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As Some March to Honor a Pro-Nazi General in Sofia, Others Rally to Decry Fascism

Mon, 2018-02-19 18:57

Anti-fascists gather in Sofia to protest neo-Nazi Lukov march. Photo by Ruslan Trad, CC BY.

February 17 was a busy day in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, where far-right supporters marched to mark the 75th anniversary of the assassination of pro-Nazi Bulgarian defence minister Hristo Lukov, and counter-protesters responded earlier in the day with condemnations of nationalism and xenophobia.

The demonstration showed that the country currently holding the Presidency of the European Union is grappling with many of the same issues seen elsewhere across Europe, including the mainstreaming of neo-fascist politics.

For the last 16 years, the Bulgarian National Union (BNS) has organized the Lukov March through the streets of central Sofia. As Canadian journalist Michael Colborne explained:

The march, which will take place this Saturday, is in honour of Hristo Lukov, a Bulgarian general who led the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian National Legions, an organization that in a previous incarnation had a swastika in its logo. Lukov had close ties with Nazi leadership, including Hermann Goering, and was one of the fiercest advocates of Bulgaria’s Nazi-inspired “Law for the Protection of the Nation” that, among other things, forced the country’s 50,000 Jews to wear yellow stars.

Yet they insist there’s nothing anti-Semitic or Nazi-like about it.

Every year marchers from Bulgaria and beyond drape themselves in mourning black, hold torches and chant Lukov’s praises in unison as they wind their way through Sofia’s streets. The march ends at the home where Lukov was assassinated by Communist partisans in February 1943, where the marchers lay wreaths.

Among its stances, the BNS, which doesn't hold any seats in the country's National Assembly, promotes an intolerant view of immigration (“Bulgaria for the Bulgarians and Africa for the Africans“), rejects Bulgaria's current multiparty parliamentary democracy, and calls for “a strong centralized state power.”

The day before the main march, Lukov admirers put on an intimidating display, walking through central Sofia, shouting slogans and carrying flares and torches. The police did not intervene.

‘No Nazis in the Streets!’

On February 17, a group of around 300 counter-protesters gathered in the park near the Sofia Mosque and the Sofia Central Mineral Baths around noon. They then made their way through the streets around the Central Halls district, the synagogue and the offices of the nationalist political parties IMRO -Bulgarian National Movement and Attack, which are part of the government.

Carrying banners such as “No Nazis in the Streets!” protesters shouted in support of refugees and minorities, and also against nationalism and capitalism.

More photos from ongoing anti-fascist march in Sofia. pic.twitter.com/Wx7mfNUNSr

— Ruslan Trad طراد (@ruslantrad) February 17, 2018

In addition to Bulgarians, participants came from Greece, Italy and Spain. Police did not allow the counter-protesters to pass through the central streets, citing security concerns due to possible clashes with the attendees of the Lukov March, who already roamed through the city in groups.

Some cadres from anti Nazi march in Sofia few hours before the Nazi march called Lukov March. pic.twitter.com/RXBWcojAlj

— Ruslan Trad طراد (@ruslantrad) February 17, 2018

At one point, members of a German nationalist group tried to provoke the counter-protesters. Such incidents happened several more times. Police arrested one provocateur.

Canadian journalist Michael Colborne also attended and published a short video:

a final video, marching by Sofia Synagogue pic.twitter.com/IkyhcnOPnj

— Michael Colborne (@ColborneMichael) February 17, 2018

The Lukov march

As for the Lukov march, police estimated that more than 500 people attended, while the organizers previously said they expected around 1,000 to participate.

There was a visible presence of neo-Nazi groups from within Bulgaria and around Europe. Despite this, the BNS denied the allegations that the march was anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi.

According to Bulgarian journalist Mariya Petkova, 50 Germans, 10 French and several Swedes also attended Lukov march:

A family huddled in a corner as far-right Lukov march passes by in Sofia, earlier today. The little girl is covering her years. pic.twitter.com/5F17mnUSYe

— Mariya Petkova (@mkpetkova) February 17, 2018

About 10 ppl from a French far right organisation “Young Nationalists” joind Bulgarian far right Lukov march pic.twitter.com/ZFMAu857Bx

— Mariya Petkova (@mkpetkova) February 17, 2018

Apart from some 50 Germans attending Lukov march in Sofia, there's also ppl from France, Sweden, Hungary pic.twitter.com/yrZYqnlVJB

— Mariya Petkova (@mkpetkova) February 17, 2018

Every major political party in Bulgaria has condemned the Lukov march, including representatives from the far-right United Patriots, although some of its members have actually taken part in the march since the beginning. Sofia’s Mayor Yordanka Fandakova tried to ban the march, but the organizers took her to court and won.

20 Years After the Decriminalization of Homosexuality in Ecuador, the LGBTI Community Continues to Be Punished

Mon, 2018-02-19 16:26

The families of those who are sequestered and confined to “dehomosexualization” clinics request the “services” of these institutions and pay to keep their family members inside. Illustration by Mónica Rodríguez. Used with permission.

The following is a reissue of a report written by Carlos Flores, originally published by Connectas and re-edited with assistance from the author as part of a three-part series that will be published and translated by Global Voices. The complete report contains other detailed testimonies and analysis of the legal inconsistencies which facilitate the violence and discrimination perpetrated against gay and transgender/transsexual people in Ecuador.

The first part below features the testimonies of victims of institutions that claim to be able to “cure” homosexuality; other installments will examine the failures of the judicial system, as well as the social obstacles that inhibit the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

Twenty years after the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ecuador, the LGBTI community continues to be punished by society and is rarely protected by the law. Mistreatment and discrimination take various forms, served by organizations that escape the state's control. Some of these organizations maintain that they are detox clinics; in reality, they carry out “cures” for homosexuality. The abuses that take place inside these clinics are numerous and multi-faceted.

Physical and psychological tortures, including insults, humiliation, unhealthy diets, beatings, electric shocks, and even “corrective rapes”, have been part of so-called “dehomosexualization therapies” in Ecuador “for a long time”, according to widespread opinion.

Some of the testimonies from victims of these institutions gave rise to works such as that of Paola Paredes, who revealed the mistreatment that various women received at these clinics. Other testimonies show how the families of the many victims act in conjunction with the clinics, and also how many women are brought in by religious organizations.

The lack of government control and protection is evident in cases like that of Jonathan Vásconez, a transgender male who lived in confinement for a year and a half and who twice attempted, and was prevented, from running away from El Centro La Estancia (The Ranch) in Patate (Tungurahua) in northwest Ecuador.

It began when he was 23 years old. He already had a daughter, and still used the female name that his parents had given him when he was born: María de los Ángeles. When he went to pick up his partner at the time, strangers intercepted him, beat him and handcuffed him, telling him they were police. Jonathan says that the order to commit him against his will was given by his family, under the false accusation that he was a drug addict. Within the center, the abuses and assaults were numerous:

Pidieron a tres compañeros que se levantaran y trajeran un tanque café, que me llegaba a la cintura, lleno de agua. Entre los tres me metieron al tanque, de cabeza, unas ocho veces. Puedo decir que ahí vi la muerte. El director de la clínica me grababa con un celular y me pedía que dijera que había ido a robar a mi hija, cosa que no era cierta. Cuando vieron que me moría, me dejaron […] Estuve un mes y una semana, esposado a la cama, y me hacían comer en el piso…

They asked three fellows to get up and bring in a brown tank full of water, which reached my waist. Between them, they put me in the tank, head first, about eight times. I can say that there I saw death. The director of the clinic recorded me with a cell phone and ordered me to say that I had gone to kidnap my daughter, which was not true. When they saw that I was dying, they left me […] I was there for a month and a week, handcuffed to the bed, and they made me eat on the floor…

Jonathan soon managed to escape, but by order of his sister, was recaptured.

Between the use of religion and the evasion of justice

The clinics and their leaders don’t often face justice, but when they are confronted, they seem to disappear and change their name. Many of the institutions also utilize religious laws and values to give structure and purpose to their work. In any case, it is not clear whether, after a complaint or the intervention of state institutions, these clinics continue to operate under another name or in different locations.

At the same time, many of the victims avoid registering complaints for fear of further victimisation by the people who mistreat them in the centers.

This was the case for Luisa (name changed), who was brought to one of these centers at the behest of her parents, who could never accept the idea that Luisa was a lesbian and even less that she had fallen in love with her cousin, with whom she now lives. She remembers the “therapy” she received very well: bathing very early and in exactly five minutes, praying, the application of the 12-step program used for drug addicts, poor nutrition, and phrases that they repeated to her day after day while they put their hands on her head: “You, you are not a lesbian, here we are going to cure you; you're very confused with your life, you're going to see that you're going to like men.”

She endured this traumatic experience at 24 years old, in 2012, spending four months sharing a space with other lesbians. Some were drug addicts and others, like her, were not. After leaving the center she returned home, but with her spirit entirely altered. Two weeks later, Luisa’s father resumed his violent behavior against her, and she feared that she would be committed once again. That's why she decided to leave.

With regards to Hogar Renacer (Spanish for Reborn Home, the “clinic” where she had been confined), Luisa did not want to have anything more to do with it: “I never made a complaint. I did not want to get in trouble. The people who worked there were kind of dangerous.”

The district attorney’s office does not provide details on resolved cases or the convictions of those that are known as “symbolic cases”, because of the level of influence they have on public opinion. They assured, despite everything, that incidences of this phenomenon have been reduced, although collectives and social organizations may disagree.

La Fundación Causana (The Causana Foundation), a “lesbian and feminist collective” that strives for the defense of the rights of LGBTI people, affirms that between 2016 and 2017 alone, it had already worked eight cases that dealt with preventing confinement. The social conditions affecting people who tend to be victims of this treatment have changed little, despite the evolution of the law. Thus, although it is maintained that current legislation has opened the door to respect and equality for all, Ecuador is very far from being able to close the book on this issue.

Chinese State TV Lambasted for ‘Racist’ Lunar New Year Sketch Featuring Blackface

Mon, 2018-02-19 11:25

Screen capture from Chinese spring festival gala via Hong Kong Free Press.

This post was written by Jun Pang and originally published on Hong Kong Free Press on February 17, 2018. The version below is published on Global Voices as part of a partnership agreement.

China’s official news channel CCTV has come under fire over a “racist” comedy sketch showing an actress in blackface.

The four-hour Spring Festival Gala is televised annually in celebration of the Lunar New Year. On February 15, 2018, the Gala included a sketch set in Africa to commemorate the 2017 establishment of a Chinese-funded railway between the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya.

In the segment, an African actress asks the Chinese host to help dissuade her mother from matchmaking for her. The show then cuts to footage of an older Chinese actress in blackface and buttocks padding, alongside actors dressed in monkey and giraffe costumes. The mother mistakenly believes that the daughter and the host are engaged.

“I love China, China helped us build a railroad. I want to find a Chinese son-in-law,” she says.

When the actual fiancée of the Chinese host arrives to interrupt the festivities, the daughter tells her mother the truth.

“Mother, I don’t want to get married so young,” she says. “I want to go to China to study abroad. I want to be like Chinese people – to roll up my sleeves and work, to earn the praise of the world.”

The segment drew ire from Weibo and Twitter users for its use of blackface and stereotypical representations of Africa. Blackface is a practice by which non-black actors darken their skin in order to mock the appearance and mannerisms of black people.

One Weibo user wrote:

The problem with this segment is its narcissism. To show yourself assisting Africa, making it out as if African people are extremely jealous of China – as if they should be grateful to China. Isn’t China’s construction project in Africa supposed to be a win-win situation?

Another said:

This episode is racist. It has exploded in foreign media. This is understandable.

On Twitter, one user was ashamed:

CCTV’s racist show during Spring Gala shook me and made me so ashamed of China and my people. They literally had blackface on stage, had an African actor to play a monkey and a African actress yelling “I love China!” Racism is global y’all…

— Huizit (@iamHuizit) February 16, 2018

Another Twitter user agreed:

CCTV’s racist show during Spring Gala shook me and made me so ashamed of China and my people.

Comic artist @krishraghav said:

My first Chinese New Year watching the annual CCTV spring gala and they trot out a Chinese lady in blackface, exaggerated proportions and everything, with a pet “monkey” (played by a man from Cote D'Ivoire), shouting “I love China!” – I can't even pic.twitter.com/n3J1YsRhmy

— Krish Raghav (@krishraghav) February 15, 2018

Not all perceived the sketch to be racist. Online media SupChina's managing editor Anthony Tao said it was not intended to offend, but the producers “are guilty of laziness or ignorance or most likely both.”

In 2012, the Spring Festival Gala broke a Guinness World Record for the most viewed national network TV broadcast show, reaching a viewership on 498.7 million. Since then, the number has reportedly risen to 700 million.

The Gala is viewed as one of the most important platforms for spreading political propaganda; as such, it also attracts a large amount of criticism. In recent years, critical comments about the content of the Gala have been censored on major Chinese social media platforms. This year, China's most popular social media platform Weibo also blocked a list of combination search terms related to the Gala, like “Spring Festival Gala” + “ridicule”, and “Spring Festival Gala” + “garbage”.

CCTV has since removed the sketch from their official YouTube channel.

An Artist Duo in Nepal Hopes Their Nude Paintings Will Encourage Men to Embrace Vulnerability

Fri, 2018-02-16 21:23

Male nude artwork by Kapil Mani Dixit. Photo by Sanjib Chaudhary. Used with permission.

The male form in various states of undress has featured in Nepali art for centuries. Just look at the Chakrasamvara Mandala, a 13th-century Nepali paubha painting depicting the union of the deity Chakrasamvara and his consort Vajravarahi, or the many statues in erotic poses found at the Hindu temples of Kathmandu.

Nevertheless, painting nudes and exhibiting them in public still requires a bit of courage in Nepal. Traditional gender roles in Nepali society see men as the caretakers of their families, which means they should be muscular and tough. As in other parts of the world, this “macho” expectation means that men in Nepal aren’t always comfortable with vulnerability or talking about their bodies or sexuality.

To start a dialogue about what it means to be a man and celebrate the male form, two Nepali artists, Kapil Mani Dixit and Roshan Mishra, are exhibiting their male nude art series at Gallery Mcube in the city of Patan until 19 February 2018.

@men‘snude art … met these two wonderful artists @r0shanmishra & Kapil Mani who are trying to beautify a man's body as well as presenting the emotional suffering men go through for being a man. Those woman who call themselves a feminist should visit this once pic.twitter.com/W1AiJdOu39

— Banita (@banimadam) 13 de febrero de 2018

Talking to Global Voices, Kapil explained, “While men appreciate the female bodies, why do they sheepishly look at male bodies?”

God has created equally beautiful male and female bodies. Male are as handsome as female are beautiful. Let’s celebrate about our body. Why is it that we shouldn’t talk about it?

“The pink in my painting connotes the access the society hasn’t given us. It has put us in shackles within the pink colour,” says Kapil. Photo by Sanjib Chaudhary. Used with permission.

Two characters in a single frame – one vulnerable, another “macho.” “It’s okay to be you, men too can cry, men too can be sensitive,” says Kapil. Photo by Sanjib Chaudhary. Used with permission.

Roshan has used himself as a model for his conceptual series of work. He said:

My work represents the negativity that lies in our society about the male form. Most of the males feel uncomfortable to talk about their own bodies and share their feelings, thoughts, and sexuality. My eight of the conceptual work shows a trapped male figure that has been struggling to come out from its shell….Some of the works show the negative male body surrounded by vibrant, colorful surrounding and other works show a body trapped and wrapped with the social status and fear within. Depicting the subtle nudity of my own body, through this exhibition, I have tried to reach out to those males who feel timid, shy, tender, depressed, confused, lost or even feel dominant. I want them to celebrate the male figure that is given to us by the grace of the god and be who we are.

Male nude artworks by Roshan Mishra. Photo by Sanjib Chaudhary. Used with permission.

Male nude artworks by Roshan Mishra. Photo by Sanjib Chaudhary. Used with permission.

Male nude artworks by Roshan Mishra. Photo by Sanjib Chaudhary. Used with permission.

Kapil added, “Many people came to me and said they had been thinking in the same way but weren’t able to talk about it”:

It’s not only our feelings but we’ve expressed the feelings of all males. Males never talk about these issues.

‘They Fear Pens, Not Guns': Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life in Prison

Fri, 2018-02-16 13:41

Demonstrators on World Press Freedom Day in Turkey, 2013. Image by Amnesty International Turkey.

After spending just over a year behind bars without charge, Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel was released from a Turkish jail on February 16. Just hours later, six other journalists in the country were issued a life sentence for “or attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”.

With 155 journalists serving jail time because of their work, these days of highs and lows are beginning to feel routine for Turkey's embattled independent media community.

BBC described Deniz Yucel's imprisonment as a long-standing “irritant” in the relations between the two countries. His release came shortly after Turkish PM's visit to Germany this week.

Deniz Yucel was arrested exactly 367 days ago on suspicion of “inciting the people to racial hatred and enmity” and “spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization”.

Soon after his release was announced, crowd gathered outside the jail, where Yucel joined his wife who was waiting for him:

#FreeDeniz & #FreeDilek pic.twitter.com/YlWNMYXlBL

— Veysel Ok (@shemmoshemmo) February 16, 2018

But the ordeal is not yet over. Yucel was charged and indicted upon his release, with the prosecution demanding that he be sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Same court that ordered #DenizYucel‘s release has apparently accepted an indictment calling for up to 18 years imprisonment.

Not quite clear what is going on, but a key issue is whether he is being allowed to travel abroad.

— Howard Eissenstat (@heissenstat) February 16, 2018

In ordering Deniz Yücel’s release, the court also accepted his newly issued indictment. He faces 4 to 18 years in prison. https://t.co/eLnK8rwqZa

— Piotr Zalewski (@p_zalewski) February 16, 2018

While colleagues and friends celebrated the news of Yucel's release, another court decision came down, this time affecting the fate of a different group of journalists.

Deniz is finally free. Six others have just been sentenced to life behind bars: https://t.co/mrW1wy9amx. https://t.co/KDHNoS7Spd

— Piotr Zalewski (@p_zalewski) February 16, 2018

A Turkish court has jailed for life journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilicak & Fevzi Yazici & one other defendant for seeking to “overthrow the constitutional order” in alleged coup plot https://t.co/nouqX4ZnJA

— Ayla Jean Yackley (@aylajean) February 16, 2018

Awful news coming in from Silivri jus now. #AhmetAltan #MehmetAltan & #NazlıIlıcak faced a trial in which no credible evidence was presented beyond their words. This verdict does not pass the test of international human rights law. #FreeTurkeyMedia https://t.co/R8M8HJpg1N

— Milena Buyum (@MilenaBuyum) February 16, 2018

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilica, Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özsengül were handed a lifetime prison sentence after being convicted of involvement with Turkey's 2016 coup, despite a lack of direct evidence.

Five of the six defendants are journalists and intellectuals all had strong ties with opposition news outlets in the past. Ahmet Altan is the former editor-in-chief of Taraf newspaper and his brother, Mehmet Altan is an academic and journalist who once wrote for Hurriyet. Nazli Ilıcak has written for Hurriyet, in addition to other newspapers, and briefly served as an MP for the Virtue party.

Yakup Şimşek and Fevzi Yazıcı worked with Zaman newspaper, which was one of Turkey's largest independent daily newspapers until 2016, when the government seized its operations, alleging that the outlet had ties to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Anadolu Agency reported that six people were convicted for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and of having communicated with associates of Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the July 2016 failed coup.

In addition to facing legal threats, all of these journalists have been subject to extralegal harassment. One year ago, President Erdogan called Yucel a terrorist in one of his televised speeches.

Bu konuşmayı tam 1 yıl önce çekmiştim. Deniz sonunda özgür. Darısı Alman vatandaşı olmayan gazeteci arkadaşlarımızın başına. #DenizYücel pic.twitter.com/wxQqR1COOL

— goktay koraltan (@goktay) February 16, 2018

I filmed this speech one year ago. Deniz is finally free. I wish the same for the rest non-German citizen journalists friends of mine.


Video clip translation:
They are hiding this German terrorist, this spy at the embassy. They hid him for a month. And German Chancellor asked him from me. She said to release him. I told her we have an independent judiciary. Just like your judiciary is independent so is mine. It is [the judiciary] objective. That is why I am sorry to say, you won't take them from us. Finally, he was brought to court. He was arrested. Why? Because he is spy terrorist. Who cares he is a German citizen. It doesn't matter whose citizen you are, if you are spreading terror in Turkey, if they are secretly spies, they will pay the price.

Supporters in Turkey and around the world tweeted their shock at the decision:

Today's verdict & sentences of life without parole for #AhmetAltan, #MehmetAltan & #NazliIlicak mark an apex of the disintegration of the #Ruleoflaw in #Turkey. Judge ignored a binding Turkish Constitutional Court decision. The European Court of Human Rights #ECtHR must act. pic.twitter.com/mH0njuskpu

— Sarah Clarke (@Sarah_M_Clarke) February 16, 2018

As Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak are given “aggravated life sentences”, it is worth remembering what that sentence is.

It is life without parole, with up to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Forever and ever, amen.

— Can Okar (@canokar) February 16, 2018

On February 12, both Ahmet and Mehmet Altan were thrown out of the courthouse, for demanding to read the constitutional court decision which ruled for their release in January. The two brothers demanded that the decision which was overturned within 24 hours by the ruling of the 27th High Court is put on the record.

The next day, on February 13, speaking from high-security prison via video link, Ahmet Altan in his defense said the following:

Those in political power no longer fear generals. But they do fear writers. They fear pens, not guns. Because pens can reach where guns cannot: into the conscience of a society.

When the verdict was handed to Altan brothers today, one observer said cries and screams filled the courtroom.

Meanwhile, there are at least four other German Turkish citizens behind bars in Turkey, while the total number of imprisoned journalists and writers since the coup has now surpassed 150.

Social Media Giants Are at the Center of a Censorship Scandal in Russia — Again

Fri, 2018-02-16 10:53

Navalny's report alleges corruption on the part of Russia's Deputy PM. Now the government media regulator wants the video censored // Screencap by Christopher Moldes

Although barred from running in the 2018 presidential elections, Russian activist Alexey Navalny has found a way to ensure he stays in the news.

On February 8, Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, an organization dedicated to publicizing corruption scandals and property holdings of Russian politicians, shined their spotlight on a trail of evidence linking a Russian oligarch and the Russian deputy prime minister.

The revelations have triggered a sharp response from Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor, which ordered Instagram, YouTube and multiple Russian media sites to remove posts related to the scandal. Nearly all of the posts targeted have since been taken down, in one way or another.

From a ‘sex hunt’ to a national scandal

Navalny's report is based chiefly on the writings and social media postings of Nastya Rybka, a Belarusian national (real name Anastasia Vashukevich) and the author of a book entitled “Diary of a billionaire’s seduction.” In the book, Rybka describes her relationship with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and aluminum industry billionaire, who has become a prominent figure in US media coverage of congressional investigations into Russian election interference.

US president Donald Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned after it was discovered that he had reached out to Deripaska offering to provide inside information on the Trump campaign.

Using thinly-veiled code names, Rybka describes her visits with Deripaska, from the moment of their meeting to a trip on Deripaksa's yacht near Norway, where they made a secret detour to meet with Russian Deputy PM Prikhodko. This meeting on the yacht also appeared in a video on Rybka's Instagram account.

In a small snippet of conversation she captured in the video, we hear Prikhodko and Deripaska discussing the worsening of US-Russian relations, and speculating on why one American official has a negative opinion of Russia. Rybka's book also alleges that Prikhodko flew to Norway with the express purpose of meeting Deripaska.

This information had been available for some time in Rybka’s book, which was published in early 2017. But it seemed to have slipped under the radar of mainstream media, until Rybka captured Navalny's attention by posting a video online in which she declared to carry out a “sex hunt” targeting Navalny.

Despite Rybka's peculiar approach, upon reading her account of the relationship and reviewing her Instagram posts, Navalny decided that this was indeed a story. If the oligarch paid for the deputy prime minister’s travel arrangements, which seemed likely to Navalny's group, this would constitute a bribe.

Navalny brought Rybka's story into the spotlight with a featured video about the scandal on his website and YouTube channel. Navalny's video report on the revelations (which can be viewed here in its entirety with English and German subtitles) has already been viewed more than five million times in one week.

This wave of attention led Deripaska to sue Rybka on privacy grounds. Deripaska is married, so this is undoubtedly causing him some consternation at home.

In the meantime, Rybka's book has become a best-seller.

Instagram and local sites cave to censorship demands

Deripaska also filed an injunction with Russia's federal media regulator, Roskomnadzor, asking the agency to demand that the videos and associated online reports be removed. This caused Roskomnadzor to unleash a blitz of censorship protocols that ultimately targeted Instagram, YouTube, Navalny's website and various Russian news sites, that were either pressured or ordered to take down all copies of the yacht visit video.  Most of the local sites — along with Instagram — have since complied.

The regulator ordered Navalny to delete the relevant post from his website, to which Navalny refused. ISPs were thus ordered to block navalny.com, though the group has now employed circumvention measures to keep the site accessible. Navalny responded by suing Roskomnadzor for threatening to blacklist his site.

Roskomnadzor also obtained a court order which it served to Instagram, demanding that the Facebook-owned social media site delete some of Rybka’s Instagram posts that figured prominently in the Navalny investigation. Instagram complied and deleted the requested videos, which now cannot be found on Rybka’s Instagram page.

.@instagram decided to comply with Russian illegal censorship requests and deleted some content about oligarch Deripaska. Shame on you, @instagram! This content was spotlighted by our corruption investigation https://t.co/Pa4xVQE8MQ

— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) 15 февраля 2018 г.

Blocking the activist’s site outright drew the condemnation of some segments of Russian twitter. StalinGulag, a well-known tongue-in-cheek account, said:

Пишут, что роскомнадзор начал блокировать сайт Навального. В стране цензуры нет, просто паскудные хуилы решают за тебя, что тебе можно читать, а что нельзя, но цензуры в стране нет. ЦЕНЗУРЫ В СТРАНЕ НЕТ!

— Сталингулаг (@StalinGulag) 15 февраля 2018 г.

They’re saying that Roskomnadzor started blocking Navalny’s site. There’s no censorship in the country, just odious dickheads deciding what you can and cannot read, but there’s no censorship in the country. THERE’S NO CENSORSHIP IN THE COUNTRY!

YouTube has so far not complied with Roskomnadzor’s requests, but on February 15, YouTube removed the recording of Navalny's weekly live show on copyright grounds, in response to a claim from Russia's largest state-owned TV network. The timing of this move could be coincidental, but smacks of an attempt at political censorship.

Хороший эфир получился. 30 тысяч зрителей в онлайне. Только вот спустя 20 минут его заблокировали во всех странах по жалобе Первого канала (видимо за минутный ролик из фильма “Путин”) https://t.co/WA58lMPVqe

— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) 15 февраля 2018 г.

It was a good show. 30 thousand simultaneous online viewers. But 20 minutes later they blocked it globally after Channel One [Russia's largest state-owned TV network] filed a copyright violation complaint (this must be for a minute-long clip from the “Putin” movie) [The Putin Interviews by Oliver Stone]

Stuck between the government and the user base

As Coda Story points out, this is just the latest manifestation of online platforms being targeted for censorship by the Russian government. If companies like Facebook (owner of Instagram) can be swayed by government demands, their critics say, then they are abdicating their role as promoters of expression and communication.

By submitting to pressure and demands of a government (whichever it may be), social media platforms demonstrate that they are willing to undermine user interests if a government does not approve of the content that their platforms help to make publicly accessible.

However, as Navalny pointed out in his suit:

Согласно постановлению Пленума Верховного суда, информацию можно распространять без согласия гражданина при наличии публичного интереса. То есть гражданин является публичной фигурой, а обнародование информации является общественно значимым. Расследование имело целью раскрыть факты коррупции со стороны должностного лица Правительства Российской Федерации.

In accordance with a decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court, information can be disseminated without the approval of a citizen where there is public interest. This citizen is a public figure, and the publication of information is socially significant. The investigation’s goal was to expose facts of corruption on the part of a government official of the Russian Federation.

Given that Navalny has sued in an effort to affirm the validity of keeping these reports and videos online in the public interest, the social media companies involved could suspend further response until the courts have made a decision. But as Russian courts are not known for their independence, the Roskamnadzor bans are most likely to be upheld in the end.

Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Oleg Deripaska also sued Alexey Navalny for libel, which he has not at the time of the update.

Netizen Report: In Leaked Docs, European Commission Says Tech Companies Should Self-Regulate on Harmful Speech

Thu, 2018-02-15 16:30

Photo by Cory Doctorow. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

In the wake of public panic surrounding a spike in threats of violence and hate speech online, the European Commission has been preparing new recommendations on how member states should address “illegal online content.”

Although they have not been officially submitted, a leaked draft of the recommendations has begun to circulate and is now accessible on the website of European Digital Rights, a coalition group of civil society and human rights groups dedicated to protecting free speech and privacy online. The draft suggests that the Commission will not propose new regulations, but rather envisions private companies like Facebook and Google taking greater responsibility for these issues voluntarily.

In a brief analysis of the recommendations, EDRi’s Joe McNamee writes:

On the basis of no new analyses, no new data and no new pressing issues to be addressed, the leaked draft Recommendation seeks to fully privatise the task of deciding what is acceptable online or not. The only protection for user rights like freedom of expression is an unenforceable hope that certain “adequate safeguards” will be put in place voluntarily by the companies. The draft reminds readers – twice – that the providers have “contractual freedom”, meaning that any such safeguards will be purely optional.

The only specific types of online content referenced in the draft are “terrorist material” (no definition offered) and content under copyright. McNamee argues that “the repeated references to measures proposed to address copyright and ‘intellectual property rights’ infringements gives an indication of the real driving force behind for such far-reaching measures.”

Bangladesh orders internet shutdown, then backs down

On February 11, the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission ordered internet service providers to shut down the internet over a few set time periods, during the month of February that corresponds with national university placement exams. The impetus for the temporary shutdowns was to stifle the circulation of leaked answers to the exams. The order was swiftly reversed following broad public criticism.

Malawi suspends mandatory SIM card registration until further notice

The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority announced in June 2017 that it would become mandatory for mobile phone users to register their SIM cards with network operators, citing registration provisions in the Communications Act of 2016. In late January, authorities doubled down on this promise and set a deadline for SIM registration, threatening that any phone with an unregistered card would have its service shut off on April 1, 2018.

But this week, the measure was suspended, with authorities citing the need for a “civic education” campaign on the matter before resuming registration practices. Azania Post reports that some citizens have shown reluctance to register their SIM cards for fear that the program is “a ploy by the government to tap people’s phones.”

Research shows that European telcos behave better at home than in Africa

A new study by the French NGO Internet San Frontieres shows that major European telecommunications providers offering services in Sub-Saharan Africa do not offer the same levels of transparency and consumer protection to African customers as they do to their European markets. The study compares the practices and policies of Orange in Senegal and Safaricom (owned by Vodafone) in Kenya.

Brazil’s largest newspaper ditches Facebook

Folha de Sao Paulo announced that it will no longer post news articles or updates on its Facebook page, which has nearly six million followers. In an editorial-like article, the company said the decision stems primarily from Facebook's recent decision to reduce the amount of newsfeed content from Facebook pages, instead favoring posts by friends and family. Folha’s executive editor accused Facebook of “…banning professional journalism from its pages in favour of personal content and opening space for ‘fake news’ to proliferate.”

Big advertiser threatens to leave Facebook, calling it a ‘swamp’

The behemoth British-Dutch company Unilever, which owns major food and toiletry brands including Lipton tea and Dove soap, is threatening to pull its advertising from Facebook. CNN published a pre-released copy of a speech by Unilever marketing executive Keith Weed in which he says that the company “cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain … which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.” CNN says that Weed attributed the move to a “proliferation of objectionable content on social media — and a lack of protections for children — is eroding social trust, harming users and undermining democracies.”

Facebook is violating German consumer laws

A Berlin court ruling (made in January but released to the public in mid-February) found that Facebook’s default settings for privacy and corresponding policies do not meet the basic standards for personal data protection required by German consumer protection laws. The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Federation of German consumer organizations, VZBV. The company has pledged to overhaul its privacy approach in tandem with the release of the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

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Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Rezwan Islam, Karolle Rabarison, Elizabeth Rivera, Taisa Sganzerla, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Remembering Pakistan's Empowering Human Rights Activist Asma Jahangir

Thu, 2018-02-15 10:20

Asma Jahangir at a Human Rights Day event in December 2012. Image from Flickr by Jean-Marc Ferré. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On February 11, 2018, the sudden and untimely demise of Asma Jahangir, Pakistani human rights champion and a United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of Islamic Republic of Iran left the world in shock and grief.

Jahangir, who turned 66 in January, was a cancer survivor and one heart attack before passing away from cardiac arrest. Thousands from around the world sent condolence messages and paid tribute to the woman often dubbed as the ‘voice of the voiceless.’ Also known as the ‘iron lady,’ Jahangir was known to take to the streets against military dictators and regimes and for standing up for social justice.

UN Human Rights mourned:

We're saddened by the death of UN Special Rapporteur @Asma_Jahangir. She was a legendary #humanrights defender: pioneering, determined, calm, courageous — and a lovely human being. https://t.co/ag6e38xItz https://t.co/a10VEmsvMj

— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) February 11, 2018

Jahangir was laid to rest in her hometown Lahore, Pakistan, where her funeral was attended by thousands of people regardless of gender, religion and social status. In Pakistan, a predominately a Muslim society, women are barred from attending funerals, particularly the act of funeral prayer. The burial in a graveyard is considered a man's job.

Independent journalist Rabia Mehmood dubbed Jahangir's funeral ‘the last subversive act':

#AsmaJahangir – Women & men all gathered to say her funeral prayer. Last subversive act. May she rest in power. pic.twitter.com/W7upoUPedY

— Rabia Mehmood (@Rabail26) February 13, 2018

In a Facebook post, Mehmood writes that “even in her death she empowered us”:

Last subversive act – women, and men stood together for Asma Jahangir's funeral prayer. This was the first funeral prayer I have participated in. Even in her death, she empowered us. Salam. Rest in power AJ and thank you.

Sabahat Zakariya, a Lahore-based journalist who attended the funeral tweeted her experience:

First time my friend and I were part of a namaaz-e-janaaza [funeral prayer.] Fitting that it was Asma Jahangir’s funeral that allowed us this glimpse into a male universe.

— Sabahat Zakariya (@sabizak) February 13, 2018

Human rights activist Marvi Sirmed writes:

Even in her death, she did not conform to the established code. Resistance, thy name is Asma.

If one word can describe the funeral procession, it is pluralism. That’s what Asma Jahangir lived for as well. Her funeral looked like Pakistan. A truly federal Pakistan with all communities represented.

Asma Jahangir's activist roots

Asma Jahangir was born in 1952 in Lahore, Pakistan and was introduced to politics as a teenager through her father, Malik Ghula Jilani, who was seen as a thorn in the eyes of the establishment and arrested several times as an active critic of the then military dictators Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan. Jilani supported Sheikh Mujibur Rahman‘s Awami League (Shiekh Mujib led the liberation of Bangladesh movement, causing East Pakistan to separate in 1971). Jilani was arrested in December 1971 after his resignation from the National Assembly to protest the Pakistan Government’s military action in Bangladesh.

In 1972, Jahangir challenged her father's arrest and secured a landmark judgment which became known as Ms. Asma Jilani versus the government of Punjab.

Muhammad Taqi, a political activist, and columnist explains:

The Asma Jilani case was the basis for the framers of the 1973 constitution to draft not only Article 6 – dealing with high treason – but also making a specific exception to the constitutional principle of non-retrospectivity of offences and punishments in the case of high treason and desecration of the constitution.

Jahangir earned a law degree and started practicing law under military dictator Zia ul Haq. Along with her sister Hina Jilani and two friends, she co-founded an all-women legal aid practice in 1980 to provide legal aid to women.

Jahangir actively participated in the resistance against ul Haq and images of women being lathhi-charged (beaten by batons by police) have become a symbol of resistance. The government of Pakistan declared this day of resistance as Pakistan Women's Day a few years ago, as described by the Women's Action Forum in Pakistan:

On 12th February 1983, 250 women took out a peaceful protest in Lahore to petition against the discriminatory Law of Evidence that General Zia ul Haq's regime attempted to promulgate. These protesters were lathhi charged brutally, tear-gassed and some 50 were arrested.

The second wave of the women's movement has not retreated since. In tribute and memory of that historic challenge to a dictatorial regime and discriminatory state, 12th February is marked as Pakistan Women's Day. 

An activist who lived and died for the resistance

A firebrand activist and extremely outspoken advocate for oppressed, Jahangir was a trailblazer in Pakistan who went on to co-found the Human Rights Commission  of Pakistan in 1987. She was an integral part of the lawyers’ movement that led to ousted military dictator Pervez Musharaf in 2007, ushering in democracy's return in Pakistan.

Jahangir remained a staunch member of the Pakistan's political resistance. Her last speech was in support of the Pakthun Long March in which marginalised Pakhtuns demanded equal rights and justice from the center.

Bushra Gohar, a Pakistani politician thanks Jahangir for her solidarity with the Pakhtuns:

She stood with the #Pakhtuns in their struggle for justice & right to life…She showed solidarity with #PashtoonLongMarch when others were playing safe. She was glad the #Pashtun youth had woken up. Will treasure your powerful words of support. Thank you #AsmaJahangir. pic.twitter.com/eqxOaQKRhF

— Bushra Gohar (@BushraGohar) February 12, 2018

Jahangir did not constrain her activism to geographical boundaries, speaking for the rights of oppressed people such as the Rohingya, Kashmiri, Palestinians, and Baloch. In January, she gave statements against BBC Persian journalists on trial in Iran. David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression tweeted:

#AsmaJahangir was an extraordinary person. eg: in just past month she engaged in several public stmts on #Iran. she initiated this in january, urging #Iran to respect protesters’ rights. such a loss for so many. https://t.co/Mxm63poDPC pic.twitter.com/6WfQKMJyNl

— David Kaye (@davidakaye) February 12, 2018

Jahangir received Pakistan's highest civilian awards such as the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (second highest civilian award) and Sitara-e-Imtiaz (the third highest honour and civilian award in Pakistan) in 2010. She also received several international awards including the 2014 Right Livelihood Award (along with Edward Snowden), the 2010 Freedom AwardRamon Magsaysay Award, the 1995 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, and the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. France awarded her the Officier de la Légion d'honneur.

Jahangir also wrote two books: The Hudood Ordinance: A Divine Sanction and Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan. 

Her 2014 Right Livelihood Award speech is making rounds on social media:

Many struggling for empowerment and justice will miss her dearly, including civil society activists, prisoners waiting for a fair trial and women on the frontlines of activist movements. Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui, who narrowly escaped abduction in January 2018 and openly complained about being harassed and intimidated by the Pakistani military, shared his grief, honoring Jahangir as his legal counsel through the ordeal:

Met Asma saahiba just few weeks back. She told me going silent is not an option. And it gave me the courage i needed. Who will now I look up to? Without her, I feel like an orphan… #RIPAsmaJahangir https://t.co/Tao4U2pN8r

— Taha Siddiqui (@TahaSSiddiqui) February 11, 2018

Salman Hyder, a blogger and independent journalist who was among the four bloggers abducted and later released in January last year grieved:

محل سڑا میں خوشیاں ہوں گی
سڑکوں پر ماتم ہو گا
چھاونیوں میں رونق ہو گی
بستی بستی غم ہو گا۔۔۔سلمان#RIPAsmaJahangir

— Salman Haider (@salmanhydr) February 11, 2018

Palace will celebrate
streets will mourn
military cantonments will be lively
every small town will be in grief
Salman
#RIPAsmaJahangir

How Indigenous Communities Are Using Data to ‘Reframe’ Their Narratives Through Digital Storytelling

Wed, 2018-02-14 18:06

Andrés Tapia, Apawki Castro, and Juan Diego Andrango were some of the people who participated in the first series of the Reframed Stories project.

In 2017, Global Voices and Rising Frames started the Reframed Stories project, an ongoing, participatory digital storytelling initiative that works with community members to analyze data around media representation. 

The main objective of the Reframed Stories project is to work with indigenous communities that have been historically excluded or misrepresented in media and to help them see how they are being depicted in the news. The story initiative also provides a platform for discussion about this representation and a place where communities can respond to the coverage from their own perspectives. In the initial phase of this collaboration, the Reframed Stories’ team works with community members to analyze media data and then they create stories together.

In this post, we reflect on the success of our first Reframed Stories collaboration and discuss our plans for the future.

Reframed beginnings

At the Reframed Stories project, we believe that stories about communities must be told by the community itself. All too often, these stories are distorted or not included in media coverage which only serves to deprive community members of their voices. We wanted Reframed Stories to be a space where indigenous communities could analyze media coverage and use this data to reflect on the ways they are portrayed in the media. 

Following this principle, we developed the first series of the Reframed Stories project in close collaboration with the indigenous community of Sarayaku and the Shuar nationality, both situated in the Ecuadorian Amazon region. These groups have been standing up to extraction projects in their territories for years and have taken their fight to the national and international level. As such, they have important insights to share about the media coverage of community resistance strategies.

For the first phase of our project, we began an initial exploration of national mainstream coverage around this community and the fight to protect their land; however, our findings suggested that it was not always explaining the whole story. The motivation behind these protests as well as the proposed solutions offered by members of these groups were often left out. 

How data can help us see the big picture

Media Cloud, a tool for media analysis, allowed for a deeper exploration of this coverage. The Media Cloud tool helps to analyze media coverage by highlighting keywords used by different media sources around chosen topics at specific moments in time. For example, the word cloud below shows the most common words used by Ecuadorian mainstream media in stories referencing the Shuar people between May 2016 and June 2017.

Dominant words from 697 articles published between May 2016 and June 2017 found mentioning “Shuar” within four Media Cloud collections of Ecuador’s Spanish-language media outlets. (View original query; View larger image).

Looking at the word clouds, such as the one above, members of the Sarayaku community and the Shuar Nationality were able to see how Ecuadorian media sources were covering certain topics of interest. Through this method, they were able to reflect on the ways that groups in power have framed their community and their protest movements in a negative light. They were also able to see how national mainstream media is neglecting to include indigenous youth in its coverage as well as other crucial topics that represent the diverse and positive initiatives emerging from their communities.

This collaboration also offered them the opportunity to dive deeper into their communication strategy, allowing them to reflect on their ability to successfully communicate both their struggles and achievements to a broader audience and to find different avenues to respond to biased media coverage.

Reframed Stories feedback

Both Juan Diego Andrango, collaborator at the Confederation of the Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), and Andrés Tapia, communication representative for the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), felt that this process could inform and strengthen their communication strategies. For Andrango: 

This is a very good tool because it allows us to analyze the way in which words, information, and discourse are being managed by the media. It adds to collaborative processes of our own communication because it shows that mainstream media tends to represent aspects more linked to commercial interests, but it does not generate information from the reality of indigenous communities and nationalities. Tools of this kind can become an element to analyze our communication work and guide us in choosing the best way to respond to the information generated by traditional media. 

Esta herramienta es una muy buena propuesta porque permite analizar el manejo de la dinámica de las palabras y elementos discursivos en los medios de comunicación. Suma al proceso colaborativo de construcción de esfuerzos de comunicación propios porque demuestra que los medios de comunicación masivos tienden a representar temas más ligados a los intereses comerciales, mas no generan información desde la realidad de los pueblos y nacionalidades.  Herramientas de este estilo pueden servir como un elemento para ver desde qué línea trabajar desde la parte comunicativa y cómo responder a la información generada por los medios tradicionales.

According to Tapia: 

These kinds of tools could be very useful for us both in terms of internal organization for communication work with indigenous communities and nationalities, and for our educational and training purposes. We work very closely with communities and these types of programs would help us show a visual representation of the ways in which media is covering certain topics, while proving that communication does have an important impact. 

Este tipo de herramientas pudieran resultar muy útiles tanto en términos internos para el trabajo comunicacional de los pueblos y nacionalidades indígenas como para un tema formativo. Nosotros hacemos mucho trabajo con las comunidades y este programa nos ayudaría a mostrar visualmente cómo los medios están cubriendo ciertos temas, y a la vez demonstrar que la comunicación sí tiene un impacto importante.

Members also thought that the use of tools, such as Media Cloud, can encourage collaborations between people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. For Abigail Gualinga, a young Sarayaku leader:

Abigail Gualinga, young Sarayaku leader

Communication helps youth to connect among ourselves, expressing what we feel and think to a broader audience and documenting the activities that we implement to keep working and joining efforts with people of all ages.

La comunicación nos ayuda a los jóvenes a conectarnos entre nosotros, a decir lo que sentimos y pensamos a un grupo más amplio, y a documentar las actividades que implementamos para seguir trabajando y uniendo fuerzas con gente de todas las edades.

 

 

Similarly, Apawki Castro, elected leader of communications for the Confederation of the Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), highlighted the potential of these new tools in generating collaborative communication processes that complement the efforts of indigenous communities:

Every era brings new things and we want to continue generating more networks, using new technologies which can allow us all to share what we learn along the way in a collective construction in unity, where each of us contributes and helps each other in different ways. Globalization and technology should not absorb the work of our communities. Instead, we use these technologies as tools to complement our efforts.

Cada época trae algo nuevo y queremos seguir generando más enlaces, usando nuevas tecnologías que nos permiten seguir creando nuevos tejidos donde todos vamos  compartiendo desde una forma colectiva de construcción en unidad, donde cada quien aporta su granito para contribuir y para ayudarnos de distintas formas. La globalización y la invasión de la era tecnológica no deben absorbernos a los pueblos y nacionalidades. Mas bien, desde los pueblos tomamos a la tecnología como una herramienta complementaria a nuestras acciones de lucha.

As José Santi, one of the people in charge of Sarayaku’s blog stated, these new tools can build bridges that connect groups from all over the world, creating collaboration and solidarity networks that reach beyond national borders:

José Santi, one of the people in charge of the Sarayaku blog, Sarayaku: el pueblo del mediodía

Besides creating our media such as our blog, we are interested in collaborating with different media and groups using new tools and technologies so that people both inside and outside Ecuador can know more about what we are doing in Sarayaku and in other places of the country and we can join efforts and learn from each other. 

Además de crear nuestros propios medios, tales como nuestro blog, nosotros estamos muy interesados en colaborar con distintos medios y grupos usando nuevas herramientas y tecnologías, para que así la gente dentro y fuera del Ecuador conozca más sobre lo que estamos haciendo en Sarayaku y en otros lugares del país, y podamos unir fuerzas y aprender los unos de los otros.

The future of Reframed Stories

These new media tools can be powerful allies in the fight for representation in media ecosystems. Through the participant comments from the members of the Sarayaku and the Shuar Nationality, we can see that new communication tools, such as Media Cloud, have the potential to help communities participate in conversations about their representation and reflect on possible ways to respond to this coverage. In doing so, bridges between communities can be built, fostering collaboration and strengthening existing efforts. These bridges become even stronger thanks to the Global Voices’ Lingua project, which translates stories to more than 45 languages. Posts from the first Reframed Stories series reached a global audience through their translations into Spanish, Russian, Malagasy, French, and Chinese.

Inspired by what we learned from this experience, we are now looking forward to working together with Indigenous and First Nations peoples in Canada. We also hope to provide existing collaborators with what they need to continue using Media Cloud in the future.  

We are working towards making this tool available so that more communities can learn about their representation in the media. If you are interested in finding out more information, please contact us. We would love to help you find new ways to tell your own stories!

East African Women in the Music Industry Sing Out Against Male Domination

Wed, 2018-02-14 17:52

Movers and Shakers networking session on women in music at Sauti za Busara on Saturday, February 10 featuring left to right: Zeitoun Amour, Copyright Society of Zanzibar (COSOZA), Carola Kinasha, MC of Sauti za Busara festival 2018, Amina Omar, lead singer of Siti and the Band, and the artist Saida Karola. Photo by Jamie Topper with permission.

“Women in music: We have made ourselves known in the music industry around the world. Yet gender inequality, sexism, and pay gaps persist,” said Carola Kinasha, a Tanzanian-based musician and activist who recently moderated a panel discussion on women in music.

“It’s not that we’re not skillful enough. It’s that all the decision-makers are men.”

The panel was part of the three-day Movers and Shakers networking series within the 15th edition of Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom, in Swahili) music festival in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

On February 10, Kinasha spoke about the challenges women face in the music industry with leading women artists American singer-songwriter Somi; Tanzanian singer and musician Saida Karola; Amina Omar, of the Zanzibari group Siti and the Band; and Zeitun Amour, a representative of the Copyright Society of Zanzibar (COSOZA).

Kinasha opened her remarks by pointing out that in the United Kingdom, women make up only 16% of the leadership within the music business. While limited data is available on the status of women in music throughout Africa, “Clearly, there’s a major issue with male domination in the music industry,” she said.

Somi, a jazz artist with roots in Uganda and Rwanda who now lives between New York City and Johannesburg, describes how pushing back against tradition has been her biggest challenge as an African woman in music:

Being part of an immigrant family and choosing a path as an artist had its challenges. I had to think carefully about when and how and in which spaces we as women are supposed to use our voices.

Saida Karoli, one of Tanzania’s most popular singers who stole the hearts of festival goers with her electrifying nighttime performance on February 10, spoke with raw truth about the myriad challenges she has faced as a woman in music in Tanzania, highlighting intersectional injustices as a poor, uneducated woman from the remote village of Rwongwe, in the Bukoba region of Tanzania around Lake Victoria.

Karoli started drumming at the age of five, going on to write and produce five albums to critical acclaim:

I’m from a small village and I was an orphan. I didn’t have any idea how to make it in the music industry and my manager was like my father, I believed in him wholeheartedly.

With her manager “Muta” at the steering wheel, Karoli’s popularity grew as she traveled the region from Burundi to Rwanda to Uganda, packing venues to such an extent that four people once allegedly died of suffocation. Yet according to Karoli, her manager exploited and abused her talents, claiming copyrights on all her songs and albums:

I was young, inexperienced in the music business, and at the end of the day, I didn’t have even 100 shillings [0.10 US dollars] in my pocket. Life has been hard.

Karoli revealed that while her manager opened new doors for her, he also kept her behind closed doors for a period of seven months like a prisoner, refusing to allow her to speak with other managers or producers. When she finally decided to break away she went to the port city of Mwanza, where, she said:

I hid from my fame. I was ashamed. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself. I had no rights in this work. When the journalists came asking for interviews, I just ran. I couldn’t face the shame.

Amour, Zanzibar’s authority on copyright issues, assured Karoli that as the author of all her music, she still does have basic rights under the Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act of Tanzania (1999), but that it depends on the actual existing signed contract and the case demands further investigation and legal representation. 

Karoli, who no longer works with a manager, said she is counting on her debut back in the spotlight at Sauti za Busara to boost sales and build a name for herself again after years in the shadows.

‘We're basically here to carve new paths as women in music’

Amina Omar, lead singer of Siti and the Band who lit up the festival stage on February 10 with soulful Taarab (Zanzibari soul) fusion roots, expressly thanked Karoli for speaking out on a subject so few women in the region are willing to touch — the various forms of abuse and harassment women face not just in music but within society as a whole.

Omar remembers singing at 11 years old with her sister Rahama, now an award-winning violinist in her band. But neighbors and family members frowned on the girls’ musical inclinations and eventually, her family encouraged her to marry and have children as is the tradition within Zanzibar, an archipelago where most families follow conservative Islamic customs:

So, I got married. I had my first child. My husband told me he’d support me as a musician, but when our child was grown enough to let me go back to singing, he simply said no. ‘No,’ he said. ‘You are my wife. I own you. You have to do what I like.’

When Omar decided to enter as a contestant in “Bongo Star Search,” an interactive musical reality television show based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it sparked a violent argument with her husband. “You know, I never really talk about this but to this day, I still can’t see very well from one eye, and it’s from that night,” Amina revealed, pointing to her right eye. She struggled to leave her husband in Dar es Salaam and rebuild a life for her and her son back home in Zanzibar:

I love Zanzibar, I love my society, but there are good aspects to it as well as bad. I don’t like the idea that women are forbidden to speak in public in my society. I don’t like the position of women. I also don’t like that when my society sees me succeed, some want to keep me down. When I came back to Zanzibar, I joined the Dhow Countries Music Academy and got my education, and now I know who I am. I really love singing, it’s my life and it’s in my blood.

Women in music often seek out role models to guide them on the path, but according to Somi:

[W]e have so few role models as African women in music, that we’re basically here to carve out new paths, to be the models for future generations. We’re tasked with telling our truth(s) as African women, and there’s not that many of us — it’s a short list.

Somi referred to Angelique Kidjo as a great inspiration, while Karoli mentioned Lady JayDee and Omar mentioned legends like Bi. Kidude and Siti Binti Saad, for whom her band is named.  

Siti Binti Saad, Zanzibar's original Taarab singer (1880-1950) from the village of Fumba, trailblazed as the first woman in East Africa ever to record her music in Swahili, recording over 150 gramophone records in India. She was known to perform on stage wearing a black veil over her head as was the custom for Muslim women along the Swahili Coast. In a world dominated by men, Saad insisted on a musical path and was known to protest violence against women through her music. 

At February 10’s show, Omar channeled the spirit of Siti Binti Saad when she introduced her song with a powerful message directed mainly at men:

This next song is my story. And I say, a woman is your wife, is your mother, is your sister. Why beat your woman? She should be respected. She needs respect!

The crowd cheered.

Editor's note: The author of this story has worked for the Sauti za Busara festival in the past. 

The Pollution in Iran's Ahwaz Region Turns Deadly

Wed, 2018-02-14 14:56

Image: public domain from Pixabay.

Severe sandstorms have blanketed Iran's Ahwaz region again this past week, with people choking as atmospheric dust levels reach 57 times the safety limit set by the World Health Organization. In late January the news broke that citizens were crowding hospitals across the predominantly Arab region—which is desperately poor despite being home to over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran—complaining of severe shortness of breath and respiratory problems. Between January 21 and 25, three people died from severe respiratory illnesses.

The area is blanketed by a thick smog of sand and visibility is down to under 200 meters. The government has suspended flights to and from regional airports and closed schools, offices and banks across the once-lush province.

In 2013, the city of Ahwaz, the capital of the region, topped the World Health Organization’s list of most polluted cities in the world. According to the report, Ahwaz’s average Air Quality Index score was 372—the global average is around 71—or “Hazardous”. It was the only city on the list with an average value above 300. Reporting on the situation at the time, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) wrote that “contributing factors include desertification caused by river diversion and the draining of the marshes and the oil, petrochemical, metals and sugar and paper processing plants in and around Ahwaz.”

More than four years later, the situation in Ahwaz remains unchanged, and the group most affected are the region’s indigenous Ahwazi Arabs, who have long been discriminated against by successive Iranian governments.

The reason for the high rates of pollution is the accelerating desertification of the region, due to the extensive drying of the rivers and marshes as a result of the massive river-damming and diversion project initiated when Hashemi Rafsanjani became president in 1989. The project has seen millions of gallons of water rerouted from the region’s rivers to other parts of Iran and has intensified the already high rates of pollution and environmental degradation in the region.The dust storms combine with the constant clouds of choking pollution released into the atmosphere by the region's petrochemical refineries and factories—none of which are subject to any environmental regulations or oversight—and also with the pollution produced by the burning of sugarcane.

Speaking on condition of anonymity due to fears of reprisals by the Iranian regime, an Ahwazi high school student told Global Voices that, “The burning used to take place during the day, but after there were protests by local Arabs chanting ‘We might be able to buy potable water, but we cannot buy clean air!’ they have begun burning it at night. This morning, the school grounds were covered in several centimetres of ash from the burning. I already have severe asthma, and this is making my condition worse.”

Sugarcane in the Ahwaz region

Sugarcane is not indigenous to Iran, but has been cultivated in the region since the 1960s. During the tenure of Hashemi Rafsanjani the government embarked on an ambitious state-subsidized sugarcane-farming project that involved the seizure of thousands of hectares of farmland from Ahwazi farmers whose ancestors had farmed there for generations. Thousands of families were driven into abject destitution as their farmland was converted into vast sugarcane plantations.

These efforts have brought little profit: the sugarcane project has proven economically disastrous, with imports far cheaper than local production. The greater concern, however, is the widespread pollution and environmental devastation it has wrought on a region that was once the breadbasket of the Gulf area. Across the Ahwaz region, in cities like Falahiyeh, Muhammarah and Abadan, massive plantations of palm trees whose produce was famed across the Middle East have either been deliberately destroyed or simply left to wither. Also at serious risk are the region’s flora and fauna, as the Falahiyeh wetlands and the Hor-Azim wetlands are almost completely destroyed.

Sugar refineries are depleting the already scarce supply of river water for their water-intensive processes, and polluting the region’s remaining rivers and streams by pumping untreated chemicals used in the sugar-cleaning and refining process back into the waterways. This leaves the water downstream unusable and high in saline, which destroys the arable lands of the region’s poor Ahwazi farmers.

Then there’s the burning of the sugarcane, which takes place on plantations around the Ahwazi capital and other cities in the region before the May-November harvest. The smoke from burning sugar cane is thick and heavy due to the dense sugar and alcohol content; instead of drifting upward it blows across the land, causing severe and sometimes fatal respiratory and skin problems among the population.

The heavy toll on health

At the end of January, at least three Ahwazi Arabs were reported to have died as a result of respiratory problems caused or exacerbated by the region’s severe air pollution. One of them, 43-year-old Kareem Abdul Khani from the city of Susa, who suffered from chronic asthma, was rushed to the city’s Mafi Hospital on January 21 after complaining of dizziness and difficulty breathing due to the severe pollution in the area, which greatly exceeded usual levels. He died the following day.

The second man, 47-year-old Hamid Hamdian from Mollasani County near Ahwaz city, had been suffering from respiratory disease for some time. He died suddenly after being overcome by severe breathing problems.

The third man, 34-year-old Ahmed Chenani from Hamidieh city, 30 kilometers west of Ahwaz, died from chronic respiratory problems on the night of January 25, after suffocating from the air pollution blanketing the area. Family members who rushed him to the Golestan Hospital in Ahwaz city, said that the lack of adequate medical facilities and the negligence of medical staff contributed to his death.

Rates of cancer in the region are also rising. A member of the medical staff at a hospital in Ahwaz who, like other interviewees, wished to remain anonymous, said that ten years ago the hospital had 40 beds that were largely underused. In recent years, the hospital has become overrun with cancer patients.

All this is a huge price to pay, especially for the indigenous Ahwazi Arabs, who are still denied all but the most menial jobs in sugarcane and oil—the two industries wreaking havoc on their home region‚—while ethnic Persians are brought in from other parts of Iran and offered high wages and modern, purpose-built housing in segregated settlements. Despite being natives of the wealthiest region in Iran in terms of resources, the majority of the Ahwazi people live in medieval conditions under a de facto apartheid system.

In Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Network Shutdowns Leave Civilians Unreachable — And Unable to Call for Help

Wed, 2018-02-14 09:04

A demonstration against mobile shutdowns in North Sinai. Banner reads: “We don't want to use Israeli networks because of your neglect.” Photo by Sinai2014/SinaiOutofCoverage group page.

This post was written by Asser Khattab and originally published on the SMEX blog. It is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

As part of a military operation to root out “terrorists and criminal elements and organizations” from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and adjacent areas, the Egyptian Armed Forces have ordered a region-wide shutdown of internet and telecommunications services.

Dubbed “Comprehensive Operation: Sinai 2018,” the military campaign is targeting insurgents affiliated with ISIS in the northern and central areas of the Sinai Peninsula, west of the Nile valley, and the Nile Delta.

Online activists and Egyptian citizens are sounding the alarm on Twitter using the hashtag #سيناء_خارج_التغطية [“Sinai is out of the coverage area”] to express concern over the fate of Sinai civilians, which is largely unknown since they are now both physically and virtually inaccessible. Since July 2013,  Northern Sinai has been treated as a closed military zone by Egyptian authorities, who have banned access to journalists and human rights observers. Thousands have been forcibly evicted and displaced as the Egyptian military bulldozed homes to create buffer zones on the border with Gaza, and most recently around the Sinai airport.

This major military campaign has effectively placed the Sinai in a media blackout, with telecommunications shutdowns disconnecting Sinai residents from each other and isolating them from the rest of the country and world.

Such shutdowns have become commonplace for residents of Al-Arish and other cities in the sparsely populated North Sinai, who are subjected to network disruptions “whenever military and security operations are conducted in the desert area south of the city,” according to an engineer from al-Arish who spoke to SMEX on the condition of anonymity, fearing that he could be summoned by the authorities. The source added that the government does not warn residents before a shutdown and does not provide any justifications once services are restored.

The Egyptian government has been launching offensives against the Sinai insurgency since it began in 2011, in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution that toppled the presidency of Hosni Mubarak. Extremist militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM) repeatedly attacked Egyptian security forces before pledging allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula, known as ISIL-Sinai Province.

Mohannad Sabry, a journalist and researcher who has extensively covered the Sinai, told SMEX in a phone interview that internet and telecommunications blackouts are simply ineffective.

“Government forces suffer from network disruptions more than the insurgents,” he said, referring to instances when ground forces lost contact with each other or with the Ministry of Interior during combat. Insurgent groups “have alternative ways to communicate, like through BGAN portable terminals and shortwave walkie talkies,” Sabry added, explaining that disruptions to telecommunications services have little impact on their alleged targets.

These shutdowns prevent local and foreign journalists and non-governmental organizations from reaching sources on the ground.

“Limiting coverage of the failure of Egypt’s strategy in the Sinai and of the negative impact it has had on the community there is one of the reasons behind these disruptions,” Sabry said.

On February 3, The New York Times exposed a “secret alliance” between Egypt and Israel in the war against militants in North Sinai. The Egyptian government is trying to conceal such information from the public, according to Sabry, “Egyptian leaders wanted to cover up the approval of Israeli airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Sinai,” he said.

The telecommunications sector in Egypt is operated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA), which “means that this body is implicated in any network disruptions that occur in the country,” a freedom of expression activist told SMEX on the condition of anonymity, as a safety precaution.

“Various government bodies interfere in the work of the NTRA, including the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Agency, and others like the Ministry of Telecommunications,” the activist added.

The recurring interference in internet and telecommunication services comes as press freedoms and freedom of expression are jeopardized by the military rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. In 2016, Egypt was the world’s third-ranked offender in terms of imprisoned journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Reporting on the North Sinai is even more difficult since the area was declared a closed military zone in July 2013 and rendered inaccessible to journalists. Our source in Al-Arish said that while journalists can request permission to enter the area from Egypt’s military spokesperson, Tamer al-Refai, “he barely gives any authorizations … no one has been allowed to write about this story or any story that actually matters [to Sinai residents].”

Asked if any organizations are advocating on behalf of residents’ right to access the internet and other telecommunications services, the engineer in Al-Arish said: “absolutely not, no one is … just like the press, the work of NGOs is very restricted here.”

Sabry said that the real victims of those disruptions are the local civilians in the North Sinai because “they cannot report cases of collateral damage or injuries and they have limited access to emergency services.”

“Several women were unable to call an ambulance while in labor,” he added.

For residents like our source in Al-Arish, who are directly impacted by these shutdowns, “the worst aspect is the element of surprise.” Some residents have been unable to learn about a relative’s death, learning of it 10 to 12 hours after its occurrence. Others have had to travel long distances, as much as 90 kilometres, to simply make a phone call or send an email.

Hindering and limiting access to information and communications services is a national concern in Egypt that extends far beyond the Sinai Peninsula. Since May 24, 2017, the Egyptian government has blocked at least 496 websites, according to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, an independent legal firm.

Websites of several international news outlets, such as The Washington Post, and independent local media outlets, such as Mada Masr, are blocked. Under the pretext of supporting terrorism or the catch-all “fake news,” the Egyptian public is being deprived of essential services and information while the work of local journalists is coming under systematic attack.

Several Months After Their Abduction by Boko Haram, Thirteen Nigerian Citizens Regain Freedom

Wed, 2018-02-14 03:31

A screenshot of 10 Nigerian policewomen released by Boko Haram who were kidnapped in June 2017.

Thirteen Nigerians kidnapped by Boko Haram, a jihadist militant organization in Nigeria, regained their freedom on Saturday, February 10, 2018. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted in a statement that they “facilitated the handover” from Boko Haram to the Nigerian military of “10 women police officers and three university professors”:

This operation in north-east Nigeria, with the ICRC acting as a neutral intermediary, was carried out at the request of the parties to the ongoing armed conflict…The ICRC was not involved in any negotiations that led to the handover of the 13 people. The armed opposition handed the 13 people over to ICRC representatives who transported them to Nigerian authorities. This action was similar to what the ICRC did in October 2016 and May 2017, when we transported the release of “Chibok girls” to Nigerian officials.

Ten female police officers were kidnapped by Boko Haram in June 2017 after militants allegedly ambushed a convoy of security personnel in the north-eastern city of Damboa, Borno State. They later released a video in which they described the police officers as their “slaves“.

Similarly, three professors from the University of Maiduguri, Borno State, were also abducted by Boko Haram in the Magumeri area of Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria during an oil exploration in the Lake Chad Basin area on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. A few days later, Boko Haram released a video footage of the university teachers.

Boko Haram has been responsible for thousands of deaths including suicide bombings and violent, militant attacks in north-east Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and Niger. The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014 by Boko Haram in Chibok, north-east Nigeria led to the global hashtag #BringBackOurGirls which later morphed into the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement.

Twitter user Jeff Okoroafor, a Nigerian citizen, thanked the Bring Back Our Girls Nigeria (BBOG) for their persistent advocacy which has kept the abduction of Nigerian citizens at the forefront:

I want to personally and specially THANK ALL members of @BBOG_Nigeria for their perseverance – keeping the issue of the #UniMaidLecturers & #LASSAWomen in the front burner all this while. Well done fellow compatriots.

Our dear leader and heroine, @obyezeks GOD bless you ma'am.

— Jeff Okoroafor (@JeffOkoroafor) February 10, 2018

‘India’s Only Positive Newspaper’ Brings Readers a Dose of Hope

Tue, 2018-02-13 22:47

Screenshot form the Optimist Citizen Newspaper

This post was written by Madhura Chakraborty, and originally appeared on Video Volunteers, an award-winning international community media organization based in India. An edited version is published below as part of a partnership with Global Voices.

Piyush Ghosh and Tuhin Kumar Singh, two young friends in Bhopal, the capital of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, used to despair at the negativity emanating from the newspapers every morning. As a consequence, society becomes paranoid with a sense of fear and doubt. People are afraid of trusting each other and lose confidence in organizations, politicians, and the system.

The two thought, “What could be the solution? How to inspire people instead of pushing them further into despondency?”

Then a small idea came to them — a newspaper full of optimistic news. And now they are reaching every corner of India with their unique newspaper.

They launched the online and print fortnightly publication, self-branded as “India's first purely positive and good newspaper”, in October 2014, and it now has subscribers all over India now, who pay a small subscription fee of 290 Indian rupees or 5 US dollars per year.

The Optimist Citizen focuses on presenting only positive news ranging from stories of inspiration, unsung heroes, good governance, and acts of courage —  stories that aren't often picked up by mainstream media outlets, as they, as they do not create a sensation.

Saloni, with her friends, understood their constitutional rights and duties by convincing the People of Harda to educate their daughters under the Samvidhan Live! The Jagrik Project public initiative by ComMutiny – The Youth Collective. https://t.co/sO1pk6Kbdo

— The Optimist Citizen (@OptimistCitizen) January 20, 2018

Video Volunteers community correspondent Ramlal Baiga in a video report explains how this newspaper evolved:

“We called a small public meeting in a park here in Bhopal. From that day on we started working towards our first edition, our mission and vision,” recalled Tuhin.

Piyush chimed in, “My parents are social entrepreneurs and their work is so inspirational. So I felt that we should use inspirational stories to motivate people instead of negative news.”

And so started the journey of The Optimist Citizen.

Neither of the co-founders had a background in media. “We didn’t know what kind of paper is used to print newspapers or even the difference between broadsheets and tabloids!” admitted Tuhin.

In fact, all the employees on board learned and grew with the newspaper. Tannson Matthews, the marketing director, talked about this journey to community correspondent Ramlal Baiga. “Once we started the paper, we realized there are different segments to cater to,” he said.

Despite all this, the duo has managed to build a successful media brand, with a solid online presence, from scratch.

Tuhin elaborated in an interview to Entrepreneurship India magazine:

The role of media is to disseminate news in the most unbiased and true format possible. But, often, in our globalised world, it is completely opposite. We felt if negative news and stories can bring about such negative actions, why not publish and present positive stories that can bring about a larger positive impact.

Stories like that of a 10-year old underprivileged girl who runs a library for kids in her slum, an Israeli man who came to India and grew an edible forest on a 70-acre barren land, a couple who started a foundation for children with rare diseases after they lost their infant daughter, a German artist who is transforming a village in Himachal Pradesh into an art hub to increase the tourism and livelihoods in the village and so much more. It was these stories that inspired us and we believed they can inspire millions more.

It is indeed heartening to read their stories of positive change in these trying times. Instead of devoting space to the antics of media-hungry politicians, or page-three gossip, we learn about entrepreneurs and Good Samaritans across the country. These stories, neglected by mainstream media, are highlighted across different sections of The Optimist Citizen.

You can follow the newspaper on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Video Volunteers runs India's only reporting network that's focused exclusively on providing broad coverage from the poorest, most media-dark districts in India.

‘We Want the World to Know': Activists Reporting on Occupation Face Legal Threats in Western Sahara

Tue, 2018-02-13 04:00

A crowd en route to join a rally in the city of Laayune is charged by Moroccan forces. The scene was captured by Equipe Media on April 29th 2013.

Among media freedom and human rights groups, Morocco is often described as having a relatively favourable landscape for media freedom, in contrast to other oppressive regimes and dictatorships in the neighbourhood, such as Egypt and Mauritania.

These assessments, which are already subjective, do not extend to the occupied territories of Western Sahara.

In a militarized environment with aggressive controls on media and citizen reporting, few stories of Western Sahara reach audiences beyond the immediate region. Local journalists and media activists reporting on the occupation and Moroccan abuses face legal obstacles and risk lengthy jail sentences in order to make their voices heard.

One group that has found itself on the edge of this divide is Equipe Media, a video documentation and human rights group that mainly reports on rights abuses committed by Moroccan forces in the territory.

Along with a Swedish film production collective, the Sahrawi media group recently released its first documentary film, 3 Stolen Cameras, which addresses the group’s struggle to document and report on Moroccan violations in Western Sahara.

“Our mission insists on showing that we are peaceful,” says Equipe Media co-founder Ahmed Ettanji. “We are campaigning our cause without violence and we want the world to know.”

Multiple Sahrawi journalists who worked with Equipe Media are currently behind bars because of their work activities, including video coverage of the 2010 Gdeim Izik protest movement.

Western Sahara: A Disputed Territory

The conflict in Western Sahara dates back to 1975 when the former colonial power Spain withdrew from the sparsely-populated territory and joint forces from neighbouring Mauritania and Morocco moved in to take control. While Mauritania eventually withdrew from Western Sahara, Moroccan forces to date still control what is sometimes referred to as ‘’Africa’s last colony’’.

For 16 years, the rebel group known as the Polisario Front fought a guerilla war for independence against Morocco, before a UN brokered ceasefire came into effect in 1991. The UN recognizes the Polisario Front as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, a mixed ethnic group that lives mainly in Western Sahara and Mauritania.

 

The Gdeim Izik protests

In late 2010, just weeks before the Arab uprisings swept across the region, Western Sahara saw a massive, largely peaceful civilian uprising against the occupation. The uprising became known as Gdeim Izik, named after the area of the desert where the protest took place.

Thousands of Sahrawis abandoned their homes to join what grew into a huge self-governed tent city, squatting on the land for almost a month before being violently dispersed by Moroccan forces, who then burned the tent city to the ground.

Although largely unknown to the world, Gdeim Izik is an important milestone in the modern history of Western Sahara that rejuvenated the civilian independence movement.

Riots ensued after the evacuation of Gdeim Izik and resulted in several deaths and injuries that the opposing sides still blame each other for. The official narrative from Moroccan authorities holds that two protesters and 11 police and security people were killed on duty. Other sources give different numbers and different identifications.

A report by Sahara Docs cast greater light on the consequences of the event for the protesters:

[The eviction of Gdeim Izik] caused for hundreds of victims among protesters, and some deaths among Moroccan ranks; eleven of them according to Moroccan sources. Some died on the field, while some others did so in hospitals, but as a consequence of their wounds.

Equipe Media made it their mission to document the movement, as there were few other people doing so. Alongside a small network of grassroots media activists, they are paying a heavy price as a result.

Four media activists — Hassana Alia, Bachir El Khadaa, Hassan El Dah, and Abdullahi Lakfawani — affiliated with Equipe Media and similar networks of grassroots journalism are among a group of 25 Sahrawi activists who were prosecuted for their roles in the Gdeim Izik protest movement.

Lakfawani, who was arrested on 12 November 2010, was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of “membership in a criminal gang” and “violence against a security force member leading to death, with intent.”

“Criminal gang” is a common terminology used by Moroccan authorities to describe activist groups in the region.

El Khadaa and El Dah were arrested at a cafe in Laayune, almost one month after the protest camp was dismantled. While El Khadaa got twenty years in jail for “entering into a criminal agreement” and “complicity in violence against security force member leading to death, with intent,” El Dah was sentenced to thirty years in jail for “membership in a criminal gang and complicity in violence against security force member leading to death with intent.” In addition to contributing to Equipe Media, El Dah was a reporter for the official TV station of Polisario (RASD TV).

Hassana Alia member of Equipe Media was tried and convicted in absentia in 2013 on unspecified charges, and sentenced to life in prison. He is currently exiled to Spain where he was granted asylum before the trial. Alia did not appear among the defendants in the 2017 re-trial.

Commenting on the cases, Ettanji told Global Voices:

When our members are put on trial we are never charged with violating the press code, but always some made-up accusations of us assaulting the police or something like that. Foreign journalists are kicked out, Moroccan journalists know the law and keep their mouths shut and us Sahrawis are treated in the worst way possible.

Gdeim Izik trial

Moroccan authorities accuse 25 activists of the Gdeim Izik protest movement of committing acts of violence in relation to clashes that erupted when Moroccan security forces dismantled the protest-camp on 8 November 2010.

Eleven Moroccan security officers and two Sahrawis died in those clashes, according to official sources. However, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and international observers say the trial is unfair due to forced confessions obtained through torture. Moroccan authorities have not heeded calls from rights groups to investigate these allegations of torture. In March 2013, after more than two years of pre-trial detention, a military court sentenced the activists to jail terms ranging from two years to life imprisonment.

In 2016, after Morocco changed its military justice law to end military trial of civilians, the cassation court ordered a retrial before a civilian court. On 19 July 2017, a court of appeal released a verdict, upholding most of the sentences previously pronounced by the military court of Rabat.

Another Equipe Media contributor also currently in jail, although not in relation to the Gdeim Izik protest, is Mohammed El Bambari, who is currently serving a six-year jail term in relation to his coverage of protests that turned violent in the city of Dakhla in September 2011.

The Moroccan government accuses him of participating in the violence on a number of charges including “committing violence against public servants,” “obstructing a public road,” and the “formation of a criminal gang.” Although the events for which Bambari is accused took place in 2011, he was not arrested until August 2015 when he appeared at local police station in Dakhla to renew his identification card.

If you can't challenge ‘territorial integrity’, how can you do journalism?

Morocco's 2016 Press Code criminalizes any expression that might challenge the “territorial integrity” of the kingdom. Print media accused of undermining Morocco's “territorial integrity” can face suspension while news websites can be blocked in accordance with Articles 71 and 104 of the Press Code. Any discussion or investigation related to the subject, and any independent journalistic activities carried out in Western Sahara, are thus violations that can garner a prison sentence ranging from six months to two years in jail and a fine, under penal code amendments from 2016.

But in this context, where any media coverage that challenges the “territorial integrity” of the Moroccan state is criminalized, the line between journalism and activism becomes blurred. To underground and activist media groups like Equipe Media, the cause for West Saharan self-determination and freedom of expression coalesce into one defiant and dangerous act of resistance.

While there has been a UN brokered ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front in effect since 1991, the conflict is by no means settled. As the gravitational centre of West Saharan resistance started shifting away from the guerrilla fighters in the desert onto the Sahrawi civilian population in the occupied cities, an environment of underground media began to form.

International disinterest in the Sahrawi cause

Despite the efforts of groups like Equipe and other independent media workers, there is still very little international attention on the Western Sahara conflict. The silence also plays into the hands of the Moroccan propaganda, a narrative built around a national consensus that “Moroccan Sahara” is a non-issue.

“They push the image that there are no problems here,” says Ahmed. “Whenever resistance is brought to surface they say we are a minority of troublemakers, common criminals or foreign (Algerian) agents.”

When Gdeim Izik happened and news started finding its way out, Moroccan media immediately painted it as a protest over unemployment and economic hardships, making little if any reference to the military occupation. As the territory is exceedingly difficult for foreign journalists to visit and report from, foreign media often resort to reprinting what appears in the Moroccan press.

Ahmed is quick to underline that several governments in Europe, foremost the former colonial powers of Spain and France, are directly complicit and invested in the occupation.

What our group tries to do is to fix the spotlight on this place, the last remaining colony in Africa and we are simply asking to be free. But [Spain and France] continue to put economic interests ahead of our human rights. They just don’t care.

ISIS Has Left the Syrian City of Raqqa, but Its Landmines Continue to Maim and Kill

Mon, 2018-02-12 17:45

The destruction in Al-Qouatli street in Raqqa city. Photo by Abood Hamam, used with permission.

For nearly four years, between 2013 and 2017, Syria's Raqqa city remained under the control of one of the bloodiest jihadist groups of this century: ISIS, also known as ISIL, Daesh, and Islamic State.

During its reign, ISIS forced inhabitants of the city, which it had declared to be the capital of its “caliphate,” to follow its extreme rules. Those who disobeyed were killed by crucifixion or other brutal methods of public execution.

In October 2017, after a four-month-long battle, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a US-backed alliance of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and other groups — managed to take control of the city and drive ISIS out. The retaking of Raqqa reportedly included an agreement between SDF and ISIS through which ISIS fighters and their families would be allowed safe passage to Deir Ezzor in Syria's east, according to the BBC.

But despite the group's defeat in Raqqa, ISIS wasn't finished with inflicting damage on the city's population. As one ISIS fighter told civilians before withdrawing from the city, “The land will fight for us”.

One of the ways “the land” is “fighting” for ISIS is through landmines.

Speaking to Global Voices over the phone, Abu Fares, a 53-year-old man who lost two of his sons to landmines planted by ISIS, said in a voice full of sorrow:

When the SDF and the international coalition attacked the city, we were forced to leave. However, we couldn't leave at the beginning of the fight, because ISIS used us as human shields. I lost one of my sons while we were trying to flee the city in the Shahdah district when a landmine exploded.

Read: ISIS Left Thousands of Mines in Manbij Before Fleeing. It Hid Them Inside Everything.

Abu Fares lost his second son a month after the battles were over:

A month after the battles ended we were allowed to return to our homes. I sent one of my sons to check our home near the clock roundabout, but when he arrived, the landmines were waiting for him in front of the house's door”.

A total of 220 civilian have been killed and dozens have been injured in Raqqa since the SDF victory due to mines planted by ISIS, according to a member of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently”, a group of local activists who document violations in the city.

A landmine planted by ISIS in Raqqa. Photo taken by “Raqqa is being slaughtered silently.” Used with permission.

When operation “Wrath of Euphrates“, the codename for the anti-ISIS operation, started in November 2016, ISIS began to plant a large number of mines to prevent SDF forces from advancing towards Raqqa. But rather than hit their intended targets, these landmines often killed civilians fleeing the battles.

The explosive devices have also killed several SDF fighters, including British volunteer Oliver Hall who lost his life months ago while he was clearing the mines. As of the time of writing, the SDF has yet to announce the number of fighters killed due to these mines.

A voluntary organization called “Roj” (short for Rojava, a region in northern Syria and western Kurdistan) is working in the city on removing thousands of mines with the help of Raqqa's Civil Council and international organizations. “The number of unexploded ordnance in Raqqa is something that we never seen before”, UN assistant secretary general Panos Moumtzis told news agency Reuters in February 2018.

But that work isn't happening fast enough for some residents. Amira, 35 years old, told Global Voices that she had to pay 50,000 Syrian pounds (approximately 100 US dollars) to a private person to clear the mines in her house after the organizations working to clear them in the area rejected her request, saying that her neighborhood's turn hasn't come yet.

She said she had to return to Raqqa after initially fleeing because of the terrible living conditions in the camps in the north for internally displaced people:

ISIS planted mines everywhere, under beds, among the rubble, inside fridges and wash machines even inside an electric lamp experts found a mine.

According to residents, the Al-Tayar, Al-Mishlab and Al-Darriah neighborhoods were the only residential districts that have been completely cleared of landmines so far.

Read: Two Syrian Activists Explain Their Experiences Being Imprisoned by ISIS in Al Bab

The process of de-mining in Raqqa is going very slow because of the lack of funds and resources available to the Civil Council. This situation is forcing civilians to return to their unsafe homes, causing regular casualties in a city that has already suffered under ISIS occupation for nearly four years.

What Were Global Voices’ Readers up to Last Week?

Mon, 2018-02-12 15:25

“Read up!” Photo by Flickr user carnagenyc. CC BY-NC 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 February 5-11, 2018.

Where in the world are Global Voices’ readers?

Last week, our stories and translations attracted readers from 195 countries! The top 20 countries represented across all of Global Voices’ sites were:

The top 20 countries for readership during the week of February 5-11, 2018. A modified version of a map by Roke. CC BY-SA 3.0

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. Japan
  4. Mexico
  5. Brazil
  6. France
  7. United Kingdom
  8. Spain
  9. Colombia
  10. Philippines
  11. India
  12. Italy
  13. Germany
  14. Russia
  15. Taiwan
  16. Bangladesh
  17. Indonesia
  18. Argentina
  19. Peru
  20. Madagascar
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. Trinidad & Tobago Finally Gets Its ‘Steups’ Emoji
  2. As the World Celebrates Bob Marley Day, Reggae Is Changing and so Are Its Fans
  3. How Apple Is Paving the Way to a ‘Cloud Dictatorship’ in China
  4. FBI Investigation Helps Uncover Latest Bribery Scandal in Greece
  5. It Is Not Only LGBT Jamaicans Who Welcome the Government’s Ban of Controversial U.S. Preacher
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 Chinese (simplified) Chinese (traditional) Czech Dutch Esperanto Farsi French German Greek Hindi Hungarian Indonesian Italian Japanese Korean Kurdish Macedonian Malagasy Nepali Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Spanish Swahili Turkish Urdu

Mashal Khan Case Verdict Highlights Pakistan’s Blasphemy and Impunity Problem

Sun, 2018-02-11 14:13

Mashal Khan. Source: Facebook

On 13 April 2017, journalism student Mashal Khan was lynched and shot dead at his university by fellow students after he was falsely accused of blasphemy. Around 61 students were arrested for the killing of Khan. On 7 February 2018, a Pakistani court sentenced to death Imran Ali for shooting Khan. Five of the accused received life imprisonment, 25 were convicted of minor offenses, and 26 were acquitted.

After the verdict was announced, many shared their views on social media. It also revived the debate about whether it’s already time to reform the country’s Blasphemy Law.

Who Was Mashal Khan?

Khan was a 23-year old (reported in some media as 25-year old) student of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan. He was attacked after a nasty rumor linked him to several Facebook pages that allegedly insulted Islam. He died from gunshot wounds while the police were dealing with the mob. Later, the rumor was found out to be baseless.

Khan’s murder sparked public outrage which helped in pressuring the government to prosecute those involved in killing the student. The campaign used the hashtag #JusticeForMashal.

During the widely publicized trial, which was held in an Anti-Terrorism Court in Haripur, Khan’s family members were given security due to constant threats against them.

The guilty verdict handed out by the court marked the first time that the Pakistani police became successful in moving for the conviction of mob members in a lynching incident.

But Iqbal Khan, the father of the murdered student, told BBC Urdu that his family is still seeking justice because 26 suspects walked free despite their participation in the mob that killed his son.

The father’s lament was shared by blogger Imran Khan who reminded authorities that more than 6 people were obviously involved in killing Mashal Khan.

1 death sentence and 5 life sentences for a lynching that was filmed? Surely there were more than 6 people involved. #JusticeforMashal

— Imran Khan (@iopyne) February 7, 2018

Student Syeda Trimzi hopes that this verdict will deter other such incidents:

#JusticeForMashal
In the End it's a Justice ..
May #MashalKhan case will last and No mother will have to lost it's Mashal again pic.twitter.com/6sjPvzKSQy

— Syeda Trimzi (@TrimiziiSyeda) February 7, 2018

This was also the message of journalist Meena Gabeena:

Congratulations Pakistan for finally hearing abt some punishments to the people behind heinous crimes… it’s time to now raise the voice and work harder to prevent such cases at the first place instead of making noise for punishments after they happen. #JusticeForMashal

— meena gabeena (@gabeeno) February 7, 2018

Aitzaz Hassan at Pro Pakistani blog said that the judgment was a step in the right direction, and noted:

We will have to wait and see if any other mobsters will come under the rule of law after the defendants appeal against the current decision.

Heroes’ Welcome for the Acquitted

Meanwhile, lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir tweeted a video of one of the acquitted who proudly admitted his role in the murder and added that he did it for his religion.

Aizaz, another student who was acquitted, got a hero's welcome in Mardan. He was showered with petals and carried on the shoulders of supporters, and he told the cheering crowd in Pashto that anyone who committed blasphemy or spoke against Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (the belief that Prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him was the last prophet) would “meet the same end as Mashal”.

After the release of the verdict, street parties were held by some religious groups calling for the acquittal of all suspects.

Blasphemy and Impunity

After Mashal Khan's murder, political analyst Sohail Khan wrote about the mob mentality and hatred that killed the student:

Killing in the name of religion becomes easy if you are brought up in a particular way. [..] Sectarianism is paraded as a diversity of opinion. Fatwas are delivered as analysis. Calling others kafirs, infidels, atheists (in the popularly misunderstood sense), non-believers, ‘murtads’, enemies of Islam etc is now a trend. With their little knowledge, Wikipedia information, inadequate lives, personal failures, short tempers and long tongues, these hatemongers are all over the place – infecting minds, poisoning hearts, darkening souls. [..]

The incident had rekindled the debate about the role of Islam in state and society of Pakistan in a way not seen before in Pakistan.

The culture of impunity that legitimizes killing merely on the accusation of blasphemy is also to blame. The country’s Blasphemy Law is linked to dozens of killings because of its ‘draconian’ provisions which are easily exploited by some individuals for dubious personal motives.

Among those killed for allegedly committing blasphemy was politician Salman Taseer who was shot dead by his own bodyguard in 2011 for speaking out against the misuse of the law. Taseer's bodyguard, who was executed last year, is revered by many religious hardliners.

In order to prevent false allegations, the Supreme Court asked the Parliament on August 2017 to amend the law by inserting a provision punishing those who make false accusations.

Some believe that the Mashal Khan verdict provides an opportunity to further review the Blasphemy Law and ensure that it’s not used to justify acts of violence against those who belong to minority religions.

‘Singing the Tale of Our Pain': Tajikistan's Migration Phenomenon Finds a Home in Music

Sun, 2018-02-11 09:00

Screenshot from Nigina Amonqulova – Yori Musofir (2015). Music Video uploaded onto YouTube January 3, 2016.

In jobless Tajikistan, leaving your loved ones behind to take up menial work in Russia is almost a rite of passage. Local pop music, in turn, has become an important medium to reflect on the social transformations triggered by the mass exodus of young men from the former Soviet country.

Намехоҳам аз ватан дур, зиндагӣ мекунад маҷбур,

Макун гиря модарҷонам, қисмати мо чӣ талху шӯр.

Аз ошиқам ҷудо кардӣ, дилам пур аз ғамҳо кардӣ,

Маро тани танҳо кардӣ, ба дардҳо мубтало кардӣ,

Оҳ ғарибӣ!

No desire to leave homeland, but have to,

Don’t cry, dear mother, our fate is that bitter.

I am separated from friends, and love,

My heart full of sadness, I’m lonely and sick.

Tajikistan is home to more than eight million people. It is estimated that more than half of all working age males seek jobs abroad, overwhelmingly in Russia.

According to World Bank data, migrant remittances equate to a greater proportion of Tajikistan's economy (26.9%) than any other economy in the world, bar those of Central Asian neighbour Kyrgyzstan (30.4%) and Nepal (31.3%).

The factors pushing citizens away from the majority-Muslim country are manifold. It is the poorest of the 15 republics that gained independence from the former Soviet Union. Corruption is rampant and public services are in turmoil. For those able to find work, wages are low and often outpaced by inflation.

Ҳар куҷо шодаму шодон, ба ёди Ватанам,

Ҳар куҷо ташнаву ношод, ба ёди Ватанам

Wherever I am happy and joyful, I think of homeland,

Wherever I am thirsty and sad, I think of homeland.

This upbeat music video put together by the International Organisation for Migration and the Tajik government calls on migrants enjoying success abroad to contribute to their homeland's development.

The clip includes footage (from 2.50) of long-serving Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon meeting with compatriots in Moscow.

The reality of most migrants’ lives is far less colourful than the video above suggests.

Working conditions in Russia and other host countries are often poor, with corruption, racism and exploitation at the core of everyday life.

On average, more than one Tajik labour migrant returns home in a coffin every day.

Теппае гӯри бародар, теппае гӯри падар,

Байни он ду теппа бошад ҷойи як гӯри дигар.

Гар бимирам дар ғарибӣ, Тоҷикистонам баред

Father’s grave on one side and brother’s on the other side,

Is there space for one more grave?

Find it! If I die in gharibi, take my body home, to Tajikistan!

For Tajiks, one of Central Asia's longest-settled peoples, the psychological burden of leaving home is impossible to describe.

It is captured in the Tajik word “gharibi”, which represents a mix of misery, loneliness, humiliation and hunger experienced in an unfamiliar place.

Афсӯс, ки дар ин дашту биёбон мурдан,

Дур аз ватану, ҷудо аз хешон мурдан,

So sad to die in this wilderness,

Far from home, far from loved ones.

Saying goodbye to the homeland for good?

It is arguably family members left behind by Tajikistan's Russia-bound migrants that suffer most, however.

Sometimes, men leave for Russia before their wives give birth. In these cases, a child's only connection to his or her father might be through conversations on a messanging app.

For spouses, there is the very real fear of abandonment. Migrants sometimes take new wives in Russia, and occasionally divorce their first wives via SMS messages.

Азизи дури ман, ёри ғарибам, зи оғӯши биҳишт сахт бенасибам,

Мабодо, ки фаромӯшам намоӣ, бигирад тахти бахт ҳамроҳ рақибам.

Love of my heart, who is far from me, leaving me without the embrace of paradise,

I fear your short memory, and that a rival might sit on the throne of my happiness.

While professional pop artists have capitalised on the migration theme to boost their profiles, YouTube is also awash with migration-themed songs performed by migrants themselves.

Як-ду сухане ки дар дилум буд, буромадан,

Чӣ азобойе мекашанд берун ай ватан.

Ҳози боша да фикрум, чида да мулки ғарибум,

Чӣ кор мекунум ма ай шумо дур да и макон,

Чиба дар барум нестед ҳози шумо, очаҷон

I have a few words to say,

Singing the tale of our pain,

Why am I here, in an alien place, far from my mother?

Common to many songs is a call to return to the homeland.

Муҳоҷирбачаи саргардони тоҷик, Наврӯз мерасад,

Дар базми ватан оё, ҷойи ту холист.

Suffering Tajik migrant, Nowruz [the spring equinox] is upon us,

Come to celebrate it at home, you are being missed!

The numbers suggest many migrants are growing less optimistic about the idea of returning home and building a life in Tajikistan.

In 2017 alone roughly 30,000 Tajiks received Russian passports as they look to make their moves north permanent.

The Pashtun Long March Asks for Justice After Years of Ethnic Targeting

Sat, 2018-02-10 15:18

Protesters outside the National Press Club in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Image by Annam Lodhi. Used with permission.

“Naqeeb Teray Khoon Se, Inqilab Aye Ga,” (Naqeeb from your blood we will bring about a revolution) chants a crowd outside the National Press Club in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Thousands of ethnic Pashtuns from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and elsewhere in Pakistan have staged a sit-in in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad for the past week.

The protests were initially sparked by the extra-judicial killing of Pashtun shopkeeper Naqeebullah Mehsud, but have now become a rallying point to speak up about issues affecting the Pashtun community.

#PastunLongMarch #Islamabad
How many more until we actually see change? pic.twitter.com/2Z63BzPH5R

— The Lodhi (@AnnamL0dhi) February 8, 2018

Women from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are on the way to join #PashtunLongMarch
We request women from all over Pakistan to join us today at 5 pm Islamabad press club. #JusticeForPashtun pic.twitter.com/qOBemtqoHd

— Shawanashah (@ShawanaShah92) February 8, 2018

Who are the Pashtuns?

The Pashtuns (or Pathans) are an ethnic group who mostly live in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They speak the Pashto language and various other dialects; they also have a rich traditional set of ethics and a distinctive culture which guides individual and communal conduct. In Pakistan, there are currently about 30 million Pashtuns (15% of Pakistan's total population) and in Afghanistan, they are the largest ethnic group and make up between 42–60% of the 32.5 million population.

Why are the Pashtuns protesting?

Many Pashtuns are disadvantaged in Pakistan. Pashtun refugees that have crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan mostly live in squalid refugee camps in poverty. Also, many local Pashtuns from the Afghan border area — the federally administered tribal area (FATA)– are internally displaced in their own country due to military operations related to the War in Waziristan and also live in camps. They have endured years of terrorist violence and military operations where hundreds of thousands of families lost their businesses and livelihoods.

Protests have been raging on since Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 27-year-old Pashtun shopkeeper from FATA, was killed in an alleged staged extrajudicial killing in January in Karachi. The phenomena of extrajudicial killings and fake encounter killings (when locals are murdered and shown as culprits for the good of the security agencies) are not new to Karachi. In 2017, 65 extrajudicial killings were suspected and 20 were investigated; in six cases, police officers were found to be involved in misusing their powers.

End to the regime of enforced disappearances in Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and rest of Pakistan, an end to the land mines, #JusticeForNaqeeb and rehabilitation of the destroyed infrastructure in Fata are the legitimate demands of #PashtunsIsbdDharna. #PashtunLongMarch pic.twitter.com/5hMHSzyImO

— Khadim Hussain (@Khadimhussain4) February 2, 2018

What is different about Naqeeb’s staged killing is that it has triggered a movement led by the Pashtun youth who feel that they have long been at the receiving end of punishments and are subjected to ethnic stereotyping and abductions by security forces.

The Demands of Pashtun sit-in. Credits: Annam Lodhi

The participants of the Pashtun sit-in, which commenced on 1 February, have refused to acquiesce from their position until the government accepts their five demands. The demands include:

  1. Police officials who killed Naqeeb Mehsud should be brought to justice
  2. A judicial commission should be made for the extrajudicial killing of the Pashtuns and the Chief Justice of Pakistan should directly monitor it.
  3. Present all missing persons in courts
  4. Remove landmines from FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)
  5. End the imposed curfew policy after every terrorist incident in FATA

Global Voices (GV) was present at the protest in Islamabad and talked to some of the protesters.

Ali Haider, a student, said:

I wish that we achieve what we came here for. We don't have a good education system nor qualified teachers and due to everyday issues, we can't attend schools on time or study

On 8 February, Haider and many other students were at the protest for more than a week and said that they are sacrificing their education and earnings in the hope for change. The ongoing sit-in was organized by a social media group of young Pashtuns, with the hashtag #PashtunLongMarch. The demonstration is currently being attended by 50+ women and about 2000 Pashtuns from the tribal areas and other parts of the country every day.

The protest was widely ignored by national media until social media and international outlets reported on it.

Thousands are participating in the #PashtunLongMarch. Men and women of all ages are present. This is something unprecedented. pic.twitter.com/Fn9wrhvRQG

— Dr Nauman (@naumanulhaqkhan) February 5, 2018

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called upon the Government of Pakistan to take notice of this protest and to listen to the demands. Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi assured the protestors that Naqeebullah Mehsud's killers will be brought to justice.

“The government hasn't given the protest it’s due attention”

While at the sit-in, GV spoke with Bushra Gohar, ANP’s (Awami National Party) Center Vice President, who stated that:

The government hasn't given the protest it’s due attention. He (the Prime Minister of Pakistan) should have announced what the government plans to do and what are the steps the government will take. The media was controlled and not allowed to cover the protest. The protest was huge on the first few days.

The protesters are also demanding an end to the Watan Card (an identity card) which originally launched in 2010 to provide financial assistance to the flood-affected population. This has become a de-facto passport for people from FATA to travel within the country and has become a huge nuisance for the residents of the north as it is now increasingly being used to discriminate amongst ethnicities. Bushra Gohar said:

Whenever a terrorist incident happens the whole community is punished. The Watan card should be done away with; if its good for them (the Pashtuns) it should be good for the PM of Pakistan also.

Social Activist Gulalai Ismail addressed the crowd on the eighth day and said, “Punjab main Orange Line or KP main land mines,” (The Punjab province has the orange line [train] while KP [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] has landmines) pointing toward the lack of development in the province. She further added that the lives of Pashtuns seem cheap because the government ignores the atrocities against them every day.

Women participating at the protest. Image by Annam Lodhi. Used with permission.

While talking to GV at the sit-in, Ismail said:

Women today also sent a strong message that we in our bangles are as strong as men with their weapons — with the power of nonviolence they vowed to take the revolution forward.

Many feel that the entire Pashtun community has suffered due to the ignorance of the government and ethnic sidelining. Ismail adds:

Pashtun women have suffered a lot; the ongoing conflict has strengthened the patriarchy. In the name of tribalization/FCR women have been deprived of their human rights.

Moreover, leaders of the parties from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa like the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Qaumi Watan Party participated in the Pashtun Long March and addressed the protesters, showing their full support for the protest.

Protesters have long felt that the current administration has been ignoring the basic rights of the Pashtuns, delaying the FATA reform bill since the beginning of their tenure in 2012. Finally, in January, the National Assembly (NA) did eventually pass the bill which was seen as a step toward some reform in the way of a merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Pashtun community has always felt marginalized, from jokes about their ethnicity to undermining their talent in many walks of life in Pakistan — they have found it hard to make their way in the society. This rally is one of a kind because this may be the first time that Pashtuns have come to the capital en masse. There are no blocked roads or ethnic profiling with Watan cards and the protesters are asking for nothing but justice. The rally isn't religiously motivated but rather ethnicity motivated; they hope for a Pakistan that is more accommodating to all it's people and doesn't divide on basis of ethnicity.

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