Global Voices

Subscribe to Global Voices feed Global Voices
Citizen media stories from around the world
Updated: 3 days 16 hours ago

A New App Wants to Help the Blind ‘See’ the Solar Eclipse

Sat, 2017-08-19 06:00

This is a prototype version of the app’s “rumble map.” Credit: Carolyn Beeler/PRI

This story by Carolyn Beeler originally appeared on on August 11, 2017. It is republished here as part of a partnership between PRI and Global Voices.

It sounds like the beginning of a riddle. How can someone who’s blind “see” the upcoming eclipse that will cut a path across the United States on August 21?

It’s a question solar astrophysicist Henry “Trae” Winter started thinking about several months ago after a blind colleague asked him to describe what an eclipse was like.

“I was caught completely flat-footed,” Winter said. “I had no idea how to communicate what goes on during an eclipse to someone who has never seen before in their entire life.”

Winter remembered a story a friend told him about how crickets can start to chirp in the middle of the day as the moon covers the sun during an eclipse. So, he told his colleague that story.

“The reaction that she had was powerful, and I wanted to replicate that sense of awe and wonder to as many people as I could across the country,” Winter said.

So Winter, who works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, decided to build an app to do just that: help blind people experience this summer’s eclipse.

Solar astrophysicist Henry “Trae” Winter gestures toward a video wall depicting an image of the sun at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/PRI

“[The blind] community has been traditionally left out of astronomy and astrophysics,” Winter said, “and I think that that is a glaring omission that it’s time to answer.”

Eclipse Soundscapes, which launched for iPads and iPhones on August 10, features real-time narration of different aspects of the eclipse timed for the user’s location.

A “rumble map” allows users to hear and feel the phenomena when they touch photos of previous eclipses.

Dark areas in the photos, like the solid black face of the moon, are silent when you touch them. Wispy strands of sunlight radiating out from behind the moon emit lower hums. And touching brighter areas, like the shards of light that peek out from behind the moon’s valleys, produce higher frequencies.

The sounds are paired with vibrations, soft for darker areas and more intense for brighter spots.

“We managed to create frequencies that resonate with the body of the phone,” said the app’s audio engineer Miles Gordon, “so the phone is vibrating entirely using the speaker.”

A prototype for future tools

“The goal of this app is not to give someone who’s blind or visually impaired the exact same experience as a sighted person,” Winter said. “What I hope this is, is a prototype, a first step, something we can learn from to make the next set of tools.”

Other tools exist to allow blind people to experience the eclipse, including tactile maps and books, but it’s still understood largely as visual phenomena.

Less well-known are the changes in temperature, weather patterns and wildlife behaviors that accompany total eclipses.

Chancey Fleet, the colleague who first asked Winter to describe an eclipse at a conference months ago, was skeptical when she learned about his idea for an app.

“The first time I heard that blind people were being asked to pay attention to the eclipse, I kind of laughed to myself, and tried to contain my really dismissive reaction,” said Fleet, who’s an accessible technology educator at a library in New York. “It almost sounds like a joke.”

Wanda Diaz Merced translates light data into sound for her research on gamma-ray explosions. She helped with navigation and accessibility on the Eclipse Soundscapes app. Credit: Carolyn Beeler/PRI

But after learning about the sounds associated with the eclipse, she’s interested in trying out Winter’s app.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing it for myself, and not just hearing or reading about it,” Fleet said. “Nothing is ever just visual, really. And [this] just proves that point again.”

The app development team has gotten help from Wanda Diaz Merced, an astrophysicist who is blind, to make sure the software is easy to navigate.

She believes the app will show people that there’s more to an eclipse than spooky midday darkness.

“People will discover, ‘Oh, I can also hear this!'” Diaz Merced said. “And, ‘I can also touch it!'”

She also sees the app as a tool to get more blind kids interested in science.

“That is very, very, very important,” she said.

A longer-lasting legacy

The Eclipse Soundscapes team, which is backed by a grant from NASA, has recruited the National Park Service, Brigham Young University and citizen scientists to record audio of how both people and wildlife respond during the eclipse.

Phase two of the project is to build an accessible database for those recordings, so blind people can easily access them.

That’s the element of the project Diaz Merced is most excited about from a scientific standpoint.

After she lost her sight in her late 20s, she had to build her own computer program to convert telescope data to sound files so she could continue her research (here's her TED talk).

She hopes this project spurs more interest in making data accessible to researchers like her.

“What I do hope is that databases in science will use [this] database model … for us to be able to have meaningful access to the information,” Diaz Merced said. “And that perhaps through [the] database, we will not be segregated.”

In that way, she hopes the impact of the eclipse will last much longer than a day.

Dear Tanzanian Cinephiles, Your Local Film Industry Needs Your Support

Sat, 2017-08-19 02:34

Attending local film festivals is one way to start.

The cast and crew of T-Junction, a Tanzanian film that won three awards at the 20th edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Amil Shivji.

On June 16, 2017, the 20th edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) concluded with an illustrious awards night that saw my film, T-Junction, honoured with the most important award of the night: Best Feature Film. Altogether we bagged three awards, including Best Actress for Hawa Ally, the film's lead actress.

Considering the number of international films screened at the festival and the many delegates and filmmakers that attended, I should be overflowing with joy after such a success.

Filmmaking in Tanzania dates back to the government-funded productions in the 1980s, but the “Bongo movies” phenomenon, as we call our home-grown films, came into its own in the early 2000s. The industry now is second only to Nigeria in terms of the volume of production, with some sources suggesting that there are around 500 films produced locally every year. It's for these reasons I expected to see many more of my fellow citizens at the festival.

I came to film by coincidence. I wanted to be a journalist. As I was getting ready to go to university, I stumbled upon an advertisement for a scholarship for African students at York University in Toronto. I applied, and in due course, I received an email informing me that I had won. What I didn't realise is that instead of journalism, I had blindly chosen film as my major.

I ended up going to Canada anyway, and it didn't take long for me to fall in love with the movies. I devoured the work of cinematic magicians such as the Senegalese masters Ousmane Sembène and Djibril Diop Mambéty, the Italian Gillo PontecorvoTomás Gutiérrez Alea of Cuba, Sergei Eisenstein of the Soviet Union, not to mention the British-born genius Charles Spencer Chaplin, otherwise known as Charlie Chaplin.

As I immersed myself in the history of film, my focus shifted to Third Cinema, the movement for revolutionary filmmaking from globally marginalised countries that emerged in the 1960-70s in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Those films from the 60s, to me, were a true reflection of the disenfranchisement of people, and the filmmakers who came up in that tradition truly used the moving image to fight against oppression. That realisation moved me to do the same for this era, and for my country, especially as I believe this to be an age of aggressive neoliberal attacks and dwindling spaces for advocacy.

ZIFF, to me, has become home court for those kinds of narratives. It offers me, and other Tanzanian filmmakers, a refuge, and the festival is sensitive to our needs as visual artists. So the absence of many of the “Bongo” movie stars at the festival, the ones whose faces I regularly encounter on DVD covers on the streets of Dar es Salaam, I question whether we can truly call our film sector an industry. By labelling it as such while we still lack the foundation and cohesive structure that a real industry requires, we may be jumping the gun.

Education is key. I lecture on film at the University of Dar es Salaam, but most of my students were not at the festival. Some of them would argue that travelling to Zanzibar is expensive, and that may very well be true. But once you come to terms with the fact that you want to spend your life making movies, you must also get used to ignoring the statement that “funding is an issue”. The buzzword in our market these days is “entrepreneur”, and I find many of my students and young people casually throwing that term around. Yet they refuse to live by it and what it means. Entrepreneurship requires relentless passion and a can-do attitude—that is the only way to make things happen, money or no money. In the movie business, the drive to tell our own stories should be understood as a form of entrepreneurship.

As Tanzanian filmmakers and artists, we refuse to face the critical fact that pursuing one's passion is hard, and demands patience and perseverance. The current state of the film sector is a product of this attitude. It takes time to produce a film that tells a good story. Yet, how many of our filmmakers rush to market with incomplete projects because of their insecurities and the desire to make a quick buck?

Moreover, the film sector in Tanzania is littered with distributors who dictate the direction of projects by signing draconian contracts with actors and displacing directors and creative producers as they see fit, thereby creating barriers that prevent new talent and creative productions from emerging. Can we really call this state of affairs an industry?

It's high time we took a step back and took stock of where we focus our energy. Tanzania is blessed with countless stories and young people craving the chance to tell them. If we truly want to build an industry, we must move beyond individual ambitions and think about a more collaborative and collective future.

Supporting indigenous festivals like ZIFF is one place to start.

Seventy-Two Years Later, Japan Remembers the End of a Devastating War

Fri, 2017-08-18 19:53

“Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse (I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated).” Japanese Emperor Akihito, with Empress Michiko, addresses Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead on August 15, 2017. Screencap from ANN official YouTube channel.

August 15 marked the 72nd anniversary of the end of the Second World War. On the occasion, Japan remembered the 2.3 million Japanese military personnel and military employees and 800,000 Japanese civilians who died between the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the end of World War II in 1945.

Japan's annual commemoration of the end of the war shows that, seven decades on, there is no clear political consensus in Japan about how to remember the war. Some remember the 3.1 million dead while seeming to avoid the context of the war in which they died, while others are committed to preserving the memory of how destructive war can be, and the need for Japan to continue to embrace pacifism.

More than 6,200 people attended a memorial service at the Nippon Budokan sports arena in Tokyo, which featured remarks by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and Japanese Emperor Akihito. Abe's words were notable in that he did not express Japan's guilt for starting the war, while the emperor expressed feelings of “deep remorse” for the war, for the third year in a row.

Neither made direct reference to the war dead in other countries.

全国戦没者追悼式 天皇陛下のお言葉・全文です。 #終戦記念日 #終戦の日

— 産経ニュース (@Sankei_news) August 15, 2017

Full remarks made by the Emperor at the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead: 

Meanwhile, thousands of people traveled to Yasukuni Shrine and neighboring Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo to pay their respects to the war dead. Yasukuni Shrine is controversial for many people across East Asia since the shrine memorializes, among others, convicted Japanese war criminals. As well, swords forged at Yasukuni were used in the battlefields across Asia between 1933 and 1945.

BuzzFeed Japan reporter Kota Hatachi reported from the scene:


小雨が降り、蒸し暑い靖国神社の境内には、参拝のための大行列ができています。 #終戦記念日

— はたちこうた Kota Hatachi (@togemaru_k) August 15, 2017

The 72nd anniversary of the end of the war. On assignment, I traveled to Yasukuni Shrine and Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery. As a light rain fell, a long line of visitors stretched through the muggy precincts of Yasukuni Shrine.

Meanwhile, protesters and other groups congregated outside of Yasukuni. According to Sankei Shimbun newspaper, the groups were demonstrating against attempts to revise Japan's “peace Constitution” as well raising awareness about a variety of issues, such as Taiwanese independence.

Due to the crush of Yasukuni visitors and the sheer number of protesters and other groups nearby, Tokyo police erected barricades to control the crowds.

【終戦の日】靖国神社周辺では多くの団体が集結 警視庁が警戒強める

— 産経ニュース (@Sankei_news) August 15, 2017

End-of-War Memorial Day: Many groups assembled around Yasukuni Shrine. Tokyo Metropolitan Police issued warnings [to maintain order]

Sankei Shimbun also reported that right-wing and conservative counter-demonstrators appeared in response to Yasukuni demonstrators, prompting police to separate the two groups.

Elsewhere in Tokyo, other groups marked the day by coming out in support of Article 9 of Japan's Constitution, in which Japan renounces war and which the Abe government is seeking to revise or even abolish.

8月15日 #終戦記念日

雑色 #九条の会

— 藤田りょうこ (@ryokofujitajcp) August 14, 2017

August 15, #EndOfTheWarDay

At 5 p.m. we will met at Zōshiki Station to reaffirm our vow [to support Article 9].

A main theme of the day was that memories of the hardship of war appear to be disappearing as the wartime generation ages:

戦没軍人の妻の平均年齢は94歳を超えました。記憶の継承が年々難しくなっています。 #終戦記念日 #太平洋戦争

— 毎日新聞 (@mainichi) August 15, 2017

The average age of surviving spouses of soldiers killed in the war has now increased to 94. Passing on the memory [of war] from generation to generation is becoming more difficult.


— 鮫島浩 (@SamejimaH) August 15, 2017

At person who was 8 years old at the end of the war is now 80. A young man who was eligible for conscription then is now 92. There are just a few people left who know the experience of living through war. Today's politicians and business people and students know nothing of war. We must preserve the desire to study the experiences and awareness of those who lived the history of war.

Article: “Japan's Pattern of Defeat”—According to historian Isoda Michifumi, it's important for Japanese people to “think deeply.”

The significance of the day wasn't lost on this Japanese Twitter user, however:

平和を #終戦記念日 #あたしンち

— あたしンち/けらえいこ公式 (@atashinchi_new) August 15, 2017

To continue to live in peace.

A Kenyan Artist Designs Revolutionary ‘Kanga’ Celebrating Queer Love Around the World

Fri, 2017-08-18 18:40

Kawira Mwirichia see her work as “an act of love.”

‘South Africa’ kanga reads “Haiwezikani Nyeupe Na Nyeusi Pekee Ziwe Rangi Za Mapenzi” (Swahili, “Black and white are not the colors of love. They never were.”) by artist Kawira Mwirichia, ‘To Revolutionary Type Love,’ 2017, permission by the artist.

The “kanga”, the vibrant East African textile featuring Swahili proverbs, is widely known as “the cloth that speaks“. For centuries, women have exchanged them as gifts, often to communicate messages that would be otherwise taboo.

The Kenyan visual artist Kawira Mwirichia took the power of the kanga to a new level in a recent exhibition at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi, Kenya that ran from May 17-June 3, 2017. Entitled “To Revolutionary Type Love”, the show celebrates queer love and condemns homophobia by amplifying the messages of queer leaders from 35 different countries through original kanga designs.

Each of the kanga on display represents a country’s unique history regarding the struggle for equal love. For Mwirichia, inspiration struck while attending a friend’s wedding in 2013, where she witnessed the “laying out of kanga for the bride to take to her new family—a gesture that the Kenyan Queer community wouldn’t receive,” she explained. “Seeing that Kenya is a very homophobic country, that’s something that really touched my heart and I wanted to create something that would celebrate our love,” Mwirichia continued.

Mwirichia puzzled over ways to use the kanga to “lay down and create a path to queer love.” Troubled by her country’s religious and patriarchal repression of queer expression as an illegal and immoral practice, Mwirichia wanted to make a statement through the kanga: Queer love, and queer stories matter. She asked members of Kenya’s LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community to submit quotes about love which she later matched to her kanga designs.

Mwirichia partnered with Tindi Amadi to conduct extensive research on each country’s history of sexual identity politics. For Mwirichia the process affirmed the urgency of amplifying the voices of queer leadership around the world.  Access to information on the history of queer activism varied according to each country's culture and context. For example, Mwirichia and Amadi struggled to capture Bahrain's queer history due to its repressive stance on LGBTQIA politics; while in Andorra, where the LGBTQIA community experiences relative freedom, there has been little need for activism aside from the fight to allow gay men to donate blood. Mwirichia and Amadi gathered each country's symbols and stories and used them to produce a vibrant collection of unique kanga, each dedicated to a single country, featuring motivational messages of hope, courage, and love.

On May 17, as the world celebrated IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia), Mwirichia held a ‘To Revolutionary Type Love’ (#TRTL) launch party, creating a “safe space where love was celebrated with art, music, and conversations.” The exhibition received an outpouring of praise from the over 250 guests who attended throughout the two-week period, which extended into Pride Month in June. In tandem with the show, Mwirichia and her team continued the celebration of queer love on social media with daily shout outs to queer music, fashion, and creative culture.

A unique space here at the #TRTL, honoring the spirit of #IDAHOBIT2017
A #diverse group of queers and allies

— AfroFem Hub (@HOLAAfrica) May 17, 2017

Of the 35 kanga on display, Mwirichia dedicated nine to countries on the African continent, including Kenya and Uganda. Of Africa's 57 nations, at least 37 currently criminalize homosexual acts. The Uganda kanga quote submitted by AFRA (Artists for Recognition and Acceptance) states: “Twapenda Mahaba, Wala Hatuombi Msamaha” which translates from the Swahili as “Because we love ‘love’ and make no apologies for it.  The central image features activists Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera and the late David Kato, who was bludgeoned to death in his home just weeks after attempting to shut down a local tabloid for outing gay people. The kanga honors the two activists as the ‘mother’ and ‘father’ of Uganda’s gay rights movement as well as FARUG (Freedom and Roam Uganda) and SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda), organizations they founded together.

‘Uganda,’ by artist Kawira Mwirichia, ‘To Revolutionary Type Love,’ 2017, permission by the artist.

The Kenya kanga quote submitted by Ivy Gatibaru reads “Penzi Langu Halali,” meaning “My love is valid” in Swahili. According to the exhibition catalog, its design was inspired by the band Art Attack and their cover of the song “Same Love”, which sparked a national conversation about queer love in Kenya.

The design is also a shout-out to the National Gay and Human Rights Commission (NGHRC) for their work in confronting the Kenyan government's institutionalized homophobia and The Nest Collective for sharing powerful multimedia queer stories, including the critically acclaimed queer anthology film “Stories of Our Lives.”

‘Kenya’ by artist Kawira Mwirichia, ‘To Revolutionary Type Love,’ 2017, permission by the artist.

Championing LGBTQIA diversity

While the East African LGBTQIA movement has made significant strides toward equality, activists still struggle daily against oppression, humiliation and human rights violations. Ugandans face life in prison under the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, and LGBTQIA citizens have no legal protections. Kenyan law also fails to protect its LGBTQIA community. In a 2011 study by the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, 89% of people who came out reported that their families disowned them.

Even in places like South Africa and the United States which have long-standing and hard-fought LGBTQIA movements, the struggle continues. US President Donald Trump recently banned transgender people from serving in the military, and the US Justice department announced that a major federal civil rights law does not protect gay people from workplace discrimination.

At this critical moment in LGBTQIA history, the impact of Mwirichia’s revolutionary project has reverberated across a wider platform. The company We Transfer launched the ‘Championing Diversity’ initiative online, identifying nine leading LGBTQIA creatives who were then asked to nominate the top emerging LGBTQIA creatives to curate We Transfer’s online wallpapers.The multidisciplinary arts group The Nest Collective, which represents African diversity of all kinds, selected Kawira Mwirichia for this unique honor, explaining that “Mwirichia’s kanga collection speaks to “those still in the shadows, whispering their love to each other. The project also hopes to spark self-love, pride, and well-being in our queer community here in Kenya as it reaches out to the world.” 

‘Benin’ kanga quote reads: “Tabasamu, Haiba Yako Nkama Machweo, Zanichoma Kama Moto.” (Swahili: “Fire, a sunset, your essence – your smile: their beauty scorches right through me all the same.”) Kawira Mwirchia, ‘To Revolutionary Type Love,’ 2017.

Mwirichia intends to complete kanga designs for all 196 countries of the world by the end of 2018 to mark the anniversary of #TRTL 2017. She also hopes to register “To Revolutionary Type Love” as an NGO, to launch an annual pride celebration, and “create a platform to invest in and showcase queer culture in Kenya.” Supported by AFRA Kenya along with the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice Global Arts Fund, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung East & Horn of Africa and the Goethe-Institut Nairobi, Mwirichia sees this work as “essentially an act of love” that has the potential to reverberate around the world.

In addition to the 35 kanga, “To Revolutionary Type Love” featured the works of six queer Kenyan photographers and a unique exhibition soundscape created by collaborating DJ's.

“I don’t think Kenyans are hateful,” Mwirichia says. “I think they are influenced by hateful people. We need to open up a space to talk more about sex, and then artists like me want to open that up even more, to talk about queerness.”

A Day After the Attack at Las Ramblas, Barcelona Says #NoTincPor: ‘I Am Not Afraid’

Fri, 2017-08-18 18:08

Barcelona mourning meme widely shared on Twitter under the hashtag #NoTincPor

Catalonia and all of Spain are in a process of mourning and resistance. The attack on Thursday, August 17, on one of the busiest streets in Barcelona, Las Ramblas, left 13 people dead and continues to keep authorities on high alert. Residents and visitors of Barcelona, one of the most touristic cities in Europe, are in shock. Just a few hours afterwards, another attack followed on the resort city of Cambrils, where six people, including a policeman, were hurt and one died. The attack in Cambrils was stopped by Catalonia's security forces, the Mossos d'Esquadra, but its effect was strongly felt.

In spite of the recent events, Plaza Cataluña was packed with people who came out to honor the victims with a minute of silence. The homage ended with expressions of collective strength and solidarity reflected in the impromptu chant, No Tinc Por: We are not afraid.

Reflection and resistance

Soon Twitter echoed the people at the Plaza. Users shared several support messages under the hashtag,  #NoTincPor, which became a global trending topic:

Thousands are chanting “I'm not scared” in #Barcelona
No tenemos miedo. We are not afraid.

— The Invisible Man (@invisibleman_17) August 18, 2017

Retaking the Rambla, along with thousands of others, people chanting “I am not afraid”

— Liz Castro (@lizcastro) August 18, 2017

# Barcelona #Notincpor Todos contra el terror que unos pocos quieren sembrar por el mundo!

— NoeCosta (@NoeCostaRiu) August 18, 2017

#Barcelona #Notincpor Everyone against the terror that a few want to sow in the world!

And the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, emphasized:

El miedo no vencerá. Volvemos a pasear por las #Ramblas y lo hacemos con libertad y amor por nuestra ciudad y por nuestra vida.

— Ada Colau (@AdaColau) August 18, 2017

Fear will not triumph. We walk again at las #Ramblas and we will do it with freedom and love for our city and our lives. #NoTincPor

Others took time to write more extensively about the possible meaning of the attacks that have happened in Europe in the last years. Ideas of differences, migration policies, international alliances, recent history and the hard shock of losing innocent lives moved Martí Rodríguez Vidal, like many other online contributors, to share his reflections.

… la verdad -en toda su pureza y en toda su dureza- es que en días como hoy, lo que realmente le apetecería a uno es bajarse del mundo. […] Pero además, a uno le gustaría bajarse de esto por la tremenda pereza intelectual de hacer un juicio justo. De poner matices y no generalizar. Hay que buscar más causas que el puro odio irracional. Porque si sembramos la venda en los ojos, los pasos de página y las vueltas a la normalidad, recogeremos más atentados. Seguro. La dinámica terrorista está en marcha y se retroalimenta. […] ¿Quién, en una situación normal, toma la decisión de matar a desconocidos? […] ¿En qué momento piensa que los culpables de su fracaso social son los que le rodean? ¿Es posible que el que vive en el Raval pueda sentirse abandonado por la sociedad?

…the truth is — in all its purity and rawness — that on days like this, what really comes to mind is to step away from the world. […] But also, one would like to step away from this because of extreme intellectual laziness in the face of the effort it takes to come to a fair judgement. To look at nuances and avoid generalizations. We have to look for more causes other than pure irrational hatred. Because if we put a blindfold on our eyes, turn the page and go back to normal, we will get more attacks. Sure. The terrorist dynamic is ongoing and feeding itself. […] Who, in a normal situation, makes the decision to kill unknown people? […] In which moment does this person think that the people around him are guilty for his social failure? Is it possible that someone who lives in El Raval feels abandoned by society?

Martí continues:

… los que tenemos el atrevimiento de escribir tenemos el deber de hablar de la esperanza. No por imperativo sintáctico, ni moral; sino por pura humanidad. ¿Saben que hoy un taxista musulmán ha hecho varios viajes para transportar a los afectados del atentado, no les ha cobrado nada y les ha dicho “no todos somos iguales”? ¿Que los hoteles de la zona del atentado han abierto sus puertas a los afectados y les han dado habitaciones gratuitamente?¿Que decenas de policías y Mossos de Esquadra se han jugado la vida por nuestra seguridad?¿Que en apenas un par de horas todos los hospitales han alcanzado el límite de la sangre que pueden almacenar por la respuesta masiva de la gente que ha ido a donar sangre?

Eso también son preguntas. Y son esperanza.

Those of us who dare to write have the duty to talk about hope. Not because of a moral or syntactic imperative, but simply for pure humanity's sake. Do you know that a Muslim taxi driver transported a lot of the people affected by the attack, he didn’t charge them and told them “not all Muslims are the same”; or that the hotels in the area opened their doors and made their rooms available for free? [Did you know that] dozens of policemen and Mossos de Esquadra (a local police force) risked their lives for our safety? Or that in a couple of hours all the hospitals reached the limit of blood they can store because of the massive response of people going to donate their blood?

Those are also questions. And they are also hope.

Online solidarity and respect for the victims

During the attack, Spain's national police force shared this note of thanks for the respectful treatment given to the victims:

GRACIAS a todos los medios y particulares que estáis pixelando y obviando imágenes duras de víctimas y de operativo policial. #RESPETO

— Policía Nacional (@policia) August 17, 2017

Thank you to the media and the users that are pixelating and putting aside harsh images of victims and the police operations. #RESPECT.

Today, Twitter user ‘Dora’ reported that the supermarket chain Caprabo, refused to sell Spanish newspapers with graphic images of victims.


— Dora (@scervell) August 18, 2017

In the image: Out of respect for the victims of yesterday’s attack in Barcelona, we won’t sell some of the newspapers that have sensationalist and explicit images on their first pages.

During police operations, social media also avoided sharing pictures and videos of the attack, both out of respect and also to avoid sharing sensitive information with the perpetrators. They were inspired by the people of Brussels, who after the attack they suffered in 2015, shared only pictures of cats and pets.

Expressions of solidarity online and the banding together of those in the city, seem to show that the people of Barcelona and its visitors will always remember Las Ramblas in the same way that beloved Spanish poet Federico García Lorca did:

La calle más alegre del mundo, la calle donde viven juntas a la vez las cuatro estaciones del año, la única calle de la tierra que yo desearía que no se acabara nunca, rica en sonidos, abundante de brisas, hermosa de encuentros, antigua de sangre: Rambla de Barcelona.

The most joyful street in the world, the street were all the four seasons live together. The only street I wish would never end. Rich in sounds, abundant in breeze, beautiful in its encounters, old in its blood: Rambla de Barcelona.

In Paraguay, Your Health Data and Credit Records Can Be Used Against You

Fri, 2017-08-18 17:27

One of the illustrations from the series Pyrawebs by El Surtidor. Used under Creative Commons license.

The following is an adaptation of the infographic series The Return of the Pyrawebs made by El Surtidor, which analyzes digital security issues in Paraguay.  

Refusal to re-enroll a student in a private Catholic school in Paraguay's capital, Asunción, clearly highlights what happens when companies exchange and do business with personal data. According to press reports, the family had been paying their school fees on time, but were denied re-enrollment because they were on a creditor's black list as guarantors on a defaulted loan.

The data was stored by Informconf, a private company whose database is filled with the commercial activities of half of Paraguay's population, with black lists that don't require a debt minimum to appear on it.

The parents of the child reported the situation as discriminatory, and although the education ministry agreed, no further actions were taken against the school. Apparently, Catholic institutions are regulated by the archbishop and, as a result, don't answer to the State, even if these schools are allegedly responsible for discrimination against a minor.

This financial information is not only accessed by private schools or credit agencies, but also potential employers. As a result, and in spite of the existence of a law approved to avoid precisely this kind of discrimination, people in debt have a harder time finding work and a harder time paying back their loans.

Éste es sólo uno de los modos en que las empresas usan datos diariamente para discriminar. Enterate más en #Pyrawebs

— El Surtidor (@elsurti) July 11, 2017

In the image: Discriminated against for being on [Informconf's database]. Informconf manages data from half of Paraguay's commercial activities. There's no minimum amount to be on the default list. With this data, companies make decisions on whether or not to give loans and evaluate potential employees. In the tweet: This is just one of the ways in which private companies use data daily to discriminate against people. Find out more [in the link].

Even your health data might not be safe

In 2016, a young man reported being expelled from the Military Academy for being HIV positive. After being the victim of mistreatment and humiliation from his superiors, he was forced to resign from the academy.

Despite its prohibition in 2009, between 2012 and 2016, 27 companies have been accused of demanding HIV tests from their workers. Some of them even ran these tests without knowledge or consent from their employees during routine analyses.

With this in mind, a study was done in 2016 by TEDIC, an NGO devoted to digital rights in Paraguay, together with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The study produced troubling results:

Entre varios problemas, uno de los principales que cita el informe es la carencia total de legislación que proteja los datos personales de la ciudadanía, lo que se considera una omisión grave en el cumplimiento de los estándares internacionales de derechos humanos. Además, los estándares locales para la intervención de las comunicaciones privadas no cumplen con los principios de necesidad y proporcionalidad ni con las garantías judiciales exigidas por la normativa internacional. Esta situación de vulnerabilidad se agrava ante una amplia concesión de ambiguas potestades a organismos como el Servicio Nacional de Inteligencia (SINAI), bajo el argumento de la “seguridad nacional”.

Among many other issues, one of the most important problems cited by the report, is the total lack of legislation made to protect citizen's personal data, which is considered to be a grave omission in the compliance of international standards for human rights. Moreover, local standards surrounding the monitoring of  private communications comply neither with the principles of necessity and proportionality nor with judicial guarantees demanded by international norms. This situation of vulnerability gets worse with the wide concessions that are given to organisms like the National Service of Intelligence which use the argument of “national security”.

Malaysian Political Cartoonist Zunar Sues Police for Unlawful Arrest, Seizure of Books

Fri, 2017-08-18 12:31

Zunar is demanding the police to return 1,187 books and 103 t-shirts which were seized during his arrest last December 17, 2016. Photo from the Facebook page of Zunar Cartoonist Fan Club

Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee S.M. Anwarul Haque, more popularly known as Zunar, has filed a case against the police for arresting him and seizing his cartoon books and t-shirts on December 17, 2016.

Zunar accused the police of making an unlawful arrest and confiscating a total of 1,187 books and 103 t-shirts during an event which he organized to meet his fans and raise funds. He explains his reason for taking legal action:

My books are not banned and I was only selling them to my fans during the fundraising event. What is wrong with that?

Zunar has been arrested several times in the past few years and charged with sedition for his cartoons that criticize government policies, abuse of power by the ruling coalition that has dominated Malaysia’s politics since the 1950s, and curtailment of civil liberties. Many of Zunar’s cartoon books have also been confiscated by authorities for allegedly threatening national security. Zunar has won recognition in and outside Malaysia as a press freedom fighter. He has won accolades from Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Cartoonist Rights Network International.

His December arrest was tied to a police investigation of him under Section 124C of the Penal Code for “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy.”

He was interrogated for six hours and released after the police told him that “they will apply a law to ban all my books.” He issued this statement shortly after his release:

I would like to point out my stand: talent is not a gift, but a responsibility. It is my responsibility as a cartoonist to expose corruption and injustices. Do I fear jail? Yes, but responsibility is bigger that fear. You can ban my books, you can ban my cartoons, but you cannot ban my mind. I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink.

Zunar could be referring to the corruption scandal involving the prime minister and 1MDB, a state-owned investment firm. The prime minister is accused of pocketing 680 million US dollars through alleged anomalous transactions made by 1MDB.

Zunar’s lawyer, N. Surendran, said the filing of the case against the police is intended to warn authorities about making another illegal arrest:

There will be no more tolerance for this kind of unlawful behaviour against a person whose only crime is to criticise the authorities. That is the democratic right of every Malaysian.

Zunar is demanding the police to return his books and t-shirts.

‘You Can Lock Up Our Bodies, But Not Our Minds': Hong Kong Court Sends 16 Activists to Prison

Fri, 2017-08-18 10:35

Three student leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy protests, Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law, were sentenced to jail. Photo: Facebook/Demosisto

Nearly three years after mass pro-democracy demonstrations rocked the city of Hong Kong, 16 young activists were convicted on August 16 of unlawful assembly for their participation in two separate protests challenging the government.

Though the activists were originally convicted and sentenced to community service and suspended jail time, the Department of Justice later filed a re-sentencing appeal, arguing that the original sentences for the activists were “too light”. This week, Hong Kong's Court of Appeal ruled in their favor.

Many within Hong Kong's pro-democracy civic sector see the ruling as a politically motivated move that pushes the city towards a judicial culture that errs on the side of power over rights.

The first case involves 13 defendants including League of Social Democrats (LSD) Vice-Chairman Raphael Wong, Land Justice League convener Willis Ho, and activist Billy Chiu who in 2014 demonstrated to stop the government’s funding request of HK$340 million (approximately US$43.5 million) to develop the northeast New Territories in 2014. Opponents feared the development plan would fail to protect residents and the environment, and argued that the policy-making process surrounding the development was undemocratic.

Some in the group protested outside the Hong Kong Legislative Council, while others attempted to enter the legislature building. All were found guilty of unlawful assembly in 2015 and have already served between 80 and 150 community service hours.

On August 15, the Court of Appeal sentenced 12 of the defendants to 13 months in prison and one to eight months.

Activists against Northeast New Territories development. Via

The second case involves Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, three young activists who played a central role in the 2014 pro-democracy protests. Dubbed the Umbrella Movement, the massive sit-in demanding that the people be allowed to nominate candidates for Hong Kong's top leader lasted for three months.

The trio were convicted of unlawful assembly in July 2016. Wong was sentenced to 80 hours of community service, Law received 120 hours, and Chow received a three-week suspended jail sentence.

On August 17, the Court of Appeal re-sentenced Wong to six months behind bars, Law to eight months, and Chow to seven months.

According to Hong Kong's constitution, called the Basic Law, any individual who received a prison sentence for more than three months is to be deprived of the right to run in legislature and district council elections for five years. The activists will appeal the sentences.

‘You can lock up our bodies, but not our minds!’

In statements on social media, the activists vowed that they would not be intimidated and urged Hong Kong people not to give up.

Willis Ho, one of the activists who challenged the Northeast New Territories development plan, wrote before she was sentenced to 13 month in prison:


I have to admit, I see darkness and despair in our society. I don’t want to spread negative energy but in despair I can see light resisting against the darkness. The light is weak but it exists. I could only see on television the result of the court's decision: my boyfriend and fellow protesters on television in jail. Such a “setback” will make us stronger. We will support and be there for each other. We know that there are people who are with us making changes in different positions.

The decision to plead not guilty and the refusal to express regret over my action is a steadfast statement that the sentence cannot change, it cannot change our belief and make me feel regret.

Willis Ho.

Her mother shared her feelings on Facebook on her daughter’s trial:

今日東北案13被告中 其中有我的至親 折騰三年 終於判了 重
從沒有這樣的經驗 一道殺來 在外的我 情感百般 在内的她 心頭相若
在此 默默遙送支持鼓勵 無論你看見晨曦的日出 和煦的午後 沉鬱的黃昏
我都在 在惦念著你 給你力 給你氣
有天當你回來時 磨練把你更堅實 體現把你更豐富
最想你知道 你是我的驕傲 你沒有錯

Today, among the 13 defendants of Northeast New Territories protest, is my dearest [daughter]. After three years [of trial], the sentence is heavy.

I have never had such an experience before, such a heavy blow. I have mixed feelings and I'm sure she has them too.

I can only send my support in silence. When you see the sun rise, the sun set and the stars at night, I am with you, thinking about you and giving you strength.

When you are back, you will be stronger with a lot more experience.

I want you know that I am so proud of you and you have done nothing wrong.

Another activist from the Northeast New Territories case, Raphael Wong, posted his defense statement on


I don’t seek sympathy, but justice; I am not scared of prison, but silence [of the society]. I have said I have no regrets and would not surrender… the Secretary of Justice said I did not have sincere regrets and should be imprisoned. My sincerity in having no regrets is not to ask for more prison time but to be faithful to myself, to my fellow activists. If that leads to prison, I will face that without regrets. Jesus Christ will be with me.

Villagers [who face forced demolition] in the Northeast New Territories and Wangzhou need us. Please don’t give up. We have to carry on. This is a competition of wills, it is a spiritual war without guns. We need patience, courage and wisdom to carry on the struggle. I firmly believe that justice will prevail!

Nathan Law was given eight months in prison in the second case. He was a legislator who was recently disqualified from office for modifying his oath of allegiance to China during his swearing-in ceremony.

He expressed similar sentiments in his letter to friends:


No matter how high the wall is, how much sunlight its shadow has blocked, I believe that behind the wall the path leads to justice. The sun that nourishes life on Earth still exists…

I serve prison time for those who have participated in the Umbrella Movement and for justice. Don’t feel sorry, be more determined in stepping forward. Although I am in prison, my free spirit will be with those who share our beliefs and values and continue fighting for a better life. Tyranny won’t be overthrown by those who sacrificed but by people who are driven by moral power to collectively make change. Without such collective will to change, our suffering and pain, inside or outside of prison, will become meaningless.

Joshua Wong, a well-known student leader, tweeted before he was sent to the prison:

You can lock up our bodies, but not our minds! We want democracy in Hong Kong. And we will not give up.

— Joshua Wong Chi-fung (@joshuawongcf) August 17, 2017

‘It has ‘created’ the youngest group of political prisoners since the handover’

The Civic political party described the re-sentencing of the activists as “legal terrorism” in a statement (via Hong Kong Free Press):

The Civic Party believes that this sentence, despite being lighter than that given to the Northeast New Territories protesters, exhibits the same principle: the government will stop at nothing in its use of appeal procedures and sentence reviews – what are, in effect, tools of legal terrorism – to deal with protesters and social movements opposed to the establishment. The appeal and jail sentence is a form of institutional violence and political suppression – it has ‘created’ the youngest group of political prisoners since the handover.

The “handover” refers to the transfer of control over Hong Kong, a former British colony, to China in 1997.

Human Rights Watch's China director Sophie Richardson said, also via Hong Kong Free Press:

The justice department’s outlandish application seeking jail time is not about public order but is instead a craven political move to keep the trio out of the Legislative Council, as well as deter future protests.

International society has spoken out, including various US legislators who issued statements condemning the move.

The pro-democracy civic sector has planned a rally for Sunday, August 20 condemning the prosecution of the 16.

Netizen Report: US Tech Company Bans White Supremacist Group for Being ‘Assholes’

Fri, 2017-08-18 08:18

The Problem with Censorship is XXXXXXXXX, Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Cory Doctorow via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Several US technology companies have banned hate groups from their services following an August 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.

The domain hosting service GoDaddy announced it would no longer provide hosting to the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer after the site disparaged Heather Heyer, an anti-racism counter demonstrator who was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd of protesters.

Google followed suit after the website attempted to register with its service, saying that the Daily Stormer violated their terms of service. Website security firm CloudFlare discontinued its security support for the website soon thereafter, despite its historically absolutist approach to free speech online. The Daily Stormer has now moved to the so-called “dark web,” which is accessible mainly via the Tor network, making it far less visible to the general public.

In an email to staffers that was later published by Gizmodo, CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince explained his decision:

Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion. My rationale for making this decision was simple: the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough.

Let me be clear: this was an arbitrary decision….It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company….Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.

In a subsequent interview with Gizmodo, Prince emphasized that the “whims” of people like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and himself “shouldn’t be what determines what should be online.” He has since raised concern about the absence of transparency and due process mechanisms within companies like Amazon and Google, which have disproportionate control over what we see online.

Who decides what kinds of content can be on the internet? How do companies make these decisions? Too often, the answers to these questions are not accessible to the public, leaving billions of internet users unable to hold companies accountable for their decisions.

Thai journalist vows to criticize military regime ‘until they take away my smartphone’

Three Facebook users in Thailand were charged with sedition over posts criticizing the government and could face up to 20 years behind bars if convicted. Among them is veteran journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, a senior reporter for the news website Khaosod English. In a subsequent Facebook post, he reasoned:

I insist that I criticize the military regime in good faith […] I will continue to criticize the illegitimate military regime until they take away my smartphone.

Congo squeezes social media in face of clashes

Congolese authorities throttled internet bandwidth to prevent the sharing of images on social media following violent clashes between security forces and the religious separatist group Bundu dia Kongo. The measure appears to have specifically targeted Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter. In a letter quoted by Reuters, postal and telecommunications chief regulator Oscar Manikunda Musata implored internet service providers to “take technical measures to restrict to a minimum the capacity to transmit images” in order to “prevent the exchange of abusive images via social media.”

Egyptian authorities censor leading human rights website

The Egyptian government blocked access to the website of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which reports on human rights violations across the Arab region, as well as the blog of human rights researcher Ahmed Gamal Ziada. This is the first time a website belonging to a human rights group has been censored in Egypt, and follows the blocking of 21 websites two months ago for allegedly “supporting terrorism,” including the independent news site Mada Masr and the website of the Al Jazeera network.

India becomes the world’s third country to ban

India blocked access to the Internet Archive (, which offers a free service called the Wayback Machine that enables users to access archived versions of webpages. Though no reason was cited by local internet service providers for the ban, BuzzFeed reported it is tied to two court petitions from Bollywood production houses seeking to keep pirated films off the web. In July 2017, was blocked in Kyrgyzstan on grounds that is hosts “extremist” content. Before that, the website was known to be blocked only China.

Philippines’ Duterte hired trolls for 2016 elections

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed that he hired online commenters during the 2016 election to manipulate social media through trolling and fake accounts. His statement supports the findings of a University of Oxford study which examined the use of troll armies by governments, the military and political parties in 28 countries, including the Philippines.

Will Brazil bump civil society from its internet governance scheme?

The Brazilian government opened a public consultation that could change the composition and powers of the country’s Internet Steering Committee, also known as Researchers expressed concern that the government may be seeking to assert greater control over the country’s internet: Earlier in the year, the Temer administration attempted to freeze the nomination of civil society members to the committee, and backtracked following public protests. plays a key role in Brazilian internet policy and was central in shaping the Marco Civil da Internet framework, which lays out guarantees for Brazilian citizens’ rights online.

New research



Subscribe to the Netizen Report



Renata Avila, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed ElGohary, Elizabeth Rivera, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

InfoBus Provides Remaining Calais Asylum Seekers and Migrants With WiFi and Information

Fri, 2017-08-18 03:45

A young Eritrean boy accesses WhatsApp. Photo: Refugee InfoBus on Medium, reproduced with the permission of InfoBus Calais

Nine months after dismantling the “Jungle”, several hundred people who fled conflict, repression or economic insecurity in their countries for Europe continue to live in France's Calais in deplorable conditions, desperately awaiting their chance to be smuggled by truck into England via the tunnel that passes beneath the English Channel.

The challenges for these asylum seekers and migrants are many, including surveillance and periodic harassment by the ubiquitous police force, the outright absence of living space and hygiene, language barriers, and the lack of electricity and an Internet connection to communicate with family and friends and stay informed.

On that last one, an initiative called InfoBus is trying to help. It's a truck sporting a large antenna and covered with information posters and notices aimed at the asylum seekers and migrants of Calais.

We encountered the InfoBus when we returned to Calais one year after our first trip there to volunteer with the group Help Refugees. We were revisiting the organization's enormous warehouse, in particular, its “community kitchen”, which prepares some 2,500 meals each day before distributing them either at the sole authorized distribution site or by roaming the streets. We found that the organisations’ quality of work and volunteers’ resolution are as strong as ever, but the asylum seekers and migrants’ situation is definitely worse than it was last year.

The InfoBus spent the morning there recharging batteries that ran electronic equipment kept in the back. Its coordinator, Loan Torondel, gladly answered our questions.

Loan Torondel. Photo Marie Bohner

Global Voices (GV): Can you tell us about the InfoBus?

Loan Torondel (LT) : Ce projet a été d'abord lancé par l’association Refugee Info Bus, déjà présente ici du temps de la Jungle, avec un véhicule qui venait apporter l’information et du WiFi, et après le démantèlement, ils sont allés en Grèce sur l’île de Chios. Le projet a été relancé tout récemment à Calais par l'Auberge des Migrants qui le gère à présent. Nous sommes trois à le faire fonctionner.

Loan Torondel (LT): The initiative was started by Refugee Info Bus, an organization that was already here in the Jungle. They had a vehicle that provided WiFi and information. After the Jungle was dismantled, they went to the Greek island of Chios. The project was recently started up again in Calais by its current sponsor, L'Auberge des Migrants. There are three of us who run it.

GV: What kind of training do you have?

LT : J’ai beaucoup appris sur le tas, mais j’ai suivi des formations sur les actions juridiques, la protection de l’enfance, les droits humains etc. Je vais reprendre des études plus poussées dans ce domaine.

LT: I've learned a lot on the job, but I've also had some training in legal matters, child protection, human rights, etc. I plan to pursue further studies in these fields.

Refugee Info Bus in Calais. Photo from the group's Facebook page. Used with permission

GV: Do you work with local lawyers?

LT : Oui. Les réseaux associatifs de Calais ont récemment attaqué l'État en justice, sur les conditions de vie et le non-respect des droits des migrants ici. L'audience en appel est demain [28 juillet] [le Conseil d'Etat a confirmé le jugement de première instance donnant tort à l'État].

LT: Yes. The associative networks in Calais have recently sued the state over the living conditions and lack of respect for migrants’ rights. The appeal hearing is tomorrow [July 28] [The Council of State has since confirmed the Court of First Instance's judgement against the state].

GV: How does the InfoBus work?

LT : On va sur les différents lieux de distribution, pour apporter le WiFi, la recharge de portables, de l’info sur leurs droits et la procédure d'asile en France. D'où les affiches collées sur le van.

Pour la communication des associations nous collectons aussi de l’information, ce qu’on voit, ce que les réfugiés nous racontent sur ce qui se passe la nuit.

LT: We visit the various distribution sites, providing WiFi, recharging portable devices, giving out information about rights and how to seek asylum in France. That's what the posters on the truck are for.

We also collect information for organizations: what we see, what the refugees say goes on at night.

GV: Do you work with interpreters?

LT : On communique avec 2 ou 3 migrants qu’on connaît bien et qui ont un très bon anglais, ils nous servent d’interprètes. Pour les articles, on en trouve en pachtoune, en tigrigna et en amharique. On leur traduit aussi les articles de la presse française ou anglaise. Les informations très spécifiques aux droits sont dures à trouver sur Internet, on essaie donc de les leur fournir, de traduire, d’expliquer. Pour les questions juridiques personnelles, on les oriente vers des avocats.

LT: We communicate with two or three migrants that we know well and who speak very good English. They are our interpreters. We get articles in Pashtun, Tigrinya, and Amharic. We also translate English- and French-language articles for them. Specific legal information is difficult to find on the internet, so we try to provide it, translate it, and explain it to them. For personal legal matters, we refer them to lawyers.

Notices posted on the InfoBus. Photo Marie Bohner

GV: Can you give us any stats?

LT : Une centaine de personnes viennent voir l'InfoBus à chaque passage. On peut connecter jusqu’à 70 personnes sur le réseau wifi. Ce sont plusieurs dizaines de gigas utilisés pour les migrants chaque mois.

LT: About 100 people come see the InfoBus along its route. We can provide WiFi for up to 70 people. The migrants use several dozen gigabytes each month.

GV: What have been the most surprising requests you've had on the InfoBus?

LT : Ils sont vraiment intéressés par ce que disent sur eux les gens, les médias… Ils ont beaucoup de mal à comprendre pourquoi il y a ici tant de violence envers les migrants, et c’est difficile de leur expliquer. Ils ont l’impression que tout le monde s’en fout ici, alors qu’il y a quand même beaucoup d’articles, les gens en parlent, se préoccupent d’eux.

LT: They're very interested in what people, the media, are saying about them. They don't understand why there has been so much violence against migrants here, and it's difficult to explain it to them. Despite the fact that there are so many articles and that people are worried and are talking about them, they think no one cares.

GV: Do many women come to the InfoBus?

LT : Il y en a quelques-unes ; 4 ou 5 hier. Mais il n'y a plus de structures spécifiques pour elles à Calais.

LT: There are a few, four or five yesterday. But, there are no longer any specific structures for them in Calais.

GV: Do you experience other difficulties in your work?

LT : Le bon côté, c'est qu'on a peu de problèmes avec la police. Ils s’en prennent aux distributions de vêtements et de nourriture, mais ne comprennent pas vraiment ce que fait l’InfoBus, donc ils nous laissent tranquilles.

On va sur les lieux de distribution, où il n'y a pas d’électricité, pas d’eau. C’est difficile de trouver des lieux avec une bonne couverture réseau, et un accès à l’électricité.

LT: On the upside, we have very few problems with the police. They are busy with distributing clothing and food and don't really understand what the InfoBus does. So, they leave us alone.

The distribution sites, however, don't have electricity or water. It's difficult to find good network coverage and access to electricity.

Notice posted on the InfoBus. Photo Marie Bohner

GV: What do you need?

LT : Il nous faut des fonds pour payer nos factures de FAI : la connexion de 70 personnes à la fois, tous les jours, ce sont beaucoup de données utilisées. On peut nous faire des dons sur le site de l’Auberge des Migrants.

On a besoin de dons de matériels technologiques, chargeurs, portables, cartes SIM…

Quand les mineurs n’ont plus d’argent et plus de moyen de communiquer, en termes de sécurité c’est grave, ils n’ont pas de moyen de prévenir les secours ou de nous appeler s’ils ont un problème. Ils sont dehors, ils dorment dans les bois, du coup les portables sont plus rapidement abîmés, de même quand ils essaient de monter sur les camions pour passer en Angleterre. On essaie donc de leur donner des portables en priorité.

LT: We need funds to pay our IAP bills. Connecting 70 people at a time, everyday, uses a lot of data. Donations can be made on the L'Auberge des Migrants website.

We need technological equipment: chargers, laptops, SIM cards,…

When minors no longer have any money or ways to communicate, their safety is at risk. They have no way to get help or call us if there is a problem. They're outside, sleeping in the woods. Their portable devices can be quickly damaged, especially when they try to climb onto trucks heading for England. So, we try to give cell phones to them first.

GV: Are you looking for volunteers with specific skills to work in the InfoBus?

LT : Toute personne ayant des compétences techniques assez poussées en informatique, en électronique, peut nous aider. Et aussi des personnes ayant des connaissances médicales, pour faire des premiers soins. Les migrants se blessent très facilement vu la dureté de leurs conditions de vie.

LT: Anyone with extensive technological skills with computers or electronics can help. We also have people with medical expertise providing first aid. The migrants get hurt easily living in such harsh conditions.

GV: To conclude, what message would you like to pass on to our readers?

LT : Beaucoup de gens n’ont pas conscience de ce qui se passe ici, puisqu'il n’y a plus de jungle, plus de bidonville, et c’est bien. Mais il y a toujours 700 personnes ! Les migrants sont partout et nulle part, dans les rues, dans les bois, ils n’ont pas de lieux de vie. Leurs conditions d’hygiène sont effroyables, des cas de « pieds de tranchées » ont été constatés, des ulcères nécrosés apparus pendant la 1ère guerre mondiale.

La meilleure manière de résumer la situation, c’est de dire « avant c’était pire, maintenant c’est encore pire ».

LT: Many people are unaware of what's happening here because there is no more jungle, no more shantytown, and that's good. But, there are still 700 people living here! There are migrants everywhere and nowhere, in the streets, in the woods. They don't have any living space. Hygiene is terrible. Cases of trench foot have been found, necrotic ulcers first seen during World War I.

The best way to describe the situation is to say, “Before it was bad, now it's even worse”.

Recent video reports about nighttime police operations and migrant survival conditions in Calais are available on the Taranis News website.

Because of France's new migration policy (for instance, asylum seekers coming from humanitarian disasters are welcome but not economic refugees) and strict regulations on food and clothing distributions, the future is still very much unclear for those remaining in Calais. Still, in the meantime, the InfoBus intends to be there to provide some support in ways of communication with their families.

In Tunisia's ‘State of Emergency’, a New Police Protection Law Could Allow More Abuse — With Impunity

Thu, 2017-08-17 17:50

Tunisian riot police in the capital Tunis on 6 February 2013. Photo by Amine Ghrabi (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Tunisia has seen many improvements to human rights protections since the 2011 toppling of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. But the abuse of power by police and security forces remains a serious problem.

The parliament is now considering a law that could make it even easier for police to take advantage of their power, with little accountability to the public.

The new draft law on the “repression of attacks against armed forces” would reinforce criminal penalties for various acts that endanger police and security forces, punish speech that is deemed “denigrating” towards the police, and exempt security forces from criminal liability when they use excessive force.

Originally submitted to the parliament by the former government of Habib Essid in April 2015, the law resurfaced on the parliament's agenda in July and has the support of the country's interior ministry and unions representing security forces.

Draft Law on Repression of Attacks Against Armed Forces: Key Articles

  • Articles 5 and 6 criminalize disclosing “national security secrets”, broadly defined in Article 4 as “any information, data and documents related to national security”, which can only be accessed by those authorized to do so. Maximum punishment: 10 years in prison, fines of up to 50,000 Tunisian dinars (USD $20,750)
  • Article 7 criminalizes the unauthorized filming or recording inside security and military headquarters and at sites of military and security operations. Maximum punishment: Two years in prison.
  • Article 12 criminalizes “denigrating” the country's armed and security forces “with the aim of harming public order”. Maximum punishment: Two years in prison, fines of up to 10,000 Tunisian dinars (USD $4,150)
  • Article 18 would shield police from criminal liability for “injuring or killing anyone” when they use lethal force to repeal attacks against their homes, vehicles, police and security headquarters, and the military's arms and ammunition storage facilities, if the force used is deemed “necessary and proportionate” to the danger.

If adopted, the law could have a chilling effect on free expression, artistic freedoms, and media and press freedoms. The bill would also give security forces a green light to act with even more impunity than it already has.

Police abuse in a ‘state of emergency’

Despite reforms intended to curb rights violations following the 23-year rule of Ben Ali, police abuse remains very common.

Under Tunisia's ongoing state of emergency, implemented after multiple militant attacks in 2015, authorities have the power to suspend protests, restrict the right to assembly and freedom of movement, ban publications, and arrest anyone suspected of violating public order.

report released earlier this year by Amnesty International documented several abuses committed in Tunisia's state of emergency including the use of excessive and unnecessary force, house raids without judicial authorization, travel bans, arbitrary arrests, torture and ill treatment.

On top of this, the law addresses several issues that are already covered in other sections of Tunisia's penal code and in the general statutes of the internal security forces. Even before the state of emergency began, authorities were not afraid to put these laws to use.

Blogger Yassine Ayari was imprisoned in 2014 for “defaming the army” and “insulting military high command” through Facebook posts. In 2013, a court sentenced rapper Weld El15 to two years in prison over a rap song in which he called police dogs.

Current laws on police and security forces

  • Military Justice Code Article 91 prescribes a prison sentence of up to three years for insults against the military institution, its flag, dignity and morale.
  • Penal Code Article 125 punishes those convicted of “insulting public officers during the performance of their duties” with one year in jail and a fine.
  • Penal Code Article 128 says that anyone found guilty of “accusing, without proof, a public agent of violating the law” can face up to two years in jail.

These laws have been used to persecute bloggers, journalists, artists and activists for their criticism of the police or the military institution. And existing provisions in the penal and military codes make it difficult to question police conduct or file complaints against members of the security forces.

It is easy to imagine how a new law reiterating some of these provisions, increasing punishments for violations, and introducing even stronger protections against liability for security officers could be abused even further.

‘An assault on security officers is not an easy thing’

If the police and the military are already legally protected from criticism regarding their conduct, why are they seeking to push forward this new law?

Part of their impetus comes from rising fears about security and threats to the safety of security officers. Since late 2012, dozens of security officers and soldiers have been killed in attacks perpetrated by militant groups or while conducting operations against them. In November 2015, 12 presidential guards were killed in a bus bombing claimed by ISIS. A few months prior, attacks on the Bardo Museum in Tunis and on a beach resort in the coastal city of Sousse injured and claimed the lives of dozens of people, most of them foreign tourists.

This past June, police officer Majdi Hajlaoui was injured while on duty during tribal clashes in Sidi Bouzid and later succumbed to his injuries. His death prompted hundreds of police officers to protest outside the parliament on 6 July 2017, demanding better protections and bringing the debate about the bill back to the table.

In its current form, the bill would not offer more protections to police officers on the ground. But it would better shield them from criminal liability when they use lethal force.

Mehdi Bechaouch, a leader at the syndicate representing officers at the General Directorate of Intervention Units, told privately-owned Shems FM radio that police officers “should not find themselves in jail when implementing the law,” and that the state should compensate officers whose properties are attacked in retaliation for their work.

He reasoned that the bill, if adopted, would “deter” such attacks:

It is true that assaulting a public officer [is already a crime]…but a security officer carries weapons, and assaults on a security officer or headquarters could result in the seizure of weapons…[The bill's aim is to] send a clear message to people that an assault on security officers is not an easy thing and that it could pose a great danger to the security of society

Bechaouch specified that the police union supports the criminalization of physical attacks against security forces, but does not support other parts of the law, which was written under a previous government. He said that his union supports the removal of provisions that criminalize the “denigration” of the police as well as the law's second chapter, which criminalizes unauthorized filming and the disclosure of national security secrets.

The union's voice on this issue could have greater impact on decision-making in parliament, as this December will mark the first time in Tunisia’s history that security forces will be able to vote in local elections.

Human rights groups raise concern

With the parliament in summer recess until 1 October, it is unclear when the bill will be discussed in plenary session. The bill has so far only been discussed at the parliament's general legislation committee, which on 13 July heard the interior minister and representatives of police unions. The committee also plans to hear representatives of civil society and human rights groups who reject the bill.

The National Union for Tunisian Journalists, the Tunisian Organization Against Torture, the anti-corruption NGO I-Watch, and Reporters Without Borders released a joint statement on July 14 calling on the Tunisian parliament to “immediately withdraw” the “repressive” bill which “would lay the foundation for a dictatorial police state.” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also separately called on the parliament to reject this bill.

Parliamentarians are also voicing concern about the bill. On July 18, multiple lawmakers stressed the need to respect human rights at a session of the general legislation committee:

وأكّد بعض النواب من جهة أخرى ضرورة تبنّي المشروع لآليات ناجعة تتعلّق بحفظ حقوق عائلات الأمنيين والإحاطة الاجتماعية بهم، مشيرين إلى وجود مقاربة يصعب التوفيق بين مكوّناتها وهي من جهة ضرورة توفير الإطار القانوني لزجر الاعتداءات على الأمنيين وعلى المقرات السيادية وحماية الحرية العامة وحقوق الإنسان من جهة اخرى.

A number of members of parliament emphasized that it is necessary for the draft to include effective mechanisms to protect the rights of the families of police officers and provide them with social protection, while pointing to a difficult juxtaposition of the need to provide a legal framework to repress attacks on security officers and headquarters of sovereignty with the need to protect public freedoms and human rights.

During that session, Member of Parliament Hassouna Nasfi said that the bill does not really bring “anything new” and does not provide enough protections to security forces in terms of reparations and compensations prescribed to officers who suffer attacks.

Parliamentarian Mourad Hmaidi, from the leftist opposition Popular Front party, agreed. Hmaidi told the National TV that the bill would not bring much benefit and rather would threaten freedoms. “What the police officer and internal security forces and their families need in general is insurance coverage for risks while they are performing their duties,” he said.

In its current form, the bill does not bring meaningful changes to the criminalization of attacks against security forces or to insurance coverage from risks associated with security forces’ work.

The most significant elements of the bill would only shield the security apparatus from criticism, at a time when Tunisia is in need of an open debate about police abuse and misconduct to bring about much needed reforms to the security sector.

Palestinian Journalists Become First Targets of Controversial Cybercrime Law

Thu, 2017-08-17 12:23

A photo collage of the journalists arrested by the Palestinian Authority. Captions read: “journalism is not a crime” and “where are the journalists”. Source: Quds News Network on Twitter

Just a few weeks after it adopted a controversial cybercrime law, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has gone after five journalists alleging that they “leaked information to hostile entities.”

The government did not identify the entities in question, but four of the journalists arrested work with media outlets affiliated with Hamas, the political rival of the ruling party in the West Bank, Fatah.

On the evening of 8 August, agents from the Palestinian Intelligence Service arrested the five journalists from various cities in the West Bank. The security forces raided their homes and places of work, and confiscated their phones and laptops.

These journalists include Mamdouh Hamamrah from Bethlehem and Ahmed Halayqah from Hebron, both reporters for Al-Quds TV channel; Tariq Abu Zaid from Nablus, a reporter at the al-Aqsa TV channel; Amer Abu Arafah from Hebron, a reporter at the Shehab News Agency; and Qutaibah Qasem from Bethlehem who is a freelance journalist and a blogger for Al Jazeera.

Their arrests come just weeks after President Mahmoud Abbas signed a highly controversial cybercrime law that stifles Palestinians’ freedom of expression online by criminalizing speech deemed harmful to “social harmony”, “state security” and “public order”. While the Public Prosecutor’s office denied at first any link between the new law and the arrest campaign, it later referred to Article 20 of the law as the justification for the journalists’ arrests.

Article 20 stipulates that any person who uses information technologies to publish news that would “endanger the safety of the state, its public order or the internal or external security of the state” will be imprisoned for at least a year or will be fined a minimum of $1400 USD.

The Reconciliation Court issued orders to keep the journalists in detention for a number of days, but they were then released instead on bail on 15 August with no indictment. Relatives of the journalists believe the arrests were a politically motivated retaliation for the June 8 arrest of journalist Fouad Jaradeh, a reporter for the PA's official broadcast TV, who was arrested in Gaza by Hamas officers.

The clamp down on journalists has caused an uproar among other Palestinian journalists and activists who have launched a campaign on social media platforms under the Arabic-language hashtasg #وين_الصحفيين ( ‘where are the journalists’) and (‘Journalism is not a crime’), to demand the immediate release of the journalists, and denounce the PA's use of the cybercrime law to repress media freedom.

قانون الجرائم الإلكترونية الذي طبقته السلطة على الصحفيين هدفه إسكات كل صوت معارض للسلطة أو محرض على مقاومة الاحتلال#الصحافة_ليست_جريمة

— Lama Khater لمى خاطر (@lama_khater) August 12, 2017

The goal of the cybercrime law, which the authority enforced against the journalists, is to silence any voices opposing the government or inciting resistance against the occupation #Journalism_is_not_a_crime

تقييد حرية الصحافة واعتقال الصحفيين تحت قانون فضفاض جريمة.#قانون_الجرائم_جريمة #الصحافة_ليست_جريمة

— مجد عرندس (@majdarandas) August 12, 2017

Restricting press freedom and arresting journalists under a vague law is a crime #cybercrime_law_is_a_crime #journalism_is_not_a_crime

قانون الجرائم الالكترونیة یلزم الصحفي وضع قفل على فمه وقلمه#الصحافة_لیست_جریمة#قانون_الجرائم_جریمة

— سجى زهير#غزة (@sajazuhair9) August 12, 2017

The cybercrime law compels journalists to lock their mouths

Holding signs that read “journalism is not a crime”, families of the arrested journalists as well as other activists and journalists protested in Ramallah on 12 August against the PA’s rising repression of media and public freedoms and its passing of the new cybercrime law.

Banning School-Going Mums Probably Won't Reduce Teen Pregnancy in Tanzania

Thu, 2017-08-17 04:05

However, Tanzanian President John Magufuli thinks it will.


This article was originally published on, East Africa’s first fact-checking initiative.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli has called for teen mothers who get pregnant while they are still in school to be banned from returning once they have given birth.

Speaking at a rally in Chalinze, a small town in the eastern region of Pwani, President Magufuli chastised NGOs in Tanzania for encouraging teenage mothers to go back to school, stating that they were “finishing the country” and leading to a state of “moral decay” in Tanzania:

If a girl gets pregnant, if it is deliberate or by accident, gives birth and then returns to school, she will teach these others who haven’t given birth that this is okay. The same girl can then go again and get pregnant, give birth and go back to school. And again for a third time. Are we educating parents?

The president added that teen moms attending either primary or secondary school would be banned from going back once they have given birth:

I want to tell them, and those NGOs as well, that during my administration, no girl who has given birth will be allowed to go back to school .

The president went on to say that teen mothers could go elsewhere if they want to get an education, such as the Vocational Educational and Training Authority, or even taking up farming.

The announcement sparked outrage on social media, with Tanzanians using the #ArudiShule hashtag to criticize the move, especially considering that over 8,000 Tanzanian girls drop out of school every year due to pregnancy according to a Human Rights Watch report.

So, the question is, do student-mothers influence other students’ reproductive behaviour?

PesaCheck has researched the issue, with input from citizen-centered initiative Twaweza, and finds that President Magufuli’s statement is MISLEADING for the following reasons:

Causes of adolescent pregnancies

According to the Tanzania Health and Demographic Survey (THDS) 2015–16 the rate of adolescent pregnancies in mainland Tanzania is considerably high at 27%. What factors contribute to this figure?

publication by HakiElimu found citizens opinion on the key contributors to teen pregnancies includes low household income. The publication states that nearly 31% of the respondents (including parents and teenage girls) thought that poverty was a key factor, with difficult economic situations driving parents to marry off their children as they are not able to meet the basic needs of the female children.

The THDS report also shows that fertility varies with economic levels, decreasing with increasing household wealth. Wealthier households also have a higher age at first birth, meaning that poorer households are more likely to have younger mothers, most likely of schoolgoing age.

Corroborating this fact, a UNICEF report shows that one in six young women aged 15–19 is married in Tanzania. These girls get affected psychologically, meaning that many of them are unable to return to school once they drop out.

Another factor in the HakiElimu publication was “poor upbringing and teenage girls own personal desires”. They found that some parents don’t spend time on their children’s morals and upbringing. Another finding was the lack of reproductive education which helps teens to fully understand puberty. “A lot of parents in villages don’t speak to their female children who are going through puberty.” TDHS 2015 data shows that over half of women already experience sex before the age of 16.

The HakiElimu report also found another contributing factor to be the societal view of a girls child’s value is in being married and being a mother.

The TDHS 2015–16 report shows that fertility rates are strongly related to the level of education. It states that women with no education have 3.3 times more children than women with secondary education. Adolescent women with no education are 5 times more likely to have begun childbearing compared to those with secondary or higher education. TDHS 2010 as stated in the UNICEF report (p.12) found that for a majority of the girls who give birth while they are “still children themselves” are in fact not in school.

Are student-mothers key influencers of adolescent pregnancies?

According to the THDS, Zanzibar has a significantly low rate of adolescent pregnancies at 8% compared to mainland Tanzania. Zanzibar introduced a return to school policy in 2010 as a measure to reduce dropouts. Kenya is just in between Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar with 18% adolescent pregnancies. In both these places student mothers are going to school and the adolescent fertility is much lower.

Therefore the statement that student mothers returning to school will influence other students and lead to a rise in teenage pregnancies is MISLEADING. Most research around adolescent pregnancies attribute teen pregnancies to economic factors and the community attitude and upbringing of female children.

Do you want us to fact-check something a politician or other public figure has said about public finances? Fill this form, or reach out to us on any of the contacts below, and we’ll help ensure you’re not getting bamboozled.

This report was written by PesaCheck Fellow Mwegelo Kapinga, a development consultant, researcher and writer. Mwegelo has previously worked for Twaweza East Africa as a research analyst. The infographics are by PesaCheck Fellow Brian Wachanga, who is a Kenyan civic technologist interested in data visualisation. This report was edited by PesaCheck Managing Editor Eric Mugendi.

PesaCheck, co-founded by Catherine Gicheru, is East Africa’s first fact-checking initiative. It seeks to help the public separate fact from fiction in public pronouncements about the numbers that shape our world, with a special emphasis on pronouncements about public finances that shape government’s delivery of so-called ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ or SDG public services, such as healthcare, rural development and access to water / sanitation. PesaCheck also tests the accuracy of media reportage. To find out more about the project, visit

Why Is the Biggest Sugar Mill in Western Cuba Economically and Environmentally Inefficient?

Wed, 2017-08-16 09:10

Héctor Molina plant photo: Geisy Guia Delis. Published with permission.

The sugar industry has been a cornerstone of Cuba's economy since the colonial period until today. During its best years, it provided 25% of all the sugar in the world. In towns with sugar mills, residents find that their future, for good or for bad, is tied up with the industry.

Below is an excerpt of the article “Sugar Days,” which examines the environmental impact of the biggest sugar mill in Western Cuba. You can read the original Spanish-language article in full here and other articles by Geisy Guia Delis here.

In October 2002, the Cuban government’s decision to restructure the sugar industry and shut down all factories that were unable to produce sugar at a cost of 4 cents a pound or less was made official.

Before then, the Héctor Molina Agro-Industrial Complex, in the western province of Mayabeque, showed signs of underperformance. However, it continued to stay afloat thanks to the proper functioning of the surrounding arable land, available labor and transportation infrastructure.

For the people of San Nicolás de Bari, that was the best thing that could have happened.

But for years, the biggest sugar mill in the region has produced the worst harvest because it has constantly failed to meet the plans it has proposed, it’s an excessive consumer of water and electricity, and because constant equipment breakdowns cause significant economic losses.

Since the sugar mill was founded in 1850, the settlers constructed an irrigation system to water the sugarcane with the wastewater. Then a distillery was added to the plant, injecting the water with highly corrosive substances, capable of raising the soil’s acidity level and damaging crops. Over the years, with the looming possibility that the water contained heavy metals harmful to human health, the city’s Ministry of Science and Technology committee prohibited the use of this wastewater for irrigation.

“I’ve been here 15 years and all that time we have used the wastewater,” admits Rodobaldo León Aguilar, president of the Cuba-Nicaragua Cooperative of Agricultural Production. “We’re using them practically without treatment, raw. Before I got here, this cooperative used them for the rice paddies and other crops. I know it’s a serious risk. I use them because they cost me nothing.”

Rodobaldo acknowledges that they have wanted to use organic fertilizers such as cachaza, which is another residual of the harvest. However, doing this would mean losses, because the cachaza is very expensive and he has no way to irrigate it in the field.

In his 2014 thesis “Endangered Good Soils: The Degradation of Ferralitic Red Soils in Western Cuba,” Dr. Cs. José M. Febles González pointed out that during the last 30 years, the red ferralitic soils of Mayabeque and Artemisa have suffered intense degradation. “However, specialized literature continues to classify this type of soil as ‘non-eroded,’ which has led to the sequential degradation of Cuba’s most productive soils.”

Ana Julia Castillo, division head of the city’s Ministry of Science and Technology committee (CITMA), is responsible for enforcing CITMA’s provisions and their delegation throughout the province. The measures aimed at reducing the pollutant load of the plant started to be implemented in 2015. Now they are monitoring the liquid waste and some time ago, they began the construction of two oxidation ponds, a fertigation system, grease traps and a solid waste management system such as bagasse. In the ponds, the heavy materials must sediment out, so that the water, when passing through the irrigation, is suitable for use in the fields.

Days before a new harvest began in November 2016, the work was not yet finished. “If there is no solution to the residuals, the plant will not mill,” Ana Julia said on that occasion.

But the decision was not up to the city’s CITMA, but to the province’s CITMA and government, or to the State Council. On November 15, 2016, the boilers whistled, signaling the start of the milling. At that time, residuals were a minor problem compared to the cost of having a paralyzed plant.

In each city, there is a Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology. Pastor Soto Fernández is one of the specialists of that institution in San Nicolás de Bari. According to him, it is almost impossible for them to monitor the plant’s activity comprehensively. They don’t have any equipment to measure air quality, ambient noise levels, soil contamination, or the aggressiveness of the residuals.

The plant itself is not aware of the extent to which it is reducing its pollutant load, according to the director, chemical engineer Alexis Rodríguez. Laboratory tests are performed to check that the acidity values of the water are maintained at a level that allows them to continue to produce. Other than the waters, nothing else is measured. It is expected that with the oxidation ponds and the construction of the fertigation, there will be a clear short-term result, but without numbers, there is no way to confirm it.

Alexis acknowledges that they are not yet in a position to comply with the environmental policies. He has been directing the Héctor Molina plant for two years and is aware that he is at Cuba’s worst sugar mill, “or at what they say is the worst.”

“First you have to prove you make sugar. Then you have to develop a culture of saving energy and water. The system must be geared toward that. And that your people are happy.”

The plant is the city’s main source of employment. Most workers depend on whether or not there is a harvest. Everyone knows that if the plant stops, if they close it down due to inefficiency, this will become a ghost town, as has already happened in other villages.

Before heading the plant, Alexis ran the distillery. In 2016, he won a CITMA award for creating a plant that uses the residuals of this industry in the manufacture of pig food. He claims to have a penchant for environmental conservation, but now he is faced with more urgent challenges: “I have to make sugar to make money.”

Indigenous Nepali Language with Only Two Fluent Speakers Sees Pages of Hope in Newly-Launched Dictionary

Tue, 2017-08-15 23:42

Gyani Maiya Sen is one of the two fluent Kusunda language speakers. Screenshot from a video by Felix Gaedtke.

A newly launched book-cum dictionary of the Kusunda language, one of several endangered languages in Nepal, is helping prevent the language from dying out with a whimper. The origins of the isolated language, which bears no obvious relation to any other spoken language in the world, continues to be a source of bafflement to linguists.

पाँच वर्षको प्रयासपछि तयार भयो कुसुण्डा भाषाको शब्दकोष

Gyani Maiya Sen is one of the two fluent Kusunda language speakers. Screenshot from a video by Felix Gaedtke.cZv”>

— Thaha Khabar (@ThahaKhabar) July 30, 2017

It took five years of effort to compile the Kusunda dictionary

Though the 2011 Census shows the population of Kusunda people in Nepal as 273 and indicates 28 people speaking the Kusunda language as their mother tongue, field studies suggest there are actually only 150 Kusundas of which only two people are fluent speakers of the language.

Kusunda language is an oral language without any script and there are no written records, documents or books available. The living Kusundas dispersed to different parts of the country and they do not get the opportunity to speak in their mother tongue. They had to assimilate in ways of life and cultural practices of the places where they live now. As a result, the Kusundas do not even speak their mother tongue at home.

According to Uday Raj Aale, the author of the book, the only two fluent speakers alive are Gyani Maiya Sen Kusunda, 81, from Deukhuri, Dang and Kamala Sen Khatri, 48, from Rolpa. Currently, Kusundas live in the Kapilvastu, Arghakhanchi, Pyuthan, Rolpa, Dang, and Surkhet districts of Nepal.

Jacket of the book on Kusundas. Used with permission.

The Kusundas, known as Ban Raja (kings of the forest), led a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the hill forests of Nepal’s central and mid-western development regions until only few decades ago. Their lifestyle, patterns of habitation, and the distinct and unique Kusunda language suggest that they have been living in Nepal since ancient times.

The Kusundas also refer to themselves as ‘kings of the forest’, albeit in the Kusunda language, rendered Gilangdei Myahak and claim equal status and relationship to the Thakuris, the ruling clan in Nepal. According to the Kusundas, the Thakuris are kings of cultivated land, while they have dominion over wooded lands. Kusundas have typically taken Thakuri surnames such as Shahi, Sen, and Khan.

The book by Aaley talks about the history, language, culture, and tradition of the Kusundas and has a collection of more than 2,500 words from the Kusunda language. However, Aaley is not the only person studying the Kusundas. Brian Houghton Hodgson, Johan Reinhard, David Watters, B.K. Rana and Madhav Prasad Pokharel are among the other academics that have worked to shed light on the mysterious language.

This video made by Felix Gaedtke and Gayatri Parameswaran features interviews with Gyani Maiya Sen, her son and Professor Pokharel from Tribhuvan University’s Central Department of Linguistics.

This year’s local elections brought some good news for Kusundas. Dhan Bahadur Kusunda, founder of the Nepal Kusunda Development Society, was selected as a representative for the executive committee for the municipality of Ghorahi, Nepal’s seventh largest city, under the marginalized community category quota.

While the Kusunda language is still effectively facing extinction, the representation of Kusundas in local government and efforts like the compiling of the Kusunda dictionary will help to preserve the Kusunda culture and tradition as well as the language itself.

Register Now for the Global Voices Summit 2017: December 2-3 in Colombo, Sri Lanka!

Tue, 2017-08-15 23:14

Colombo, Sri Lanka. PHOTO: Amila Tennakoon (CC BY 2.0)

The 2017 Global Voices Summit is open for registration!

We'll be gathering this year in Colombo, Sri Lanka on December 2-3 to discuss the evolving state of the open Internet, online civic movements and human rights in the digital age. In interactive sessions, panels, and debates, we will explore issues ranging from misinformation/disinformation, to corporate control of the internet, to legal threats against bloggers and activists—all challenges that could make or break the future of the internet.

Joining us will be communities and organizations central to the history and future of the open internet, both globally and regionally, including Creative Commons, Mozilla, Wikipedia, the Web Foundation, the Association of Progressive Communications, IFEX, the MIT Media Lab, the Digital Asia Hub, in addition to the leading lights of Sri Lanka’s internet culture, and many others.

The Summit will take place at TRACE Expert City, a technology hub and incubator in Colombo's Maradana district.

Visit our registration page to reserve your spot at the Global Voices Summit 2017, and keep checking in on the Summit web site over the coming weeks as we develop the Summit programme and post stories, audio and interviews.

We’ll see you in December!

#srilanka #colombo #tracecity #traceexpertcity #retro #architecturephotography #architecturelovers #architecture #colonial #colonialhouse #colonialstyle

A post shared by Ceylon Wanderer (@ceylonwanderer) on Jul 16, 2017 at 11:28am PDT

The Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2015 has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Ford Foundation, MozillaMacArthur Foundation and Groundviews/Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Global NGOs Call for the Release of Cambodian Land Rights Activist Tep Vanny

Tue, 2017-08-15 22:22

Tep Vanny's supporters calling for her release. Photo from LICADHO, a human rights group in Cambodia.

At least 65 civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) from across the world have already signed a unity statement urging the Cambodian government to release land rights activist Tep Vanny, who has been in detention for the past 12 months.

Tep Vanny is a prominent human rights activist who has been campaigning on behalf of marginalized farmers and displaced small landholders in Cambodia. She was arrested last August 2016 for leading the ‘Black Monday’ protest which was organized to call for the release of five human rights defenders accused of interfering in a government case involving an opposition leader.

The court convicted Tep Vanny of “insulting a public official” and sentenced her to six days in prison. But during her detention, the government revived a 2013 case against her when she led a protest in front of the prime minister’s house over the eviction of Boeung Kak Lake residents. A government reclamation project in Boeung Kak Lake, located in the capital city of Phnom Penh, has displaced thousands of residents living around the area.

On February 23, 2017, Tep Vanny was found guilty of committing “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” during the 2013 protest, and she received a prison sentence of two years and six months.

On August 8, 2017, the court affirmed the decision to convict Tep Vanny. It was also reported that Tep Vanny could face a third trial for another revived case related to a 2011 protest in a Boeung Kak Lake community.

“Even though I am in jail, I am handcuffed and I am wearing prison uniform, the reality is that I am forever innocent.” #FreeTepVanny

— Lorenzo Urbinati (@LorUrb) August 15, 2017

Tep Vanny’s prolonged detention is seen by some activists as part of a government plan to silence the opposition and spread fear among the people in time for the 2018 general elections. Cambodia’s ruling party has been in power for the past three decades, but it lost a significant number of seats in the 2013 elections.

The joint statement signed by 65 CSOs and NGOs warned that Tep Vanny’s detention “contributes to creating an atmosphere of fear for human rights defenders throughout Cambodia.” It also emphasized that dissent and peaceful activism should not be criminalized:

As a result of her imprisonment, Tep Vanny is prevented from carrying out her peaceful and valuable work as a woman human rights defender. Peaceful protest and expressions of dissent are not a crime, and human rights defenders should not be penalized for the exercise of their human rights.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development noted that Tep Vanny’s trial violated international norms:

The fabricated charges against Tep Vanny and her arbitrary detention are politically motivated attempts to silence and restrict her activism as a human rights defender. The trial itself did not meet international standards for a fair trial.

Aside from local human rights groups, activists and residents in Boeung Kak Lake have been petitioning the offices of UN agencies and various embassies in Cambodia to seek help in pressuring the Cambodian government to release Tep Vanny.

Cambodian social media users are also encouraged to replace their profile photos with icons of the campaign.

— FreeThe5KH (@FreeThe5KH) August 15, 2017

Three Generations of Jamaican Textile Artists Reflect Strong Women's Voices

Tue, 2017-08-15 15:26

(Left to right): Artists Miriam Hinds-Smith, Margaret Stanley and Katrina Coombs at the opening of their exhibition “3 Generations of Textiles and Fiber Arts” at the Grosvenor Galleries, Kingston, Jamaica on June 24, 2017. Photo by Andrew P. Smith, used with permission.

An unusual exhibition took place recently at Kingston's Grosvenor Galleries: “3 Generations of Textiles and Fiber Arts” brought together Kingston-based artists Margaret Stanley, Katrina Coombs and Miriam Hinds-Smith for a vibrant expression of their personal aspirations and perspectives of society.

Stanley, 66, holds a degree in Fashion/Textiles from the Ravensbourne College of Art in London, England. She lectured at Jamaica's prestigious Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) from 1989-2017 and has exhibited widely in both the United Kingdom (UK) and Jamaica. Kingston-born Coombs, 31, was educated in Textile and Fiber Art and Curatorial Studies at the EMCVPA. She also holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Practice from the University of Plymouth in the UK, via New York's Transart Institute. She has exhibited widely since 2008 and was featured in the Young Talent 2015 exhibit at the National Gallery of JamaicaHinds-Smith, 48, was also educated at EMCVPA and received her MFA degree from the Winchester School of Art at the UK's University of Southampton.

Global Voices asked the three artists about the development of their individual work, feelings about each others’ art and views on a recent nationwide controversy related to a “tablecloth.”

Global Voices (GV): Congratulations on a great exhibition! What moved you to take up textile art? Was it a process? Did you start out in textiles or in other art forms?

Margaret Stanley poses next to two of her pieces at the opening of the exhibition “3 Generations of Textiles and Fiber Arts” at the Grosvenor Galleries, Kingston, Jamaica on June 24, 2017. Photo courtesy Grosvenor Galleries, used with permission.

Margaret Stanley (MS): I originally wanted to be a fashion designer. My chosen course at college in the UK also offered textiles. I focused on making hand printed textiles for my fashion graduation show. Then I worked briefly in the fashion industry, but soon realised I wanted to make textiles. I did not know much about Textile ‘Art’, but fell into making large appliqué pictures, which over the years just developed into the work I do now.

Katrina Coombs (KC): I first started textiles and fiber art in high school, when I was introduced to macramé. I immediately found a love for fibers, tying knots and creating pieces.

Miriam Hinds-Smith (MHS): I am from a family of tailors and seamstresses. My mother sewed for us as children, and in my formative years, I had the fancy idea that I would become a fashion designer. This peaked in high school, where I made everything for myself. But I would say it was a gradual process. My initial decision to pursue a path in the arts was from a completely different angle. I wanted to become a graphic designer. But at the School of Visual Arts I had greater exposure to other art forms. I knew I wanted to do something far more expansive. It was a kind of returning to something I was innately responding to when I really fell in love with textiles. I loved every facet of it — designing, creating, imagining. There are cathartic aspects to working with this medium. It provided me with a voice that was quite poignant, quite auditable, unscripted, ephemeral yet tangible.

GV: To what extent does your work reflect your personal outlook or situation — or do you see it as a broader reflection of society?

Katrina Coombs with her pieces at the opening of the exhibition “3 Generations of Textiles and Fiber Arts” at the Grosvenor Galleries, Kingston, Jamaica on June 24, 2017. Photo courtesy Grosvenor Galleries, used with permission.

MS: My work mainly reflects my personal outlook. However, as I am part of Jamaican society, obviously it would also reflect my daily thoughts and observations.

KC: The works are generally a broader reflection of society as they deal with issues of ‘othering’ faced by all women at some point in their life. However, the first reference is the self and as such, the pieces are directly speaking to issues I have faced as a woman attempting to find my identity.

MHS: It is a mix of both, my personal references and what I know — what WE know — is happening in society. It is all in front of us. For some, it does not impact directly; it's a distant thing that you hear on the news. Truth be told, the effect is often closer to home — but we either sweep it under the rug or find ways of rationalising the situation away. Unresolved injustices are not acceptable. My work has moved from the very visceral and stridently literal. With this exhibition, I chose to focus on creating a space for healing, of sanctuaries for those to whom justice has been unrequited.

GV: How do you feel the medium of textiles enhances artistic expression?

Miriam Hinds-Smith poses next to her pieces at the opening of the exhibition “3 Generations of Textiles and Fiber Arts” at the Grosvenor Galleries, Kingston, Jamaica on June 24, 2017. Photo courtesy Grosvenor Galleries, used with permission.

MS: Textiles are important in all our lives, from birth to death. Special garments and fabrics in all societies have historical, cultural and emotional significance. Although I use many traditional techniques in my work, mostly in non-traditional ways, the layering of fabrics of differing colours, patterns and textures is an important inspiration.

KC: Textiles and fiber are used by artists as any other medium. One must first understand the material for all its characteristics — and through that understanding, be able to express oneself artistically.

MHS: The medium of textiles is canonised by Western culture as residing in a feminine domain — a specifically feminine expressive media. This is in stark contrast to other cultures where the medium (or interactions with textiles) resides in the male domain. I find textiles a pliable and eloquently responsive medium that communicates immediately. It has many nuances that allow for a multi-layered conversation.

GV: Do you feel that textile/fiber art gets the recognition it deserves in Jamaica? 

MS: Skills in traditional textile techniques like embroidery are still appreciated by the older generation. Textile Art? Not so much! However, with exposure from foreign experience and the Internet, more fine artists are using textile techniques in their work. This has led to more acceptance. The average Jamaican, however, is still more comfortable with painting!

KC: Recently, textiles and fiber have been put in the forefront of some exhibitions by some artists. This has been a slow process; however, it is beginning to get the recognition it deserves. With more artists exhibiting textile and fiber art-based works […] there will be more recognition.

MHS: Good Lord, no! I recall having a conversation with someone who considers himself an ‘art connoisseur’. He was concerned with the resale value of fiber-based art work. My preoccupation is to have works of art that speak to the issues, in places that will stir further conversations and awareness. Not the sale and ‘art as object’ scenario.

GV: How do you feel about the work of the other two artists in the exhibition? Where do you see the contrasts and similarities in your cross-generational work?

MS: I feel Katrina’s pieces work on many levels. Her concept is not necessarily what the viewer might take away. The visual experience is strong. Miriam’s work, to me, seems more cerebral and needs closer examination. Both artists use textiles, threads and fabrics in very creative ways.

KC: There are three powerful voices speaking through the works, which highlight very personal issues for all three of us. The works themselves reflect our identities as women and the different stages we are at in the process of our development — as well as our different generations. I have always admired Margaret and Miriam for the works they produce, the energies that flow through them and into their works. From being trained by them both, it was an honour being able to exhibit alongside them.

MHS: …The contextual synergy of the exhibition is interesting, considering we really had no prior discussion of theme, any concerns of the sort or any other area that would create forms of alignment. There are similarities across our work from a purely generic frame, being all textile-based. However, Katrina’s poignant fiber-based constructs are very powerful and allude to the tenuous yet robust feminine quality of her concerns. Yet, they are carefully positioned in a very contemporary context, speaking to issues that need to be confronted. I enjoy Margaret’s work, as she employs traditional techniques — but her approach is mixed, creating her unique play with these mediums. Her work is whimsical yet stoutly satirical; a reflective commentary on the every day and the celebratory nature of accepting self, our independence to change, and the cadence of our evolution as women.

GV: Lastly, what are your thoughts on the recent controversy over Jamaica's bandana fabric? (A  dancehall star recently sparked controversy when she disparagingly called the Jamaican bandana a “tablecloth.”)

MS: Bandana is just one colour combination of a traditional woven Indian Madras fabric called Cotton Madras. It has a link with colonialism but has become a symbol of the Jamaican culture. It is similarly used in other Caribbean islands. It is a wonderful, very useful fabric.

KC: This relates back to the issue of textile and fiber being recognised. Firstly, the bandana is a plaid printed cloth. It was originally woven, but due to manufacturing processes it is now easily found in print. It is labeled as our national dress; however, it is hardly ever used in any of Jamaica's ‘branding’. I think the controversy has brought some needed dialogue and recognition to the material and its values for our country.

MHS: “…My concern [is] that as an independent nation, as a signifier of our national identity, we still utilise, like all the other islands, one of the remnants of colonial domination — the ‘Madras’ cloth. It comes from Chennai which was renamed Madras by the British during the mid-19th century. Now Jamaica, an independent country celebrating 55 years of nationhood, still struggles with issues of identity and who we are as a people.

I did not hear the unfortunate ‘tablecloth’ incident first-hand [the comment was made on an Instagram post] but this singer referred to ‘not wearing a tablecloth like Miss Lou’. I don’t believe she meant to disrespect Miss Lou personally. In her own way, though, she was speaking out against the cloth forced on us as a label.

The Madras identified us as property of the colonial empire. Back then, each island was assigned a specific pattern. Now let us look at Miss Lou: an iconic stalwart, a defender of our spoken language patois, dressed in this Madras costume, reciting ‘Colonisation in Reverse’ (one of my faves!). To me, this is an ironic satire of her redefining who we are through wearing this costume. Miss Lou is saying the labeled slave now speaks with a voice that stands strong, resolute and independent — not celebrating the cloth, but what the wearer of the cloth has become.

A Viral Rap Battle Has Everyone in Russia—Including Business Journalists and Politicians—Talking

Tue, 2017-08-15 14:46

Record-breaking Russian rap battle: Oxxxymiron VS Gnoyny. Screenshot of video uploaded by versusbattleru to YouTube.

Early on Monday, August 14, readers of Vedomosti, one of Russia’s leading business publications and one of the few remaining independent media in the country, saw a headline that elicited many confused reactions from its loyal audience.

“Battle Between Oxxxymiron And Gnoyny Attracts 2.7 Million Views Overnight,” the article's headline said, looking quite out of place in a publication that normally covers initial public offerings, mergers and hostile takeovers by state-owned conglomerates.  

The event in question was an hour-long YouTube video of a highly anticipated rap battle between two prominent Russian hip-hop performers: Oxxxymiron, whose real name is Miron Fyodorov, and Gnoyny, whose artistic handle translates to “The Festering One” and who also is also known by the monicker Slava KPSS (a play on the diminutive form of popular Russian names like Vyacheslav and the Soviet-era slogan “Glory to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union”). Both contestants exchanged colorful poetic barbs in a smoke-filled bar, with Gnoyny declared the winner by the judges.

Even for native Russian speakers, the hour-long verbal ping-pong is difficult to understand in full, as a most of it deals with obscure subculture references, as well as in-jokes and insults recognizable only to someone fully versed in contemporary Russian hip-hop. For example, around the 15:33 mark Gnoyny delivers a scathing, rhymed review of Oxxxymiron's latest full-length concept album “Gorgorod,” finally released after a four-year hiatus:

Поговорим о твоём альбоме, разберём с хладнокровием Лаврентия Берии. Ты плохо учился в своём Гриффиндоре, если русские что и умеют, так это разваливать империи! Все ждали четыре года, он как мог нагнетал интригу, и всё, что ему пришло в голову — записать аудиокнигу! Причём банальную антиутопию, такой уровень дискурса больше подходит Джамалу и Лоику! С сюжетом, что по силам каждой недалёкой педовке! Твой рэп — дешёвая литература в мягкой обложке! Это набор самых скучных клише, которые существовали в истории! Оригинальный сюжет — трагическая любовь посреди антиутопии! Блять, такого же ни у кого не было, да? Ни у Оруэлла, ни у Замятина, это попсовый мотив, который заебал уже окончательно!

Let’s talk about your album, let’s dissect it with the cold-blooded composure worthy of Lavrenty Beria [Joseph Stalin’s chief of secret police]. You were a bad student at your Gryffindor [a reference from the “Harry Potter” book series] — if Russians have ever been good at anything, it’s tearing down empires! Everyone waited for years, he was building up suspense — and the best he could come up with was an audio book! And a banal one at that, a dystopian novel, such level of discourse better befits Jamal and Loic [rival hip-hop performers]! With a plot that looks like it's been put together by a dim-witted hustler! Your rap is pulp literature at best! It’s a collection of the most tired cliches in history! Oh, it’s such an original plot, look at it — a tragic love story in a dystopian setting! Fuck me, I’m sure no one yet has come up with anything of the sort, right? Not [Russian writer Yevgeny] Zamyatin, not [English writer George] Orwell! It’s a pop motif that’s just pissing everyone the fuck off!

Soon, Vedomosti’s news brief was picked up by many other outlets, including state-owned news agencies like RIA Novosti. At the time of writing RIA Novosti dedicated at least 12 separate articles to the battle, from incremental updates on the number of YouTube views to sympathetic analysis and commentary from music experts.

As the YouTube clip of the battle was accumulating more views — almost 12 million as of August 15 — it attracted unprecedented attention from general interest Russian media, both state-owned and independent. The Interfax news agency reported that the Oxxxymiron-Gnoyny battle set an absolute record for coverage of such a niche subject: more than 800 articles in a single day across the whole spectrum of Russian news outlets.

Many on Russian social media pointed to the contrast between the “serious” nature of news outlets like specialized business publications and state newswires and the “lowly” subject of reporting. Reporters and editors argued on Twitter whether a rap battle was a topic for “proper” news outlets to cover, or whether such incremental updates were indeed newsworthy.

А про пять миллионов будет новость? А про шесть?

— I.K. (@Vorewig) 14 августа 2017 г.

Will there be a news update about 5 million views? What about 6 million?

Professional reviews of the rap battle appeared in publications like Kommersant, post-Soviet Russia’s oldest business newspaper, and, another prominent independent business and general interest news outlet. Reviews have been mostly positive, highlighting the fact that both contestants used complex, multi-layered allusions to classic Russian poetry and the affair wasn't just an exchange of profanities between two people with bizarre nicknames, as many have complained. Yevgeniya Albats, the veteran editor of a prominent opposition magazine The New Times, complained in a Facebook post about the distasteful monickers of the contestants:

Что это за человек, который выбирает себе кликуху “Гнойный” ? И почему 7 млн интересуются высказываниями человека, который сам себя обозначил столь мерзким определением?

What kind of a person chooses ‘The Festering One’ for a nickname and why would 7 million people be interested in anything from someone with such a disgusting self-designation?

The battle even attracted some high-profile political attention. Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny praised the battle in a blog post on his website:

Получил большое удовольствие и больше всего от мысли, что русская культура жива и развивается. […] Разве это не прекрасно? Ну да, мат. Ну да, довольно часто весьма низкопробный юмор. Тем не менее, всё равно это конкурс русских поэтов. […] В любом случае, это в сто раз больше культура, чем комедийные и песенные шоу на федеральных каналах телевидения.

I did enjoy the fact that Russian culture is alive and thriving. […] Isn’t that just beautiful? Yes, there’s a lot of profanity and below-the-belt jokes. But that’s what Russian poetry competitions look like. […] In any case, that’s 100 times more cultural than any comedy show or song contest you see on state television.

State officials also chimed in. Gennady Onischenko, formerly the head of the state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor and now a parliament member for the ruling party, complained about the same aspects of the rap battle that Navalny praised. In a radio interview on August 14, Onischenko said:

Убогий язык, законы русской разговорной речи, культуры там даже и близко не ночевали.Интернет сегодня отражает ту убогость духовную, которая есть в нашем обществе, раз это находит такой широкий отклик.

[In this video clip] the speech is stilted, it has very little to do with the laws of our language and culture. Today’s internet lays bare the moral poverty in our society if [these videos] are in such demand.

Onischenko — infamous for his constant demands to ban or outlaw aspects of modern life, food products or gadgets as immoral or unwholesome — then went as far as demanding to reprimand the outlets which had reported on the battle.

Social media users quickly responded to Onischenko’s statements with ridicule:

В Думе критикуют баттл Оксимирона и Гнойного. Законы русской разговорной речи депутатов ебут, а плохая жизнь русских людей депутатов не ебёт

— Сталингулаг (@StalinGulag) 14 августа 2017 г.

Duma criticizes the Oxxxymiron vs Gnoyny battle. So parliament members do give a damn about laws of Russian language, but not about Russians’ wretched life.

Rap battles are an increasingly popular phenomenon on Russian YouTube, with one of the earlier battles involving Oxxymiron having so far generated an unprecedented 38 million views. Independent publication The Bell offers an explanation as to why the news was picked up by business publications: rap battles are serious business, with ad contracts from major clients like Tinkoff Bank and BMW potentially bringing in up to 5 million rubles ($83,480) to the organizers of Oxxxymiron vs Gnoyny alone.

Family Farmers in Paraguay Facing Debt Crisis Demand Government Accountability

Tue, 2017-08-15 13:51

Paraguay's family farmers fight for their land and livelihood.

Photograph from the “En sus zapatos” (In their shoes) collection, taken from Kurtural's website. Photograph used with permission.

In Paraguay, thousands of farmers have been marching in the streets of Asunción since early July. As small producers, they decry the failure of the government to meet an agreement signed in April 2016, which promised the refinancing of agricultural debts of approximately 18,000 producers. A year later, labourers have returned to the streets claiming the agreement has failed.

In Paraguay, approximately 2.6 million people currently live in rural zones, accounting for over 30% of the total population. Residents struggle against rising levels of land concentration in the countryside as one of their biggest problems. Agricultural businesses use 94% of arable land which produces food for exportation, while family farmers only use 6% for family farming, according to Oxfam's report Yvy Jára: Los dueños de la Tierra en Paraguay (“Yvy Jára: The owners of the Land in Paraguay”). 

The government's inadequate agricultural policies and a lack of information created by businesses linked to land concentration groups aggravate the situation:

The farmers have captured Paraguay's attention and solidarity is pouring in:

Universitarios de distintas facultades se reúnen en plenaria en la explanada de la UCA para discutir y solidarizarse con la #MarchaCampesina

— RTV (@rtvparaguay) August 7, 2017

Students from different faculties are gathering in front of the Catholic University of Asunción to talk and show solidarity with the #FarmersMarch

- RTV  (@rtvparaguay) August 7, 2017

But some government members have referred to demonstrators as ‘cavemen‘ and the police have repressed the demonstrations:

#Urgente Policia Cartistas se preparan para reprimir.

— Coord.Intesectorial (@CoordinadoraCNI) August 8, 2017

#Urgent The police are getting ready to suppress:

— Coord.Intesectorial (@CoordinadoraCNI) August 8, 2017

How did the Farmers’ March begin?

It is not the first time farmers have organized marches to fight for farmers’ rights. This year's marches are the result of an unfulfilled 2016 agreement signed by the government which aimed to solve labourers’ debts allegedly incurred from a series of state scams.

The farmers complained that the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock distributed damaged seeds, promised technical assistance never arrived, and when selling their harvest, market prices were higher than expected. This made it impossible for many farmers to pay off their public and private debts.

In 2016, after nearly a month of demonstrations, President Horacio Cartes’ government reached an agreement with the farmers consisting of panel discussions to hear farmers’ complaints and the creation of new laws to support rural farming. During these talks, the government promised firm support of the farming sector.

Farmers now complain that the agreement has not been honoured and small producers from other sectors are in similar situations, strained by a lack of public policy, growing inequality in the countryside, and the absence of markets and government assistance in times of flood and frost. 

Unfulfilled agreements and responsibilities

In Paraguay, the state must promote rural farming as detailed in the national constitution. It expresses the need for agricultural reform consisting of ‘the effective incorporation of the farming population into the economic and social development of the nation.’ Moreover, it promises to commit to taking measures that ‘stimulate production, discourage land concentration and guarantee the development of small and medium-sized rural properties.’

Many farmers face losing their land and livelihoods to pay off their debts if they don't find a solution to this crisis soon, and fear they will become part of a growing poverty epidemic in Paraguay.

But farmers face more than just problems of debts and subsidies.

One farmer's statement shared by the group Ápe Paraguay on Facebook reveals many of the limitations of working on the land in Paraguay:

Pasa que lo nacional no les interesa tanto, traen todo del exterior. Por ejemplo estos proveedores, que son millonarios, traen locote y tomate del exterior. Ellos declaran unos pocos, y meten como 20 mil kilos semanalmente. […] Yo traigo por ejemplo 3 mil kilos y no puedo meter en el mercado. Así ellos nos joden porque meten del exterior y nuestra producción nacional no vale. Eso es lo que un gobierno debe ver para ayudarnos. En nuestro país, la plata es lo que vale, por eso el contrabando no se detiene. Yo sé bien, porque traje una vez 5 mil kilos producción nacional y me detuvieron y me llevaron por tres días detrás de los papeles, haciéndome perder gran parte de la producción; luego vino otro de contrabando que pagó dos o tres millones y pasó. Tuve que estar aquí 3 días porque supuestamente no tengo documentos. Imaginen, traer de Concepción, de tan lejos, el gasto que representa

Local produce doesn't interest them because they can import everything. For example, these providers, who are millionaires, import peppers and tomatoes from overseas. They declare a few of them but sell like 20 thousand kilos every week. […] I produce roughly 3 thousand kilos and I can't sell it at the market. So they screw us over because they sell things from overseas and our own national production becomes worthless. The government should see this and help us. In our country, money is what matters, so smuggling isn't punished. I know this, because I once brought 5 thousand kilos of national produce and they detained me and kept me there for three days asking for papers [which spoiled] a lot of my produce; then another load came that was smuggled in and they paid two or three million [Paraguayan guaranies] and passed by. I had to wait there for three days because I supposedly didn't have documents. Imagine, bringing produce all the way from Concepción, the cost that represents…

Debt relief as a viable solution?

Farmers demand a ‘write-off’ of their debts under a financial rehabilitation law designed to protect vulnerable populations from abusive lending practices. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock is responsible for creating a list of potential beneficiaries who meet specific criteria. They must own less than 30 hectares of land and possess debts no higher than 51 million PYG (approximately 9,170 USD), the equivalence of 25 monthly minimum wages.

Only debts linked to agricultural activity will be recognized, limiting a significant number of potential beneficiaries. Debt-relief could affect at least 17,000 of the 196,000 small agricultural producers on the National Register for National Farming, the database used to determine beneficiary eligibility, though the exact number is unknown. 

Farmers’ subsidies demands dismissed 

Paraguay took on Azucarera Iturbe's 15 billion PYG debt, considered by President Cartes to be ‘the biggest in the history of Paraguay.’ Complaints in newspapers lament the subsidy of Petropar's diesel fuel to soy producers has reached 140 million USD, a group who received economic support even before the beginning of democracy in 1992. Similarly, the Paraguayan government has subsidized new buses for public transport and continues to subsidize fares.

Parliament passed a decision to subsidize farmers on the 2nd of August, but President Cartes vetoed it two days later, dismissing the farmers’ demands. He justified the veto by saying the decision countered the appropriate application of the financial rehabilitation law. Cartes also argued that the cost of the subsidy ‘could be more than 3.2 billion USD, approximately 25% of Paraguay's budget.’ However, a careful look at the numbers behind Cartes’ statement proves the president wrong.