for the collective told GV by telephone.

İki kardeş aynı üniversitede profesör.İkisi de tacizci.Adlarına açılan birden fazla dava var.Yıllardır ceza almadan bulundukları konumda öğencilerle iç içe yaşıyorlar ve suç işlemeye devam ediyorlar.
Yeter artık. Suçlulara cezalarını verin.

— Gülay Mubarek (@pipetlielmasuyu) 6 Nisan 2019

#RapistProffesor The two brothers are professors at the same university. There is more than one case against them. They have been living with students for years without being punished and they continue to commit crimes.
Enough is enough. Punish these criminals.

Ankara University's Support Unit Against Sexual Harassment, founded in 2011 after a spike in sexual abuse cases at universities, has pledged to continue investigating complaints and attempting to bring cases to court.

But unit coordinator Gülriz Uygur, a law professor at the university, says victims of abuse are often press-ganged into silence.

“Students cannot complain to us about sexual abuse they have faced, because they are threatened with notes and they are afraid,” Uygur told Hurriyet newspaper.

Accusations of sexual predation at Turkish higher education institutions this year have not been limited to the capital.

One university in the country's largest city Istanbul, the private Koç University, was hit by a giant scandal in March after a male student accused of sexually abusing a female counterpart faced no other punishment than a three-month suspension.

Koç Üniversitesi tacizin ve şiddetin üstünü kapatıyor ve biz #KampüsteGüvendeDeğiliz

— Berfin Saman (@bsamann) 25 Mart 2019

Koç University is concealing the violence and abuse. We are #notsafeatcampus

The same month students at the Dokuz Eylul University in the country's third largest city, Izmir, protested against the head of the sociology department Professor İbrahim Kaya, who they claimed had been systematically abusing women students since 2014.

Women students taped slogans including “We do not want an abuser-teacher” onto the walls of the institution. Now they are preparing to file criminal charges against Kaya.

Material Culture art exhibition communicates deep personal experiences to transcend cultural borders

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 01:13

The New York show features the work of 5 Iran-born artists.

Maryam Khosrovani. Imprint | Location 3, Brooklyn | 2015 – 2016.

Material Culture, a new exhibition in New York, features the works of five Iran-born artists who use “nonrepresentational forms” and a range of materials to create a visual language that not only communicates deep personal experiences but also transcends cultural borders.

Curated by the award-winning independent curator and cultural producer Roya Khadjavi, the show features the work of Maryam Khosrovani, Aida Izadpanah, Dana Nehdaran, Maryam Palizgir, and Massy Nasser Ghandi.

All but one of the five received their BA in visual art in Iran, from where they each emigrated at various points in their lives. Four of them now live in the United States, and Massy Nasser Ghandi lives in France.

They each work in the abstract mode, creating art that reacts to and comments on the integration of their culture of origin and that of their adoptive countries. Their works incorporate traditional materials such as clay, porcelain, fabric, iron, paint and wood into new forms and techniques that adapt to their new circumstances.

Through line, color and the use of porcelain, clay, iron, wire, gold and linen canvas, these five artists have produced sculptures, constructions and paintings that, in the words of Artscope national correspondent and Material Culture catalogue essayist Nancy Nesvet, allow “no strict cultural allusions or boundaries” and provide “steps toward understanding… [which is] perhaps the purpose of art, to reveal and to provide an understanding of the culture and mind of the artist, and to draw an empathic response from the viewer.” Nesvet says, “Certainly, the artists in this show are successful at that mission.”

Roya Khadkavi (left), the curator of “Material Culture”, Maryam Palizgir (middle) and Maryam Khosrovani (right) at the opening night of the exhibition. Photo courtesy of Roya Khadjavi.

Curator Roya Khadjavi, who is based in New York, has focused on the work of young Iranian artists working in and outside Iran, seeking to support their artistic endeavors and facilitate awareness and cultural dialogue between artistic communities. Since 2008 she has led exhibition committee efforts to show the art of the Middle East for institutions including the Guggenheim Museum and Asia Society, where she sat on the steering committee of the critically acclaimed exhibition Iran Modern (2013).

Khadjavi told Global Voices that Middle Eastern art in general, and art by Iranian artists in particular, has always been positively received by the art community in the United States. “Americans who attend my shows are really curious about the way my artists express themselves and often ask the unavoidable question of censorship and self-expression,” said Khajavi. “They love how varied the art coming out of Iran is and how wonderfully our artists are able to express themselves through symbolism and metaphors.”

Khadjavi co-founded the Institute of International Education’s Iran Opportunities Fund, and currently serves as president of the board of New York-based non-profit Art in General. For her efforts to advance, support, and promote international education she received the Women’s Global Leadership Award from the Institute of International Education, and an Order of Academic Palms (Chevalier dans LOrdre des Palmes Académiques), from the French Minister of Education.

Khadjavi said that U.S. sanctions on Iran have affected the price of art, as the rial keeps being devalued and the work of artists in Iran is decreasing in monetary value, which is a major problem.

“In addition, artists cannot get visas to attend their exhibitions, which is very discouraging and sad. On the other hand, Iranian artists who are on “artists’ visas” in the US are afraid to leave the U.S. frightened that they can’t come back, and so many have not seen their families in years.”

“Many of the Iranian artists are under tremendous pressure to pick galleries just to be able to have someone sign off on their artist visa status rather that intelligently spend adequate time to figure out which gallery program fits their work better,” said Khadjavi.

Maryam Khosrovani. Installation photography on paper. Le Vide Series. Edition 5 + 2 AP. 2017

Each of the artists writes about his/her art in the exhibition’s catalogue.

Maryam Khosrovani’s current work, a photography, plaster and collage installation, was started four years ago when she moved to New York City. She writes: “the sight of New Yorkers drawing their clothes on drying lines outside their windows would trigger an imagination of the life behind those windows and the people who wear those clothes. Their life clashed with my solitude, which I resolved by blurring the lines between the buildings in a series of plastered replicas of the photos. The project aims to illustrate the way garment, architecture, and people are bound to one another to become one.”

Khosrovani received her Master’s in Art Direction and Graphic Design in 2011 from ESAG Penninghen (Julien Academie) in Paris. In 2012, her solo exhibition Incubus, Succubus, Pendulus: The Secret Rules of Gravity at Aun Gallery in Tehran received broad critical acclaim. She now resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Aida Izadpanah. Alignment 3- Handmade, fired, painted porcelain on wooden board 30 x 24 inches, (2019).

Aida Izadpanah’s Alignment features a series of “hand-made, formed, carved and fired glazed porcelain works mounted on wooden boards” which represent an “ancient and essential alchemy [that] seems to connect humans and earth.” Izadpanah lives and works in New York City, specializing in large-format mixed media and porcelain sculptural painting. She holds a PhD in Environmental Psychology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a Master’s in Urban Planning from Tehran University (Iran). Her solo exhibitions include Emancipation (Stony Brook, NY, 2017), Transcendence (New York City, 2015), and Revelation (Los Angeles, 2013).

Massy Nasser Ghandi. An interpretation of the Horizon. Painted porcelain plate. 33x33cm. 2019.

Massy Nasser Ghandi also works with porcelain, with pieces inspired by the landscapes and intensely colored skies of Nice, Côte d’Azur, France, where she has been living for the past 18 years. For her, porcelain “proves a wonderful canvas to recreate the liquid beauty of the sun, a dramatic sky enflamed by sunset piercing through or even the crystal quality of sea foam.” Born in Tehran, she studied with acclaimed porcelain painting masters at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, from where she graduated in Fashion Design. She exhibits regularly in the US, Iran, London and Monaco.

Dana Nehdaran. Six 3D squares, Polyptych 40×53.5×2 inch, each 21.4×17.5×2 inch and 17.5 x 17.5 x 2 inch, Gold leaf, copper leaf, silver leaf, Canvas, wood frame, 2019.

Dana Nehdaran’s work focuses on the tension between past and present. His current series, Fe26 (the chemical symbol and atomic number for iron), explores the process of oxidation and “the creation of images that faded into the canvas: unstable surfaces that betrayed a deeply personal relationship to images of the past.” He writes: “Upon arrival in New York, I was surrounded with old iron rebar, beams, storm water covers and other ironwork, the backbone of the city, a visual language full of rust and beautiful imperfections…. This new body of work is created in a dialogue with my new surroundings.” Born in Isfahan to parents who were art aficionados, Nehdaran studied painting at the Soureh Art University in Shiraz. His most recent series, Esther’s Children, was shown in Tehran, Dubai and Los Angeles.

Maryam Palizgir. Epiphany# 0078, 18×24 inches. Archival pigment print. Edition 8 + 2 AP. 2018.

Maryam Palizgir‘s work contemplates, in her words, “the real and unreal.” She uses color, lighting, painted wood panels and architectural materials to “capture the tensions existing between traditions and contemporaneity, reality and aspirations, individuality and community, localism and universality, authority and freedom, conformism and self-expression.” Through the “cross-fertilization” of drawing, printmaking, sculpture, painting and photography, she seeks a “questioning of vision and perception.” Palizgir is an interdisciplinary artist and educator born and raised in Iran. She received her MFA from Georgia State University in 2018.

*Material Culture is exhibited at the Elga Wimmer PCC at 526 West 26th Street, 3rd Floor, #310, New York City, from April 4 to April 18, 2019.

Jailed UAE activist Ahmed Mansoor continues hunger strike

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 19:13

Mansoor has been in prison for his online activism since 2017.

Human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence in the UAE. Photo Credit: Martin Ennals Foundation, via Citizen Lab.

Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor has endured an open-ended hunger strike since approximately mid-March 2019. His supporters say his health is rapidly deteriorating.

Security officials arrested Mansoor from his home on March 20, 2017 over comments he posted online. In May 2018, he was convicted under the 2012 Cybercrime Law of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE” and “publishing false reports and information on social media to damage the UAE's relationship with its neighbouring countries.” A court sentenced him to ten years in jail and fined him 1,000,000 Emirati Dirhams (US $270,000).

Mansoor has been advocating for democratic reform and protection of human rights in his country and the region for more than a decade. He is the 2015 laureate of the Martin Ennals Foundation, which supports human rights defenders who are at risk. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.

This is not Mansoor's first time behind bars. In 2011, he and four other political activists were jailed in relation to their connections to, an online discussion forum run by Mansoor. He also used the forum to publish a petition calling for democratic reforms in the UAE. State officials used this as a basis for charging Mansoor with insulting UAE leaders. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, but was released on presidential pardon after serving only seven months.

Prior to his 2017 arrest, he campaigned online on behalf of jailed activists in the UAE and elsewhere in the region. The day before his arrest, he tweeted his concern about the continuous and arbitrary detention of Emirati activist Osama al-Najjar, who remained in prison despite having completed his three-year jail sentence. According to Human Rights Watch, he also signed a joint letter with other activists in the region calling on leaders at the Arab League summit in Jordan in March 2017 to release political prisoners in their countries.

In December 2018, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court, whose verdicts are final, confirmed his ten-year sentence.

According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Mansoor began the strike to ”protest poor prison conditions and his unfair trial”:

Mansoor is believed to be currently held in Al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi, where he is kept in isolation. A source told GCHR that he is being held in “terrible conditions” in a cell with no bed, no water and no access to a shower. His health has deteriorated greatly and he is in bad shape.

Human rights groups expressed concerns about the activist's health, calling on the UAE authorities to set him free.

“Ahmed Mansoor is risking his health to call attention to his deeply unjust imprisonment simply because he advocated for the kind of tolerant, progressive society the UAE claims to be,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “UAE authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Mansoor so that he can continue to serve as a voice for justice in a region desperately in need of it,” she added.

The International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE called on the authorities to treat Mansoor in accordance with international human rights standards and to allow international rights groups to visit him in prison:

We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ahmed Mansoor. Pending this, we urge the Emirati authorities to treat him in line with the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which guarantees the provision of medical care and sanitary prison conditions. To ensure this, it is imperative that international NGOs be allowed access to al-Sadr prison to visit Mansoor.


Learn about the physiological effects of a hunger strike with the infographic below, created by our partners at Visualizing Impact.

Inside the Lebanese campaign to stop a World Bank-funded dam project

Sat, 04/13/2019 - 22:18

The dam poses numerous threats and protesters won't be silenced

Armed forces enter the Bisri valley to counter protesters on March 24, 2019. Photo by “Save the Bisri Valley”. Used with permission.

A group of activists and protestors calling themselves the Save the Bisri Valley campaign have been organizing and standing against the construction of a Dam in the Bisri Valley in Lebanon. The Birsi Dam is a project mainly funded by a loan from the World Bank.

The group recently disrupted a talk by the World Bank's vice president at the American University of Beirut.

إحتجاج خلال محاضرة نائب رئيس البنك الدولي

طلاب الجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت وبعض الناشطين والأهالي يحتجّون على مشروع سد بسري خلال محاضرة لنائب رئيس البنك الدولي.

Posted by ‎Save the Bisri Valley أنقذوا مرج بسري‎ on Wednesday, 27 March 2019

“You and your project are not welcomed here,” an activist told the vice president in English. She then continued in Arabic:

You come to us and patronize us and say that you explained [the dam] to the Lebanese people [but] there are numerous campaigns against the Bisri dam. It is you who are closing your ears and it is you who don't want to hear the people. Your papers and studies were all opposed by other papers and studies. But you don't want to hear anyone. This is your choice because you want to apply your private project. We are against your project, and against everything the World Bank is doing in Lebanon!

Roland Nassour, coordinator and co-organizer of Save the Bisri Valley Campaign, said that the goal of the action was to “contest the World Bank's ill-advised and destructive water policies in Lebanon.”

According to Nassour, the dam's construction hasn't started yet but is planned to begin in a couple of months.

“Most of the lands have been expropriated and the contractor is getting ready to start working on site in parallel with the archeological excavation,” Nassour continued.

Dam poses numerous threats

The campaign, which mainly communicates through its Facebook page, stands against the dam for several reasons.

According to the campaign, the dam threatens the environment, public health, historic and cultural heritage, agriculture. The dam will also impoverish residents of the region who rely on the fertile lands of the valley, and force them to move out. It will disconnect residents of the area from each other due to the new artificial lake being created between them.

Additionally, the loan given by the World Bank will be added to Lebanon's public debt. Lebanon has one of the highest general government gross debt to gross domestic product ratio (157.8 percent) in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The group also argues that the dam will be threatened by cyanobacteria that already infects Lake Qaraoun in the Bekaa Valley in East Lebanon. Mixing the water of the Bisri Valley and the water of the Qaraoun dam, which is also intended to be sent to the Greater Beirut region, will contaminate the water and risks its usability as a water source.

On April 1, the campaign published a song with the same melody as the Italian resistance anthem “Bella Ciao.” Multiple people sang against the Bisri Dam. A child at the start of the song sings: “We want nature, we don't want to sell it, we want flowers, we want birds, we want gardens and fields.”

بدنا محمية طبيعية

ما بدنا سد بمرج بسري ♪♫
بدنا محمية طبيعية ♫♪

Posted by ‎Save the Bisri Valley أنقذوا مرج بسري‎ on Monday, 1 April 2019

Roland Riachi, a researcher at the American University of Beirut (AUB) on natural resources management, food economics, water policies, social and ecological justice, said in an interview with the Lebanese activist group Megaphone that the dam cannot even be filled due to the porous rocks of the region.

مقابلة مع رولان الرياشي

هل السدود حلّ مناسب لأزمة المياه؟

Posted by ‎Megaphone – ميغافون‎ on Tuesday, 12 March 2019

He also added that the World Bank already funded dams that failed. He added that geologists believe the project will destabilize the region and may result in earthquakes. According to a paper written by  Dr. V. P Jauhari

The most widely accepted explanation of how dams cause earthquakes is related to the extra water pressure created in the micro-cracks and fissures in the ground under and near a reservoir.

Megalomania, force and corruption

When Riachi was asked about why the government is insisting on the dam project, he answered that dams are profitable to the Lebanese ruling class and serve as symbols of power, comparing the megalomania of Lebanese officials to the likes of Mussolini and Franco.

On March 24, a march to stand against the Bisri Valley was met with militarized vehicles of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces. Nassour said that armed forces weren't used to protect the project in itself,

…but rather to protect the politicians’ interests that lie behind this dam. Evidence of corruption and conflict of interests has been presented to the relevant authorities but no action has been taken until now.

Megaphone confiscated

Tarek Serhan, an activist and protestor from You Stink movement, an environmentalist and human rights group in Lebanon, had his megaphone confiscated when he protested alone at the headquarters of the World Bank in downtown Beirut.

Speaking to Global Voices, he said that he made the decision to protest alone when he saw the pictures of the armed vehicles in the Birsi Dam. He blamed the state of finding “easy solutions” that just bring in lucrative deals. “They are not considering serious solutions that will take into consideration citizens’ health and the environment,” Serhan said.

After speaking through his megaphone for nearly an hour, police handcuffed him and brought him to a police station. He was blamed for causing public disturbance, according to him. He was asked by Internal Security Forces to pledge not to protest  again, but Serhan refused to sign it. His megaphone is still confiscated.

As for Nassour, the Save the Bisri Valley Campaign coordinator, he said that the campaign is growing and that it will eventually succeed, adding:

The Lebanese are more and more aware of the project's catastrophic impacts.

Free by day, jailed by night: Egyptian activists speak out against conditional release

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 15:09

They are out of prison, but not really free.

Shawkan enjoying a day out, before he is locked again for the night. Photo taken by Wael Abbas and posted on the photojournalist's Twitter account.

Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, spent five years in prison for simply doing his job as a journalist.

He was detained on August 14, 2013 as he was photographing the deadly dispersal of the Rabaa El Adaweya sit-in, in which supporters of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi gathered to protest a military coup that ended his presidency on July 3 that same year. Egyptian security forces killed at least 817 people and injured many more, according to Human Rights Watch, when they dispersed the sit-in.

Shawkan, who was working for Demotix at the time of his arrest, spent almost four years in pre-trial detention before his trial, along with 739 other defendants in what came to be known as the “Rabaa Dispersal Case,” began. In September 2018, a Cairo Criminal Court convicted him on spurious charges of murder and affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and a few months later he was released from jail.

Shawkan’s supporters were thrilled to see him reunited with his loved ones when he was released on March 4. But the journalist is actually only partially free. Every evening at 6pm, he has to report to his local police station where he has to spend the night, before he is free again at 6am the following morning. Shawkan needs to do this every day for five years after his release.

“I want to be free so I can return to normal life,” Shawkan told Deutsche Welle after his release in reference to his probation period.

On Twitter and Instagram, the journalist has been reflecting and posting about his life under these restrictive conditions and his daily hours of freedom, from 6am to 6pm.

On March 31, he posted about his visit to the pyramids in Giza.

الاهرامات من ورا ..
فسحة قريبة من مكان المراقبة عشان الوقت.#pyramids #Egypt#halffreesom#from6to6

— Shawkan (@ShawkanZeid) March 31, 2019

The pyramids are at the back.
A trip nearby the place of supervision [police station where he has to spend the night] because of the [lack of] time.

On April 6, using the hashtag نص_حرية# (“half freedom” in English) he posted a photo on Instagram, taken from his seat on a motorcycle. He explained that in order to arrive to the police station on time each night, he travels by motorcycle so he can avoid traffic.

Shawkan’s story is not unique in Egypt. Prominent Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who was released from jail on March 28, is also under a similar probation period. Alaa spent five years in jail for defying a protest ban, and like Shawkan, he has to spend the night at a police station for the next five years.

”Freedom for Alaa”. Since his ”release”, Alaa has been speaking out against the conditions of his probation. Photo by the Freedom for Alaa campaign.

Alaa has also been reflecting on life under probation.

“I am happy to see your joy over my release, but I am unfortunately not free,” Alaa wrote on Facebook days after his release. “Every day I surrender myself to a humiliation called [police] monitoring.”

In another post, he wrote: “I do not know how to describe the beautiful feeling of seeing [his son] Khaled’s swimming lesson for the first time. I also don’t know how to describe the cruelty of leaving him in mid-lesson to be on time for the monitoring.”

Alaa’s sister, Mona Seif, who is also a human rights activist, likened the conditions of her brother’s imprisonment every night to “solitary confinement”.

Alaa has to turn himself in to Dokki police station every day at 6 pm and they let him go at 6 am.

When he turns himself in, they keep him isolated from all others in a small wooden kiosk within the police station. They lock him in for 12 hrs.

These are worst conditions than the ones he had to endure in prison for five years. Alaa is practically now spending half his day in solitary confinement in the police station, and he is looking at five years more of this nightmare

Alaa has also learned that speaking out against these conditions can pose a risk of additional jail time. On the night of April 9, security officers threatened to throw him back in jail if he keeps exposing the conditions of his probation.

Ahmed Maher, a political activist with the April 6 Youth Movement, spent three years behind bars for illegal demonstration. He was released in January 2017 and placed under police monitoring a period equal to the amount of time he spent in jail. On Twitter, he described the conditions of this period:

في المراقبة، بيكون مكان النوم أكثر قذارة من السجن، والتعسف بيكون اكتر، رغم إن بالقانون مش من حقهم يحبسونا في القسم ولا يحرمونا من عيالنا وشغلنا ودراستنا وحياتنا الطبيعية.
بالقانون ممكن المراقبة تكون ألطف وأكثر آدمية، لكن واضح إن المحرك هو الرغبة في التنكيل والإذلال ليس إلا.

— ِAhmed Maher (@Ahmed_Maher08) April 4, 2019

Under police monitoring, where we sleep is much dirtier than in prison and there is more arbitrariness, even though according to law, they do not have the right to imprison us in a police station or to deprive us of our children, our work, our studies and our normal lives. According to law, monitoring should be more gentle and more humane, but it is clear that the motivation is nothing but a desire to abuse and humiliate.

This practice of locking former prisoners overnight is an abuse of power. According to legal analysts and human rights NGOs, those placed under monitoring are supposed to be able to spend the night in their homes. Only those who are without a place to live in the area of their local police station, are required to spend the night in official custody.

Yasmin Omar and Mai El-Sadaby of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy wrote:

After an individual is sentenced to a probation period decided by the judge at sentencing, the law empowers the sentenced individual to designate a residence at which to serve his or her probation period. However, the law additionally authorizes authorities to select a location for probation if no residence is provided, as well as to determine whether or not a location selected by the defendant is appropriate for police surveillance. This discretion has been used to systematically erode the right of individuals to complete their probation periods at their stated residence—a right guaranteed to them under law—and instead force individuals who have residences where police surveillance can clearly occur to spend them at police stations.

Yet at the end of each day, many Egyptians are forced to retreat to a small cell in a police station, away from their loved ones and the rest of the world: they are out of prison, but not really free. Many are activists, protesters and journalists, whose only crimes were to exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and protest.

Women are leading the protests in Sudan

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 20:01

On the front lines, fighting for change

“No to corrupt dictatorship,” a drawing by Tibyan Albasha. Used with permission.

Since December 2018, protests in Sudan that sparked over the tripled price of bread have turned into nationwide protests against the nearly three-decade rule regime of Omar Al Bashir.

Finally, on Thursday, April 11, 2019, Bashir was forced to step down.


— Alaa Salah (@iAlaaSalah) April 11, 2019

Bashir's government has used repressive tactics and measures to quell the protests. More than 40 protesters have been killed, hundreds detained and tortured.

The brutal response did not stop women from placing themselves firmly at the heart of the protests.

“There is no amount of beating or detention that could make us stop.”

These women and many more like them, are leading the huge protests against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.#SudanProtests l #SudanUprising

— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) April 6, 2019

Today in Sudan we walk for women. Incarcerated women. Revolutionary women. Oppressed women. Refugee women. War torn women. Raped, battered and beat women. Women who are too loud and too brave for a country made for men.#مدن_السودان_تنتفض #موكب10فبراير #تسقط_بس #SudanUprising

— Qutoufy (@Qutoufy) February 10, 2019

They lead the march chanting a Zagrouda, an ululation commonly used by women in the Arab world to express celebration.

‘Zagrouda’ (or the women’s chant) has become the calling code for every protest in the street. When people hear these women’s voices, they know it’s the revolution call and that it’s time to start their march. #Sudan_Uprising

— Nandini (@nandi_naira) March 21, 2019

During the month of March, women wore the traditional white thobe in support of the protests and women's rights. Social media platforms filled with pictures of female protesters wearing the white robe, using the hashtag  #whitemarch (#مارس_الابيض)

Happy International Women’s Day
Impact Hub Khartoum Family
.#IWD19 #impacthub #impacthubkhartoum #WhiteMarch

— Impact Hub Khartoum (@ImpactHubKRT) March 8, 2019

Women who protest regularly face police brutality. Authorities have fired tear gas and live ammunition and have even threatened with rape. Women have also reportedly been beaten, their faces have been branded and their hair cut off inside detention centers. Every day new footage of Sudanese women getting beaten and humiliated circulates on social media:

Excessive brutality against elderly and women by police force in Khartoum North #SudanUprising #Sudan_Revolts

— SudanUprising (@uprising_sudan) January 14, 2019

But the same hashtags are also used to show the bravery of women in Sudan.

Video showing a Sudanese girl throwing tear gas canister back at the security forces. #Sudan ese girls and women have shown bravery beyond belief during the #Sudanuprising. #مدن_االسودان_تنتفض #موكب14مارس

— SUPPORT SUDAN (@All4Sudan) March 14, 2019

This week, a photo and a video from the protests have gone viral. A 22-year-old engineering and architecture student named Alaa Salah raised her right arm as she led the crowd in a chant called “Thawra” (Arabic for ‘revolution’). The video and photo would end up going viral and Sudanese activists are now referring to her as “Kandaka,” the title given to Nubian queens of ancient Sudan.

Don’t know her name, but this Woman in #Sudan is leading rallies, standing on car roofs, and pleading for change against autocratic Bashir.

Here she is singing “Thawra” (Revolution). Remember this voice:

— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) April 9, 2019

Illustrations shared on social networks transformed Salah into the “Sudanese Statue of Liberty.”

If one day I have a #daughter, I want her to be just like her #AlaaSalah 22 year old engineering and architecture student chanting and leading protest in #Khartoum she is now a symbol of #Sudanese #Revolution and became the voice of #WomenRevolutions #Sudan #WomenLove #Peace

— Houda Henniche (@HoudaHenniche) April 10, 2019

From the streets to the screen

Behind the screen, Facebook groups once dominated by conversations about marriage and crushes are now used to expose police brutality. The women in these groups disclose videos and pictures of abusive security forces. When the identity is revealed, the agent concerned is often beaten up and chased out of town. The impact of these groups is remarkable — many security agents are now hiding their faces.

The Sudanese authorities have tried to block social media in the country, but the women bypass the blockade by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which can hide a user's location.

A revolution is never complete without art:


View this post on Instagram


Happy women’s day .. To all the revolutionary phenomenal women out there .. keep up your حركات نسوان ; )

A post shared by Alaa Satir (@alaasatir) on Mar 8, 2019 at 9:27am PST


Female painters, digital artists, and musicians have produced works of art to complement street protests. They use art to honor the endurance of the people, especially women. They make art to document the events and portraits of the victims and depict the reality of living under an oppressive system.

Women are front, left and center of the revolution. When people started protesting, they were like, ‘Women should stay at home.’ But we were like — no.” said Islam Elbeiti a 24-year-old jazz bass player.

Fighting for women's rights in Sudan

On March 12, the emergency court of appeals in Sudan, amid pressure from families of the women who rallied outside the courthouse, scrapped the flogging punishment of nine female Sudanese protesters that were sentenced to 20 lashes and one month in prison for rioting.

Flogging is a common form of punishment particularly for women in Sudan — they risk flogging for crimes like indecent clothing or adultery.

In 2014, a woman was sentenced to death for marrying a non-Muslim, which is considered adultery. In 2015, a woman was lashed 75 times for marrying a man without her father's consent.

In 2017, 24 women were arrested for wearing trousers, a violation of the country's strict Shari'a Law.

Sometimes the brutality goes beyond flogging: Many Sudanese women have been sentenced to death by stoning.

According to Reuters, Bashir defended his position on strict adherence to Shari'a law in Sudan in 2011:

We want to present a constitution that serves as a template to those around us. And our template is clear, a 100 percent Islamic constitution, without communism or secularism or Western (influences).

The Sudanese Penal code, which is based on an interpretation of the Shari'a (Islamic Law) allows girls as young as 10 to get married, and states that a woman's rape by her husband cannot be qualified as such.

On top of that, women have to face “morality laws” that chain them and oppress them on a daily basis.

For this reason, Sudanese women are on the front lines of the protests, fighting for change.

Iran faces backlash from its Azeri citizens over Armenia and the Karabakh question

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 03:29

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict shadows relations between the three countries

A poster raised in Sahand stadium in Tabriz, Iran. Photo taken from Guney Azerbaycan Facebook page. Used with permission.

One might think that a Middle Eastern powerhouse like Iran has little connection to a conflict between two former Soviet republics in the South Caucasus that began before the communist bloc even broke up. That would be quite wrong, however.

Tensions over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region that fell under Armenian control following a war with Azerbaijan which began in the late 1980s are never far from the surface in relations between the two countries.

A March 29 meeting between Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was billed as among the most positive in recent years, but it was overshadowed almost immediately by the aggressive rhetoric of subordinate officials on both sides.

In such a tense diplomatic atmosphere, powerful geopolitical neighbours have an important role to play. While the focus in this respect is often on traditional ex-Soviet power-broker Russia, Iran is also uniquely positioned to impact the conflict for better or worse.

Diasporas speak

Present-day Azerbaijan's borders are a product of the Turkmanchay Treaty between Tsarist Russia and the Persian Empire that divided the country along the Arax River in 1828.

According to this treaty, Azerbaijan became part of the Russian Empire while the lands to the south of the country became part of what is now known as Iran.

As a result, the number of Azeris in Iran far outnumber those in the Republic of Azerbaijan that has a population of 10 million people. Presently there is no official data available on the number of this country’s Azeri population. But the Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations (2002) put the number of Azeris in Iran at 18,500,000 people, or over a quarter of Iran's population.

In Azerbaijan, many criticise Iran for having friendly ties and cooperating with Armenia, while Tehran, in turn, is wary of Baku's economic and military partnership with Israel. Although close religious and cultural ties bind Iranians and Azeris — they mostly share Shia Islam as a faith — Azerbaijan's government is strongly secular and suspicious of Iran's potential influence over conservatives in the Caucasus country.

Inside Iran, millions of Azeris are not allowed to receive education in their own language. This fact is in notable contrast to the position of diaspora Armenians in Iran, who according to various sources number between 70,000 and 150,000 and are able to receive Armenian-language schooling there.

As if these long-standing bones of contention were not enough, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh are also mirrored in discourse between the two communities.

Anger over the disputed territory was on full display during Pashinyan's visit to Tehran at the end of February that culminated in a number of protests, mainly by fans of Tractor Sazi Tabriz  FC, a football club based in the Azeri-populated northern Iranian city of Tabriz that has become a hub for Azeri activism in recent years.

The protesters were particularly unhappy that Pashinyan had chosen to visit Iran on February 27, immediately after the anniversary of one of the bloodiest chapters in the six-year Karabakh war, known to Azeris as the Khojaly massacre of February 26, 1992.

Many Azeris perceived Pashinyan's visit as a betrayal. Compounding this discontent was the fact that a poster that read “Karabakh is Armenia. Period” was raised during Pashinyan's meeting with Armenian diaspora representatives.

Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan shared a selfie with Armenians in Iran in his Instagram account. The poster in the background reads: “Karabakh is Armenia. Period”.

A total of twenty-eight supporters of Tractor Sazi were detained by Iranian police March 1, whilst leaving Sahand stadium following the Tractor-Sepahan game on that day.

The arrests followed some 50,000 fans chanting the slogan “Karabakh is ours and will remain so” in the stadium where the Armenian flag was set alight.

On March 3, protesters in Azerbaijan's capital Baku picketed the Iranian embassy in a show of support with their Southern bretheren. Iran's ambassador in the country Mahmoud Vaze’i insisted that relations between Iran and Azerbaijan were solid and resilient in an apparent response to the picket. Vaze’i said Iran “will not let any interior or exterior forces damage our good ties with Azerbaijan.”

The scandal over Pashinyan's visit also reached Iran's legislature where an ethnic Azeri MP from Iran's Azeri-populated Urmia (Ormiyeh) region, Ruhulla Hazratopour, reiterated complaints over timing and called for Iran to clarify its position on Karabakh at a March 17 session.

MP Hazratopour said:

I am addressing the [Iranian] Foreign Affairs Ministry. What was the point of the Armenian Prime Minister’s visit to Iran on the anniversary of the massacre of Muslims in Khojaly, which caused a number of problems? As the leader has stated, and as the Azerbaijani people believe, Karabakh is the land of Islam. I am asking you now – what is the difference between Palestine and Karabakh? The Islamic Republic [of Iran] is an important Muslim country. We must play the role of a unifier in the region and protect all oppressed Muslims across the world.

The MP finished his speech with a poem in the Azeri language.

Fanning the flames 

Typically, opposition to the Pashinyan visit was amplified on Facebook. One Facebook page used by Iranian Azeri activists is Gunay Azerbaycan (Southern Azerbaijan), which has around 20,000 followers. On March 3 the page carried a photo from Pashinyan's meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accompanied by graphic footage from the Khojaly massacre, where women and children were among more than 600 killed by Armenian troops, according to Azerbaijani authorities.

The same page also posted a doctored photo from the Armenian prime minister’s meeting that showed an illustrated corpse of a small child laying in front of the two officials — another reference to the victims of Khojaly massacre.

Of the dozens of Iranian Azeris that liked and shared this image, many were seemingly not born at the time of the Khojaly incident. But as Baku and Yerevan inch gingerly towards the negotiating table on Karabakh, the era of social media has lent fresh life to the conflict.

Four real-life locations that could have featured in Game of Thrones

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 21:17

Collage of illustrations of locales from the TV series “Game of Thrones” and “Fist of the First Men” collectible card by Franz Miklis/Fantasy Flight Games, paired with photos of real-life locations that might have inspired them (fair use/CC via Wikipedia).

The eighth and final season of HBO’s hit television series Game of Thrones will premiere in April 2019, so fans around the world will be gearing up for one last dose of dynastic squabbling, political intrigue and looming supernatural doom on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos.

George R. R. Martin, the author of the cycle of novels on which the TV series is based, took inspiration from actual historical events and locations, including the city of Venice, the likely model for Braavos, whose bay is guarded by a giant statue called the Titan of Braavos resembling the famed Colossus of Rhodes.

The lavish television production has filmed in many stunning locations throughout the world, and location scouts would no doubt have visited many more. A pity they didn't consult with us here at Global Voices, as we have a few recommendations as well. Here they are below, better late than never.

1. Hall of Faces, Braavos (Skull Tower, Niš, Serbia)

A wall of the Skull Tower in Niš, Serbia. Photo by uploaded to Wikipedia, CC BY-SA.,_Ni%C5%A1,_Srbija.jpg

In Game of Thrones, the Hall of Faces houses skinned faces of the dead in a great hall within the House of Black and White, a temple in the city of Braavos that serves as headquarters for a sect of religious assassins known as the Faceless Men.

A real-life equivalent can be found in the Skull Tower in the Southern Serbian city of Niš. The structure, now located in the Serbian Orthodox Christian temple, was originally erected by the Ottomans in 1809 to display the severed heads of the rebels participating in the First Serbian Uprising.

The 4.5-meter (15 ft) tower originally contained 952 skulls embedded on four sides in 14 rows, but over time many fell off and were lost. Some were reclaimed by relatives and buried, or stolen by souvenir hunters. Instead of serving its intended function as a deterrent to future rebels, the Skull Tower became a symbol of resentment against the Ottomans, who were finally forced to leave the area in 1878.

The site has an official status of Monument of Culture of Extraordinary Importance and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Niš area, receiving tens of thousands of visitors per year.

In 2014 Mental Floss website featured the Skull Tower among the top “10 buildings made with bones” from around the world.

2. Lands of Always Winter (Oymyakon, Russia)

After sunset, near Oymyakon in Yakutia. Photo by Maarten Takens, CC BY-SA.

In Game of Thrones, Lands of Always Winter is the northernmost part of the continent of Westeros, far beyond the Wall. It is permanently locked in winter and perpetually frozen.

Discussions within Global Voices community identified the Oymyakon village in Russia as a place where one can experience what it would be like in the land of the Free Folk.

One of the coldest permanently inhabited locales on earth, Oymyakon is situated in the part of Siberia known as Yakutia (officially Sakha Republic), a term familiar to players of another pop culture phenomenon, the strategy board game Risk.The region has been marketed to international tourists as “the Pole of Cold”.

In 2017, a local Yakutian broadcaster wrote to HBO suggesting that the series finale be filmed in the region, including at Oymyakon, because “there is no place more appropriate to show the real winter”. The suggestion was ignored, however, and Northern Ireland and Iceland remained the final season filming locations for scenes in the north of Westeros.

3. Blackwater Bay (The Golden Horn, Istanbul, Turkey)

In the world of Game of Thrones, Blackwater Bay is an inlet in the Narrow Sea on the shores of eastern Westeros. King's Landing, the capital of the empire of the Seven Kingdoms, is located there.

A credible real-life stand-in for Blackwater Bay is the Golden Horn, the primary inlet of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey. In bygone days it was the primary waterway used to reach Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, later known as the Byzantine Empire. The bay served as the chief base for the Byzantine navy, and unlike its Game of Thrones lookalike, a long chain across its mouth prevented enemy ships from entering and getting close to the city.

The chain wasn't enough to stop the most persistent of invaders, however. The Viking-Slav raiders of the Kievan Rus’ in the 10th century, and Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453 both went around the chain by dragging their (Viking and Ottoman) light ships overland, out of the Bosphorus and around Galata, the tower that anchored the chain on the far end of the bay. They then relaunched the ships into the closed bay. In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, Venetian ships were able to break the chain with a ram.

Unlike the two later invaders, who managed to take the city, the defenders of Constantinople managed to defeat the Kievan Rus’ by the using Greek Fire, a combustible compound emitted by a flame-throwing weapon and used to set light to enemy ships.

A Byzantine ship uses Greek fire against a ship of the rebel, Thomas the Slav, 821. 12th century illustration from the Madrid Skylitzes. Public Domain, via Wikipedia.

The Game of Thrones equivalent of Greek Fire is wildfire, the volatile green liquid that was used by forces commanded by Tyrion Lannister to win the Battle of Blackwater. The composition of both the historical and fictional chemical weapons has remained a secret.

For the TV series, the ancient medieval city of Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast of the Adriatic Sea, was the filming location for many of the outdoor scenes in King's Landing.

4. Fist of the First Men (Sigiriya, Sri Lanka)

Game of Thrones’ the Fist of the First Men is an “ancient ring fort” in the Lands of Always Winter, “located at the crown of a defensible round hill with an excellent view of the surrounding countryside.” It is used as a defensive position by the Night's Watch in battles against the Free Folk and the Night Walkers’ zombies.

One earthly equivalent of this mountain is located far away from the icy polar regions in the tropics, near the equator, in an environment that Game of Thrones’ fans would consider more similar to the famed ‘Summer Islands': central Sri Lanka.

The approach to ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. Photo by Filip Stojanovski, CC-BY.

In its heyday, far from being a remote outpost in the wilderness, the ancient rock fortress Sigiriya (or the Lion Rock) served as the capital of a legendary fifth-century kingdom. The palace of the king, Kasyapa, sits at the top of a column of rock nearly 200 metres (660 ft) high that dominates the vast plain around it. It was abandoned after the king's death and later used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

Still visible at the top of the rock are the remains of the king's throne, which was made of stone within a larger structure.

The remains of the ancient Throne on top of Sigiriya fortress. Today it's forbidden to sit on it. Photo by Filip Stojanovski, CC-BY. Click to enlarge.

UNESCO designated Sigiriya a World Heritage Site in 1982. In the same year it featured as a location of the music video for the song “Save a Prayer” by Duran Duran.

Are there any Game of Thrones-like locations in your country? Let us know in the comments below.

Photojournalist Mahmoud ‘Shawkan’ Abu Zeid walks free, after more than five years in prison

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 09:54

Shawkan will remain under ”police observation” for another five years

Shawkan was arrested in August 2013 while he was covering a sit-in opposing the removal of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Photo shared by the Freedom for Shawkan campaign on Facebook.

After more than five years in jail, Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also know as Shawkan, was released from prison in Egypt on March 4.

The Freedom for Shawkan campaign announced the journalist's release in the early hours of Monday by posting a photo of the journalist with his father and brother.

يا أهلا بالأسفلت … #Shawkan_Is_Free#شوكان_عالاسفلت

— Mahmoud Abou Zeid (@ShawkanZeid) March 4, 2019

Shawkan was detained on August 14, 2013 as he was photographing the Rabaa El Adaweya sit-in, in which supporters of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi gathered to protest a military coup that ended his presidency on July 3 that same year. Egyptian security forces killed at least 817 people and injured many more, according to Human Rights Watch, when they dispersed the sit-in.

Shawkan, who was working for Demotix at the time of his arrest, spent almost four years in pre-trial detention before his sentencing. This was in violation of Egyptian law, which sets the maximum limit to two years. He was tried along with 739 other defendants in what came to be known as the “Rabaa Dispersal Case”.

On Septembr 8, 2018 a Cairo Criminal Court convicted him on spurious charges of murder and affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, now designated as a terrorist group by the Egyptian government.

During the same trial, 75 prominent members and affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death, and 47 other defendants were sentenced to life in prison.

Despite having spent five years in jail, Egyptian authorities kept Shawkan in prison without official explanation. In November 2018, Egyptian media outlet Mada Masr found that Shawkan and 214 others were made to stay in prison for an additional six months, because prosecutors deemed them incapable of paying for damages incurred during the sit-in and its dispersal.

Despite his release, Shawkan will remain under “police observation” for an additional five years, which means he will have to report to a police station every day at sunset. He will be made to spend the night at the police station, until there is a court order to decrease what they call “precautionary measures.”

Press freedom under siege 

Press freedom remains under siege in Egypt, where authorities continue to arrest, prosecute and harass independent media workers. On January 29, authorities at Cairo International airport detained journalist and human rights researcher Ahmed Gamal Ziada upon his arrival from Tunisia, where he is studying journalism. Following his detention, Ziada was disappeared for two weeks, until he was charged with spreading false news on social media on February 13. On March 2, he was granted release on bail, pending investigation.

On February 19, security officials at the same airport detained New York Times correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick upon his arrival. Kirkpatrick had his phone confiscated and was held for seven hours without food or water, the New York Times said. He was then expelled back to London without an explanation.