Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org the voice of free expression Wed, 01 Apr 2015 12:06:47 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=443 the voice of free expression Index on Censorship no the voice of free expression Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Free_Speech_Bites_Logo.jpg http://www.indexoncensorship.org Malaysian cartoonist Zunar says “I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink” http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/malaysian-cartoonist-zunar-says-i-will-keep-drawing-until-the-last-drop-of-my-ink/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/04/malaysian-cartoonist-zunar-says-i-will-keep-drawing-until-the-last-drop-of-my-ink/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 10:56:35 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65310 Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque "Zunar" reported on 1 April that he has been told that he will be charged under the country's sedition act.

Drawing pressure: Cartoons from around the world

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Index on Censorship commissioned cartoonists to give their take on free expression in the past 12 months. Zunar submitted the above.

In March, Index on Censorship commissioned cartoonists to give their take on free expression in the past 12 months. Zunar submitted the above.

Malaysian political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque “Zunar” reported on 1 April that he has been told that he will be charged under the country’s sedition act. Zunar said he expects the charges will be filed on 3 April.

“My lawyer had just informed me that the police had served a notice to charge me to court under the sedition act over my tweet posting dated 10 of February 2015 on Anwar Ibrahim ruling“, Zunar wrote in a statement.

The cartoonist has been repeatedly targeted for his editorial cartoons that critique the Malaysian government, which has banned much of Zunar’s work and repeatedly subjected him to raids, arrest and detainment.

The post in question included a cartoon criticising Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s involvement in Ibrahim’s case. That case saw the country’s political opposition leader sentenced to five years for sodomising a former employee. Ibrahim says that the charges are politically motivated.

According to Zunar, the charge he expects on 3 April would be under section 4(1) C of the sedition act, carrying a maximum penalty of three years in prison, a £918 fine, or both. After he posted the tweet in February, he was arrested and detained for three days. During the detention, the police also opened up separate investigation on his cartoon books Pirate of Carry BN and Conspiracy to Imprison Anwar.

Zunar said that he has been advised by his lawyer not to comment about the case in detail.

“I would like to reiterate that the use of sedition act will not silence me. I will keep exposing the corruptions and wrong-doings of the government”, Zunar wrote.

Zunar has been subject to official harassment for his work taking corruption to task.

On 28 January, Zunar’s office was raided while he was on speaking tour in London. Authorities confiscated more than 150 books. That raid was made under printing presses and publications act, the sedition act and the Malaysian penal code.

In earlier raids on his office more than 500 copies of Zunar’s books were confiscated in two separate raids to his office by the authorities. Authorities also targeted printers, vendors and bookstores around the country and their owners were warned not to print or sell Zunar’s books.

On 6 November 2014, three of his assistants were arrested and taken to the police station for selling his latest cartoon books. A few days later, the webmaster for Zunar’s website and online bookstore was called for questioning by the police under the sedition act.

The police have asked the online payment gateway that handles his book transactions to disclose the list of customers who have purchased his books through official website, zunar.my, according to Zunar’s statement.

On 20 November, Zunar was questioned at by Kuala Lumpur police from the classified crime section. That investigation was triggered by two complaints lodged against him.

This is Zunar’s second investigation under the sedition act for cartooning — the first was in September 2010, when he was arrested and detained for two days. In addition, five of his books–Perak Darul Kartun, 1 Funny Malaysia, Isu Dalam Kartun Vol. 1, 2 and 3–were banned by the Malaysian home minister from 2009 to 2010.

In 2011, Zunar was conferred “Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award” by the Cartoonist Rights Network International

In his statement, Zunar pledged that his work against corruption will continue.

“The ‘Fight Through cartoons’ will carry on with more fire. I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink.”

This post was published at indexoncensorship.org on April 1, 2015

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Join the Index on Censorship youth board http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/join-the-index-on-censorship-youth-board/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/join-the-index-on-censorship-youth-board/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 14:10:20 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65247 Index on Censorship is recruiting for its next Youth Advisory Board. The new board will hold the position for six months from June-November 2015, have the chance to participate in monthly Google Hangout On Air discussions about current freedom of expression issues around the world and the opportunity to write articles to promoting the #IndexDrawtheLine social media […]

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Index on Censorship is recruiting for its next Youth Advisory Board.

The new board will hold the position for six months from June-November 2015, have the chance to participate in monthly Google Hangout On Air discussions about current freedom of expression issues around the world and the opportunity to write articles to promoting the #IndexDrawtheLine social media debate.

We are looking for enthusiastic young people, aged between 16-25, who will be committed to attending monthly meetings, be quick to respond to emails and who will contribute fresh and interesting ideas to the discussion. You do not need any previous experience to apply.

If you would like to apply, please submit a brief 200 word blog-style post about a current freedom of expression issue, along with your CV and covering letter to aimee@indexoncensorship.org by 5pm on 8th May 2015.

Successful applicants will be contacted via email before the end of May 2015.

Find out more about the Index Youth Advisory Board below:

What is the youth board?

The youth board is a specially selected group of young people aged 16-25 who will advise and inform Index on Censorship’s work, supporting our ambition to fight for free expression all around the world and ensuring our engagement with issues relevant to tomorrow’s leaders.

Why has Index started a youth board?

Index on Censorship is committed to fighting censorship not only now, but also in future generations, and we want to ensure that the realities and challenges experienced by young people in today’s world are properly reflected in our work.

Index is also aware that there are many who would like to commit some or all of their professional lives to fighting for human rights and the youth board is our way of supporting the broadest range of young people to develop their voice, find paths to freely expressing it and potential future employment in the human rights/media/arts sectors.

What does the youth board do?

Board members meet once a month via Google Hangout to discuss the most pressing freedom of expression issues of the moment and to set a monthly question for our project, #IndexDrawtheLine. You will be expected to write a minimum of one blog post introducing or concluding the question of the month and to help us spread the word about Index.

There is also the opportunity to get involved with events such as debates and workshops for our work with young people and events such as our annual Index Freedom of Expression Awards and Index magazine launches.

How do people get on the youth board?

Each youth board will sit for a term of 6 months. Current board members are invited to reapply up to one time. The board will be selected by Index on Censorship in an open and transparent manner and in accordance with our commitment to promoting diversity.

Why join the Index on Censorship youth board?

You get the chance to be associated with a media and human rights organisation and have the opportunity to discuss issues you feel strongly about with Index and with peers from around the world. At each board meeting we will also give you the chance to speak to someone senior within Index or the media/human rights/arts sectors, helping you to develop your knowledge and extend your personal networks. You’ll also be featured on our website.

Meet the current Youth Advisory Board here

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#IndexDrawtheLine: Does extremism have a place on campus? http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/indexdrawtheline-does-extremism-have-a-place-on-campus/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/indexdrawtheline-does-extremism-have-a-place-on-campus/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 11:54:16 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65175 After strong lobbying from senior Tory peers, two private members’ debating student societies from Oxford and Cambridge universities were exempted from the controversial counter-terror ban on extremist speakers. Even though the two societies are not students’ union bodies and are independent from their universities, the exemption is still problematic. Educational institutions should be platforms where […]

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After strong lobbying from senior Tory peers, two private members’ debating student societies from Oxford and Cambridge universities were exempted from the controversial counter-terror ban on extremist speakers. Even though the two societies are not students’ union bodies and are independent from their universities, the exemption is still problematic.

Educational institutions should be platforms where students can discuss and challenge so-called extremist ideologies. Limiting the discussion to members of two student societies is a threat to students’ freedom of expression. Secondly, this exemption reinforces the elitist system of both Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Universities and students’ unions should stand up against racism and fascism. They should stand up for the rights of students and they should stand up for democracy. If speakers with controversial ideologies are invited to visit universities, students and staff should be at the frontline of every event, listen to what the speakers have to say and, if needed, challenge their ideas.

In 1960, the Cambridge Union had a debate with wartime British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley. Throughout the famous debate, students spoke against fascist ideologies and stood up for democracy. Under the new counter-terror ban on extremist speakers, this debate would not have taken place.

Last week, the Liberal Democrats blocked the new laws intended to stop ‘extremist’ speakers from visiting UK universities. The legal guidelines drafted by the Home Office were scrapped after Nick Clegg vetoed the plan.

Even though the guidelines were scrapped, the Telegraph reported that Home Secretary Theresa May, has still urged academics to “play their part” in the prevention of radicalisation.

Radicalisation is a term often used by May, to describe what can happen to students if their universities don’t ban extremist speakers. However, the radicalisation of young people can happen everywhere, particularly online. Universities should be places where young people have the freedom to learn, debate and use their knowledge to challenge guest speakers.

The Home Office’s vetoed guidelines stated that academics and university staff should take responsibility for monitoring student debates. Let’s be clear: academics are not hired to control student’s discussions, they are hired to teach and to provide students with a safe platform where these discussions can happen.

If Cambridge and Oxford students can have an open discussion with extremist speakers, every student should be able to. Most students can’t afford £250 to join a private members’ debating society but that should not bar UK students from having a constructive debate on extremism.

Students who want to discuss and challenge extremist ideologies should be able to do so and students who don’t want extremists visiting their universities should be able to protest without punishment.

That’s the beauty of freedom of speech, right? Everyone gets a say, even the ones with extremist views. Censorship is never the solution and it will only worsen the problem.

What do you think? Does extremism have a place on campus? Tweet your thoughts to #IndexDrawtheLine

This article was posted on 30 March 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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For Juzne Vesti editor, Serbia’s deteriorating media freedom comes as no surprise http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/for-juzne-vesti-editor-serbias-deteriorating-media-freedom-comes-as-no-surprise/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/for-juzne-vesti-editor-serbias-deteriorating-media-freedom-comes-as-no-surprise/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 12:22:34 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64879 In just over five years, journalists at the independent news site have been subjected to verbal harassment or death threats 15 times, reports Ilcho Cvetanoski

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Working as a professional journalist in Serbia is hard. Being one in the country’s inland is even harder. Out of the 58 verified incidents involving Serbian media outlets and professionals reported to Index on Censorship’s European Union-funded Mapping Media Freedom, 30 have occurred outside Belgrade; the country’s political, economic and media capital. Four of these incidents have been directed at Juzne Vesti staff.

Launched in 2010 by journalist Predrag Blagojevic, Juzne Vesti is an independent news site based in Nis, a town of 257.000 in southern Serbia. In just over five years, its journalists have been subjected to verbal harassment or death threats 15 times. Though they have reported the incidents to local authorities, it has not resulted in convictions.

“Nobody has been found guilty and punished for the threats,” Blagojevic, who is also the site’s editor-in-chief, told Index.

According to Blagojevic, the main obstacle to punishing those threatening journalists comes from the prosecutor’s office. While he is quick to complement police in the town for their professional and timely investigations, he blames prosecutors for failing to act on the evidence by filing indictments quickly.

“In two situations from four to six months passed from the time the police filed a criminal charge to the prosecutor’s indictments,” Blagojevic explained.

Juzne Vesti correspondent Dragan Marinkovic from Leskovac received threats on Facebook after he published an article about the death of a woman, in which he questioned the treatment provided by a paramedic. He reported the incident to authorities. Several months later prosecutors decided not to pursue the case, arguing that “you deserve a bullet” is not a threat.

In March 2014 Blagojevic was threatened by the owner of a local football club, yet prosecutors waited until late September to indict the main suspect. The first court hearing was scheduled for December 2014; the next one at the end of this month.

While such delays are frustrating, once in court, judges have taken some dubious positions, Blagojevic said. In one case, the court said that “be careful what you write” or “do not play with fire” were not threats, but words that “merely showed the seriousness of the topic”. In another instance, where the perpetrator asked a Juzne Vesti staffer “Will you be alive in the morning if you wrote something like this in the USA?”, the court said that “the inductee, by placing the action in the foreign country, shows that he is aware that murder is prohibited by Serbian law”.

Outside the legal system, there is another obstacle to independent journalism in Serbia: money. While the Serbian government pays for advertising space, most of the earmarked money is directed at the national press. At the same time, the number of successful companies outside Belgrade and Novi Sad are few, and those that do thrive in the Serbian inland are usually aligned with local political figures. That leaves a tiny pool of advertisers.

“In these circumstances we are left with only very small companies, which are connected with political parties or dependent on municipal budgets. The game is straightforward — only if you are good to us you will get money,” Blagojevic said.

In an interview with SEEMO, Blagojevic described situations where certain media outlets have been financed with taxpayers’ money. With this line of funding, competing outlets are able to offer low rates that distort the advertising market, which puts pressure on independent media to drop their rates.

“The local government in Nis sets aside hundreds of millions of dinars in payment for these PR services,” Blagojevic said. The money is sometimes up to 80 per cent of the budget for these outlets making it even more difficult for independent media to compete.

The Council of Europe’s recent report on the Serbian media situation addressed the issue: “Instead of making efforts to create non-discriminatory conditions for media industry development, the state is blatantly undermining free market competition.”

The last issue confronting Juzne Vesti staff is one that will be familiar to small town journalists around the world — everyone knows everyone. Blagojevic tells of having to convince one journalist to file a complaint because she knew the person who had targeted her. She was reluctant because she had known the person “since they were kids”, he said.

From Blagojevic’s point of view, the toxic mix of money, political pressure and indifference from the courts causes self-censorship among journalists.

“The language from the 90s is back in Serbia. Again, journalists that criticise the work of the government or are reporting on corruption are labelled as foreign mercenaries. Threats like this come from the mouths of the highest state representatives,” he said.

An earlier version of this article stated that Nis has a population of 184,000. The latest census puts the figure at 257.000.

This article was posted on March 27, 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Padraig Reidy: Stop saying this isn’t a “free speech issue”. It is. http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/padraig-reidy-stop-saying-this-isnt-a-free-speech-issue-it-is/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/padraig-reidy-stop-saying-this-isnt-a-free-speech-issue-it-is/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 11:55:22 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65184 One wishes sometimes we could be more honest. Say “this is a free speech issue, and I’m OK with this amount of censorship, for this reason”; then we can talk.

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In the mid-80s, advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi made a short film for Index on Censorship. Starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role, The Censor, written by Ivan Kraus, depicted a dancer being ordered about by a commissar who repeatedly tells her what movements she is forbidden from making. When she finally comes to a standstill the censor demands of her: “Why aren’t you dancing? You call that a dance?”

In a pleasing irony, the film, intended as a cinema advert, never made it to screens as it was deemed “too political”.

I was reminded of this earlier in the week when I read about activist Maryam Namazie’s clash with Trinity College Dublin’s Society For International Affairs (SoFIA). Namazie claims that conditions were placed on her speaking at an event, in particular the imposition of a “moderator” in the form of Dr Andrew Pierce, an assistant professor in Ecumenics at TCD.

I don’t know Dr Pierce, or his work, so have no reason to doubt that he would be a perfectly fine moderator.

I do know Maryam Namazie, having moved in roughly the same atheist/secular/free speechy circles, and I’m not sure that she is very much into the idea of Ecumenics or being moderated.

Maryam Namazie is a refugee from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her political education came in the Worker-communist Party of Iran, a group that does not spend a lot of time on “interfaith dialogue”. She retains a deep-seated anti-clericalism which has not so much gone missing from the British hard left, as never really existed (with the exception of libertarian communist/anarchist circles). She’s not into “interfaith”.

Maryam Namazie (Photo: Peter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Maryam Namazie (Photo: Peter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

You can see why, as SoFIA speakers are normally not moderated, Namazie would not tolerate this exception. Like the dancer in the film, she felt so constrained by conditions that she could not continue. You can also see why SoFIA would imagine this as unreasonable, and cast it as so.

So has Maryam been prevented from speaking at TCD or not? Is this, as people like to ask “a free speech issue”?

The answers are: yes and no, and yes.

To the first question: yes and no. Yes, as she has been prevented from speaking under the terms she originally agreed to. Namazie clearly feels that the imposition of “moderation” will by its nature stifle her. And no, because, technically, the only person to actually prevent her from speaking was herself. It was she who pulled the plug.

Is this a “free speech issue”? Well yes. There are few more irritating arguments than “it’s not a free speech issue”.

This statement is usually backed up by the following arguments:

  1. “X is against the law.” And? Resorting to the fact that something is illegal is to run away from an argument, not to win it. There are all sorts of bad laws, as anyone who has ever so much as signed a petition to change one has acknowledged. If you cannot form an argument as to whether someone should or should not do something without recourse to existing laws, you probably need to work a bit harder on it.

  2. “Not compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights/Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” See above. Legalistic arguments are for lawyers.

  3. “This is an abuse of free speech”. Because you can only use your rights for the purposes I wish them to be used for. That’s how rights work.

  4. “No one has a right to a platform.” This is absolutely true. However, the flip side of that is that clubs, societies etc have a right to invite the speakers and guests they choose. Every so often, the Oxford Union, or a university debating or philosophy society, will invite a fascist or a Holocaust revisionist to discuss “free speech” and its limits. It’s a dull trick, made even duller by the reaction of United Against Fascism/Socialist Workers Party student activists who will attempt to shut the talk down. (And, yes, before there are letters, you have every right to try to get something shut down. Yes, that is exercising your free speech, until you storm the hall. Then you’re using force).

  5. “We’re not saying she can’t speak: just that she can’t speak here.” See above.

  6. “You wouldn’t get away with that in X country (usually Saudi Arabia, Russia or China).” No, you wouldn’t. Why you want to compare the free world with regimes like that, I’ve no idea, but we should be glad that people “get away with” saying more in democracies than they do in autocracies.

  7. “Free speech does not mean the ability to say X.” Nah, sorry. It definitely does.

And on it goes. The problem is that these caveats always apply to things that are, obviously so, free speech issues. But — and this is probably a good thing — nobody wants to be seen as against free speech (though it was amusing to see the format of the various censorious motions brought at the National Union of Students’ Women’s Conference this week: “Motion to Condemn XXXXphobia on campus. Speech for: NUS XXXX Society. Speech Against: Free”).

One wishes sometimes we could be more honest. Don’t say “this isn’t a free speech issue”, rather “this is a free speech issue, and I’m OK with this amount of censorship, for this reason.” Then we can talk.

This article was posted on 26 March 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Will China’s detention of feminist activists shut the movement up or make it louder? http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/will-chinas-detention-of-feminist-activists-shut-the-movement-up-or-make-it-louder/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/will-chinas-detention-of-feminist-activists-shut-the-movement-up-or-make-it-louder/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 09:03:50 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65190 The continued detention of five activists arrested ahead of International Women's Day could be a turning point for Chinese feminists -- for better or worse, writes Jemimah Steinfeld

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International Women’s Day 2015 should have been a positive occasion in China. The day is a big deal in the country; women are awarded time off work and given gifts by their employers. This year also marks 20 years since 189 countries adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a roadmap for women’s rights and empowerment. And in the lead-up to the day, a Chinese official hinted at the country’s first domestic violence law becoming a reality in August.

But events quickly took an ugly turn: on Friday 6 March the Chinese government detained a number of high-profile feminist activists. Demonstrations were cancelled. Debate was effectively silenced. Several weeks later five of the women are still in custody. Two have been denied treatment for serious medical conditions.

Superficially at least, these incidents represent a major blow to China’s feminist movement, which desperately relies on a small, but increasingly vocal cohort.

Chinese women suffer from a catalogue of discrimination in the workforce, in the home, and in most other aspects of their lives. Clear indication of the need for change came in 2013, when China only managed to reach position 91 out of the 187 countries listed in the United Nations Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index (Iran came ahead at 75).

The injustices Chinese women face largely go unchallenged. The upper echelons of the Communist Party, where policy is made, is a man’s affair. Only two women belong to the current 25-member politburo, and none made it through to the seven member politburo standing committee.

The government plays an active role in skewing gender relations, as is demonstrated through the emergence of the idea of “leftover women”. The term first entered common parlance around 2007, when newspapers became filled with cautionary tales of unmarried women over the age of 27. Its roots can be traced back to the Chinese government, as Leta Hong Fincher explained in her groundbreaking book Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. It has had a very negative impact on women’s property and employment rights.

It is the Communist Party’s ability to control conversations that makes the feminist struggle particularly pronounced in China. Civil society is tightly controlled. Certain groups do exist to campaign for female rights, but they are limited in size and reach.

In spite of these barriers, Chinese women have in recent years shown amazing strength to stand up to injustice. Activists have paraded around in blood coated wedding dresses, occupied men’s toilets, shaved their heads to raise awareness — to name just a few examples.

Some of these measures have proven highly effective. Cao Ju, a 21-year old university graduate, raised the profile of workforce quotas when she successfully sued a company that did not employ her on the grounds of her sex. Meanwhile, Kim Lee, who was abused for years by her famous husband Li Yang, shed a spotlight on how prolific domestic abuse is in China when she uploaded photos of her bloody face to microblogging platform Weibo.

For these reasons, the detentions are incredibly significant. Chinese women can’t rely on the government to come to their aid. But when it does the exact opposite, and actually arrests them, the situation gets a whole lot worse. China’s current leader Xi Jinping has intensified a crackdown on dissent. While they have not had an easy ride, feminist activists had until this month largely been spared. These arrests send out a warning to anyone who might follow suit and are a blatant attempt to squash the country’s nascent feminist movement.

On the other hand, some prominent commentators have argued that the detentions will instead cement the feminist movement in China. In a conversation published by ChinaFile, Leta Hong Fincher argues it could be “the spark” needed, while writer Eric Fish says the government “risks planting seeds that could sprout into even greater opposition later”. Sixteen activists have already gone to a Beijing detention centre where one of the women, Wu Rongrong, is being held to demand she be given medical treatment. A petition is also calling for the release of the activists.

China watchers wait with bated breathe to see how the story will unfold, pinning their hopes on a positive outcome. After all, China desperately needs figures such as these. Without them, no one is fighting in the corner of Chinese feminism.

This article was posted at Index on Censorship on 26 March 2015 | An modified version of this article appears at Huffington Post

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How exiles are using social media but fear spies listening in http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/how-exiles-are-using-social-media-but-fear-spies-listening-in/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/how-exiles-are-using-social-media-but-fear-spies-listening-in/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 08:13:42 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64729 Social media is being used innovatively to share news and stories by those that have fled from danger, says Jason DaPonte

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Do you see what I see project for UNHCR. Led by Brendan Bannon.

A picture from the Do You See What I See project which teaches photography skills to young refugees, Zaatari camp, Jordan (Credit: Mohamed Soleman/Do You See What I See)

“My wife changes her sim card every week,” said Omid, an Iranian refugee who hasn’t seen his wife in the seven years he has been awaiting a decision in his UK asylum case. The couple use Viber, a mobile app that allows free voice calls over the internet, but his wife remains in constant fear of surveillance. Omid is wanted by the Iranian state for political offences. He’s also a convert to Christianity and his wife fears discussing his new religion, as even members of his own family have branded him an infidel.

Refugees may be some of the most excluded people in society, but social media and new technology nevertheless play a crucial role in many of their lives. Across the globe, refugees are finding ways of using them to stay connected to families, homelands and political causes, in ways they couldn’t have a decade ago – even though it can have security implications. A number of refugees, particularly from Syria, suggested they use the free messaging mobile app, WhatsApp, because they believe the messages are secure. Whether WhatsApp messages can be hacked or intercepted is not clear, however.

Ismail Einashe, a British journalist and Africa expert, originally from Somaliland, explained another way social media is changing the refugee experience (Einashe also writes for this issue; see Escape From Eritrea, Volume 44, 1/2015). He said how his teenage cousin, who fled Somaliland for Austria, uses Facebook for photo-sharing, to craft an image of success and happiness. But this can potentially hide the true difficulties of refugee life.

“My cousin is inspired by American hiphop. He wears baseball caps and baggy jeans – so his friends at home see the glamorous ‘other’ and they don’t see the high unemployment or poverty among refugees. It’s partly encouraging the young generation. Before, people didn’t see what life on the other side could be and now they can see it,” he told Index.

Nearly every refugee interviewed for this article said that free calls on Skype and the ability to connect with relatives for free using standard social platforms (like Facebook) is invaluable to them. But for some, sharing stories from exile goes beyond simple messaging and status updates. Some refugees use blogs and social media channels to publish content banned at home to try to fight the repression they escaped.

Moses Walusimbi fled Uganda’s anti-gay laws for The Netherlands and now runs Uganda Gay On Move – a blog, Facebook and Twitter movement that helps gay Ugandans and Africans who have fled persecution, as well as providing information for those who are left behind and remain under threat.

“When I came to Holland, I realised the more you keep quiet the more you suffer,” Walusimbi told Index. “I was very eager to know if there were any other Ugandans who are in Holland who are like me, in the same situation. And when I started these social media things, many Ugandans responded.”

His movement now has almost 9,000 followers on Facebook, which he says is the most popular platform for his content. He also has followers on Twitter and his blog. Uganda Gay On Move is providing a support network that goes beyond publishing, with many photos of meetings between its members for social and political reasons.

“Uganda Gay On Move is like a family to us now. It’s like a family because we come together, we discuss, we find solutions,” said Walusimbi. These solutions have included the group petitioning and lobbying the Dutch parliament to raise awareness about the denial of the human rights of gay Ugandans and other Africans. It also publishes information that helps asylum-seekers manage their cases and gather evidence. But Walusimbi still worries about those in Uganda who could face jail sentences simply for reading it.

“Ugandan LGBTI people – unless well-known human rights defenders – tend to use false names on Facebook. There is also a danger when people attend internet cafes and do not securely log off. There is also a danger – and I have had several direct reports of family or friends seeing the Facebook pages left open on computers in homes. Some people have been exposed this way,” Melanie Nathan, an LGBTI activist and publisher who has worked closely with African LGBTI movements, told Index. “Using Facebook could result in meetings or revealing real names through trust and then in entrapment.” Walusimbi corroborated that there are real cases where this has happened.

Blogs by and for refugees from various conflict zones are building audiences. The Medeshi Somaliland blog is one example. It was founded with a desire to keep in touch with a dispersed family and diaspora in 2007 by Mo Ali, who left Somaliland to seek asylum in the UK in 2004. His work of aggregating and creating new content quickly became more political.

“There are many websites about Somaliland and those who are publishing there have been harassed by the police. They’ve been ordered to shut down because of being critical of the government on freedom of speech and press,” Ali told Index, saying he knows of at least three websites that have been shut down and explaining why he has to publish from abroad.

Even publishing from the UK, he doesn’t feel totally safe, “I’ve received death threats via email but I published the threat online and nothing happened. I’m still alive. It was just intimidation.”

Like Uganda Gay On Move, Ali has used the blog’s following to campaign, and in 2010 and 2012 rallied more than 1,000 of his followers to lobby outside London’s Parliament for official recognition of Somaliland.

Refugees are working on their own and with professional content and software creators to find bespoke ways to tell their stories. Dadaab Stories and the related Refugee News are two of the most elegant projects that have used the power of free social media tools (particularly Tumblr and YouTube) to help refugees publish stories. In these cases, professional filmmakers and refugees worked together to create ongoing social media coverage of the refugee camp for Somalians in Kenya.

Globally available and free technology platforms are helpful, but tools, platforms and projects are now emerging that are specifically aimed at refugees to allow them to self-organise and connect digitally.

Refunite is a social network designed to connect dispersed families that have low access to technology following displacement. It allows refugees to remain anonymous to everyone other than their family members, which aids those who may not be able to register with formal institutions because they are awaiting asylum decisions or are stateless. The platform currently reaches more than 500,000 refugees and is aiming to connect 1 million during 2015. It is geared towards low-end mobile technology to ensure that nearly anyone can use it. It can even be accessed using an interactive voice response system or text-messaging for those who are illiterate or don’t have internet access.

Low-cost and low-barrier-to-entry technologies such as these are proving to be a key part of connecting refugees in crisis. The UNHCR is telling the world the story of Jordan’s Zaatari camp via Twitter (which has claimed to be the first refugee camp with an official Twitter account). Nasreddine Touaibia, a UNHCR communications associate at the camp described how WhatsApp, a free or low-cost mobile messaging system, is being used by Syrian refugees to self-organise. “Urgent messages are sent to these groups and they are reflected in the Facebook group later. It’s their own emergency broadcast network,” he told Index, describing how WhatsApp had been used to give warnings when flooding occurred at the camp.

South African technology startup Vumi is now trying to build on this trend of using low-cost messaging services to create technical products that can empower refugees to self-organise at scale. Its platform uses mass mobile messaging and low-fi browsing to enable access to civic information.

Building on its success in Libya of technically enabling Wikipedia Zero (a Wikipedia Foundation project which gives access to Wikipedia without data charges in 35 countries) and distributing voter information, the company is now in the planning stages for a project focussed on empowering refugees, in partnership with South Africa’s Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO that deals largely with refugees in South Africa.

Various NGOs and other services are also using social media to provide platforms that help refugees re-settle. These are largely regionally based and aim to help refugees understand the legal and social contexts they are in. In the UK, the Refugee Council and Bail for Immigration Detainees provide online resources and tools that help refugees build and understand their legal cases. Migrant Voice, another UK-based organisation, provides training and tools to allow migrants (including refugees) to publish and communicate their stories.

Refugees and migrants certainly benefit from the uses of social media that everyone with internet access does; but the emerging platforms in the space are where the traditional model of solitary, isolated migrants can be disrupted. Tools specifically tailored to the needs of the excluded have the potential to create the most significant change in a networked world.

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This article is part of Across the wires, the spring 2015 issue of Index on Censorship magazine

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#IndexDrawtheLine: When sharing graphic content, the freedom to choose is key http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/indexdrawtheline-when-sharing-graphic-content-the-freedom-to-choose-is-key/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/indexdrawtheline-when-sharing-graphic-content-the-freedom-to-choose-is-key/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 16:20:13 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64719 This month, we’ve been asking the question “Graphic content on social media: How much is too much?” While graphic content shown in mainstream media usually comes with a content warning, as well as being subject to the editing processes of news outlets, social media largely operates according to rules of its own. Whether or not […]

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draw-the-line-header

This month, we’ve been asking the question “Graphic content on social media: How much is too much?”

While graphic content shown in mainstream media usually comes with a content warning, as well as being subject to the editing processes of news outlets, social media largely operates according to rules of its own. Whether or not we choose to post graphic content is often left to our discretion – so where should we draw the line?

As well as the response on our social media feed, we also got the views of some students at Lancaster University in England, in the form of photographs which you can see below.

In reaction to this month’s question, concern was expressed about the age of social media users who might have access to graphic content, which is a growing issue given the number of children who now have social media accounts.

The issue of the intention behind the content posted was also raised – what are these users trying to achieve? Is content shared to raise social consciousness and spread awareness? Or is the intention to promote discrimination and fear? One example from our Twitter feed, which is along these lines, referred to the photographs of the brutal murder of blogger Avijit Roy, along with the question of whether these images were posted to provoke Islamophobia.

Others gave responses centering on the issue of personal choice; both what they choose to post and what they choose to see. In other words, they were most comfortable with the sharing of graphic content when it still allowed viewers an element of choice, and favoured posting links and titles rather than images and videos themselves which viewers could then choose to investigate further, or disregard.

Perhaps then the balance can be found where people have both the freedom to share graphic content, and also the freedom to not have it forced upon them.

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This article was posted on March 24 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Angola: Index award winner slammed with new defamation charges http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/angola-index-award-winner-faces-trial-defamation/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/angola-index-award-winner-faces-trial-defamation/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 10:43:21 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65157 Just days after being named the joint winner of the journalism award at the 15th Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, Rafael Marques de Morais appeared in court for exposing corruption and human rights abuses

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Journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Just days after being named the joint winner of the journalism award at the 15th Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais appeared in court for exposing corruption and human rights abuses.

Marques was confronted with up to 15 additional charges when he arrived in court on 24 March. The case was later adjourned until 23 April.

He also tweeted that a number of protesters outside the courthouse had been arrested.

Marques’ leading investigative work into corruption and human rights abuses at Angola’s diamond companies was distilled into his 2011 book Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola. He recounted 500 cases of torture and 100 murders of villagers living near diamond mines, carried out by private security companies and military officials.

Marques declared the bosses of these groups morally responsible for the atrocities committed under them, and filed charges of crimes against humanity against seven Angolan generals. After his case was dropped by the prosecution, the generals launched a series of retaliation lawsuits in Angola and Portugal, charging Marques with criminal libel.

The suit demands a total of £800,ooo from Marques. He could face up to nine years in prison.

Index on Censorship calls for Angolan authorities to drop all charges against Rafael Marques de Morais and respect press freedom.

Index Awards 2015

Rafael Marques de Morais: I believe in the power of solidarity
Safa Al Ahmad: Facts are a precious commodity in Saudi Arabia
Amran Abdundi: This award is for the marginalised women of northern Kenya
El Haqed: I will fight for freedom, equality and human rights for ever
Tamas Bodoky: The independence of journalism in Hungary is under threat
Special Index Freedom of Expression Award given to persecuted Azerbaijani activists and journalists
Video: Comedian Shappi Khorsandi hosts Index on Censorship awards
Drawing pressure: Cartoonists react to threats to free speech

This article was posted on 23 March 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Padraig Reidy: Doubting Cambridge University Press’s commitment to academic freedom http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/padraig-reidy-doubting-cambridge-university-presss-commitment-to-academic-freedom/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/padraig-reidy-doubting-cambridge-university-presss-commitment-to-academic-freedom/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 12:04:31 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=65094 CUP are still refusing to publish Putin’s Kleptocracy by Karen Dawisha for fear of libel action -- despite saying they have no reason to doubt the veracity of the work

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(Image: /Demotix)

(Photo: Demotix)

Vladimir Putin has returned to his people after a noted absence. Like Jesus Christ, but with a longer interlude. Was Vladimir Vladimirovich on paternity leave? Has he been ill? Did a botox injection go wrong? Was he fending off a coup? Has there, in fact, been a coup? Is this even the real Putin we see before us? Has he been replaced by a KGB cyborg?

It’s all delightfully old-fashioned, as if global politics was being staged by the Secret Cinema people. Any day now, someone will declare that Kremlinology is the hot new thing among urban ABC1 early adopters.

As ever, this column aims to be ahead of the curve. So what do we know?

The near-coincidence of the murder of Boris Nemtsov and the temporary disappearance of the president is bound to raise suspicion. I recall a conversation with an old colleague who grew up under the Soviet system. The idea of “cock up versus conspiracy” came up. I explained haughtily how people were wrong to see invisible hands guiding events when sheer human incompetence was almost always the explanation when things went weird. “Yes,” my friend replied. “But where I’m from, there usually is a conspiracy.”

Fair point.

The rounding up of some Chechens to pin the assassination of Nemtsov on feels almost contemptuous. It’s like the Russian authorities are not even bothering any more, or as if they are hoping to win a medal for sheer chutzpah in the face of the facts.

The suggestion that seems to be gaining ground is that Putin is no longer in charge, or perhaps won’t be for much longer. People such as The Economist’s Ed Lucas, The Times’s Roger Boyes and The Interpreter’s Catherine Fitzpatrick now speak deadly seriously about a return to the Cold War, with Putin outflanked by people who think he is not hardline enough.

A long blogpost on the current situation by Fitzpatrick outlines the scenarios. Former Prime Minister Primikov has issued an ultimatum to Putin, but Primakov himself could not command a move against Putin. Nemtsov had to go because a popular outsider could have caused problems for a palace coup. What is the involvement of Duma Deputy Delimkhanov, a cousin of Chechen President Kadyrov? What is the position of Viktor Zolotov, head of internal troops? It all becomes dizzyingly complicated, like an epic Russian novel, or Woody Allen’s parody of the epic Russian novel, Love and Death: “Alexei loves Tatiana like a sister… Tatiana’s sister loves Trigorian like a brother… Trigorian’s brother is having an affair with my sister, who he likes physically, but not spiritually… The firm of Mishkin and Mishkin is sleeping with the firm of Taskov and Taskov.”

Putin returned this week, not offering an explanation for his 10-day absence, but instead wryly commenting, during a press conference with the president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, that “life would be boring without gossip”.

Indeed, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Indeed.

The miasma to the east of the European Union’s borders has become more impenetrable and more obvious since the outbreak of fighting in Ukraine. Events there now take on the characteristics of the title of Peter Pomerantsev’s recent book Nothing Is Real And Everything Is Possible — a state of affairs where the brazen manipulation of truth is taken to staggering levels, to the point where an invasion is not an invasion, a war is somehow not taking place.

The Kremlin and its oligarch clients may not care much for truth, but one would hope that Cambridge University Press would.

CUP has been criticised by the organisers of a book prize for its refusal to publish a book on Russia by one of its own authors in the United Kingdom. According to The Observer, judges of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize attempted review Putin’s Kleptocracy by Karen Dawisha for competition, but CUP refused to submit it.

“We attempted to get hold of the Dawisha book but the publisher would not submit it to us because of legal advice about UK libel laws. Our judges noted the book and said it raised important issues that deserved a wider audience, but unfortunately could not all get hold of a copy to pass judgment,” Andrew Jack, chair of the judges told the paper.

Disappointing indeed, and confirmation of the continual refusal by CUP to publish this book in the UK. The depressing thing about this, as noted in this column last year, is that CUP has not questioned the veracity of Dawisha’s work.

John Haslam of CUP wrote last year that: “We have no reason to doubt the veracity of what you say, but we believe the risk is high that those implicated in the premise of the book — that Putin has a close circle of criminal oligarchs at his disposal and has spent his career cultivating this circle — would be motivated to sue and could afford to do so. Even if CUP was ultimately successful in defending such a lawsuit, the disruption and expense would be more than we could afford, given our charitable and academic mission.”

I don’t like the language of “bravery” around publishers, but frankly, I’m beginning to doubt CUP’s commitment to the cause of academic freedom. More particularly, one wonders who is offering the company legal advice. Substantive reform to the libel law has made it considerably more difficult for foreigners to bring cases in London. Dawisha is not a fly-by-night hack, but a serious researcher. Conditions for publication are favourable. And faced with an entire Kremlin apparatus which has perfected the use of smoke and mirrors, the world needs all the information it can get.

CUP says it has contacted Dawisha to see “whether we might be able to find a compromise”. But considering they have already admitted there is nothing wrong with the book, it’s difficult to see what Dawisha’s side of the compromise might be.

This thing has dragged on too long now. For God’s sake, Cambridge; just publish the bloody thing.

This article was posted on 19 March 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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