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What were Global Voices’ readers up to last week?

Mon, 2018-04-16 17:47

The WHO ARE YOU key. Photo by Flickr user Paul Downey. CC BY 2.0

At Global Voices, our community researches, writes, edits, and translates stories with a mission to support human rights and build bridges of understanding across countries, cultures, and languages.

We don't publish just to grab clicks or follow a news trend. We do, however, like to keep track of the ways in which our hard work has impact around the world.

To that end, one useful metric is how readers respond to our stories and translations. So let's take a look at who our readers were and what caught their attention during the week of April 9-15, 2018.

Where in the world are Global Voices’ readers?

Last week, our stories and translations attracted readers from 211 countries! The top 20 countries represented across all of Global Voices’ sites were:

1. United States
2. Japan
3. Brazil
4. France
5. Mexico
6. Spain
7. Peru
8. Colombia
9. United Kingdom
10. Taiwan
11. Canada
12. Argentina
13. Italy
14. Russia
15. Germany
16. Jamaica
17. Trinidad & Tobago
18. Bangladesh
19. India
20. Indonesia

But that's only a small slice of the diversity of our readership. Let's use the True Random Number Generator from and take a look at a few other countries on the list:

95. Azerbaijan
44. Dominican Republic
92. Qatar
61. Belarus
154. Niger

Global Voices in English

The English-language site is where the majority of original content is first published at Global Voices. The top five most-read stories of last week were:

1. Jamaican Dancehall Star Buju Banton’s Impending Release from Prison Sparks Renewed Controversy
2. Forced Onto Live TV With Her Employer, a Migrant Domestic Worker in Lebanon Recants Claims of Abuse
3. Look What Large-Scale Mining Did to These Four Beautiful Philippine Islands (originally published in 2015)
4. Trinidad & Tobago’s LGBT Community Speaks Out as Court Decision on ‘Buggery’ Law Approaches
5. PHOTOS: Celebration as High Court Deems Trinidad & Tobago ‘Buggery’ Law ‘Unconstitutional’

Global Voices Lingua

Lingua is a project that translates Global Voices stories into languages other than English. There are about 30 active Lingua sites. Below is last week's most-read story or translation on each active language site.

Arabic Bangla Catalan Chinese (simplified) Chinese (traditional) Dutch Esperanto French German Greek Hungarian Indonesian Italian Japanese Macedonian Malagasy Nepali Polish Portuguese Punjabi Russian Serbian Spanish Turkish Urdu

Liberian journalists detained, slapped with US 1.8 million lawsuit amid political feud

Mon, 2018-04-16 15:56

Monrovia at night. Photo by blk24ga via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

The Liberian daily newspaper FrontPage Africa (FPA) is facing a US $1.8 million civil defamation lawsuit triggered by a family feud over a deceased politician's estate.

FPA has been accused of underwriting and publishing a defamatory advertisement that appears in its print edition in mid-March 2018. Placed by family members of deceased former Liberian Attorney General Lawrence K. Morgan, the advert warned readers that the administrators of Morgan's estate, Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah, had no authorization to “lease, sell, collect rents, or transact any other business” on behalf of the estate.

In response, Morgan and Konah sued the newspaper. On April 5, a court ordered the closure of the offices of FPA. On April 9, seven of the newspaper's staff were arrested and their office was sealed off. Detained staff were released the same day and their office reopened after the newspaper paid a US $5,000 bond.

Lead staff at the newspaper said the adverts were placed by other members of the Morgan family, in an apparent internal family dispute over the estate. FPA retracted the advert once confronted by Morgan and Konah, but the two nevertheless filed suit.

Although the advert was published in several other newspapers, only FPA has faced consequences.

There is now speculation that Konah, who is an influential member of the ruling Congress for Democratic Change party (CDC), used the advert as a vehicle for attacking the newspaper, in retaliation for its critical reporting about the government.

Screenshot of FPA Managing Editor, Rodney Sieh (L) speaking to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) correspondent in their New York office about defamation laws in Liberia.

Kamara A. Kamara, former president of the Press Union of Liberia, spoke with Global Voices (GV) to explain the murky history behind the advert and the resulting libel suit against FPA:

A segment of the family had issued an advert in several newspapers indicating that some people in the family did not have the authority to transact business on their behalf. Later the people who were listed as not having the authority of the family [Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah] confronted FrontPage Africa to retract the advert which the newspaper did.

This was initially a private family matter but later became political. One of those involved [Moses T. Konah] in the family dispute was a candidate in the last elections and an influential member of CDC [Congress for Democratic Change], the ruling party…The newspaper had some issues with the government. This family dispute was then hijacked by the state to fight FrontPage Africa.

Despite Konah's close ties to the ruling CDC, the Liberian Ministry of Information has denied involvement in the press freedom feud. On April 9, the Ministry issued a public statement asserting that:

the closure of the FrontPage Africa newspaper and arrest of some of its staff was not on the orders of the government of Liberia.

Family feud reveals political motives for press shut down

Liberian President George Weah promised in his January 2018  inaugural address to build upon the legacy of “democratic empowerment” from his predecessor Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf “in protecting the rights of Liberians and providing even greater freedom.”

Yet Weah's party recently accused FPA owner and managing editor Rodney D. Sieh of “unprofessional attacks on the presidency.”

At a recent press conference, Jefferson Koijee, a member of the CDC and the Mayor of Monrovia, directly warned Sieh:

[do not] use the media to launch your selfish, cruel agenda, because Liberia needs to be developed and this is the best moment.

Just a few weeks before the lawsuit was filed, FPA triggered frustration in the government when it reported on President Weah's decision to sack the head of Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), an autonomous agency established to ensure “transparency in Liberia’s forestry, oil, mining, and agricultural plantation sectors. It has the legal mandate to publish company contracts and the money they pay to the government.”

President Weah unilaterally fired Konah Karmo, Head of LEITI Secretariat, and then took extralegal measures to hire a political ally, CDC member Gabriel Nyenkan. The Daily Observer explained:

Following President Weah’s announcement, Mr. Nyekan stormed the offices of the LEITI secretariat with armed police officers in tow and demanded that its head Konah Karmo leave the building. Karmo is reported to have complied with Nyekan’s orders given at virtual gunpoint.

A report by FPA asserted that the move “blatantly contravenes the Act that created the [LEITI] agency.”

Defamation suit silences the press

Only a few weeks after FPA reported on the LEITI scandal, the newspaper was slammed with the crippling libel civil lawsuit, leading many press freedom activists to believe that FPA is indeed being targeted for its critical reporting on the government.

Global Witness argues that:

Defamation suits should not be used to silence the press, and in this case FrontPage Africa is being penalized months before the newspaper even has its first court date. The order to seize assets, including its office, must be rescinded immediately – as should the performance bond imposed upon the paper… Liberian democracy requires independent voices and impartial information, like that provided by Front Page Africa and LEITI. President Weah should ensure that Liberia’s press – including the vital Front Page Africa – remains free, and reinstate LEITI’s Secretariat Head Konah Karmo.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern over the US $1.8 million libel lawsuit against FPA “that has long been the subject of complaints and harassment for its critical reporting on successive governments.”

Former Press Union President Kamara asserted that the move looks more like an attack on FPA for its critical stance:

Why didn't Henry A.K. Morgan and Moses T. Konah also involve other newspapers who published the said advert in this defamation suit? That's why it looks like an attack on FrontPage Africa for its critical stance against the government. To get people arrested in face of a civil case is repugnant. Civil offences should be fought using civil means. To arrest someone based on an allegation of a civil action is an affront to free speech. Imprisoning people on these laws is a criminalization of free speech which is critical to media freedom.

School history assignment stirs up a storm in Jamaica over how slavery should be taught

Mon, 2018-04-16 12:43

Freeing a Slave from the Slave Stick, Jamaica, ca.1875-ca.1940. Wikimedia Commons image; photo uploaded by Ashley Van Haeften, CC BY 2.0.

Hillel Academy, a private school in an upscale area of Kingston, was at the centre of a recent debate over a history assignment for Grade 9 students which asked students to create a model for the punishment of a slave.

The wave of online anger began on Facebook, then graduated swiftly to Twitter, where a relatively short-lived but heated discussion began — on history, slavery, race, and class — leaving more questions than answers about how a deeply traumatic period in Jamaica's history should be taught.

The assignment also required students to “discuss [their] chosen punishment type as an example of European civility” since “one justification for the enslavement of African people was their lack of civility”. Details of the history paper were shared in a Facebook post, along with the comment:

So Hillel Academy Jamaica is allegedly asking children to use their creativity to re-create the harm that was done during slavery in written form. The mission is to expand student’s perspective on situations. So if this is really the case
1) Stop this lesson now.
2) Healing, truth and reconciliation is what you should be teaching the affluent and privileged children of a former plantation society, not recount and imaginative wickedness.
3) You are teaching children to be Slave masters. While this may be useful to a white man’s world capitalist society in 1764, it affects the collective esteem of a progressive and civil society in 2018.
4) Ask the directors of the No Violence In love campaign to come speak to your students about the effects of violent narratives in impressionable minds and the need to replace them with new ideas of harmony and empathy.

The Facebook user who shared the assignment added the school's feedback on the issue:

I have hard copy of test and got soft copy of school response:

‘There is some overreaction and I will explain why. The project is based on putting history into perspective. When older kids were at Hillel learning this the method of teaching slavery was largely rote, i.e. just simply regurgitating the facts. Today the methods of teaching history has (sic) changed. The sensitivity of the subject has not changed it is the way it's being taught that has. Students are encouraged to have balanced perspectives wherever possible.’

Founded in 1969 by the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica, Hillel is a non-profit, non-denominational institution that goes from pre-school all the way up to high school level. It is regarded as a school for Jamaica's elite; its 750-strong population also includes a fairly large contingent of international students. The fees are considerably higher than those for state-run schools and, in addition to Jamaican examinations, the school offers courses for the International Baccalaureate and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/AdvancedEd. With a less traditional approach to learning, its motto is “Learning for Living”. According to its website, its goals are to create a student who is more “open-minded, a risk-taker, inquirer, balanced, thinker.”

‘Bright students given the assignment, would write that there is no justification for slavery’

The school's explanation about the assignment, however, did little to assuage the anger of Twitter users, who were particularly miffed at the use of the word “justification”:

The thing I liked about how history was taught in Jamaican schools is that we never ever tried to justify the actions of the colonizers. Especially in today's world with the resurgence of Nazism it's gross to be asking a majority white students to justify slavery

— dm me pics of ur pets (@bloodylemonade) April 13, 2018

As if in response, a radio station quickly reported comments by a well-known history professor:

NEWS: UWI Professor of Social History Verene Shepherd says bright students given the Hillel Academy slavery justification assignment, would write that there is ‘no justification for slavery’.

— Stevian Simmonds (@steviblessed) April 14, 2018

One Twitter user suggested that the “bakra masters” (the term means a white slave master) at the school were imposing their perspective on slavery:

Our history is taught through the eyes of the slave master and has its ‘genesis’ in the trans-atlantic slave trade. The bakra masters are now encouraging us to not only learn the history from their perspective but to think how they did. It is shameful.

— It's Hopelessly Grotesque (@JahBlessEmanuel) April 13, 2018

There were numerous attacks on the school itself — and its students. However, one social media user disputed the common perception that the school is predominantly white:

Whoa guys, Hillel is actually a very diverse school that has predominantly black and mixed students. If we’re gonna criticize, please be factual.

— BΔK Pledge. (@VivaaLaKiaa) April 13, 2018

Another Twitter user shared a photo of a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King praising Jamaica's perceived racial harmony during a 1965 visit to the island, observing:

Donkey of the year goes to Hillel Academy for abusing their role as educators of some young minds among us in Jamaica. Callous! – you don't teach empathy by asking students to justify slavery & by describing punishment they would use. #ConscientiousStupidity

— Princess Joseph (@KerishaWitter) April 14, 2018

An attempt ‘to dissect the warped mentality that was used to justify slavery'?

Realising the scope of the fallout, the school apologised in a statement from the Board of Directors, which was shared both online and in mainstream media, but the discussion had already turned to the persistent question of race and class in Jamaica:

Im not the smartest of the bunch here but isn't racism the foundation on which classism in jamaica stands? We are predominantly black so the basis of our segregation had to take on a new feature which was class. What do i know tho?
“Its not racism its classim”

— #FilingAndSomethingElse (@CoolieBwoi_Chev) April 13, 2018

Another respected teacher gave a balanced but severe critique, which was shared on Twitter in an image. The English teacher concluded:

Teacher, you have erred big time, and I suspect it's primarily because you did not manipulate the English language well enough to structure your question in such a way that the students examine critically the arguments for and against slavery, without leaving your class thinking that there were merits in the enslavement of blacks.

A few people pointed out that the history of — and “justification” for — slavery was regularly taught in Jamaican schools, just not in this way. Another recalled her own study of Caribbean History at high school, noting that such an assignment is not unusual:

I really dont c wat the big deal is about this Hillel history assignment. Is the issue with the assignment or the sch at which the assignment is given? I did C'bbean history and I had to write essays about the rational behind the justification for slavery & the punishments used.

— Justine (@jusii_marie) April 13, 2018

and there was no outrage when we did it lol. Learning about all aspects of slavery is important. Not just the rebellions that make us gleam with pride as we learn about our ancestors but also the line of thinking that put them in chains in the 1st place.

— Justine (@jusii_marie) April 13, 2018

A human rights lawyer, who advocates for slavery reparations, sought to analyse the purpose of the assignment:

This Hillel assignment seems to have been trying to dissect the warped mentality that was used to justify slavery for 400+ years. Many of these slave owners went to church every Sunday and called themselves Christian, and yet were able to rationalize this within their own minds.

— Shawn Wenzel (@shawnwenzel) April 14, 2018

‘Are private schools allowed to teach anything they want?’

Would this have been an acceptable assignment in other contexts? many Twitter users asked:

Now to the assignment at hand, would Hillel have asked on an assignment about World War 2 to come up with ways for Nazi Germany to annihilate the Jewish people?

— Empress Yolie (@jahmekyagyal) April 13, 2018

So what went wrong at Hillel? Netizens began to talk about accountability in curriculum planning. One media personality tweeted:

I have moved beyond Hillel. I am asking who vets the lesson plans in schools? Are private schools allowed to teach anything they want? Are schools not licensed to operate in Jamaica under certain guidelines in keeping with our national education and cultural policy? I'm asking.

— Dahlia Harris (@DahliaHarris) April 15, 2018

Others took a broader view of the conversation by reflecting on modern-day slavery:

Today we have tens of thousands of children in Africa working in abhorrent conditions mining cobalt for iPhone batteries or picking cocoa beans for chocolate, and just like the 18th century colonial Europeans enjoying sugar in their tea, too many consumers don't care.

— Shawn Wenzel (@shawnwenzel) April 14, 2018

After the social media outrage, the question remains: How should the painful history of the Caribbean, including colonisation and slavery, be taught to the region's younger generations? Judging by the backlash, this recent attempt at “innovation”, even if well intentioned, may have done more harm than good.

As Russian court announces Telegram ban, users stand defiant, amused… and worried

Mon, 2018-04-16 02:07

Russia bans Telegram; collage by RuNet Echo

As a Moscow court ordered the ban of messenger app Telegram on April 13, 2018, Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin assured the public that those who want to keep using it “will look for ways to bypass the blocking.” In a rare moment of consensus with the Russian authorities, many Telegram users agreed.

Though conceived as a messenger app similar to WhatsApp, Telegram earned its popularity in Russia thanks to its “channels,” a blogging platform somewhere between Twitter and Facebook which quickly attracted political commentators, journalists and officials. Telegram channels are a booming business, too: they are widely used in political and corporate wars. Last year Vedomosti, a Russian business newspaper, claimed that political ads (or damaging leaks) on Telegram's most popular channels could cost as much as 450,000 rubles ($7,500.)

But Telegram's CEO Pavel Durov has repeatedly and vocally refused to comply with the demand of Russian security services to give up the messenger's encryption keys.

And as the year-long battle between Telegram and the Russian authorities came to a head with the decision to block the app, reactions to the announcement have been passionate.

“Russia has finally become the world's second largest economy after China! At least in the field of permanently blocking Telegram,” wrote Kristina Potupchik, formerly a press officer for a pro-Kremlin youth movement.

Other channels took a defiant stance, encouraging their followers to find ways around the blocking.

“They are blocking us, and we get stronger!” wrote the author of the Deer of Nizhny Novgorod, a channel focused on politics in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

Like several other channels, the Deer of Nizhny Novgorod provided links to tutorials on how to circumvent the blocking of Telegram using a VPN or Virtual Private Network. “If you’re not a grandmother, you’ll be able to do it very easily and quickly,” he added.

But not all agree that cheating your way out of a government ban is a walk in the park:

когда ты гуманитарий и пытаешься понять, как настроить прокси в телеграме

— Никотинка с Бровями (@Yoghikitt) 13 апреля 2018 г.

When you majored in liberal arts and are now trying to figure out how Telegram proxies work

Channels dedicated to Russian politics and the inner workings of the Kremlin – among the most popular on the platform – also largely claimed they were not worried by the ban.

“About 85% of our users have installed one [a VPN] in the last 24 hours. If you haven’t, here are the instructions,” channel Karaulny (The Sentinel) told its 66,000+ followers.

The owner of Nezygar (“Not Zygar”, a play on the name of Mikhail Zygar, a Russian political journalist and author of the best-selling book All the Kremlin's Men), one of the most influential political channels with 133,000 followers, told Russian outlet RBC the ban “confirmed Telegram’s status as an independent platform.”

“Nezygar will stay on the platform and won’t move to another,” he added.

Others took a different road. Sergey Boyarskiy, the deputy of the ruling party United Russia, published on Twitter a video showing himself dramatically deleting Telegram from his smartphone:

Выполняю решение суда. Соблюдаю законы РФ.

— Сергей Боярский (@sergeyboyarskiy) 13 апреля 2018 г.

I am following the court decision. I abide by the laws of the Russian Federation.

Chechnya's strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who was banned from Instagram in December 2017, also said he would not try to make any attempts to bypass the blocking. Instead, Kadyrov told the Russian press agency TASS, he would switch to Mylistory, an obscure Instagram clone developed in Chechnya.

More likely contenders in the race to snap up Telegram’s user base are Viber and TamTam, two messenger apps which have also emphasized their “channels” feature. The latter, which belongs to the Russian digital giant, placed timely ads in three Russian business newspapers on the day Telegram’s blocking was announced by a Moscow court. In Vedomosti and Kommersant, the full-page ads showed this message:

“Just in case, we’re here.” A more tailored ad appeared in “Business Petersburg,” reading: “Channels 2,000 times bigger than in Petersburg,” a reference to the city’s many water canals (which is the same word in Russian.)

Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, also announced a program to promote Telegram channels with more than 1,000 subscribers who are ready to switch to Vkontakte.

Not all Telegram users are confident that the app will survive the blocking, however. The owner of Cello Case (a hint at Putin's longtime friend and accomplished cellist Sergey Roldugin who got astronomically and inexplicably rich, according to the Panama Papers,) a channel followed by more than 142,000 people, told the RBC outlet its daily view count could drop by half if the blocking is enforced.

Mash, a news channel with more than 280,000 followers created by the former deputy head of pro-Kremlin media empire Life wrote on Telegram it would continue publishing on the messenger app, but also listed all the other social networks on which it is present.

“All the top admins are really feeling the blues,” the owner of the channel “Akitipol” (the Russian word “politics” in reverse, followed by more than 15,000 people) told the news channel 360.

So far, Telegram remains available in Russia, though sources have told the Interfax news agency that blocking could start as early as April 16.

Empty Nets Syndrome: How young fishing families on Cambodia's Mekong are struggling to survive

Sat, 2018-04-14 14:24

Cambodia – 30/01/18 – Phnom Penh. Sami (16) and Luc (25) have both grown up both on the water. Their families can trace an oral history of fishing and seafaring that dates back 4000 years – migrating across South East Asia and even surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide of 1975-1979 to make it to the modern day. But Sami and Luc are also part of a new generation of teenage parents experiencing more difficulties than ever to survive on the river. (PHOTO: Francesco Brembati. Used with Permission).

By Corinne Redfern

Two weeks ago, shortly after it turned 2am, Sami’s boat rolled over on the waves of the Mekong river and tipped all of her possessions into the water—including Lydie, her newborn daughter. ‘Just like that, she was gone,’ the 16-year-old remembers.

Unable to sleep as the wind tore at the tarpaulin that served as a meagre shelter from the elements, Sami had spent the previous two hours sitting with her knees pulled against her stomach, wishing they were back on shore. While the storm raged around them her 25-year-old husband Luc, face fixed in a frown, was busy spreading his weight across the hand-carved boat’s wooden hull in an attempt to stop their little home from capsizing. All the while, their daughter had slept peacefully in her dark green cotton hammock. “I didn’t even have to rock her,” Sami says now. “The wind was strong enough to do that for me.” As the storm gathered force, she thought about taking Lydie into her arms for safety. “But I didn’t know whether it was better just to let her be. And when the boat fell, I couldn’t grab her in time. Suddenly I was just under the water, and everything was cold and black.”

Cambodia – 30/01/18 – Phnom Penh. Even if Samy and Luc live and keep all their belongings on their boat, they dock on the ground for safety and practical reasons. (PHOTO: Francesco Brembati. Used with permission)

Luc reached Lydie first. Diving deeper under the water, he pushed the rapidly sinking pots and pans and clothes out of the way to disentangle his daughter from the swathes of material that kept her in place. When the six-week-old began screaming after reaching the surface, Sami burst into tears. “I thought she was dead. Babies die all the time here. You never know if you’re going to get to keep yours for life or just for a little while.”

Sami and Luc both grew up on the water. As members of the Cham community – a minority group of approximately 288,000 Cambodian Muslims who largely live along the Mekong river and around the edges of the Tonle Sap lake in the Kompong Chhnang and Kompong Cham provinces, their families can trace an oral history of fishing and seafaring that dates back 4000 years—a history that includes migrating across South East Asia and surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide of 1975-1979.

But Sami and Luc are also part of a new generation of teenage parents whose numbers have almost doubled in Cambodia since 2010, even though marriage is illegal for those under 18. Nevertheless, girls of 15-17 years fall for their boat-dwelling neighbours, and a lack of sex education—or any kind of education, for that matter—means they quickly, if perhaps unintentionally, start families shortly after. This lack of life experience combined with a hard-to-shake-off cultural inheritance has given rise to a new crisis of survival.

While on the surface parents may be getting younger, little has changed in the way the community lives. Every morning as the sun rises families stir from their sleeping quarters on board their small wooden boats, and together they head out into deeper waters to hunt slippery mud eels and small silver carp known as “trey riel”. Teenage mothers stand tall on the bows, loosely-wound hijabs protecting their necks from the sun, as their husbands heave hand-woven nets into the water and wait for them to swell.

On a good day, the stores below deck will swarm with fresh catch, and families head straight to Prev Pnov fish market, 12 kilometres north of Phnom Penh where a kilo of fish commands up to 6000 riel, or $1.50. Fish soup and rice is served up for breakfast and lunch. Fried fish and rice is passed around for dinner.

But good days are getting harder to come by, and to this generation they also seem less and less worth waiting for.

In recent years, new technologies and illegal fishing methods—such as using batteries to electrocute whole schools of fish—have begun depleting local fisheries. The government’s target of producing 1.2 million tonnes of fish by 2019, to reduce imports from neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, is encouraging the establishment of industrialized fish farms. Both developments are now forcing the Cham families to drive their boats more than three hours upstream to net a decent catch. When they arrive with their buckets of carp at Prek Pnov they find prices dropping, making it harder than ever to make a profit. And as luxury hotel development spreads along the banks of the Tonle Sap river, there’s even more pressure on the Cham community to disperse its camps and stay moored in the middle of the river through the night, increasing the risk of capsizing and drowning.

Cambodia – 15/02/18 – Phnom Penh. In the islamic fishing community on the river of the Mekong in Phnom Penh not all the kids immediately learn how to swim, even if they live on the water. For this reason there is often the chance of drowning. However, while boys learn earlier, girls often start learning just when they leave the family to get married. Some of the older women in the community still don't know how to swim.

So for today’s young adolescent parents with children to feed, life on the water is beginning to lose some of its appeal. “My daughter Lyna cries all day because she’s hungry, and I have nothing to feed her with,” explains Ros Herny, 17, who only learned to swim two years ago despite living on board the boats since birth.

“When I was growing up, I would eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a little rice to keep me full. But fish has become a luxury that we can’t afford to keep for ourselves anymore. So I feed Lyna rice with river water for breakfast, lunch and dinner instead, and she has no fish at all. She has no energy and is small for her age. It makes me wonder why we live like this at all.”

Her parents’ generation had it better off, Herny says. “My friends and I are starting our families now, but we don’t have the skills we need to compete with the big companies, so our children are the ones without anything to eat. Meanwhile, my parents only have to look after themselves. Sometimes they still have lots of fish.”

Dak Gneng, project manager of the Takmao branch of the local NGO Friends International, says he’s encountering increasing numbers of adolescent mothers from the Cham community who are unable to feed their children.

“When I talk to them, they all tell me is how dangerous it is to lead this life,” Gneng explains. “Their parents say ‘this is our culture, you must live along the river and respect the water’, but the youngest generation is the one faced with the prospect of feeding their families and competing with the big corporations. They are more and more unhappy here.”

Cambodia – 22/02/18 – Phnom Penh. As hotels such as the Sokha continue cropping up along the Tonle Sap riverside, there’s even more pressure on the community of Islamic fisherfolk to disperse its camps and stay moored in the middle of the river through the night; increasing the risk of capsizing and drowning. (PHOTO: Francesco Brembati. Used with permission)

Many young parents have already begun looking for work in other industries such as garment factories or market stalls. Some even consider begging along the riverside as a more viable alternative. (“I don’t like it, but it’s all I can do sometimes,” says Herny). Sami’s husband Luc recently found a job on a tourist boat, sailing up and down the river at sunset as visitors snap pictures of the silhouetted outline of the community he calls home. “He says he wants to save up enough money for us to rent an apartment in the city centre,” says Sami. “We don’t want our daughter to grow up feeling hungry or scared like us.”

But the same youthfulness that has breed dissatisfaction can also make leaving their community difficult, particularly when it comes to saying goodbye to parents. Hasanas Rong is 17 and is raising her two-month-old daughter Eyni alone since her husband left her to move into the city. “He said he didn’t want to be a fisherman anymore, because there aren’t any fish,” she explains. “We argued, because I didn’t feel ready to leave my family, and then he said he was going to divorce me.” She was three months pregnant at the time, and she hasn’t seen him since.

Cambodia – 04/02/18 – Phnom Penh. Hasanas Rong (17) with her daughter Eyni Not (2 months old). After being left by her husband while pregnant, Rong went back to live with her family as she has no job and no way to earn money. Rong and Eyni both suffer often from hunger, but it would even worse if her family couldn't help them at all. (PHOTO: Francesco Brembati. Used with permission)

Her 34-year-old brother, Hole Son believes his sister should have left her relatives behind and followed her husband in return for a more stable income. “Rong is too young to have a child, but this is normal here,” he says. “Most girls are teenagers when they get pregnant for the first time. Now we have to support her, because she doesn’t have a job, and her daughter has nothing to eat. I often see Rong go without food for days at a time, just so she doesn’t have to deal with the shame of asking our mother and father for more help.”

Hole Son says that when fishing goes well he can still earn up to 60,000 riel ($15) in a single day, and will offer his sister help. “But when it goes badly, I earn nothing at all.” On those days, the older generation takes priority. “As a sign of respect, we feed our parents first—even if it means the young ones miss out,” he says.

Rong goes quiet when asked about her situation. “It’s just so bad for my baby,” she says eventually. “I can’t breastfeed her, because I don’t have enough milk, and she cries all day because she’s hungry. We are sat out under the sun all day, which I think makes us sick, too. Everything is very bad for us here. I am very scared for my baby.”

Sami agrees. “When I was a child, I was hungry too, but I was never as hungry as this. When I look at Lydie, I think ‘maybe you would be better off away from the water. Maybe the water is not our friend after all.”

Corinne Redfern is an award-winning freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Telegraph, Guardia, Marie Claire, Stylist, Sunday Times and BBC. She is currently based in Cambodia. This article is part of the Crying Hunger Project, produced with support from the European Journalism Centre.

Netizen Report: Around the World, Activists Demand Answers From Facebook

Fri, 2018-04-13 15:52

“Planet Facebook or Planet Earth?” 2010 map of Facebook's social graph, by Paul Butler.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced hearing before the US Congress this week, digital rights advocates around the world publicly shared testimony of their own, giving voice to the experiences of millions of users who have struggled with harassment, discrimination and threats of violence on the platform.

Civil society groups in Sri Lanka issued an open letter to Zuckerberg citing multiple instances in which the company had failed to implement its own “Community Standards.” The letter emphasizes Sri Lanka’s civil war, which officially ended in 2009 but from which the country is still recovering.

The authors cite a March 2018 Facebook post, shared amid violent religious riots in central Sri Lanka, that called for the “killing of all Muslims, without sparing even a child, because they are dogs.” Despite being reported multiple times, the post remained live on Facebook for six days, with the company first replying that the post did not violate its Community Standards.

In a separate open letter, advocates for human rights in Vietnam plainly asked: “Is Facebook coordinating with a government known for cracking down on expression?”

The group noted that Facebook Head of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert met with the Vietnamese minister of information and communications and reportedly agreed to coordinate in the monitoring and removal of content. They went on to describe how the Vietnamese government’s “cyber army” of thousands of online trolls has exploited Facebook’s platform and tools, “coordinating mass reporting of activist accounts and celebrating their accomplishments when accounts and pages are taken down by Facebook.”

And civil society advocates in Myanmar took Facebook to task after Zuckerberg held up the company’s work in Myanmar as an example of strong engagement in a time of crisis, at the peak of the Myanmar military’s assault on the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017.

The group described Facebook’s efforts to curb calls for violence against Rohingya people as “the very opposite of effective moderation” and said the company demonstrated “a reticence to engage local stakeholders around systemic solutions and a lack of transparency.”

Calls of this nature have come from the US as well. Data for Black Lives, a US-based network of scientists, activists, and organizers, called attention to evidence of racial and economic discrimination in Facebook’s platform and advertising technology. The group implored Facebook to commit their data to a “public data trust” that would allow researchers to study it “in service of the public interest” and to hire more African-Americans on their product and engineering teams.

In a broad-based response to the hearings, Facebook has pledged to improve transparency in ads and pages, and to allow academic researchers greater access to internal information to inform independent research on the platform. Time will tell if these measures will help to improve upon the many acute issues raised in the letters above.

Vietnam issues harsh prison sentences to six activists

Six activists, all but one of whom were active in the blogosphere, were convicted of subversion after a one-day trial in Hanoi. With sentences ranging between seven and 15 years behind bars, they are facing the harshest punishments to be issued by Vietnam's one-party state in years. Loa, a podcast produced by pro-democracy group Viet Tan, reported that activist Trương Minh Đức said in court, “I have no regrets. Today you put me on trial but tomorrow it may be you on trial.”

Rights defender Ahmed Mansoor appears before UAE court

More than a year after security officers arrested and detained Ahmed Mansoor, the Emirati human rights defender finally appeared in court for a hearing. He was detained in an undisclosed location for more than a year. It is not publicly known whether he has been officially charged yet, or what has happened thus far in court proceedings.. Authorities accuse him of using social media websites to “publish false information that harms national unity.”

Chinese authorities can’t take a joke

Authorities in China ordered a ban on NeihanShequ, a popular app for jokes and riddles, arguing that its content has become too “vulgar” and “banal.” Neihan allowed users to submit jokes and riddles in multimedia format, for others to comment on and vote up or down. Zhang Yiming, the CEO of Neihan parent company Toutiao, offered a public apology and promised that Toutiao will strengthen self-censorship measures by increasing the pre-screen staff team from 6,000 to 10,000 people.

More than 1 million Indonesians affected by Cambridge Analytica abuse

In an April 5 press release, Facebook announced that the personal data of more than 1 million Indonesians may have been accessed and used by Cambridge Analytica in its work on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Indonesia’s information and communications minister said he would not hesitate to block Facebook nationwide if officials find that this personal data was exploited or misused.

Guatemalan trolls attack UN-backed impunity investigator

The Intercept published an in-depth report on the activities of quasi-professional internet trolls in Guatemala, where a UN commission is investigating corruption and campaign finance in the administration of President Jimmy Morales. Over the past year, Colombian judge Iván Velásquez, who leads the commission, has become the primary target of a coordinated campaign of political harassment and online disinformation.

US Homeland Security ramps up plans to monitor journalists

The US Department of Homeland Security announced that it plans to develop a database of journalists and media influencers in order to track their coverage and online activities. The database will reportedly include “journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers” and endeavor to “identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.”

Twitter has suspended more than 1.2 million accounts for ‘terrorist content’

In its 12th biannual transparency report, Twitter announced that it has suspended more than 1.2 million accounts over “terrorist content” since August 2015. From July-December 2017, it suspended more than 274,000 accounts for the same reason. According to the company blog, 93% of these accounts were “flagged by internal, proprietary tools” (i.e. not humans) while accounts reported to the company by governments accounted for less than 0.2% of the total suspensions.

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Afef Abrougui, Renata Avila, Ellery Roberts Biddle, L. Finch, Rohith Jyothish, Karolle Rabarison, Juke Carolina Rumuat and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

PHOTOS: Celebration as High Court Deems Trinidad & Tobago ‘Buggery’ Law ‘Unconstitutional’

Thu, 2018-04-12 15:56


Claimant Jason Jones outside the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, Trinidad, after the passing down of the High Court ruling. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

At 10:00 a.m. on Thursday April 12, 2018, Justice Devindra Rampersad entered High Court POS 09 at the Hall of Justice in downtown Port of Spain to deliver his ruling in the case of Jason Jones vs. the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago.

The question that hung in the balance was whether the state has the constitutional authority to criminalise sexual relations between consenting adults of the same gender — an act deemed criminal by Sections 13 and 16 of the country's Sexual Offences Act Chapter 11:28.

Inside the courtroom were the claimant, Jason Jones, the defendant and their legal teams, and representatives from interested parties that included the Equal Opportunity Commission, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (a local conservative Hindu organisation), and the Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches. There were also journalists, supporters of the LBGT+ rights cause, and a handful of religious leaders.

Outside the courtroom, on the steps of the Hall of Justice and in Woodford Square just opposite, were gathered activists from both sides. Many of them held placards defending human rights and a few waved signs quoting Bible verses.

A cross-section of the placards being displayed at Woodford Square, as activists waited for the High Court decision in the case of Jason Jones vs. the State. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Human rights supporters gathered outside the Hall of Justice, April 12, 2018. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

A security guard observes the goings-on at Woodford Square in Port of Spain. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Many of the placards sent a message of love, and spoke of the need to protect the rights of all citizens under the country's constitution.

Activists gathered in defence of human rights. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Other signs turned religious rationales on its head.

Two placards that took jabs at the religious traditionalists. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

“Love Thy Neighbour”; photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

“Stop using religion to justify hate”; photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Many LBGT+ activists emphasised that the state had no business being in their bedrooms. The movement's hashtag, #JusticeDiversityTT, was also on display, as people advocated for acceptance of diversity within the family unit.

Supporters of the repeal of the buggery law want the state out of matters that are private. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

#JusticeDiversityTT; Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

A protestor outside Trinidad and Tobago's Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, on April 12, 2018. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

“Making a change starts with you”; photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

After his half-hour-long summary of the judgement, Judge Rampersad declared that the court had found Sections 13 and 16 of the Act “unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid and are of no effect to the extent that these laws criminalise any acts constituting consensual sexual conduct between adults”.

Those in court were composed and circumspect. But once the news reached the outside, there was, for the most part, joyful celebration.

The elated crowd on the steps of the Hall of Justice as they got news of the decision. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Jubilation outside the Hall of Justice; photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

More celebration at the court's ruling; photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Supporters of the repeal of the “buggery” clause in the Sexual Offences Act are all smiles over the High Court judgement. Photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Quite hearteningly, both before and after the judgement was announced, people with differing opinions stood around talking about the issue — calmly, rationally and respectfully. There was a lot of discussion about consent (many people have the erroneous perception that all anal sex is equal to rape) and the need to recognise each individual's humanity.

An LGBT+ rights supporter has a discussion with a member of a religious group after the court's decision was announced outside the Hall of Justice. Photo by author.

“Live and let live”; photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

“Love is not a crime”; photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

In the end, whether or not the court's ruling managed to change anyone's mind, LBGT+ and religious activists stood side by side on the steps of the Hall of Justice — and in the the words of Trinidad and Tobago's national anthem, found a space where a landmark court ruling made every citizen finally have a more equal place.

Government has already stated that they will appeal the ruling.

Standing together; photo by Maria Nunes, used with permission.

Will Tanzanian Bloggers Pay Up or Push Back Against ‘Blogger Tax'?

Thu, 2018-04-12 11:46

A man stands in the street in Stone Town, Zanzibar, checking his phone. Photo by Pernille Bærendtsen, used with permission.

Blogging has been popular in Tanzania for more than a decade, enabling writers and independent journalists to express views and report news that might not otherwise appear in mainstream media. But as of last month, this kind of work will come with a price tag.

On March 16, 2018, the United Republic of Tanzania issued the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations demanding that bloggers must register and pay over USD $900 per year to publish online.

Application 2. These Regulations shall apply to online content including: (a) application services licensees; (b) bloggers; (c) internet cafes; (d) online content hosts; (e) online forums; (f) online radio or television; (g) social media; (h) subscribers and users of online content; and (i) any other related online content.

The new regulations have far-reaching implications for freedom of expression and human rights. Bloggers must fill out official regulatory forms and avoid publishing prohibited content including nudity, hate speech, explicit sex acts, extreme violence, “content that causes annoyance”, fake news, and “bad language” among other restrictions.

The new regulations grant unrestrained power to the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to prescribe and proscribe. Under Part II, Number 4, TCRA then has the authority:

(a) to keep register of bloggers, online forums, online radio and online television;
(b) to take action against non-compliance to these Regulations, including to order removal of prohibited content

iAfrikan News further explains:

Online content publishers (blogs, podcasts, videos) will apply for a license at a fee of 100,000 Tanzanian Shillings (44 USD) pay an initial license fee of 1,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings (440 USD) and an annual license fee of 1,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings (440 USD). This means to run something as simple as a personal blog (text) if you live in Tanzania, you’d have to spend an initial (approximately) $900 (USD) in license fees.

One immediate public concern regarding the new regulations is their ambiguity. In his latest post, blogger Ben Taylor analyzed the content of the regulations, taking note of a lack of clear definitions:

The first thing to note is that these regulations are very unclear on several important points. Some terms – such as ‘online content provider’ and ‘online content service provider’ – are never defined. Are these the same thing? In other places, the title given to a section of the regulations bears no relation to its content – section 7, for example, has ‘bloggers’ in the title but nothing relevant to bloggers in the content. There are spelling and grammatical errors throughout. And perhaps most bizarrely, the main section on applications for online content service licenses – section 14 – doesn’t even require that applicants must submit their application – only that they must ‘fill in an application form’ – or say where it should be submitted.

Taylor raises essential questions throughout his analysis. No one yet knows how these regulations will be interpreted by the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), the police or the courts.

What is clear is that breaches of the new law will be punishable with a fine of “not less than five million Tanzanian shillings” (around USD $2,500), or imprisonment for “not less than 12 months or both.”

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) issued a policy brief on the new regulation, warning against its ambiguity in certain sections:

…[The] regulations should be reviewed and amended to have clear, unambiguous definitions and wording, and quash the requirement for registration of bloggers and users of similar online platforms. It is also essential that not too much power is vested in TCRA with regards to content take-downs and that diversity in content availability online is promoted. The obligations set out should not turn content service providers and publishers into monitors, by handing them responsibility such as use of moderating tools to filter content, conducting content review before publication, and undertaking mechanisms to identify sources of content.

Blogging as alternative news in Tanzania

Blogging emerged in Tanzania around 2007 and became popular as an alternative news platform with educated, middle-class people, as well as politicians and political parties.

In Tanzania, where media historically holds strong ties to government interests, blogging opened up possibilities for individuals to establish private news outlets that proved immensely powerful in terms of reach and readership.

Before the rise of mobile apps, access to a stable Internet connection and laptop were imperative for bloggers. This set a relatively high barrier to participation for people with limited income.

Michuzi blog, launched in 2005 by Issa Michuzi, who is known as the ‘father of all Swahili blogs’, was one of the earliest and most widely read blogs in Tanzania, often reporting on politics and news, with thousands of readers per day. Michuzi was the first in Tanzania to see blogging as a business. He managed to keep his content free and accessible yet clearly capitalized on the power of ads to generate income.

Although Tanzania's poverty rate fell from 60 percent in 2007 to an estimated 47 percent in 2016, nearly 12 million Tanzanians still live in extreme poverty.

Internet access remains low at approximately 45 percent as of 2017. With a population of about 60 million people and 31 percent residing in urban areas, blogging is still out of reach for most.

According to Tanzania Bloggers Network Secretary-General Krantz Mwantepele, as quoted in The Citizen, many Tanzanian bloggers cannot afford these fees because the “license applications and annual subscriptions are way beyond earnings of many bloggers.”

Will Tanzanian bloggers push back or pay up in a tense political climate?

Blogging continues to be a ‘new frontier’ for young Africans seeking new platforms to connect, discuss and analyze. With the rise of mobile apps, Tanzanian youth are online more than ever with nearly 60 percent on Facebook alone in 2017.

Yet restrictions on freedom of expression pose a real challenge to social media users in Tanzania. While the constitution allows for freedom of speech, it does not guarantee press freedom. A set of media regulations provide Tanzanian authorities with the capacity to restrict media based on arguments of national security.

Authorities have become increasingly reliant on these rules as political tensions have risen over the past three years. Since the presidential elections in 2015, Tanzania's opposition has been restricted by a ban on opposition rallies and the stifling of independent media, sanctions, intimidation, and punishment of citizens for criticising President John P. Magufuli of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Swahili for ‘Revolutionary Party’).

The country's Cybercrimes Act, passed in 2015, has played a significant role in stifling dissent. In 2015 and 2016 alone, at least 14 Tanzanians were arrested and prosecuted under the law, for insulting the president on social media.

In December 2016, Tanzanian police arrested Maxence Melo, founder and director of Jamii Forums, a hugely popular Tanzanian online community, for refusing to disclose information on its members, a demand made under the Cybercrimes Act. Melo was released after five days, but his arrest revealed disturbing implications for anyone writing and speaking actively online in forums and blogs in Tanzania.

Most recently, Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendelo (CHADEMA, Swahili for ‘Party for Democracy and Progress’), Tanzania's largest opposition party, requested international intervention in the increasingly tense political situation characterized by the arrests of prominent opposition leaders. On February 16, 2018, a young student was killed allegedly by a stray-bullet, and several others were injured as the police dispersed an opposition rally in Dar es Salaam.

These new regulations appear to be less about taxation but rather a convenient tool and part of a wider process to limit freedom of speech and participatory multiparty politics in Tanzania.

#KnowYourDictator: Political Emigres and Their Hashtags Haunt Azerbaijan's Re-elected Strongman

Thu, 2018-04-12 06:51

A gathering of anti-Aliev activists in Berlin. Posted on Facebook by Pervin Ismayilov. Intended for wider use.

As I interviewed Ordukhan Teymurkhan over the phone, the monumental stress he was under seeped through his voice. “I cannot keep my emotions under control. . . My family is broken,” he said, when I asked him how he was.

Ordukhan's story is sadly typical for Azerbaijani exiles that publicly oppose the country's hereditary authoritarian regime.

In February of this year, two of his brothers-in-law were detained and sentenced to 30 days’ administrative detention on charges of resisting the police. Last year, 12 of his family members were called in for questioning.

Many of Azerbaijan's politically active emigres have seen their families back home suffer as a result of their activism. The space available to oppose 56-year-old President Ilham Aliyev inside the country was always small, but thanks to a growing crackdown in recent years, it has shrunk to almost nothing. 

Aliyev (left) meets with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the Iranian capital Tehran (Russian government image. Licensed for reuse).

Ordukhan is part of a new, nameless and unofficial movement formed by Azerbaijani political dissidents living in Europe. It was formed in early March following protest actions organized in Berlin.

According to group members, the movement has no structure, no authority, and any Azerbaijani living inside or outside the country is welcome to become part of it.

Its goal is a simple one: to bring down the Aliyev dictatorship which emerged in the early years of the country's post-Soviet independence period.

Poster boys for dictatorship

The thing that has most angered authorities back in Azerbaijan seems to have been the movement's involvement in a creative poster campaign titled diktatoru tanıyaq, or #KnowYourDictator.

Poster of Ilham Aliyev (right) and his late father Heydar. Widely distributed.

The posters from #KnowYourDictator traveled through European capitals as well as to Canada, Azerbaijan's neighbour Georgia and even Azerbaijan itself, as the country prepared for presidential elections on April 11.

The campaign later morphed into a hashtag on social media.

“If there is one word Ilham Aliyev does not like, it is being called a dictator,” explains Ordukhan. This, he says, is why the authorities have come after activists’ families.

Inside Azerbaijan, it is even harder to speak out against Aliyev.

One Baku-based activitst, Fatima Movlanli, was detained on March 26, but released after several hours under the supervision of police, who tried to convince her of the importance of rallying behind Aliyev.

Ilham Aliyev's regime is a harsher continuation of the authoritarian structure put in place by his late father Heydar, a communist-era bigwig who became president in 1993.

It has honed a reputation for muzzling media, blocking access to independent and opposition online news sites, arresting activists, journalists, rights defenders and bloggers, and dismantling the legal system.

The government even has a troll factory. A leaked document purported to be from one of these “armies” emerged online last week.

Straight from #Azerbaijan troll army. This list you are seeing has been assigned to our hardworking trolls. It contains names of opposition political parties, independent media and opposition leaders.

— Arzu Geybulla (@arzugeybulla) April 5, 2018

For weeks now, outspoken critics of the regime have joked about being harassed by trolls. The usual bogus accusations aimed at Aliyev critics see them accused of receiving money from the West, or spying for Armenia. The frequency and tone of these false allegations was ramped up as the vote approached.

I have experienced them on many occasions myself. A few days ago, I even discovered a Facebook post on the page of the ruling party’s youth branch which accused me of being a mole financed by the Armenians and working in league with Hagop Berberian, a man I have never met.

I did not read all 946 comments, but what I saw was enough to confirm that in a tightly-controlled society, there are few checks on the power of government-spun myths and misinformation.

A gathering of anti-Aliyev activists in Berlin. Posted on Facebook by Pervin Ismayilov. Intended for wider use.

This vote wasn't a nail-biter, duh.

As it turned out, Aliyev won a barely contested vote with a 86% majority the head of the Central Election Commission confirmed April 12.

In a hallmark of ex-Soviet authoritarianism, other registered candidates even praised the incumbent in the run-up to the vote.

Seven other #candidates did not only avoid criticizing the government but also openly and actively campaigned for Aliyev during the debates on Public #TV. #Azerbaijan #azvote2018 #Elections2018 #ElectionDay

— SMDT (@SMDT_EMDS) April 9, 2018

There is no alternative choice of voters among candidates on 11 April early presidential elections in #Azerbaijan according to observation by @SMDT_EMDS on pre-election campaign. @eapcsf @EPDE_org @stefanschennach @Dunja_Mijatovic @gndemexchanges @arzugeybulla @Khadija_Ismayil

— Anar Mammadli (@anarm2013) April 5, 2018

Reports of violations on the day were numerous. Although the opposition and youth movements called on people to boycott the elections, it is not clear what effect this could have had on the outcome. Turnout, which the CEC said reached 75%, is routinely inflated in Azerbaijaini ballots.

Thanks to constitutional changes that extended presidential terms in 2016, Ilham Aliyev is now set to rule the country for at least seven more years. Should anything happen to him, there are several members of his family well-positioned to extend the Aliyev dynasty.

Forced Onto Live TV With Her Employer, a Migrant Domestic Worker in Lebanon Recants Claims of Abuse

Thu, 2018-04-12 06:31

Lensa Lelisa appearing live on a Lebanese program while still in a hospital bed. Source: This is Lebanon Facebook page.

On 31 March, Global Voices published an account of the predicament of Lensa Lelisa, a 21-year-old Ethiopian migrant domestic worker who alleged that her Lebanese sponsors, the family she lives with and works for, had been abusing her. Desperate to escape, she said, she jumped from the balcony of the second floor, breaking her legs.

Her video testimony, in Amharic with English subtitles, was released on social media by the Facebook page “This is Lebanon“, which focuses on exposing abuses faced by migrant domestic workers in the country. It was filmed with the help of Lensa's aunt Ganesh, who visited her at the hospital.

It was then revealed that her employers run a haute couture fashion company called Eleanore Couture. Outraged, dozens of Lebanese and non-Lebanese protested in front of the company's offices in Jdeideh, north of Beirut, and many more took part in an online #IAmLensa campaign to raise awareness.

Read: “They Beat Me Everyday With An Electric Cable… They Smashed My Head Into The Walls.”

When Lensa was discharged, her employers took her back to their house, despite the allegations and the subsequent outcry by many Lebanese and non-Lebanese groups.

But the story took an even more troubling turn when on 2 April, the TV program “Al Nashra” on Lebanese channel Al Jadeed hosted one of Lensa’s employers (Crystel), her lawyer, and Lensa herself, “in an attempt to reveal the truth behind what happened to Lensa, within ten minutes”, to quote the video released by “This is Lebanon”.

The host spoke English with Lensa, and Arabic — a language that Lensa manifestly barely understands — with the other two women. With the help of volunteer translators, the 12-minute episode was released on “This is Lebanon” with English and Amharic subtitles.

‘Because I see myself broke, I don't want to work anymore here’

During the appearance, Lensa recanted her story and said that she had accidentally fallen down. The host then asked her, “You fell? When you were doing what?” to which she replied, “Putting my clothes out on balcony.”

At that point, Crystel intervened and said, “I insisted that Lensa appear on TV today” to which the host replied, “I didn't expect her situation to be so bad,” referring to the fact that Lensa was still in a hospital bed as she could not walk.

Lensa then said she “lied” as a way to break her work contract:

Because I want to go back to my country. Because I see myself broke I don't want to work anymore here, and to go back to my country.

And even apologised for any pain she caused:

She's good for me. All good for me. Madame too. […] I like her. She like me […] This is my wrong. The video is my wrong. […] Now I am asking this family, Khalil family, I'm sorry about this video. This video, I didn't think this bring problem for them.

This version stands in stark contrast to what Lensa said in Amharic when her employers were not present.

The host then asked Crystel whether it was conceivable that Lensa is too afraid to speak the truth on live television given that she is forced to go back to their household afterwards. Crystel said no, claiming Lensa had had several opportunities to ask for help had she needed it. Crystel, it should be noted, was originally accused by Lensa of attacking her with scissors.

However, Human Rights Watch was told by two Ethiopian women who visited Lensa at the hospital that she did not tell investigators the truth for fear of retaliation.

In the original video, Lensa recorded herself saying:

[…] From the very beginning they were abusing me […] They tortured me and I couldn't do anything to save myself. They beat me everyday with an electric cable and wrapped my hair around their hands and dragged me around the room. They smashed my head into the walls. […] There were four of them abusing us. […] They took turns abusing us. […] He was pushing his fingers into my eyes. […] I said to myself, ‘How long can I carry on?’ […] There was another Ethiopian girl with me and the same things were happening to her.

Accusations of a “hidden agenda”

“Al Jadeed” approached “This is Lebanon” and invited them on the show, but the group refused “to participante in this media circus”.

During the episode and in other media appearances before it, “This is Lebanon” and other migrant worker advocates actually became a target of ire.

In a different report on the Lebanese Broadcasting Channel, Crystel said that “in the Khalil household, there is no violence.” She alleged that “This is Lebanon” has “hidden agenda” and was using the name Eleanore Couture to get attention. She also threatened them with a lawsuit, accusing them of defamation and complaining that the situation has affected business.

On the “Al Jadeed” episode, the lawyer, who was there to represent the Khalil household rather than Lensa, claimed that there was a conspiracy:

The situation we're seeing today in Lebanon is that there are a large number of organisations funded from abroad whose apparent goal is to support migrant workers. The truth is that there is a competition between these organisations to see who can get the media scoop. Whether it's true or not doesn't matter.

“This is Lebanon” responded to the episode in a long post, in both English and Arabic, with a list of demands including:

1. Ensure Lensa’s safety by removing her from her employer’s house to a place where she is no longer in fear of retribution from her employer for speaking truthfully.
2. Ensure that Lensa is getting the medical care she needs for a speedy recovery.
3. Provide Lensa with the opportunity to talk with an Ethiopian social worker that will reassure her of her safety, provide her with her options, and to empower her to choose whatever she sees best fit.
4. Demand a proper investigation

No guarantee of protection so Lensa could speak freely

Meanwhile, Lensa's aunt Ganesh said in another video released by “This is Lebanon” that when she went to visit Lensa at the household after her testimony had been posted online, she was initially not allowed to have a private conversation with her. This was confirmed by the Lebanese francophone daily L'Orient Le Jour which reported that she was allowed only after pressure on social media.

On April 6, Human Rights Watch published a report about the matter, in which they found:

The [Lebanese] Internal Security Forces told Human Rights Watch that they had completed an investigation after speaking with Lelisa, another migrant domestic worker in the house, the employers, two forensic doctors, and the Ethiopian Embassy, and sent their report to the prosecutor’s office. However, the Internal Security Forces said they had not provided Lelisa with any guarantee of safety or protection to ensure that she was able to speak freely. “It’s the job of the embassy to provide reassurances or guarantees,” an official said.

The Lebanese police and the Ethiopian embassy officially concluded that Lensa's allegations of abuse were untrue.

Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon have repeatedly demanded the end of the notorious Kafala system, which ties a worker's legal status to her employer, and the ratification of the International Labor Organization's convention 189, which ensures human rights be respected for all domestic workers.

New Sexual Harassment Accusations Against Professor Jorge I. Domínguez Spark Heated Online Debate

Wed, 2018-04-11 17:32

Terry Karl (on the left) and Jorge Domínguez (on the right) in a snapshot from the video shared by News Dongo regarding the case of harassment claims against the Cuban-American academic.

A post by Roberto Veiga, director of the non-profit group Cuba Posible, has ignited debate on social networks about sexual harassment in Cuba.

In a post on the association's Facebook page, Veiga recounts accusations of sexual harassment against the well-known Cuban-American political scientist Jorge I. Domínguez. A professor of the Fundación México en Harvard-Antonio Madero (Mexico Foundation in Harvard-Antonio Madero) at Harvard University who was placed on academic leave by the institution because of his actions.

In February 2018, Domínguez was the subject of an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a US-based trade publication, which alleged that he had systematically sexually harassed university colleagues and students since the late seventies. At the center of the claims is the case of female assistant professor Karl Terry, who has been denouncing Domínguez's lascivious behavior since 1983.

According to The Chronicle, after she had refused his physical advances on multiple occasions, Terry described walking with Domínguez through a wooded area of campus when he commented to her, “This would be a nice place for a rape.”

At that time, Domínguez was censured for his actions and placed on administrative leave for three years. Terry considered the measure to be a mere “slap on the wrist.” Fearing what Domínguez might do upon his return, she abandoned her position at Harvard.

Since then, and in the context of the #MeToo movement, 18 new accusations have emerged. For the moment, the university is investigating the accusations and The Chronicle of Higher Education is documenting them.

In his missive, Veiga expresses his appreciation for Dominguez and his work and questions the veracity of what has been published in the press:

¿Quién puede asegurar que eso ocurrió? ¿Quién conoce que, si esto ocurrió, fue exactamente como se dice? ¿Quién se pregunta por qué fue ahora, y de conjunto, que se hace público todo de una sola vez? ¿Quién ha reclamado que no se debe emitir criterio valorativo hasta conocer ciertamente lo ocurrido? ¿Quién, convencido de que todo ha sucedido según las acusaciones, atiende a la exigencia de la justicia de criticar la culpabilidad, pero sin pretender mancillar las virtudes del acusado, ni su dignidad humana?

Who can verify that this happened? If this did happen, who knows that it happened exactly as they said it did? Who wonders why everything is made public now and all at once? Who has claimed that one should not submit evaluative criteria to know exactly what happened? Who, convinced that everything has taken place according to the accusations, attends to the justice's demand to analyze his guilt without hoping to sully the virtues of the accused or his human dignity?

A subsequent editorial in the Harvard Crimson, a campus newspaper run by Harvard undergraduates, holds the University responsible for failing to protect a female professor from the power that Domínguez held.

Academics belonging to the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) — among whom the presidents of the Cuba Section can be found — signed a letter that circulated on social networks. The letter categorically rejects Domínguez's conduct:

Such behavior has no place in our organization. If harassment occurs within an organization, there must be a reliable and effective channel to make complaints and the authorities must apply public sanctions to the transgressors. […] we extend our solidarity to all who are survivors of Jorge Dominguez’s unacceptable conduct and its apparent long-term tolerance by Harvard University.

It is important to note that the LASA was presided over by Domínguez between 1982 and 1983.

A window into a structural problem

It is striking that in the debate that ensued within the Cuban networks, particularly on Facebook, those who supported Veiga's position were chiefly men while those who criticized him were mostly women. The comments cited below were taken from responses to Veiga's post on Facebook and summarize the spirit of those who took a stance against it. Two of the participants in the discussion are also recognized academics and researchers.

At the time of the debate, the Cuban-American Professor Eliana Rivero noted:

Lo usual: esparcir dudas sobre el testimonio de las mujeres, porque “no se sabe”. En este triste caso, el respeto profesional hacia un hombre -según algunos otros hombres- lo exime parcialmente de sus pecados, ya reportados desde 1983. Y sí, el reconocimiento de belleza física o logros de una mujer pudiera constituir acoso si tal reconocimiento incluye el tocarla físicamente sin su consentimiento. A muchas, desafortunadamente, nos ha correspondido tal “suerte”; y parece mentira que, a estas alturas, se ponga nuestro testimonio en tela de juicio.

The usual thing: disperse doubts about women's testimony, because “one doesn't know.” In this sad case, the professional respect allowed a man – according to some other men – partially excuses him from his sins which have already been reported since 1983. And yes, the appreciation of a woman's physical beauty or achievements could be considered harassment if such appreciation includes physically touching her without her consent. To many, unfortunately, such “luck” corresponds to us, and it seems incredible that, at this point, our testimony is put into question.

For researcher Lisset Gutiérrez, the conversation around this is an example of how what happens to women continues being a secondary concern:

Cada vez que salen a la luz acusaciones hacia alguien que admiramos, respetamos y/o agradecemos por sus logros y aportes en otras esferas de la vida social, [es] a nosotras las mujeres es a las primeras que nos duele, nos decepciona y nos asombra. Porque nos damos cuenta que incluso para esos hombres, la dignidad de las mujeres es un tema menor, que ellos tienen que entender primero para respetarlo y defenderlo después. Y para entenderlo ponen todas las resistencias del mundo, aunque tengan los hechos y los argumentos delante.

Each time that accusations come to light against someone whom we admire, respect, and/or are grateful to because of their achievements and contributions in other spheres of social life, [it is] us women who are the first to be hurt, to be deceived, and to be overshadowed. Because we realize that even for these men, the dignity of women is a minor theme, that they have to understand first in order to respect it and to defend it later. And in order to understand it, they put all of the resistance in the world, even though they have the facts and the arguments in front of them.

Somewhat transcending Veiga's post, Claudia Barrientos refers to what many see as an intention to discredit the denunciation of the #MeToo movement which many have wanted to put aside due to its American origins:

Cuando quieren calificar esto del Me Too de americanismos, occidentalismos, etc, lo único que logran es recordarnos a todos que el machismo […] tiene tomados por asalto lugares de la izquierda [en] donde por definición [la idea] no debería ni caber. Para empezar, la presunción de que nos estamos dejando llevar, o que queremos imitar modelos […] se traduce en que somos […] descerebradas, incapaces de ver las raíces del capitalismo brutal operando tras bambalinas…

When they want to qualify the Me Too campaign as an americanisms, or an occidentalisms, etc., the only thing they achieve is reminding us all that machismo […] has hijacked places belonging to the left [where] by definition [the idea] should not even find a place. To begin with, the presumption that we are acting under their influence, or that we want to imitate models […] translates into an image of us as […] brainless [women], incapable of seeing the roots of brutal capitalism operating behind the scenes…

Ugandan Government Plans to Tax Social Media Users for Too Much Gossip

Wed, 2018-04-11 16:16

As Ugandan president Museveni plans a social media tax to curb gossip, netizens are concerned over freedom of expression. Image by Pixabay via CC0 Creative Commons, used with permission.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni wants social media users to suffer the consequences of their gossip — and to bolster the national budget at the same time.

In early April 2018, Museveni directed the Ministry of Finance to introduce taxes on “over the top” communication platforms (OTTs) such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

In Museveni's view, social media users use these platforms for what he called ‘lugambo’ (meaning gossip in Lugwere). In a statement quoted by The Daily Monitor, Musveni explained his position:

I am not going to propose a tax on internet use for educational, research or reference purposes… these must remain free. However, lugambo on social media (opinions, prejudices, insults, friendly chats) and advertisements by Google and I do not know who else must pay tax because we need resources to cope with the consequences of their lugambo…

The president accused the Finance Ministry and Uganda Revenue Authority of not working hard enough to identify new sources of taxes, lamenting that the government currently lacks tax income.

The government's attention to “over-the-top” applications raises a long-standing issue that many governments have taken with IP-based (Internet Protocol) communication applications, such as WhatsApp, which are free of charge for any person with internet access. Government actors (in Uganda and many other countries) have long voiced concern about losses in revenue for national telecom operators that were once the primary providers (and cost beneficiaries) of these services.

Museveni assures citizens that this tax will not affect those who use the internet for educational purposes, arguing that it will only affect those who spend time online engaging in idle gossip.

In an opinion piece for The Daily Monitor, Daniel Bill Opio called the social media tax “regressive”:

Social media being a widely used platform for communication, and most importantly as means to access of information, imposing of taxes thereon will be an impediment to the enjoyment of various rights.

Indeed, officials have offered no information about how (or by whom) social media content will be judged for its quality. If gossip or rumors take a political tone, could this lead to taxation or even indirect censorship of political criticism?

Netizens have also expressed doubts about the economic rationale behind the proposal. Democratic Party President Norbert Mao wrote on his Facebook page:

At a time when other countries are cutting the costs of internet, President Museveni wants to increase its cost. We actually need to aspire to making internet free.

Some are questioning whether these taxes will truly benefit Ugandans or if they will be used for Museveni's personal gains, as has been alleged in the past:

Uganda wants to profit where it did not invest. Social media owners gave it out for free and you wanna tax it? Is it an opportunity to increase revenue, avoiding transparency or just GREED?!!

— Trish (@trish886) April 9, 2018

The fact that social media was blocked twice on election day in Uganda on February 18, 2016, and during the swearing in of the president in May 2016 discourages poet and human rights lawyer Kizza Ebron:

The proposal to tax social has a bothersome background.

Government of Uganda has blocked social media twice in the past.

— KIIZA ERON (@kiizaeron) April 8, 2018

Eron goes on to compare social media to a public highway:

Social media is a high way. The proposed tax on social media use is a military road block.

Don't remind us those days…

— KIIZA ERON (@kiizaeron) April 8, 2018

Kyambadde Ronald, a health and social justice advocate, tweets:

The government of Uganda should at some point understand that the citizens are not gold mines, which they'll exploit vehemently, how on earth can you justify, the ongoing saga of new taxes- social media tax, banking tax etc? We've had enough of your injustices#socialjustice

— Kyambadde Ronald (@KyambaddeRonal6) April 8, 2018

Internet World Stats reports that Uganda currently has about 19 million internet subscribers, with 43 percent of the population online. The move to tax social media users could increase the digital gap if cost barriers rise.

This is only one way in which spaces for civic engagement are shrinking in Uganda. A January 2018 report from Unwanted Witness, a Ugandan NGO, painted a dim picture for free expression online in Uganda:

2017 registered the highest number of Ugandans ever arrested for their online expression and these arrests are clearly targeted crackdown on free flow of information and speech on the Internet.

In March 2018, the Uganda Communications Commission put out a directive to all online content creators to register their websites, creating yet another barrier to free expression online. The directive read:

All online data communication service providers, including online publishers, online news platforms, online radio and television operators are therefore, advised to apply and obtain authorisation from the Commission with immediate effect.

As of now, it is still not clear how the “gossip tax” will be implemented or monitored, or when it will take effect.

Brazil's Black Population Dominates Popular Politics, But Remains Left Out From Government

Wed, 2018-04-11 13:34

Flávia Rios: Seminar “50 years of feminism”, held at the University of São Paulo (USP) in 2016. Image: FFLCH / USP

By May 2018, it will be have been 130 years since Brazil formally abolished slavery; however, the legacy of three centuries of exploitation is still tangible to this day.

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 74% of the bottom 10% of Brazilians (in terms of wealth) are black. Black Brazilians are also 23.5% more likely to be victims of homicide than Brazilians of other races, controlling for age, education, gender, marital status and place of residence.

The month of March commemorated both International Women's Day and the lesser-known International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, both calling for a reflection on the advances and challenges for gender and racial equality.

In Brazil, it's undeniable that discussions around privilege and representation gained more traction and brought more voices to the table. An example of this is a policy that has rolled out over the past decade which saw public university admission quotas for black and indigenous students — a subject of heated debate in Brazilian society.

Simultaneously, the recent brutal murder of politician Marielle Franco laid bare the risks those who publicly challenge power structures are exposed to.

Global Voices spoke with Flávia Rios, vice-coordinator of the Social Sciences program at Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro. She spoke with us before Marielle's murder. Responses are slightly abbreviated.

Global Voices (GV): Brazil is among the 10 most unequal countries in the world. Women and black people are most affected by this. What recent advances can we really celebrate in the month of March?

Apesar dos retrocessos nos últimos anos, alguns avanços tivemos, como o parecer favorável do Supremo Tribunal Federal, que garante o direito o uso do nome social para pessoas trans, a aplicação da lei do feminicídio, a expansão das políticas de ações afirmativas no Ensino Superior, especialmente nos cursos de pós-graduação e nos concursos para cargos públicos federais.

Também é importante comemorar a redução do número de mulheres jovens e negras ocupando serviços domésticos, categoria profissional majoritariamente feminina e negra, mal remunerada, com forte presença de informalidade, assédios e abusos físicos e psicológicos – o que demonstra fortes laços estruturais com a herança escravocrata.

Em contraste, percebe-se maior participação de mulheres negras encerrando ciclos educacionais, como o Ensino Médio e o Ensino Superior, em comparação com as décadas anteriores, quando não havia políticas de ações afirmativas.

Políticas públicas e maior politização das relações raciais têm desafiado estereótipos fixos, arcaicos e empoeirados nas molduras talhadas pelas classes médias e elites conservadoras do país, através de meios de comunicação alternativa, difusão de pesquisas acadêmicas, engajamento de novas gerações de militantes, novas visualidades e formas de ser negro e ser mulher negra (difundidas pela apropriação das tecnologias audiovisuais).

Na política, temos um paradoxo: homens negros e mulheres negras atuam na política popular, nas ruas, nas associações de bairro e de favela, nas organizações da sociedade civil, contudo são fortemente subrepresentadas/os nas esferas executivas, legislativas e judiciárias. Mesmo com as cotas nos partidos políticos, mulheres brasileiras não superaram as rígidas desigualdades de acesso às cadeiras legislativas. As mulheres não-brancas (como negras, indígenas e asiáticas) nem conseguem ser representadas estatisticamente. há muito que se avançar nas lutas antirracistas e feministas no que se refere à distribuição do poder no Brasil. O poder continua sendo patriarcal, majoritariamente dominado pelos homens brancos.

Despite the setbacks in recent years, there have been advances, such a favorable resolution by the Supreme Court on transgender people's right to a social name, the creation of the feminicide crime, the expansion of affirmative action policies in higher education, especially in postgraduate programs, and in recruitment for civil service.

It is also important to celebrate the fact that there are less young black women doing domestic work, a professional category that is predominantly black and female, poorly paid, highly informal and with frequent presence of physical and psychological harassment and abuse — demonstrating strong structural ties with the slaveholding heritage.

In contrast, there are more black women completing educational cycles, such as middle and high school, compared to previous decades when there were no affirmative action policies.

Public policies and greater politicization of racial relations have challenged the fixed, archaic, and dusty stereotypes shaped by the conservative middle-class and elites of the country. This is happening through alternative means of communication, larger dissemination of academic research, engagement of new generations of activists, and new stories and images representing black men and women (diffused by the appropriation of audiovisual technologies).

In politics, we have a paradox: Black men and women dominate popular politics, on the streets, in neighborhoods and favela associations, and in civil society organizations, but they are severely underrepresented in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers. Even with affirmative action within political parties, Brazilian women have not managed to overcome the rigid inequalities in access to legislative seats. Non-white women (such as Black, Indigenous, and Asian women) aren't even represented stastistically. There is a lot to be done in the anti-racist and feminist struggles when it comes to distribution of power in Brazil. The power is still patriarchal and dominated by white men.

GV: Do you think Brazil still lives and reproduces the myth of racial democracy?

Recentemente, a filósofa e ativista Sueli Carneiro disse que as novas gerações já não estariam mais protegidas pela etiqueta das relações raciais, tal como se via quando a democracia racial era discurso hegemônico e pregava a inexistência de um conflito racial aberto no Brasil.

Acho que ela está correta. A sociedade brasileira mudou muito. Os discursos de ódio da extrema direita fabricaram um neoconservadorismo que é diferente do conservadorismo antigo, cujas práticas tornaram a nação conhecida pelo termo “racismo à brasileira”, usado para velar o grande abismo social e econômico entre brancos e negros no país.

No entanto, hoje, vemos segmentos que abertamente defendem o ódio racial, sobretudo em ambientes que antes eram exclusivamente da elite branca, como universidades públicas e privadas. Esse novo discurso foi agora amplificado pela crise política e pelas reações às ações afirmativas e políticas de igualdade racial.

Mas a verdade é que os negros e as mulheres já não estão mais nos lugares de invisibilidade antes imaginados pelas classes dirigentes e por aqueles que detinham o monopólio da representação de consumo de massa no Brasil.

Recently, philosopher and activist Sueli Carneiro said that the new generations are no longer protected by the old etiquette of racial relations when racial democracy was a hegemonic discourse, based on the premise that there was no open racial conflict in Brazil.

I think she's correct. Brazilian society has changed a lot. The extreme right's hate speech has produced a neoconservatism that is different from the old conservatism, whose practices made the nation known by the term “racism a la Brazil”, which used to hide the great social and economic gap between white and black people in the country.

Today, however, we see groups that openly advocate racial hatred, especially in environments that once belonged exclusively to the white elite such as public and private universities. This new discourse has been amplified by the political crisis, and by reactions to affirmative action and racial equality politics.

But, the truth is, black individuals and women are no longer in the places of invisibility once imagined by the ruling classes and by those who held the monopoly of mass consumption representation in Brazil.

GV: What about institutional racism, how is it reflected in Brazil today?

O racismo institucional opera, na maioria das vezes, de forma codificada, quando há comportamentos e práticas orientados por valores excludentes, mas que por vezes se apresentam de forma velada, com expressões do tipo “esse trabalho não é para você”, “precisamos de outro perfil”. São práticas discriminatórias que se confundem com o próprio sistema, presentes na cultura empresarial ou nas burocracias públicas, que impedem o acesso ou o progresso nas carreiras de homens e mulheres negras.

Também há racismo institucional quando o governo não prioriza saúde, lazer e educação em territórios com população majoritariamente negra ou indígena; ou quando uma política pública de segurança é claramente baseada em estereótipos raciais, como em abordagem policiais.

Institutional racism operates, in most cases, in a coded way, when there are behaviors and practices shaped by excluding values, but sometimes veiled, with expressions such as “this work is not for you” or “we're looking for someone with a different profile”. They are discriminatory practices that merge into and are part of the system itself, present in the corporate culture or public bureaucracies which prevent access or progress for black men and women's careers.

There is also institutional racism when the government does not prioritize health, leisure and education in territories with a predominantly black or indigenous population or when laws and security policies are clearly based on racial profiling, as in law enforcement.


Researcher Flávia Rios. Personal Archive.

GV: Is Brazilian society more aware of the privileges of certain groups?

A discussão sobre privilégio ganhou força especialmente no contexto de luta pelas cotas [raciais, nas universidades públicas]. Foi no acirrado debate pelas ações afirmativas que esse tema do privilégio emergiu publicamente, porque foi o conceito mais forte utilizado pelos ativistas pró-igualdade racial contra a retórica da meritocracia, que no Brasil tomou feição conservadora. Conservadora porque não propunha nenhuma alternativa eficiente para a superação das desigualdades raciais, mas se agarrava à ideia de que o mérito era medida universal para o acesso à universidade. Na verdade, tratava-se de um discurso retórico para proteger os filhos das classes médias e das elites nos espaços universitários públicos (de alta qualidade no Brasil), que se apropriaram e reproduziram esse mesmo discurso.

Os negros não eram e não são contra o mérito; eram e são contra o discurso meritocrático cego às vantagens estruturais dos brancos numa sociedade de formação colonial e escravista, cujo ponto de partida já gerava larga desvantagem para as pessoas não-brancas, especialmente as indígenas e as negras.


Discussions about privilege have gained traction, especially in the context of affirmative action in public universities. It was in that heated debate that the privilege issue emerged publicly, because it was the strongest demand of racial equality activists against the rhetoric of meritocracy, which in Brazil took a conservative tone. Conservative, because it offered no efficient alternative to overcoming racial inequalities. Instead, it clung to the idea that merit was a universal measure for university access. In fact, it was a rhetorical discourse to protect the children of the middle-class and the elite in public university spaces (known for higher quality of education in Brazil). These same classes appropriated and reproduced this same discourse.

Black people were not and are not against merit. They were and are against a meritocratic discourse that is blind to the structural advantages of white people in a society shaped by colonialism and slavery whose starting point leads to a great disadvantage for non-white people, especially indigenous and black people.

GV: In connecting racial movements and gender equality fights, the term “intersectionality” has been very much present. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

A interseccionalidade pode ser entendida por três registros: 1) como conceito das ciências sociais e jurídicas; 2) como ferramenta de intervenção política; e 3) como identidade coletiva.

Do ponto de vista teórico e conceitual, originalmente cunhado pela professora Kimberle Crenshaw, a abordagem interseccional nasce do feminismo negro norte-americano, que se recusa a analisar a desigualdade no singular. As múltiplas formas de opressão sociais e produção de desigualdade são levadas em conta numa abordagem multidimensional, como raça, gênero, classe, religião, sexualidade, nacionalidade, geração.

Antes que eu me esqueça, é preciso desfazer o engano de que a interseccionalidade dá conta do somatório das desvantagens sociais, culturais ou econômicas. Ou seja, não se trata de mensurar o sofrimento social, trata-se de analisar as causas múltiplas das desigualdades, seja qual for a sua natureza, sem pretender hierarquizá-las.

Já a interseccionalidade como ferramenta de intervenção política abarca as variáveis que, em conjunto, seriam capazes de revelar os pontos em que as desvantagens se tornam mais cruciais para um dado grupo social. A partir dessa identificação, são tomadas decisões relacionadas às concepções de políticas públicas, entendidas como instrumentos de intervenção social com vistas a promover a equidade.

No que se refere à construção da identidade coletiva, a interseccionalidade apresenta-se como uma rejeição ao feminismo do tipo branco e liberal, que ignora a situação da mulher negra, e também é uma forma de criticar a insuficiência do componente de gênero e da sexualidade no feminismo negro mais tradicional.

É obvio que no feminismo latino-americano e no feminismo negro das Américas há uma perspectiva interseccional na gênese de seu pensamento, mas é fato que nem sempre foi assim. A visibilidade e as urgências das pessoas LGBT (Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais e Trans) são temas e identidades que se impõem abertamente no feminismo interseccional.



Intersectionality can be understood in three ways: 1) as a concept of the social and legal sciences; 2) as a tool for political intervention; and 3) as a collective identity.

From a theoretical and conceptual point of view, originally coined by Professor Kimberle Crenshaw, the intersectional approach comes from North American black feminism which refuses to analyze inequality in a singular way. The multiple forms of social oppression and production of inequality are taken into account in a multidimensional approach, such as race, gender, class, religion, sexuality, nationality, generation.

Before I forget, we must undo the misconception that intersectionality refers to the sum of social, cultural, or economic disadvantages. That is, it is not a matter of measuring social suffering; it is a matter of analyzing the multiple causes of inequalities, whatever their nature, with no intention to rank them.

On the other hand, intersectionality as a tool for political intervention refers to the variables that, together, could reveal the situations in which disadvantages become urgent to a given social group. After identifying this, public policies are designed, understood as instrument of social intervention with the goal of promoting equity.

And with the construction of collective identity, intersectionality presents itself as a rejection of white, liberal feminism, which ignores the situation of black women and is also a way of criticizing the lack of acknolwedgement of gender and sexuality in the more traditional black feminism.

It is obvious that, when it comes Latin American feminism and the black feminism of the Americas, there is an intersectional perspective in the origins of its thinking. But it is a fact that this has not always been so. The visibility and urgency of LGBT people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) are themes and identities that are openly acknowledged in intersectional feminism.

GV: You are a black, intellectual woman with robust research background on racial issues. How does academia understand its role in fighting racist practices?

Via de regra, a academia sempre foi privilégio dos brancos. Ao longo do século XX, tivemos pesquisadores e professores negros nas grandes universidades brasileiras somente em caráter excepcional! A regra dominante era o monopólio da branquitude e do pensamento eurocêntrico.

Em contraste, a grande maioria dos pesquisadores e intelectuais negros produziu conhecimento fora das instituições universitárias, seja porque foram desencorajados no ensino médio, ou porque ingressavam tardiamente nos cursos de graduação, ou porque não conseguiam persistir na carreira universitária por falta de recursos, de redes de apoio e de relacionamentos dentro e fora do mundo científico, ou porque seus temas e objetos de estudos eram considerados menores ou entendidos como escolhas militantes. A academia via os negros como objetos de investigação, nunca como investigadores e produtores de saber legítimo nessa esfera de produção de conhecimento.

Somente na virada do século XXI que passamos a ter uma maior presença de estudantes negros, na graduação, na pós-graduação e na carreira docente, graças à eficácia das ações afirmativas no ingresso e nos concursos públicos e à demanda discente por mais conteúdos e pesquisas que tratam da temática racial e de gênero. Essa mudança, embora ainda lenta, já se torna visível na produção científica e na redução das desigualdades. 

As a rule, academia has always been the privilege of white individuals. During the 20th century, we have had black scholars in the great Brazilian universities only rarely! The dominant rule was the monopoly of whiteness and Eurocentric thought.

In contrast, the vast majority of black researchers and intellectuals produced knowledge outside university institutions, either because they were discouraged in high school; or because they were late in entering undergraduate courses; or because they could not persist in an academic career due to a lack of resources, network support and relationships in and outside the scientific world; or because their themes and objects of study were considered minor or understood as activist choices. Academia used to see black people as objects of study, never as researchers or producers of legitimate knowledge.

It was only at the turn of the 21st century that we began having a greater presence of black students, undergraduates, postgraduates and professors, thanks to the effectiveness of affirmative action as well as the students’ demands for more content and research related to racial and gender issues. This change, although still slow, is already visible in scientific production and in the reduction of inequalities.


How RootIO Broadcasts Radio in Uganda Using a Bucket

Wed, 2018-04-11 12:02

The open-source toolkit allows users to broadcast using just a smartphone and a transmitter

Picture supplied and used with permission.

The following article written by Tshepo Tshabalala of the Journalism and Media Lab (, is a programme of Wits Journalism and the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights and Ryerson University. It is republished here with permission. The original article can be found here.

Radio is still and continues to be a powerful medium across most of the African continent. Not only is radio used to share community information but it is cheap and very accessible. In Uganda, a mixing of radio’s power with new mobile and internet technologies has created a cheap and powerful open-source toolkit that allows communities to create their own micro-radio stations. All one needs is an inexpensive smartphone and a transmitter and a community that will share, promote and collaborate on dynamic content.

RootIO is working to mobilise what they call ‘intercommunity communication’. Co-founder, Chris Csikszentmihalyi says the idea came after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 when FM radio stations transformed their programming from ordinary radio shows to programming on information on how people devastated by the earthquake find places where there was water or where they could find help. About a year and a half later, Csikszentmihalyi found himself in Uganda while working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) through an educational programme. He was amazed at the manner in which Ugandans used phones — rarely for calls.

“In the rural areas, people would go for long without recharging their credit or they didn’t keep credit on their phone and at the same time, they listened to radio 24/7,” he says. In the villages where I was staying, people would walk about 7km to charge their phones, put credit on and then only make a call. It’s not like an always on thing. They used it when they needed to. I thought is there a way of joining these two things together in a way that no one had done before.”

RootIO radio buckets. Picture: SUPPLIED and used with permission.

While working at UNICEF, he met Jude Mukundane, who at the time was working for Uganda Telecom helping to develop Mobile phone based birth registration for the Ugandan Government in conjunction with UNICEF. Mukundane was doing some interesting stuff with telephones using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD). “I tried to hired him … then about a year later, he was he is ready to do something,” says Csikszentmihalyi.

“So together we said we should change radio and make radio work better with phones, make interaction with radio easier for people. And we came up with RootIO at that point,” Csikszentmihalyi says.

Mukundane became the chief technical officer, taking care of the technical side of things, while Csikszentmihalyi focused on the fundraising amongst other responsibilities.

“I make sure that the technology is at par with what we are promising communities,” he says.

A RootIO antenna in an agricultural village in Uganda. Picture: SUPPLIED and used with permission.

The technology he is referring to is what makes these radio stations unique. They have no studio and all the radio shows are done using the host’s smartphone.

How does this work? Users can purchase most of the materials at local markets. A small transmitter is built into a waterproof bucket with a fan, a charge-controller and a smartphone, which is connected to an antenna and a solar panel.

The radio stations are really small and can serve a village or a couple of villages reaching to 10,000 listeners. The content produced by the radio hosts lives in the cloud so stations are able to share content with other stations.

“Our computer calls the station and the show’s host…The station’s phone automatically answers when it is time for the programme. Listeners wanting to participate in the radio show’s discussions would call in, but their calls would be dropped, then the computer would call them back. So people are not charged,” says Csikszentmihaly.

No one in the community is getting charged when they are making phone calls. RootIO buys data at bulk corporates rates that are about 50 times cheaper than anyone in the community could get. RootIO’s costs are offset by selling advertising to NGO’s and businesses.

The team started with four stations two years ago and has now been commissioned to run another 12–15 stations in eastern Uganda by the Kenyan border, and five to seven radio stations commissioned Cape Verde as well.

RootIO tower in Uganda. Picture: SUPPLIED and used with permission.

Csikszentmihaly adds that they run RootIO at breakeven. Even the software that they use is free and is available as open source on GitHub and anyone can download and run the app on a phone.

Csikszentmihaly and Mukundane hope to build a whole lot more inexpensive low power FM radio stations to hand control of FM radio to the people who depend on radio the most.

Confrontation and Disruption in a New Exhibition by Chinese-American Artist Xiaoze Xie

Wed, 2018-04-11 11:25

In his work, artist Xiaoze Xie deals with the vulnerability of historical memory and superficiality of perception in the media age. (PHOTO: Stanford University, used with permission).

In his latest exhibition, “Confrontation and Disruption,” Chinese American artist Xiaoze Xie invites his audience to explore a fresh reading of time and memory mixed with a powerful reflection on global concerns.

Xie tackles street confrontations with the police, refugees, violence and war, and issues of resistance and empathy. His fascination with books and newspapers, a dominant current in his work over more than two decades, is a commanding force in this latest exhibition, highlighting his creative process as an observer of the human condition. He has remained loyal to these themes in spite of their being a challenging sell in the global art market, where collectors and even galleries sometimes define or direct artists’ growth and success.

During a recent interview with me in Brooklyn, Xie told me that “to consistently explore a theme, you will be able to go deeper, and you will also be able to expand the scope of the theme.”

Xie’s focus on newspapers and books has nothing to do with the “decline of print media,” but he acknowledges that the “rise of digital media and the internet” has brought “a kind of urgency” and “a different kind of relevancy” to his work.

Regarding the large size and scale of his paintings, Xie explains that by painting books and newspapers much bigger than they actually are “they gain a kind of presence and unfamiliarity than when you are used to deal with books or newspapers, something very small in real life, you look at the monumental representation of those trivial daily objects.”

Born in China in 1966, Xie is the Paul L. and Phyllis Wattis Professor of Art at Stanford University. In the interview excerpted below, I asked him about his creative process, teaching art at Stanford, the subjects of his works, his technique, political art in China and his relationship with his audience.

Omid Memarian: The title of your recent exhibition at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery is “Confrontation and Disruption.” Why did you call it that?

Xiaoze Xie: It includes three groups of works. One group is paintings from a recent series of newspapers called “Both Sides Now.” Each painting is based on a section of a found sheet of newspaper, an existing issue. The painting looks like the texts and images on the backside of the newspapers have bled over to the front. If you turn over the pages of a newspaper against the light, sometimes you see the backside of it. Or, if you hold it against the window, you see the text and images of the backside of the paper overlap with the ones on the front. Creating a kind of overlapping, almost confusing effect. Or at least the images and texts from the backside disrupt the ones on the front.

From February 3, 2007, L.G.D.S. No. 1”(La Gazzetta dello Sport). 2007, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 inches, Artist Studio at Stanford. Here Xie presents the confrontation of soccer fans with riot police at night during a game in Italy in 2007. (Used with permission).

It creates a dense layer of information that sometimes relates to, sometimes contradicts with and sometimes interrupts each other. That’s where the title comes from.

I also present six large paintings from the series, including images of illegal immigrants from North Africa during rescue efforts, and also, images of confrontations with the police in two different newspapers. One of the images depicts the confrontation of soccer fans with riot police at night during a game in Italy in 2007. Soccer fans throw rocks at the riot police and their armed vehicles. The scene is somehow fleeting and ambiguous. You get this idea of confrontation and violence but you don’t really specifically know what was the cause. Was it political? For me, it’s more of a symbolic image of confronting the authority, the clash between the ordinary people and the police, not unlike the famous Time Magazine’s photo of a Chinese student in front of the tanks.

OM: What does the confrontation in your work refer to?

“August 26, 2013, I.H.T (International Herald Tribune)” 2014, oil and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 64 inches. (Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas. Used with permission).

Xie: By using the word “confrontation,” I’m trying to indicate a general kind of attitude, non-acceptance, resistance and struggle. The other painting, “August 26, 2013, International Herald Tribune,” was based on a news photo of riot police confronted by demonstrators in Bangkok, Thailand, when the police confronted them. There is a close-up of the riot police with their shields and helmets, and it is a very impersonalized image that feels very cold and machine-like. On the shields, they are writings that demonstrators drew with markers on the transparent part of the shields. And they say, ‘Civil War is coming,’ ‘There was injustice,’ ‘parliament is not justice’—from this work you get a sense of what is going on. Even though each painting is based on specific events, my work as a whole deals with recurring themes and concerns and reflects an attitude.

OM: Are concepts such as resistance, disruption, and social movements things that keep you alarmed during the day? A reflection or reaction to all the things that are happening in the world?

Xie: Well, being an artist or not, I think one is an observer of social life either directly or indirectly. Nowadays, we perceive more what is going on around us from the media than as a witness. But we are witnesses in a sense anyway. From all kinds of content that we get from the media, I’m always more drawn to the ones that are more tragic and disturbing, not the regular daily life or entertainment or sports. I’m not interested in those. Subjects with conflicts, struggles, and some intensity always compel me to paint, because I think they are important.

OM: And how do you see it through the eyes of somebody who buys your art—that disturbance and tragic moment to place on the wall of somebody who buys your art? What is the role of the kind of art that reflects tragedy in people’s lives?

Xie: When I’m doing the work, I’m not really thinking about the work being collected and lived with. I mostly think about the audience in a more general way. Before the work is collected, it’s usually exhibited in public and sometimes it gets into the media, so many more people than the collectors would see the work. To live with art is a different kind of story, and I must admit that these large paintings with intense content and political subjects are harder to live with and they are harder to sell. But that doesn’t stop me from making them. The appreciation for art should be broader; it can’t be just something that pleases your eyes and something that you get visual pleasure out of. Art should be thought-provoking at the same time. It makes you think; it allows you to look at things from a different angle. And at best, it could inspire action, I hope.

“November-December 2008, L.T. “(The London Times) 2010, oil on canvas, 52 x 75 inches. (Anglim Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco. Used with permission).

OM: Your fascination with books and newspapers has been reflected in many of your works. Where does that come from?

Xie: I’ve always been interested in time and memory and how memory and history or human thought are contained in material form. So books and newspapers are the material forms of things that are invisible and abstract. It came across very early, in the early 90s, when I first came to the United States. When I spent a lot of time in libraries, wandering between aisles and bookshelves, I would see these rows of books in front of me—you know, these silent and sleeping books. So what do they contain? From the spines, sometimes you don’t know, they are almost like tombstones. Then later I looked at stacks of newspapers. I’d look at the edges of these folded newspapers, and I’d see a dense pattern of symbols, dots, characters, and words. Eventually, I’d look even closer and zoom in on the side of the stack to reveal fragments of news photos, mixed with words and phrases. All these bits of information sometimes seem irrelevant, but they come together to create the juxtaposition of different events, a glimpse of what is going on in a certain period of time. If I am only interested in the formal aspect of a subject, like the abstract composition of vertical and horizontal lines, I could very well be painting other objects in life. But it is the meaning of the subject that fascinates me.

OM: Could it be the fact that books and newspapers are getting erased from people’s lives? We might not have any newspapers in 15-20 years. Do you feel you are making them last longer by painting them?

Xie: Yes, that has changed the interpretation of my work in the past years. But I must say it was not my initial intention. The decline of print media is something that happened later. I started this subject very early on before this was happening. As I continue to work on the subject, paper media is getting obsolete and constantly challenged by digital media and the Internet. Therefore, sometimes my work is interpreted as being a eulogy, being nostalgic for what is an age that is perhaps almost over. I think that the current situation with the rise of digital media and the internet gives a kind of urgency to my work; it brings a different kind of relevancy, I hope.

“January-February 2011, G. (The Guardian).” 2011, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 92 1/2 inches. (Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago. Used with permission).

OM: There is continuity in the subject matters you pick for your paintings. Consistency in raising awareness, emboldening what exists around their role in life that might be ignored or downplayed. What’s underneath your commitment to this approach?

Xie: If you randomly make a few works with a certain approach, that is something different. I think to consistently explore a theme, you will be able to go deeper, and you will also be able to expand the scope of the theme. For example, when I started painting books, I didn’t know that it would continue for so many years. I first started painting Western books, and then after I went back to China in 1994, I  started painting Chinese thread-bound books with different forms and atmosphere. Later, I expanded the subject further to include museum libraries, horizontal large folios sitting on metal shelves. The feel and the look were totally different. It was the same with newspapers.

OM: Have you seen any change or shift in the views of the Chinese government in regard to accepting political art in recent years?

In general, control over the media and ideology in recent years has been much tighter than in the past.

OM: Is it more difficult for artists in China to exhibit their work if it has a political theme?

Xie: Works engaging social-political themes are always harder to exhibit or publish. Recently, I have been working on a project about banned books in China. I interviewed an editor who said that in the past, they could publish 15-20 books per year and now only a handful. Many more of their proposals are turned down compared to the past. You need to get permission in order to get published.

OM: How does the Chinese government view your work? Do they tolerate your work? And do you need to get permission to exhibit your work?

Xie: In official museums, they are going to be very careful about what they show. There are certain things that you don’t even think about it, you just know that they are not going to show them. Things are a bit easier in commercial galleries and small spaces—unless you come up with something that is overtly political, confrontational that touches on taboo subjects—otherwise it is usually ok. If it is ambiguous enough, you can get away with it. So I must say that there is a little bit more room in the field of visual arts than in mass media. For example, if you post something on the Internet that they consider as subversive, the post could disappear right away. But visual arts tend to be more ambiguous; they tend to be not so straightforward and it is harder to get a message, therefore, you have a little bit more room to play.  

“September 9, 2013, S.Z. (Suddeutsche Zeitung)” 2014, oil and acrylic on canvas 64 x 95 inches.(Private collection, Dallas. Used with permission).

OM: You have brilliant technique; you can do so many different things with your brush. Can we say that some of your work touches on hyperrealism? Also, why painting instead of photography?

Xie: This is a question that has been asked about my work many times. Actually, I do both in my work, I’ve done paintings that are based on photography and I’ve done photography and videos. When I have direct contact with reality and photograph certain scenes in China, sometimes I feel like the photographs are strong enough as direct documentation of social life, the photographs are the final work.

It is a different case when I paint a stack of newspapers or a single sheet of newspaper, or books. I feel there is a need to translate this subject, these fleeting or transient images, into something more permanent-traditionally oil paintings. When you look at a painting in a museum, you get a sense that it is going to last longer. When you look at newspapers, you recycle them after flipping through the pages. So I feel an urge to capture something temporary and make it into something more permanent. as if to say: look at this, remember this, we cannot forget this.

“November-December 2008, L.T. “(The London Times) 2010, oil on canvas, 52 x 75 inches. (Anglim Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco. Used with permission).

In the “Weibo” series, I made paintings based on images downloaded from the popular social platform called “Weibo.” Many images that I downloaded were censored shortly after they were posted. They are no longer there. So particularly when they are more time sensitive, the urge for me to make it into art is stronger. I hope to give it presence in life, in time, and to let it last longer.

There is also the question of translation, for example, to simply enlarge a photograph of a stack of newspaper just doesn’t work for me. In the process of painting, there is fine-tuning and layering of colors, gesture and touch of hands, simplification, accentuation, etc. The image is transformed in that process.

I think the painting is much richer than the source photo that I work from, and the adjustments that I make in the painting process are important and enhance the image. Sometimes my feeling and understanding of the subject will unconsciously be present through the process of painting. Even though the paintings look more or less photographic from a glance, when you get up close and look at it, it is unmistakably a painting. It has something to do with the history of the painting. So this dialogue between the past and the long history is very important in my work.

OM: You teach art. What’s the significance of art schools in preparing a new generation of artists, if that’s at all possible?

Xie: When I was in China, art education was more focused on the technical and formal aspects. In the West, at least, in the contemporary art education in the U.S., the focus is placed on the conceptual basis of art-making. Why are you making this? What do you want to say? What message do you want to get across? How is the work related to a larger context? These are the more fundamental questions to ask. I’m lucky enough to combine these two trends of higher education and come up with my own approach. Of course, I cannot summarize what art education is like in China now since it has been so long ago when I was there. Right now it seems that it has been heavily influenced by art education in the West.

OM: A while ago, when you were explaining your trip to China and working on a new idea, you said that you don’t know what the outcome of that research and inspiration would be. Whether it’s a painting or installation, or even a video project. As an artist, you are free to use different media to express your feelings, concerns and communicate your thought process. How do you choose your medium? Particularly when you pick painting, which in your technique is very dominant.

Xie: Well, actually, most people have some conceptions or misconceptions about the creative process and tend to view it as something mysterious. One moment the inspiration descends on you and gets you very excited and you use that to make the work. There are artists who are more intuitive and spontaneous, and there also artists that are very rational, very thoughtful, and they go through a lot of preparations and planning to carry out the idea and execute the work. I think I belong to the latter group, and yes, there are these moments that you get ideas and you are struck by something, you are motivated and compelled to do something.

But to go from there and to expand the idea, to realize it in the most powerful ways, you have to go through a process of preparation and planning. These are more strategic. The choice of medium is an important part of the process. I may choose to translate source images into paintings, or present photographs or videos or objects, or combine different forms into one installation. Everything follows the concept. With painting, which is my favorite medium, I have to go through the long process of labor; I have to spend all this time working in the studio and for me, it is very important to have direct physical contact with the work, even if it sounds old-fashioned. It is as if to insist that the viewer spend time looking at it or convincing someone to memorize it.

For me, labor is an important part of art. The nature of art is artifact. Artifact that embodies thoughts, feelings and labor.

No Laughing Matter: China Shuts Down Popular Joke-Sharing App

Wed, 2018-04-11 10:52

NeihanShequ's application icon on Android phone.

Authorities in China have ordered a ban on NeihanShequ, a popular app for jokes and riddles, arguing that Neihan content has become too “vulgar” and “banal”.

On April 10, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China (SAPPRFT) ordered Toutiao or Today’s Headline, China’s most popular information platform, to shut down its affiliated social media application, NeihanShequ (內涵段子). Neihan allowed users to submit jokes and riddles in multimedia format, for others to comment on and vote up or down.

SAPPRFT’s press release on April 10 stated:


During the supervision of Toutiao’s rectification, SAPPRFT discovered that the company’s affiliated content application and public account, NeihanShequ, is heading a wrong direction with its vulgar and banal content. Netizens have strong reaction against such content. To maintain the order of internet visual and audio content and provide a clean environment, SAPPRFT ordered NeihanShequ to shut down its application and public account permanently. The company [Toutaio] has to learn the lesson and clean up audio visual content products with similar nature.

Launched in 2012, NeihanShequ’s application has had more than 14 million downloads. The application is a rising star among a dozen more popular content applications affiliated with Toutiao, which had an estimated USD $22 billion market value in August 2017.

The company’s CEO Zhang Yiming issued a public apology in response to SAPPRFT’s order:


I sincerely apologize to the supervision authority, our users and colleagues. The product has taken a wrong direction against the socialist core value and has not fulfilled the responsibility of public opinion channeling. I accept the punishment and I should be the one taking all the responsibility.

Zhang also promised that Toutiao will strengthen self-censorship measures by increasing the pre-screen staff team from 6,000 to 10,000 people.

The public reaction to the ban has been strong — many have expressed their frustration through humor, in keeping with the spirit of Neihan.

Some Neihan community members have created flashmob videos mourning the shutdown of the site. Most of these videos also have been taken down from public domain, but some are still available. Here is one backup video on Facebook in which people collectively sing a mourning song.

A widely circulated remix image mourning the shutdown of NeihanShequ.

Although most of the multimedia content mourning the shutdown has been censored, text content is still searchable. A widely circulated mourning statement read:


Weibo was turned into a zombie. WeChat was trapped in countless circles. And then, the loyal short video fighter, the great joker, family storyteller, our friend Neihan left the world on 10 April 2018. He lived for 2,314 days.

Trees and grass shed tears, fellows are in grief. Our friend Neihan lies in peace upon green pine leaves, covered with a colourful flag which symbolizes what he pursued throughout his life.

Tencent and Weibo could not attend the mourning because their accounts had been suspended. WeChat was incommunicado. QQ was undergoing system maintenance.

International friends including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook sent their condolences. Toutiao and Netease News sent flowers. Kuaipai, Houshan, Tik Tok attended the mourning in person and bowed to Neihan.

Other netizens have suggested that the ban was motivated mainly by the strength of the Neihan community, which could be seen as a threat to power, rather than by vulgarity or banality as stated by authorities.

低俗只是个借口 微博就没有低俗内容? 只是段友现在已经发展的太庞大了

Vulgarity is just an excuse. Weibo also has vulgar content. The main reason is that the community of Neihan was getting too strong.


Shutting down Neihan permanently. Are you afraid that the users’ organization power is stronger than a certain Party?


A country, a government, a supervision department. They are all scared of a joke-sharing application, this is such a joke.

Others have reflected on the strength of Neihan as a community and described the values that brought users together:

内涵段子,不低俗,不色情。 段友四不笑、不笑贫穷、不笑疾病、不笑天灾、不笑人祸,段友三不黑,不黑育人之师,不黑护国之军,不黑救人之医。 如有违规者,不是不知情就是故意,违规的这些人根本算不上段友也不配。 虽然内涵不在,但段友永在 嘀~嘀嘀

Neihan’s posts are far from vulgar and obscene. The community has a set of common values. They would not laugh at poverty, sickness, disaster or accident. They would not mock teachers, soldiers, doctors. The community looks down on those who violate the shared code. Though there is no more Neihan, the community still exists. Di-didi [Neihan's secret code].

我希望我还来得及说出这句话。人生真的很短,内涵段子陪我走了两年,很多个夜晚都是它陪我度过,它真的让我在最孤独的日子里开心过,没心没肺的笑过。听说马上就要下架了,我真的希望是谣言,假如真的以后都没有这个软件了,我希望大家不要忘记这它,我希望若干年后我还在马路上听到滴 滴滴我相信你们

I hope I can still share my feelings. Life is short and Neihan has accompanied me for two years. When I was lonely, I spent the nights with the app and had a good laugh. Now that it has to be shut down, I hope this is a rumor. But if it turns out to be true, I hope people won’t forget about it and I can still hear di didi [a secret code shared by Neihan community] when I walk down the street many years later. I believe in you all.

Neihan is not the only target in this latest crackdown. Authorities seem to be focused on multimedia content platforms, as content-based censorship on these platforms can be difficult.

Two other multimedia content platforms affiliated with Toutiao are under pressure to clean up their content. Tik Tok, a music video social media application, activated an “anti-addiction” function on April 10. Houshan, a video selfie-sharing application, has been temporary taken down by SAPPRFT.

Kauishou, a popular image sharing app, was pressured to hire 3,000 new staff to pre-screen its content after SAPPRFT issued a temporary take-down notice early this month.

‘Great March’ for Palestinian Refugees’ Right of Return Endures Bloody Crackdown

Wed, 2018-04-11 05:44

Land Day 2018, March 30. Photo by Issam A. Adwan. Used with permission.

After months of preparing, tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters launched the “Great Return March” along Gaza's eastern borders with Israel on 30 March to commemorate Land Day. 

The mobilization ended in death when the Israeli army opened fire on the estimated 30,000 people attending, killing at least 20 Palestinians and injuring over 1,600 others. While Israeli authorities maintained it was a “measured” response, witness testimonies and video footage painted a picture of disproportionate force. It has since been dubbed the “Land Day Massacre” or the “Passover Massacre“, the latter term especially used by Jewish activists opposing what happened.

More protesters were injured and killed by security forces in the days that followed, including Yaser Murtaja, a 30-year-old photojournalist who was shot by an Israeli sniper in the stomach and later died of his wounds.

The Palestinian journalist syndicate said that at least 7 Palestinian journalists, clearly wearing flak jackets that describe who they are, were shot at by Israeli forces on Friday's protests in Gaza.

The two others in the photo are Adham al-Hajjar and Khalil Abu Athira.

— لينة (@LinahAlsaafin) 7 de abril de 2018

What is the Great Return March?

The Great Return March is a six-week peaceful campaign demanding that refugees be allowed back to the homelands from which they were expelled decades ago.

Land Day poster from 1985. From Wikipedia, fair use.

The movement began on Land Day 2018, which marks the date in 1976 when the Israeli government announced its plan to expropriate thousands of dunams of Palestinian land for Israeli settlement purposes.

In response to that announcement more than 40 years ago, a strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within the state of Israel that ended in confrontations with Israeli security forces, during which six unarmed Palestinians were killed.

Land Day has since become a symbol of civil resistance to discriminatory policies against Palestinians, both from within Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The Great Return March protests will continue until 15 May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the “Nakba”, which translates to “catastrophe” in English. It refers to the violent expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their lands by Zionist militias to make way for the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, which some activists and analysts describe as ethnic cleansing.

‘The world’s largest open-air prison’

Gaza is a narrow 40-kilometer-long coastal territory with fences and concrete walls running along its borders with Israel and Egypt. Israel and Egypt have blockaded the strip for more than a decade. As a result, living conditions in Gaza are poor and Gazans’ freedom of movement is severely restricted, to such an extent that Gaza is often described as “the world's largest open-air prison”.

Today, the majority of Gaza's population consists of the Nakba's initial refugees and their descendants. Of the 1.9 million living in Gaza, 1.3 million are refugees. Often ignored in coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian refugees are actually a central component of it.

Jehad Abu Salim, a Palestinian researcher from Gaza, writing for 972mag in 2016, explained:

The Nakba is not history relegated to the past, but history lived in the present: in the narrow alleys of the crowded refugee camps, in the women who leave their humble houses in the camps every morning to receive their food packages, in the barefoot children who play soccer on Gaza’s beach, and in the lands of depopulated villages just beyond the fence still visible from the rooftops of Gaza’s refugee camps. The Nakba is still present in Gaza, not only by the continuation of the state of refuge, but also by the continuity of the rupture that it caused.

‘Most of Gaza's population are refugees working to return home’

Palestinian journalist Mariam Barghouti recently made a similar point in a tweet, adding that the Israeli and Egyptian siege on Gaza, which was tightened in 2007 when the group Hamas came to power, is being actively challenged by Palestinians in Gaza:

Important to remember that most of Gaza's population are refugees working to return home. Not waiting, they are actively working. Almost eleven years of siege on #Gaza, and they are still protesting in the thousands the right to return, the right to live in dignity and freedom.

— مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) April 4, 2018

Among the activities that have been occurring are the planting of olive trees and the establishment of tents erected 700 meters from the Israeli-installed fence to symbolise the right of return for Palestinian refugees:

In preparation for the Great Return March on 30/3, activists plant olive trees near #Gaza border. #FreePalestine

— Days of Palestine (@DaysofPalestine) March 22, 2018

Trinidad & Tobago's LGBT Community Speaks Out as Court Decision on ‘Buggery’ Law Approaches

Tue, 2018-04-10 22:29

A t-shirt with a “Pride” graphic spotted at the gay rights march in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on April 9, 2018. Photo by Brendon O'Brien, used with permission.

In January 2018, a text message advising that Trinidad and Tobago's buggery law “may be repealed as soon as April 12th, putting Jamaica and other Caribbean islands under pressure to repeal their's [sic]” began circulating via WhatsApp.

The April 12 date is significant because this is the day that the High Court will rule in the case of Jason Jones vs. the government of Trinidad and Tobago. Jones, a Trinidad-born, UK-based LGBT rights activist, has been making a well-publicised bid to remove the buggery clause from the country's Sexual Offences Act on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Like many Caribbean nations, Trinidad and Tobago's law still criminalises the act of anal sex — and those with a conservative religious agenda often conflate it with criminalising homosexuality, even though the law clearly states that “‘buggery’ means sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person.” Despite significant advances in gay rights in countries like Belize, this has been a fairly easy fait accompli in a region known for its homophobia.

But Jones’ private lawsuit has pushed the issue into public focus once again — and some people are pushing back. By March, those against the repeal of the law were handing out flyers at the country's parliament with the headline, “Take a Stand for the Family”. It further stated that “once homosexuality is legal, it will be taught as normal in all schools, at all levels, to our children” and lead to “gay rights being force [sic] upon us”. “Say no to the LGBTQI agenda”, it admonished, “Say no to indecency, say yes to the natural family”.

The flyer was also being shared on social media, to which Facebook user Rhoda Bharath retorted:

I'm not re posting their ignorant flyer….but any person who dares to tell me what I can and cannot do with my genitals as an adult needs to take several seats.

But they certainly weren't taking a seat. On April 6, 2018, members of various religious groups, under the umbrella of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) “T&T Cause”, marched through Trinidad's capital city, Port of Spain, as they called on the government to maintain the status quo.

Of the protest, Facebook user Marissa Sue commented:

Could Jesus plzzzzz COME BACK NOW??!! Could the rapture plzzzzz happen now so that we could finally be free of the holier-than-thous, before they think that they can impose their own rigid beliefs & sick bullshit on a multicultural society & system of varied beliefs & belief-syst….oh waittttt! Too late!

The satirical Late O'Clock News also poked fun:

Meme by The Late O'Clock News, which is captioned, “Pastor wishes eternal damnation on gays, but doesn't really hate them or anything.” Widely shared on social media.

Three days later, on April 9, members of the local LGBT community, along with citizens who support the repeal of the buggery clause, hosted their own protest in response. Social justice advocate Brendon J. O'Brien posted photos from the rally, explaining that he was “standing for a free and equal Trinbago.”

Speaking with Global Voices about the march, O'Brien added:

As someone involved in the church, it's terrifying to see how people are willing to weaponise faith to spew hate, or even ambivalence, towards people who love differently than them. Changing this law isn't even about faith, or what particular people believe. It's about maintaining the freedom, safety and dignity for every single Trinidadian, regardless of who they love or how they express that love.

Poet Andre Bagoo also spoke out:

The buggery law affects all of us […] Which right-thinking citizen cannot but be affronted by the law’s unjustifiable incursion into matters that should properly be left to the will of consenting adults behind closed doors?

Time and again we are told that gay citizens are equal and that none should be discriminated against. Yet to date our Parliamentarians […] have not amended the Equal Opportunity Act that allows a boss to fire a worker because they are gay. Nor have they repealed the Immigration Act that bans the entry of homosexuals. Nor the criminal statutes with their range of archaic, colonial-era provisions. The problem is not the law. The problem is our culture of hate condoned by those who rely on us for their authority. The problem is the willingness of the powerful to allow the dignity of the few to be trammeled upon under the dubious belief that might is right.

No more.

This “might is right” approach has been taking a beating on both social and mainstream media. In the public Facebook group NEWSHound, Leslie-Ann Boisselle shared an opinion piece by Ryan Hadeed which bashed past and current government administrations for “[paying] lip service” to the LGBT cause “but ended up lacking the political will to address it directly”.

Comparing the issue to the controversy surrounding the recently abolished law on child marriage, the article also lamented the “twisted logic” of religious fundamentalism:

Religion must not trump reason when it comes to basic human rights. […] Legislative fortitude is lacking when it comes to protecting the rights of gay citizens. And the issue is instead being left up to the courts to determine whether the before-mentioned law is unconstitutional. […] Even if the law has never been enforced, as long as it remains on the books it labels some of our citizens as criminals due to their sexual orientation. That notion cannot be allowed to continue.

Perhaps, though, poet Shivanee N. Ramlochan summed up the crux of the debate most eloquently:

Because many of my people put their bodies in public space today, holding signs, asking questions, daring, and showing up — because of that, I'd like to affirm that my politics is queer. […]

Queer like church on Sunday morning, when everyone calling the smooth-skinned soloist a bullerman behind his back is shedding tears from the majesty of the notes he ascends. Queer like nobody giving him a drop home to Talparo after, but praising his praisesong over their macaroni pie and callalloo, with fresh salad. […]

Queer like you wouldn't believe, but know you're actually too smart to disbelieve, and one day that same lack of belief will catch you around your own throat like a lasso, and maybe don't be surprised if you bleed a rainbow.

Queer like there was gayness here before Columbus was a thought in his father's genealogy. The kind of LGBTQ+ that doesn't get discovered. The kind that was always here, on these islands, never once thinking to ask permission. The kind that will still be here, with or without the kind civil condescension of law.

Queer like family. Queer like home. Queer like complication. Queer like desire. Queer like the privacy of your bedroom, and beyond it.

By Attempting to Curb Disinformation on Slain Politician Marielle Franco, a Brazilian Judge Hands Facebook Censorship Powers

Mon, 2018-04-09 19:12

In the aftermath of her death, activist Marielle Franco was the subject of an online disinformation campaign in Brazil. Photo: Daniel Arrhakis/Flickr, CC-BY-NC 2.0

A Brazilian judge has ordered Facebook to remove all current posts that offend the “image, honor and privacy” of slain politician Marielle Franco — and all future posts of the same nature.  This could set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech online in the country.

Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes were killed in a drive-by shooting on the night of the March 14. Franco, 38, was a vocal critic of local police violence. Soon after her murder, false reports claiming she had been married to a drug lord and that she was elected with the support of a criminal group began circulating online, among other unqualified rumors.

Marielle's widow and sister filed separate libel claims against Facebook and Google in an effort to get the stories removed from search results and social media. In both cases, the courts ruled in their favor.

Facebook was ordered to not only remove published posts, which were identified by the plaintiffs, but also any future posts that offend Franco's “image, honor and privacy.”

If the company fails to comply, Facebook could face a penalty of 500,000 Brazilian reais (USD $150,000) and a country-wide block of its services.

Facebook Brazil declared that it will remove “the specific content identified in the court records,” and didn't acknowledge what it would do about posts made after the ruling. At the time of writing, there were still several false or distorted stories about Franco from ultra-partisan websites circulating on Facebook.

The ruling also orders Facebook to provide the authorities with the names and IP addresses of users who shared the false stories, even if those users had subsequently deleted the posts, so that Marielle's family could take legal actions against them.

It is unclear how the ruling will be enforced. A blanket prohibition on all content offensive to Marielle Franco would effectively grant the social network censorship powers by demanding it to commit to monitoring its users’ posts indefinitely.

It would also go against Brazil's Marco Civil, the internationally acclaimed bill of rights for the internet passed in 2014.

Testing the limits of the Marco Civil

In his decision, appeals court judge Jansen Novelle acknowledged that the ruling crosses the lines drawn by Marco Civil, writing that “given the abundance of proof, it will not observe Marco Civil's rules on content removal.”

Under Marco Civil, websites like Facebook can be held liable for content published by third parties — i.e. users — if they fail to comply with a court order for content removal.

But for this type of court order to be considered valid and actionable, it must include a specific, live link or URL to the content in question. This effectively means that the law does not provide for removal of duplicated versions of outlawed content, or for “future” postings, as indicated in Judge Nouvelle's ruling.

In February, Brazil's Superior Court of Justice reversed a court decision ordering Google to suppress offensive videos that had been scraped from YouTube, based on the limitations provided by the Marco Civil.

A dangerous precedent

For Paulo Rená, a researcher at the Beta Institute for Internet and Democracy who helped draft the Marco Civil, the current ruling will be virtually impossible to comply with.

Speaking with Global Voices, he said: “The safest way for Facebook to comply with such a ruling is to remove any content with the name of Marielle, and this is what scares us.”

In Rená's opinion, Marco Civil's objective was never to “clean up the internet”, but to enshrine rights and duties for internet users and service and application providers.

“While it's important to take measures preserve's Marielle's memory, it isn't by removing content that this will be achieved,” he said. He continued: “What could be done is, after determining who created the content, for her family to take legal action against them, not the platform. We can't keep pretending that the people who create this content are nameless and invisible.”

He added that Novelle's decision could set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech in Brazil, particularly with looming elections in October, in which the country will vote for president, state governors and legislative seats at federal and state level.

“If every opinion that offends the official image of a candidate is removed, we risk having the most one-dimensional elections of all time. It would be a shame if Marielle, a rights advocate, were to become the precursor of this.”

This post was updated on April 10 at 5:30 PM GMT. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Beta Institute for Internet and Democracy was affiliated with the University of Brasília. The Institute is simply based in the city of Brasília.

What Were Global Voices’ Readers up to Last Week?

Mon, 2018-04-09 16:57

Photo by Flickr user Eric Rice. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

At Global Voices, our community researches, writes, edits, and translates stories with a mission to support human rights and build bridges of understanding across countries, cultures, and languages.

We don't publish just to grab clicks or follow a news trend. We do, however, like to keep track of the ways in which our hard work has impact around the world.

To that end, one useful metric is how readers respond to our stories and translations. So let's take a look at who our readers were and what caught their attention during the week of April 2-8, 2018.

Where in the world are Global Voices’ readers?

Last week, our stories and translations attracted readers from 209 countries! The top 20 countries represented across all of Global Voices’ sites were:

1. Japan
2. United States
3. Brazil
4. France
5. Peru
6. Mexico
7. Spain
8. Colombia
9. India
10. Argentina
11. Taiwan
12. United Kingdom
13. Bangladesh
14. Italy
15. Germany
16. Russia
17. Canada
18. Philippines
19. Indonesia
20. Chile

But that's only a small slice of the diversity of our readership. Let's use the True Random Number Generator from and take a look at a few other countries on the list:

128. Brunei
60. El Salvador
182. São Tomé & Príncipe
168. Mayotte
53. Thailand

Global Voices in English

The English-language site is where the majority of original content is first published at Global Voices. The top five most-read stories of last week were:

1. Look What Large-Scale Mining Did to These Four Beautiful Philippine Islands (originally published in 2015)
2. How English-Language Pronouns Are Taught Around the World
3. Bangladesh Is the World’s ‘Most Vegetarian Country’? Not Quite.
4. Marvia Malik, Pakistan’s First Transgender Newscaster, Wants to Change Societal Attitudes Toward Her Community
5. A Children’s Costume Contest in Macedonia Sparks Outrage With ‘Portable Adolf’ Hitler Entry

Global Voices Lingua

Lingua is a project that translates Global Voices stories into languages other than English. There are about 30 active Lingua sites. Below is last week's most-read story or translation on each active language site.

Arabic Aymara Bangla Bulgarian Chinese (simplified) Chinese (traditional) Czech Dutch Esperanto Farsi French German Greek Hindi Hungarian Italian Japanese Korean Kurdish Macedonian Malagasy Nepali Polish Portuguese Punjabi Romanian Russian Serbian Spanish Turkish Urdu