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Updated: 17 hours 12 min ago

Satirical Cartoonists Take Aim at Bulgaria's Media Distribution ‘Monopoly’

13 hours 42 min ago

Prass-Press copies on display next to the cash register in a bookshop in Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by GV, CC-BY.

A version of this post was originally published on the author's blog in March.

The biweekly satirical newspaper Prass-Press was supposed to have its first issue released across Bulgaria on March 1, but the cartoonists behind it allege that influential figures who were angered by its content hindered the paper's distribution ahead the volatile parliamentary elections later that month.

So, the cartoonists pieced together an alternative distribution network to get their irreverent publication to readers. Nearly four months and seven issues later, Prass-Press is still at it.

The biweekly is often compared to Charlie Hebdo. It's run by Chavdar Nikolov, Chavdar Georgiev, and Christo Komarnitski, who call themselves the three “mischievous cartoonists” in the newspaper masthead. Together with journalist Ivan Bakalov, they have been contradicting and ridiculing political leaders in Bulgaria for years.

In 2016, Nikolov was fired from the Sofia-based broadcasting company NOVA TV, because of his cartoon with the Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who is depicted as a leader of criminal groups that hunt down migrants along the border. Shortly after, the cartoons were removed from NOVA TV’s official website, and so was Nikolov from his position.

“We are at war with the monopoly, with stupidity, with hypocrisy, and sadly with most of the Bulgarian institutions which keep quiet,” said Nikolov in an interview for bTV in March 2017.

Despite readers’ enormous interest, only a small portion of the 10,000 printed copies were available on March 1, with major newsstands in Sofia near universities, bus stops and shopping malls receiving a maximum of five issues. Other cities in Bulgaria received even fewer or no copies at all.

Когато държането на този вестник се превърне в повод за завиждане. Слово има, свобода не. #праспрес

— Simona Yordanova (@SasiYordanova) March 11, 2017

When holding this newspaper is a reason for jealousy. There is expression, but no freedom. #Prass-Press

“According to our calculations, less than 1,000 copies are distributed in the country. The rest are left somewhere unseen,” wrote Bakalov in his article in

A report on the low level of media freedom in Bulgaria by Deutsche Welle in Serbian notes that the national distribution company Bulgarpress advised owners of small kiosks not to ask about issues of Prass-Press. The Prass-Press team believe that the company is in some way owned or influenced by Delyan Peevski, a former member of parliament and a media magnate.

Delyan Peevski. Photo by the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria.

Peevski owns more than 50 percent of shares in companies like Technomarket Bulgaria, Balkan Media Group (which owns five news agencies) and Lafka newsstands chains, among others. In many of these companies, Peevski has stake alongside his mother, Irena Krusteva, and together they are the majority shareholders, as is the case of the recently privatized state-owned print agency Rodina.

Peevski is also known for previously serving as chair of the State Agency for National Security (DANS), from which he was removed in 2013 because of public protests.

Together, Bulgarpress and Lafka control the supply of newspapers to nearly all the newsstands in the vital positions in the big cities, including those which are not part of their franchises. Peevski hasn't publicly responded to the accusation that he was behind Prass-Press's distribution troubles. His involvement in both politics and media, however, has been noted by Reporters Without Borders:

Bulgaria is ranked lower in the World Press Freedom Index than any other European Union member. This is due to an environment dominated by corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs including Deylan Peevski, a former head of Bulgaria’s main intelligence agency and owner of the New Bulgarian Media Group. His group has six newspapers and controls nearly 80% of print media distribution.

Taking matters into their own hands

After officials from Bulgarpress failed to respond to the situation, the journalists decided to distribute the newspapers on their own, at Slaveykov square in Sofia, the permanent print market in Sofia.

“We will fight for the trust of our readers with honest and open position. We believe there is a huge niche for a newspaper like ours,” Komarnitski told

For the second issue, which was released on March 15, Prass-Press worked mainly with smaller distribution companies and private owners of newsstands. This time, the authors stood in front of the Parliament to sell the symbolic 113 copies, which was the position of Bulgaria in the 2016 Press Freedom Ranking of Reporters Without Borders (in the 2017 edition, Bulgaria stands at 109).

Selling the second issue: Prass-Press team with Christo Komarnitski, Chavdar Nikolov and Chavdar Georgiev with the artist Alla Georgieva in front of the office of Bulgarian President. Photo used with permission.

The “mischievous” journalists also alerted the Commission for Protection of Competition, the Bulgarian antitrust commission, and have reached out to other European institutions for what they call human rights violations.

Months after the first issue was released, none of these institutions recognized any violations in the distribution process, and therefore did not react to the case.

Prass-Press published part of an official letter they received from the Commission for Protection of Competition on their Facebook page, which stated that out of 10,000 copies circulated, Bulgarpress confirmed that more than 6,337 copies were sold, and the rest was returned to the publisher. The Prass-Press team questions that figure, which to them seems much higher than the actual number of papers they observed in readers’ hands.

The second part of the Facebook post contains a caricature of the Commission head giving Peevski a massage and asking him, “Are you a monopolist?” In the cartoon, Peevski responds “Oh, no, no, you're tickling me!”

A screenshot of Prass-Press Google Map of distribution locations, mainly bookstores.

In spite of all the obstacles, the Prass-Press team succeeded in finding ways to keep the publication going. Online copies can easily be ordered and received within minutes in a .pdf format for the price of one euro through the website For print-lovers, they maintain a distribution map showing all the locations in Bulgaria where the newspaper is available, as well as the exact bookstores that distribute it.

Thanks to the public interest and support, Prass-Press managed to keep the same level of circulation with the alternative network as the first issue. “Now we rely on small distributors and booksellers, who fearlessly sell our newspaper, and of course on those who buy it,” Nikolov said about the eighth issue.

A Win for Citizen Activism After UNESCO Asks Macedonia to Stop All Construction Projects on Lake Ohrid

14 hours 54 min ago

Ohrid Lake swans. Photo by Elena Nikolovska, CC-BY.

The latest UNESCO mission to the Ohrid region in Macedonia discovered a Natural and Cultural Heritage site threatened by increased traffic and tourism pressure, inappropriate infrastructure projects and uncoordinated urban developments. It immediately released a report requesting the Macedonian government to halt construction projects in the area.

Existing for over 3 million years, Lake Ohrid in Macedonia is the oldest lake in the European continent holding valuable information on evolution aside from being the home of unique and rare species. In 2016, this lake was put in danger when the Macedonian government started plans to urbanize the lake shore and Galichica mountain and turn both biodiversity hotspots into mega resorts.

Citizen activists, civil society organizations, and scientists warned about the possible catastrophic impact of these projects on Lake Ohrid and demanded a moratorium on all construction activities in the Ohrid region.

In March this year, the UNESCO mission to the Ohrid region validated the concerns of citizens and experts about the projects around the lake. It asked the government to halt the projects to protect Lake Ohrid and instead develop alternative ecotourism programs in the area:

The mission strongly recommended to completely abandon the Galičica ski centre project, keep the internal national park zoning as is, and consider developing ecotourism options that would not negatively impact the property. Therefore, it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to halt the construction projects of the Galičica ski resort, as well as the sub-sections (a) and (e) of the A3 road. – says latest decision by UNESCO World Heritage Committee

The Ohrid SOS group has been on the frontlines fighting to save Lake Ohrid from the very beginning. It published the UNESCO decision urging the Macedonian government and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to stop the further destruction of Lake Ohrid.

.@UNESCO #recommends “to completely abandon the #Galičica ski centre project, keep the internal national park zoning as it is”. #UNESCOSays

— OhridSOS (@OhridSOS) June 9, 2017

Meanwhile, the Center for Environmental Research and Information Eko-svest from Skopje worked on alternatives to the planned infrastructure project that will not destroy precious nature. A feasibility study for a sustainable transport solution is scheduled to be presented in the Ohrid municipality this year.

Ние сакаме да го одбележиме #ДенотНаЕзерото со нашата визија за велосипедска патека која ќе кружи околу Охридското Езеро. Преубаво!

— Eko-svest (@Eko_svest) June 21, 2017

We want to mark #TheDayOfTheLake by sharing our vision for a bike trail that would encircle the Ohrid Lake. Beautiful!

Instead of a new highway that would cut through the national park forests and block access to the water, the group is proposing a combination of transport alternatives that would not interfere with the ecosystem.

Photo shows Smart Ohrid transport solution with routes for cycling, solar boats and solar buses arround the lake. Photo by Stefan Bouzharovski, used with permission.

To commemorate 21 June, Lake Ohrid day, the newly elected Macedonian government opened its doors to civil society and held an event in parliament where the president of the Assembly addressed the guests.

I am especially glad that today in the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia there is an event related to the initiative of the civil sector for the protection of the Ohrid region as the only region in the Republic of Macedonia protected by UNESCO. – said The President of the Assembly, Mr. Talat Xhaferi

The parliament speaker stressed the readiness of the government to discuss and support citizen initiatives for the protection of the environment. An informal group of Members of Parliament from different parties was also formed named “Friends of UNESCO.”

#Macedonia CSOs present parliament speaker, minister with citizen request to preserve #Ohrid lake and region. Parliament opens to citizens.

— HristijanGjorgievski (@HGjorgievski) June 21, 2017

This has been a long and difficult fight but civil society groups continue to hope that the initial victory will be sustained to preserve and protect the biodiversity of Lake Ohrid.

In China, an Antagonistic Anti-Refugee Stance Finds Support Online

Mon, 2017-06-26 21:46

Yao Chen shared her experience in visiting refugee shelters on June 20. Image from UNHRC's Weibo.

In early June, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) urged China to play a more prominent role in solving the refugee crises around the world. While the Chinese government has yet to give an official response, nationalistic netizens have offered theirs, calling the agency’s Goodwill Ambassador from China, Yao Chen, “Saint Mary Bitch” and the idea of taking in refugees “brainless.”

On June 20, World Refugee Day, Yao Chen, a famous Chinese actress who is the UNHCR’s first Goodwill Ambassador in China, was featured on major news outlets sharing her experience visiting refugee shelters. She urged Chinese society to give more support to refugees (via UNHCR’s account on Weibo) :


Refugees are ordinary people like us. They became refugees because of wars and disasters. I hope one day, they can become ordinary people again and enjoy the rights that an ordinary person enjoys.

The media event resulted in a backlash online. Many Chinese netizens read the news as a sign of the Chinese government’s willingness to accept more refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, and their fear has turned into hate directed at Yao Chen. Below are the most popular comments under the UNHRC account's post on the World Refugee Day on Weibo:


Yao Chen wants more chaos in China? Long hair but short of knowledge, or is she paid to speak up? She even disables comments on her Weibo. Scared of criticism?


No to refugees!! 30 years of the one-child policy is to give space to refugees? If Yao Chen welcomes refugees, ask them to live in your house and feed them yourself.


Our ancestors taught us to protect our own country. These people have given up their own country, they are refugees or cowards?

Underlying the negative reactions are antagonism toward “political and moral correctness”, the feeling of being victim of population control (single child policy in China), and nationalistic sentiments.

Chinese ‘protected their ancestors’ land for their descendants’

The above online opinions, although written by different writers, appeared to be inspired by a viral piece titled “Saint Mary Bitch goes to the refugee camps. China won’t welcome you!” (圣母婊滚到难民营去,中国不欢迎!), which was circulated via Maoist leftist think tank Chawang's account on the Sohu blog platform.

The post calls Yao “Saint Mary Bitch” (mother of Jesus Christ) accusing her of being hypocritical. Then it criticizes a number of public intellectuals who have urged China to take up the responsibility of refugees:


These people who advocate for such brainless ideas are either stupid or bad. But from their intellectual background, they are not stupid, obviously, they are bad. Either they have taken money from political schemers or they have been brainwashed by white-leftism.

The term “white left” — the opposite of “red” or nationalistic leftist positions — has been used in China to to criticize those who believe in universal values (including human right, democracy and individual freedom) and cultural diversity.

The article then stresses that the one-child policy, which resulted in so much pain among Chinese for many years, is to create space for Chinese people, not refugees. It argues that the government has yet to provide enough welfare for the poor and hence should not support the refugees; it also says it isn't China's responsibility to take in refugees from the Middle East and North Africa because it hasn't started any wars in the region. At the end, the writer praised China's war history:


During the anti-Japanese War [the Second Sino-Japanese War], the atrocious Japanese soldiers were killing and robbing on Chinese land, but the 450 million Yan Huang Zisun didn't become refugees, they took up weapons and fought with their lives against the invaders. They protected their ancestors’ land for their descendants. If Chinese were like these refugees, China would not be a country anymore.

And then the writer degraded the morality of the refugees coming from the Middle East and North Africa:


Readers can check out what the refugees have done in Europe. They want subsidies and refuse to work, refuse to integrate into the mainstream culture […]
What the hell are these refugees, they act like a bunch of masters, want to enjoy social benefits and care upon arrival. They are parasites at ease. They make use of political correctness to force the European government and “white left” to give money and accommodation, with such a strong sense of righteousness.

There's no evidence that supports that refugees as a whole in Europe are “refusing to work.” Integration is a complicated process, and in Europe's case authorities have made missteps since the crisis began, as Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch writes.

In any case, the UNHCR warns against viewing refugees as a homogeneous group, as the Chawang writer does, and emphasizes their individuality.

China's scant involvement with refugees

Cawang has published a dozen more opinion pieces on refugees on its website since June 20, depicting the issue as a western conspiracy against China.

For all the uproar online, China does not host many refugees. Currently, there are 20 refugee shelters around the country; most of the refugees are in the shelters for transit and the monthly subsidy of about RMB 3,000 yuan (approximately US$440 dollars) that they receive is covered by the UNHCR. In 2015, there were about 138 refugees in China and 410 asylum claimants being processed.

The above information was presented by a “fact-check” piece published by Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, which also stressed that China joined the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2016 merely to help improve internal migration:


China joined this organization to improve China’s governance of internal migration, such as peasant workers in urban areas and domestic population flow.

Such a claim sounds a bit odd, as the Chinese government has been stressing that foreign powers should not intervene in domestic affairs. And as an international organization, IOM's areas of intervention are:

the promotion of international migration law, policy debate and guidance, protection of migrants’ rights, migration health and the gender dimension of migration.

On the past few years, China has faced much criticism from international society for the forced expatriation of North Korean defectors and the lack of migration and naturalization policies that makes it quite difficult for non-Chinese to migrate to the country, among other things.

According to the Ministry of Public Security, more than 7,300 foreigners obtained green cards by 2013, but more than 600,000 foreigners live in China. That same year, almost a million Chinese became permanent residents in the US (see more from Foreign Policy: “Why China isn’t hosting Syrian refugees”).

As indicated above, the global flow of people is highly imbalanced. In early June, during his first visit to China, UNHRC chief Filippo Grandi urged China to play a greater role in solving the world’s refugee crisis. He explained:

UNHCR and China have been cooperating for 40 years. During that time China has become a major actor on the international stage…The global refugee issue has also grown bigger and more complicated as factors causing people to flee are increasingly mixed.

He also expressed hope that China’s Belt and Road initiatives, which cover developmental projects in some 60 countries, could include resources for hosting more refugees and displaced people:

The Belt and Road initiative is about peace, prosperity and inclusion…We hope that China can invest some of those resources directly in countries hosting large numbers of refugees and displaced people. In doing so, it can empower refugees and their host communities in a win-win situation for all…Through its many development projects, China can help to stabilize areas in conflict and address the root causes of displacement.

Beijing has yet to officially response to UNHRC’s call. But the country’s “red leftist” and nationalistic netizens have given their answer.

Iran's Revolution In Waiting

Mon, 2017-06-26 18:06

Two boys in Ahwaz, in southwestern Iran. Non-Persian ethnic groups make up 50% of Iran's population. Photo by Ahwaz (via Wikimedia Commons)

A comparison of recent events in the Middle East with popular revolutions that occurred in Eastern Europe in 1989-1990 reveals a variety of illuminating parallels. The fall of oppressive regimes in Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania were all resolved within two years of each country’s respective uprising, and in most cases the primary focus of revolution was to overthrow oppressive ruling systems and replace them with something more unifying. The Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan revolutions had similar aims, and also overthrew their respective regimes within months.

The other side of the coin was Yugoslavia, which—like in Yemen and Syria and Iraq—devolved into war, with large-scale loss of life, the devastation of country infrastructure and a humanitarian crisis that reverberated globally.

At the time, Yugoslavia had the lowest levels of national unity among Eastern European countries, and the uprising sought not only to dismantle the ruling system, but also to eliminate it. Unlike Yemen, Syria and Iraq, however, the former Yugoslavia had a political system which officially recognized multiple national identities and granted them political autonomy in different parts of the country.

Some groups claim there was a western conspiracy to break up Yugoslavia and others blame the mismanagement of political elite. Regardless of the cause of the crisis, Yugoslav leaders had a historic opportunity to use the fact of the country’s stability over 70 years to strengthen unity between the various ethnic groups. Instead, the ruling Serbs sought to intensify Serbian industrial and economic superiority in order to monopolize political and military power. Serbian intellectuals and politicians avidly promoted Serbian superiority, fueling national chauvinism and hatred towards Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, and Croats. Demands from dissenting groups were met with bloody crackdowns. Even the large portion of the Serbian political elite that opposed the ruling Socialist Party stood with the regime at this time. The result was a civil war.

Iran, much like Yugoslavia, is a large country composed of many disparate nations. When the Islamic revolution took place in Iran in February 1979, there was only one minority group in conflict with the Islamic Republic and opposed to the revolution—the Kurdish minority. Today, according to the reformist neo-liberal Iranian academic Sadegh Zibakalam, there are several others, including Turkish Azerbaijanis, Sunni Muslims, Baluchis and Ahwazi Arabs. Zibakalam has advocated for the Islamic Republic to hold firm, as “if this regime is toppled, it is not obvious that a country of Iran as we know it will remain. Wrong methods we adopted led to all of [these people] getting away from us.”

The current situation in Iran strongly resembles non-Serbian ethnic groups’ struggle for representation in Serbian-ruled Yugoslavia. While the Iranian Constitution officially guarantees freedom of cultural expression and linguistic diversity, ethnic diversity is one of the topics the regime has found it most problematic to address, despite the fact that ethnic minorities make up 50% of the Iranian population.

The Persian elite and intelligentsia have also adopted oppressive social practices that seek to undermine the autonomy, representation, and humanity of ethnic minorities, possibly out of fear that acknowledging the rights of ethnic minorities challenges Persian dominance and could possibly lead to the collapse of the regime.

The Iranian myth of a unified Persian identity results directly from over 100 years of ultra-nationalist supremacist ideology that has staunchly resisted any sort of critical analysis. In Iran, Persians are indoctrinated from birth to believe they are racially superior, an idea supported not only by their communities and families, but also all types of media. The majority of Persians are unfamiliar with, and even hostile towards, problems faced by minorities in Iran, and Persian-speaking intellectuals have failed to promote a culture of tolerance and respect. Minorities are unrepresented in important sectors such as media and education, and in the media they are portrayed as less intelligent, more violent, and therefore less worthy of enjoying equal rights to Persians.

It is not uncommon when addressing Ahwazi Arabs, for instance—my own ethnic group—for Persians to express racist sentiments such as “You are not real Arabs! You are Arabized due to proximity with Arab countries, but you are really only Arab speakers.” Or “If you wish to express your Arabism or defend what you dub an ‘Arab identity’, get out of here. Go to Saudi Arabia!” Such sentiments deny the whole existence and history of Ahwazi Arabs in their homeland of Iran. Anti-Arabism ingrained in workplace attitudes, printed in newspapers, promoted on the television, spoken about unabashedly by regime officials, and touted by intellectuals, and a key factor in maintaining the facade of Iran/Persian nationalism. Ahwazi Arabs activists are commonly accused of secession and being threats to national security, a charge that usually carries the death penalty or a very harsh prison sentence.

At present, senior officials in the ruling regime even oppose the idea of ethnic minorities being allowed to receive educational instruction in their mother tongue, the argument being that that teaching classes in a language other than Persian would undermine the unity of the Iranian nation. This in spite of the fact that Article 15 of the 1979 Iranian Constitution allows for education and a variety of media to be offered in languages other than Persian.

Iran’s main opposition has also failed to address the critical issue of ethnic minority rights. In the uprising that took place in Tehran against the regime in 2009, for instance, the ethnic opposition did not participate, as they viewed the movement as a mere derivative of the regime itself.

Iran’s ethnic minorities began openly demanding their national rights when the central government was destabilized in 1979, and have continued to do so over the years. Such events, however, are met with violent crackdowns by Iranian security services and the Revolutionary Guard. This only encourages new radicalism, a rising wave of discontent and opposition that is spreading throughout the country with increasing ferocity. As there is nothing in Iran’s history to support the idea that a unified Iran that includes all its ethnic minority nations is even possible, Iran’s minority groups feel they have no option but to resort to violent resistance in order to preserve their heritage, culture, and survival under the country’s profoundly racist leadership. This will probably be the leading factor to push forward a revolution in the country.

From the time a potential uprising begins in Iran until the establishment of a fairer system, stakeholders invested in the future of Iran can limit potentially disastrous consequences by learning from the history of countries such as Yugoslavia. In 1979, most Iranians came together in agreement that a monarchy was not a system of governance they wished to continue. It is essential, therefore, that the Iranian opposition begin to represent ethnic minorities’ demands and support them in attaining national rights and the right to self-determination, or the country may very well face a militarily advanced situation similar to the one Yugoslavia experienced.

It is now time for the people of Iran to decide what type of non-centralized ruling structure can more effectively replace the current regime in order to meet the needs of all people—not just the Persian majority.

Rahim Ahwaz is an Iranian human rights activist focusing on ethnic minority rights.

Mexico's Drug War Makes Everyone a Target

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:14

Malware infection. Photo by via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

“All is fair in love and war.” This common saying is perhaps the main argument that the Mexican government hides behind to arbitrarily monitor its citizens using surveillance software or “spyware.”

Researchers in Mexico revealed findings last week that since 2011, at least three Mexican state agencies spent nearly 80 million dollars on Pegasus spyware. This software has been used to spy on citizens, including journalists who cover organized crime, human rights attorneys and anti-corruption activists. The US newspaper The New York Times published a report on research conducted by Mexican organizations Artículo 19, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D) and SocialTIC.

El @nytimes publica un reportaje sobre espionaje a periodistas y activistas con el malware Pegasus #GobiernoEspía

— R3D (@r3dmx) 19 de junio de 2017

The @nytimes published a report about surveillance of journalists and activists using Pegasus malware #GobiernoEspía

This particular software is designed to infect mobile devices and collect data from communications, shared images, geolocation tools, and even cameras. It can also steal passwords to access private networks. Most people affected by the software receive it in the form of a benign-seeming email attachment or link, which infects their device after they download or click on it.

Pegasus software infographic developed by Pictoline.

Top: The software called Pegasus is developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. According to NSO, they only sell it to governments for intelligence gathering against organized crime and terrorism. Lower left: How does it work? It tricks the user into clicking a malicious link that installs the software on their device. Lower right: Once it’s installed the government can access: your phone calls, your emails, your contacts, your calendar.

The rise in use of digital surveillance tools has become part and parcel of Mexico's ongoing internal armed conflict. Triggered by the war against drug cartels, declared by the administration of former President Felipe Calderón in late 2006, the conflict has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, including members of armed groups, military and civilians. Many others have gone missing, including 43 students from Ayotzinapa. Several attorneys who have represented disappeared victims have been targeted and surveilled with Pegasus malware.

Opacity and vulnerability

In this context, the allocation of public resources to intelligence and security matters goes unquestioned and it is difficult to scrutinize. The government spends millions of dollars with little accountability to the public, and it employs cyberweapons to wage war against its citizenry.

The use of Pegasus in Mexico, however, is not novel. Since August 2016, the New York Times has reported that Pegasus spyware, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, is used by the government of Mexico. In September 2016, the Mexican news outlet Vanguardia reported on the purchase of this system:

La Procuraduría General de la República en la gestión de Jesús Murillo Karam fue la dependencia que compró el software de espionaje Pegasus, el más sofisticado en el mercado y capaz de escuchar, ver, capturar texto, imagen y contactos de cualquier teléfono inteligente.

The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic under the management of Jesús Murillo Karam purchased Pegasus surveillance software, the most sophisticated of its kind on the market, with capabilities to listen, view and capture text, images and contacts of any smartphone.

Until now, the tools that citizens of Mexico have at their disposal to force government transparency have been ineffective at exposing information about Pegasus and how to defend against its intrusions.

In September 2016, a citizen officially requested that the Attorney General release details about the acquisition and use of Pegasus. The AG responded saying that the information doesn't exist and that it does not have a cyber-surveillance program.

This was later confirmed by Mexico's transparency agency, the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Personal Data Protection (known by the acronym INAI in Spanish). The INAI has undergone major reforms in the current administration, some of which have cast a shadow of suspicion among civil society advocates, who have begun to doubt its accountability.

Confirmation of surveillance

In February 2017, the Mexico City NGO Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D) published a study on surveillance by the Mexican government of two activists and a researcher who supported a tax on sugary beverages.

Conclusions of R3D study on soda tax activists

  • The three victims were subjected to attacks using similar methods that they received on key dates when their work and advocacy for public health, in particular the promotion of the sugar tax.
  • Pegasus surveillance malware is marketed exclusively to governments.
  • There is evidence that at least the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), the Attorney General's Office (PGR) and the National Security and Research Center (CISEN) have acquired licenses to use malware marketed by NSO Group.

In an article on independent media site Animal Politico, activist Vladimir Cortés commented:

Las acciones de intromisión a la privacidad de los activistas por el derecho a la salud, sugieren que su trabajo no es una amenaza al Estado sino a los intereses privados. Demuestra que el gobierno mexicano ejerce total discrecionalidad para intervenir los teléfonos de las personas sin que existan instancias que regulen esta actividad.

The attacks against the privacy of nutrition activists suggest that their work is not a threat to the State but to private interests. It shows that the Mexican government exerts total discretion to intercept people’s communications without there being instances that regulate this activity.

In light of these allegations, it was not surprising that in May 2017 various civil society organizations declared their intention to leave the government on its own, and to end a partnership that had existed as part of the Open Government Alliance (AGA or OGP for its acronym in English), a multinational initiative intended to promote actions that contribute to transparency, accountability and citizen participation, in order to strengthen governance and combat corruption.

The news was circulated by many users on Twitter including Jaime Villasana:

Otra mala noticia para @gobrep de @EPN ONGs se levantan de mesa de Gobierno Abierto. @INAImexico

— Jaime Villasana D. (@jvillasanad) 24 de mayo de 2017

More bad news for EPN's government, NGO's leave the table of Open Government.

It was clarified shortly thereafter that the departure of the organizations happened “as a consequence of serious indications of espionage directed at human rights defenders and the increase of threats to freedom of expression in Mexico.”

The INAI — the agency through which the government participates in the aforementioned Alliance — only stated that it condemns espionage and respects the decision of the organizations.

Violence and surveillance

Threats to freedom of expression have also come in the form of executions of many journalists including Miroslava Breach and Javier Valdéz, who both covered organized crime, and whose spring 2017 executions remain unpunished and without substantial investigative progress even after several weeks.

The threats are compounded by the fact that journalists have been spied on by the government through the use of Pegasus. Those targeted range from journalists working independently, to well-known mainstream journalists such as Carmen Aristegui and Carlos Loret de Mola. Since April 2017, both have openly denounced receiving suspicious texts messages to their mobile phones, which researchers have since confirmed were attempts to infect their devices with malware.

The caricaturist Patricio weighed in on the subject:

El gobierno de @EPN espía a los periodistas exclusivamente cuando están vivos. Una vez que los asesinan, dejan de investigar.

— Patricio (@Patriciomonero) 19 de junio de 2017

EPN's government spies on journalists exclusively while they're alive. Once they are murdered, the investigation stops.

In the face of invasions of privacy in Mexico, whether through malware or spyware sold to the government, activists, communicators and citizens in general have limited ability to defend themselves. The inviolability of private communications becomes nullified in the context of the drug war, despite the fact that the specific motives behind these surveillance practices remain opaque.

The conversation between citizens regarding this topic can be followed on Twitter using hashtag #GobiernoEspía.

An Angolan Governor Loses His Job After Criticizing His Own Political Party in an Interview

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:30

Ex-governor Isaac dos Anjos, dismissed in June. Photo: Screenshot/YouTube

The governor of Benguela province in Angola, Isaac Maria dos Anjos, was dismissed after giving a controversial interview to the US government-funded media outlet Voice of America (VOA), which was broadcast live on Facebook.

Anjos was invited to the program Angola Fala Só (Angola Talks Alone), recorded in Benguela on June 1, in which he responded to the questions of those in the room and those watching the broadcast live via Facebook.

Tudo a postos #AngolaFalaSó #Benguela hoje às 14h com Governador Isaac dos Anjos no Hotel Mombaka
Às 15h há 2º painel com sociedade civil

— VOAPortuguês (@VOAPortugues) 1 juin 2017

Everything in place. Today at 14h with Governor Isaac dos Anjos at Hotel Mombaka. At 15h there is the second panel with civil society

During the interview, dos Anjos criticized his own party, the MPLA (Popular Movement for Angola Liberation), which has ruled Angola since it became independent from Portugal in 1975. He said:

(…) Nós temos ainda no nosso léxico político os partidos da independência. Eles (partidos políticos) são muitos pesados. (…) Nós queremos que no futuro tenhamos pessoas que dirijam o país no respeito pelas normas gerais e o cidadão possa andar a vontade, para ter uma coisa não deve estar conotado com alguma bandeira (partidária)…depois que eu falei aqui com esses micros todos, nem sei se o meu emprego não está em risco.

[…] We still have the parties from independence on our political scene. They are very influential. […] In the future we want to have people who run the country respecting general norms and for the citizen to be able to walk freely, to have something should not be linked to some [political party] banner… after having spoken here with all those microphones, I don’t even know if my job isn’t at risk.

The video of the interview with the above excerpt was shared on YouTube:

On June 8, a government decree dismissed dos Anjos and nominated in his place Rui Falcão Pinto de Andrade, who was governor of the province of Namibe, naming for that position someone else within the party.

The MPLA justified the decision to dismiss dos Anjos as part of the party’s reorganization ahead of the next general election, to be held in August this year. This will be the first election since 1979 without President José Eduardo dos Santos in command of the MPLA.

But internet users pointed to the fact that Dos Anjos was already strongly disliked by MPLA leadership for his positions critical of the party, making the VOA interview just another drop in the ocean.

In May, for example, Angolan media revealed “misunderstandings” between the governor of Benguela and some sections of the MPLA, with, at the time, sources in the ruling party having revealed the creation of a management commission to replace Isaac dos Anjos.

In April, Isaac dos Anjos gave another interview to DW África Portuguese, part of Germany's international public broadcaster, in which he criticized his own party:

(…) Não vale a pena escamotear mais e nos guerreamos com os argumentos do passado. Sofremos uma grande pressão internacional e nacional para mudarmos. Foi uma guerra longa e essa guerra também foi uma guerra civil. E, por ter sido civil, fica difícil [dizer] quem participou no bem, quem participou no mal. Levámos muito tempo a negociar a paz. Foram anos sucessivos, mas conseguimos agora ter 15 anos de paz.

Temos que prestar contas ao povo. Não podemos chegar aqui e só falar das vitórias. Temos que falar também dos nossos fracassos – não pode ser a nossa oposição a ter o começo. Eu próprio tenho que dar a cara. Mas não vou fazê-lo sozinho, os directores que estiveram a ganhar salários comigo têm que vir.

[…] It is no longer worth playing games and fighting ourselves with the arguments of the past. We are under a great international and national pressure to change. It was a long war and this war was also a civil war. And, having been civil, it remains difficult [to say] who participated for good, who participated for bad. We took a long time to negotiate peace. It lasted for years, but we have now managed to have 15 years of peace.

We have to be accountable to the people. We cannot come here and only talk of the victories. We have to talk also of our failures – it cannot be our opposition which has to begin that. I myself have to take responsibility. But I will not do it alone, the leaders which were earning wages with me have to join in.

On social media, this topic caused a lot of debate. Clitorclilson Bombestergue Pacoy Cosme, a university student in Luanda, explained that the dissenting viewpoints of the dismissed politician are not new:

 Em 2015 Isaac Maria Dos Anjos chamou a governação do MPLA de um governo incompetente por importar até paliteiros dos dentes. Em Maio de 2016 numa palestra da OMUNGA Isaac Dos Anjos alertou a Juventude a não apostarem mais no MPLA, aconselhou indirectamente os jovens a aderirem a CASA-CE.

In 2015 Isaac Maria Dos Anjos called the government of the MPLA incompetent for importing even toothpick holders. In May 2016 in a speech for OMUNGA [national NGO that defends children's rights] Isaac Dos Anjos warned the youth to no longer put their faith in the MPLA, indirectly advising the youth to support the CASA-CE [coalition of opposition parties].

Kikas Pedro Moises is Angolan and lives in the same province where the governor was dismissed:

O povo Benguelense estão triste com a má atitude do presedente da República de Angola pela exoneração do Governador de Benguela Isáac Maria dos Anjos, por ele foi o melhor governador de todos os tempos porq sabe separar as coisas de trabalho e a política!

The Benguele people are saddened by the attitude of the president of the Republic of Angola towards the dismissal of the Governor of Benguela Isáac Maria dos Anjos, as he was the best governor ever because he knows how to separate matters of work and politics!

António Pinto Uassamba questioned the real intentions behind dismissing a governor with upcoming elections:

A pergunta que não quer se calar é: O que esteve na base da exoneração de Isaac dos Anjos, uma vez que em termos de timing, o acto pode ser perigoso para o partido da situação que vai às eleições em Agosto próximo?

The question that should not be ignored is: What was the basis of the dismissal of Isaac dos Anjos, given that, in terms of timing, this move could be dangerous for the party in power which is going into the elections this August?

Is the End Near for Telegram in Russia?

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:22

Image by Kevin Rothrock.

On June 26, Russia's Federal Security Service announced that the April 3 terrorist attack on the St. Petersburg metro, which left 16 people dead, was coordinated using the messaging app Telegram.

In a press release, the Security Service (FSB) said it had “reliable information about the use of Telegram by the suicide terrorist, his accomplices, and his foreign handler to conceal their criminal intentions at all stages of organizing and preparing the terrorist attack.” The statement echoed similar sentiments from the US and European governments who have pushed for greater control over social media and messaging apps, arguing that they enable perpetrators to communicate and coordinate attacks.

The announcement comes amid a broader effort by the Russian government to force the messaging app company to store users’ chat histories and private encryption keys on Russian soil.

Recent statements from Aleksandr Zharov, the head of Roskomnadzor, the Russian state censor, have signaled that Telegram's days in Russia may be numbered. On June 23, Zharov accused Russian-born Telegram founder Pavel Durov, who is also the founder of VKontakte, Russia's most popular social network, of being “neutral with respect to terrorism and crime.”

In the same statement, Zharov said that Telegram had not responded to Roskomnadzor's request for information necessary to include the app on Russia's “Registry of Information Disseminators.” The registry was introduced as part of a federal law that requires websites to locally store all Russian users’ metadata (data about the time, place and people involved in communication, but not the content of their messages) and make it accessible to the Russian authorities. Social networks VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, the email client, and dozens more services are on the list.

Last month, the lower house of parliament introduced a bill that would ban anonymity on online messengers and force apps like Telegram to register with the Registry of Information Disseminators, though it has not yet entered into law.

Image of someone trying to extract passwords with a Telegram logo.

Telegram has become increasingly popular in Russia and elsewhere, due in part to its safety features, though it cannot guarantee absolute privacy. The American- and British-registered company operates in Berlin and asserts that it has “disclosed 0 bytes of user data to third parties, including governments.” They say that their unique legal and technical structure makes it uniquely difficult for governments to successfully obtain user data:

…we can ensure that no single government or block of like-minded countries can intrude on people's privacy and freedom of expression. Telegram can be forced to give up data only if an issue is grave and universal enough to pass the scrutiny of several different legal systems around the world.

On June 25, Zharov again put Telegram on notice: “I can’t say that we’re ready and will block Telegram tomorrow, but I’ll repeat that time is limited—it’s being counted in days.”

Telegram founder Pavel Durov responded on VKontakte early this morning, arguing that not only does Roskomnadzor's demand violate the Russian constitution, but that the decentralized nature of their technical infrastructure makes it impossible for Telegram to hand over its “decryption keys,” which authorities would need in order to access the content of messages sent over the network.

Глава Роскомнадзора заявил, что Telegram должен выдать спецслужбам “ключи для дешифрации”, чтобы те могли читать переписку пользователей и ловить террористов. Это требование не только противоречит 23-й статье Конституции РФ о праве на тайну переписки, но и демонстрирует незнание того, как шифруется коммуникация в 2017 году.

В 2017 году обмен секретной информацией построен на оконечном шифровании, к которому у владельцев мессенджеров нет и не может быть “ключей для дешифрации”. Эти ключи хранятся только на устройствах самих пользователей. Хотя Telegram был пионером этой технологии, сегодня оконечное шифрование используют все популярные мессенджеры, включая WhatsApp, Viber, iMessage и даже Facebook Messenger.

Потенциальная блокировка Telegram никак не усложнит задачи террористов и наркодилеров – в их распоряжении останутся десятки других мессенджеров, построенных на оконечном шифровании (+VPN). Ни в одной стране мира не заблокированы все подобные мессенджеры или все сервисы VPN. Чтобы победить терроризм через блокировки, придется заблокировать интернет.

The head of Roskomnadzor announced that Telegram should hand over “keys for decryption” to the special services so that they can read correspondence between users and catch terrorists. This demand not only violates Article 23 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which outlines the right to private correspondence, but it demonstrates an ignorance of how communication is encrypted in 2017.

In 2017, the exchange of secret information is built on end-to-end encryption, to which the owners of the service do not have and cannot have the “keys for decryption.” These keys are stored only on the devices of the users themselves. Although Telegram was a pioneer of this technology, today all popular messaging services use end-to-end encryption, including WhatsApp, Viber, iMessage, and even Facebook Messenger.

A potential block of Telegram will not complicate the work of terrorists and drug dealers – dozens of other end-to-end encrypted messengers remain at their disposal (in addition to VPNs). There isn’t a single country in the world that blocks all available messengers or VPN services. In order to defeat terrorism through blocks, you’d have to block the internet.

According to IT analyst, Mikhail Klimarev, people use Telegram because they don't want to be spied on, and surrendering user data to the Russian government would undermine user trust: “It's very unlikely that Durov will agree to fulfill Zharov's ultimatum.”

Blocking Telegram in Russia would surely decrease its popularity, particularly among new users and people with less technical savvy. But Russian IT experts are confident that determined users would be able to bypass any block.

Vladislav Zdolnikov, a technical consultant for opposition leader Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, told Novaya Gazeta that “blocking Telegram such that the block cannot be bypassed is impossible.”

Telegram использует большое количество серверов для подключения. И, принимая во внимание уровень технической грамотности сотрудников Роскомнадзора, полностью заблокировать мессенджер у них не получится. Но если такое произойдет, я уверен, что в течение ближайшего времени появятся волонтерские прокси-серверы, которые можно будет ввести в Telegram-клиент и, он без проблем будет работать в обход блокировок. Также Telegram будет работать через любой VPN-сервис»

Telegram uses a large number of servers to connect. And, taking into account the level of technical literacy of Roskomnadzor employees, a complete block of telegram isn't going to happen. But if it does, I'm sure that in the near future volunteers will set up proxy servers that allow Telegram users to bypass the block. And Telegram will work through any VPN service.

And all else being equal, there is no guarantee that blocking the service will help to stifle communication among violent extremist and organized crime groups.

The Rise of the Hirak Protest Movement in Morocco

Mon, 2017-06-26 06:00

Local youth showing the Berber hand sign and doing a sit-in in Imzouren, 14km from the city of Al-Hoceima in the Rif region. Photo by AlhoceimasOfficiel. Used with permission.

Morocco has been facing waves of protests for several months.

In late October 2016, Mohcine Fikri, a fisherman in the northern Moroccan city of Al Hoceima saw his 500kg catch of swordfish seized by the police.

As his merchandise was being crushed in a truck, he tried to save his only means of living and was crushed himself. Witnesses have said that the police did nothing when they saw Mohcine Fikri throwing himself in the truck which led to his death.

Even worse, and that was the starting point of the protests, the police allegedly told the truck driver in charge to “crush the hell out of him”.

An open conflict between civil society and the local authorities and police forces over the sequence of the events soon started and protests have been raging in the northern Rif region in Morocco since then.

Even though Fikri's death caused national uproar and nationwide protests, the weekly protests initially took place only in Rif before spreading out to the rest of Morocco in the past few weeks.

They are finding echo in the general discontent in the population regarding the lack of economic opportunities, failing or non-existent infrastructures and creeping corruption that were highlighted through the government's treatment of this issue.

Indeed, after national elections took place on November 2016, and new political parties came on the political scene, Morocco witnessed one of its first political deadlocks, lasting for months.

This came at a crucial moment as authorities were already facing popular wrath.

After five months of failure to form a coherent coalition, King Mohamed VI intervened by appointing former Foreign Affairs Minister Saad Eddine Al Otman to head the government.

But it's the lack of any governmental reaction, perceived as representing the general apathy of authorities, which made the situation worse.

Authorities denied protesters’ demands and smeared them as foreign agents hired to destabilize Morocco instead.

Long Tradition of Protests

The Rif region, mainly inhabited by the indigenous Berber minority, has long been seen as a region historically hostile to the central power, also known as Makhzen.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the Rif tribes were unified under the leadership of the Riffian political and military leader Abd el-Krim and fought both French and Spanish colonization of Morocco.

They ended up declaring the independence of the Rif Republic (1921-1926) following the Moroccan Sultan Yusef's decision to surrender and sign a treaty with France which officially turned Morocco into a French protectorate.

This move is still largely not taught in Moroccan curriculum and largely misunderstood.

Because of that, people skeptical about the protests, or the “Hirak” as the movement is called, were quick to question the presence of several Rif Republic flags and in parallel, the lack of Moroccan flags. They thus labeled the Hirak an ‘unpatriotic movement’ on social media despite the Hirak movement denying any separatist intentions and arguing for its economic and social grievances instead.

For example, one of the main demands of the Hirak is to have a hospital specialized in cancer treatments as cancer rates in the Rif are the highest in the country, dating back to Spain's use of mustard gas in the region.

Although the new king took a different stance than his father by liberating political opponents, putting in place new institutions to promote national reconciliation, and regularly visiting the Rif region, these were not enough to make the locals forget the violence and repression their people endured in the past century.

Six years after Morocco's Arab spring, also known as the “20th of February” movement, authorities are struggling to cope with new popular grievances.

Back then, authorities implemented some reforms to ‘calm’ protestors. The constitution was amended, new institutions were put in place and many promises were made to the civil society in terms of economic and social development.

But now, this strategy is running out of steam after several years of stagnation, and political parties are failing to come up with new strategies to address popular anger.

And because of the lack of any long-term or even short-term vision from the ruling political class, the protests kept going strong, and one figure in particular managed to stand out from the crowd: the self-proclaimed leader of the Hirak movement, Nasser Zefzafi.

The 39 year-old Al Hoceima-born and raised Riffian has earned the reputation of being a very staunch and vehement activist, gathering sometimes thousands of people coming to listen to his speeches, all of which would be live-streamed on social media.

He gathered a core group of protestors around him and kept the movement alive and lively, all the while calling for all protests to remain peaceful.

Both the authorities and the protestors have been really cautious and called each of their sides to self-restraint: the authorities did not want to be compared to neighboring regimes which adopted repression and violence as a main policy in order not to fuel Moroccans’ wrath, and protestors did not want to be compared to violent groups seeking to jeopardize national security and stability.

However this all changed when on May 26, 2017, Nasser Zefzafi interrupted the last Friday sermon before Ramadan at a local mosque.

The imam was preaching against “fitna”, a religious label used to designate any move whose goal is general disunion and the promotion of enmity between different people among a united group, without a doubt a reference to Zefzafi and the Hirak movement.

Under the laws aimed at protecting all religions, any act that disrupts or infringes on the regular and normal practice of any religion in Morocco is a crime, and the police forces started a manhunt to arrest Zefzafi.

Zafzafi was hidden by locals for a few days before finally surrendering to the police against popular wishes.

Following this event, police forces and authorities unleashed a massive campaign of arrest and have put in custody more than 130 activists to this day. More than a dozen activists, including Zefzafi, will ‘face justice’ for what local activists and human rights defenders have called outrageous charges, almost all related to threatening national security.

Following this complete reversal of strategy and the new repressive approach by the authorities, massive demonstrations have taken place throughout the kingdom, most notably in the capital of Rabat on June 11, 2017, where around 52,000 people took to the streets to protest in support of the Hirak and against the massive arrest of activists.

Authorities claimed it was only around 15,000 people whereas the Hirak claimed more than 100 000 joined the protest, which would make it the biggest protest in Morocco since the 20th February movement during the Arab spring.

Many fear that the absence of the Hirak's leaders, all arrested, might make things worse as they were the ones who contained it for months.

On June 22, Zefzafi was ‘severely beaten‘ along with two other activists during their arrest, so it does not look like this story will end anytime soon.

False Rumors of a Collapsed Tunnel in Madagascar Raise Questions about Cybercrime and Punishment

Sun, 2017-06-25 09:33

View of Tunnel d'Ambanidia in Antananarivo shared on Facebook by captured by Caleb Landry. Used with his permission.

Police in Madagascar's capital has arrested a man suspected of sharing “fake news” about a collapsed tunnel through Facebook.

One afternoon in May, alarm spread through Antananarivo in response to a social media post reporting casualties in the collapse of the Tunnel d’Ambanidia. The false report went viral on social media and through word of mouth as people phoned family and radio stations in a panic.

Emergency vehicles, journalists, and city residents rushed to the scene, only to find the tunnel still standing. Facebook user Rovaniaina Hasivelo Randrianarijaona posted a live video as he walked through the tunnel and showed traffic continuing to pass with no trouble. “Tiako be ilay intox (I really enjoyed the hoax),” he wrote.

Jeannot Ramambazafy, journalist and editor-in-chief of, was not amused and expressed concerns about how the government will handle the investigation:

Une question mérite, à présent, d’avoir une réponse rapide et sérieuse: QUI sont le ou les auteurs de cette désinformation? Car cela fait partie de la cybercriminalité … Son point de départ a été facebook. Est-ce que le service de la police malgache dans ce domaine, est capable se retrouver l’origine ou bien faudra-t-il encore l’expertise de “vazaha”?

One question now deserves to be answered quickly and seriously: WHO are the perpetrators of this misinformation? This is cybercrime … Its starting point was Facebook. Is the [cybercrime] service of the Malagasy police capable of finding [the rumor’s] source or will it still need foreign expertise?

Police traced the “fake news” post to an IP address and made an arrest within two days. The suspect’s punishment, if any, is yet to be determined.

Ramambazafy also recalled the case of Hiary Rapanoelina, a Facebook user in Antananarivo who in February was sentenced to one year in prison for his association with a Facebook group dedicated to gossip about public figures. At the height of its popularity, the now defunct group had more than 70,000 members.

Authorities had received complaints from artists and an elected official about content shared in the group and quickly identified Rapanoelina as the group creator and one of the administrators. They arrested him the next day. Rapanoelina was convicted on counts of defamation and in violation of the controversial Article 20 of Law No. 2014-006 to fight cybercrimes, which criminalizes any “insult or defamation” against public officials through electronic media.

It remains unclear whether and how the suspect in the Tunnel d’Ambanidia case will be charged. Harinjaka Ratozamana, a key influencer in Madagascar’s Internet and startup scenes, said in an interview with RFI that this was the first time a rumor has spread to such an extent.

Koolsaina, a Malagasy current events blog, summarized the lessons learned from the incident:

D’un, nul n'est anonyme derrière son écran! Et de deux, ne prenez pas pour argent comptant tout ce qui se dit sur internet!

For one, no one is anonymous behind their screen! And two, don’t take everything that is said on the internet at face value!

Koolsaina reader Lydia Ravonihanitra commented on the article:

Mila faizina kely izy mba ho anatra ho an'ny [rehetra] fa tsy fanagadrana kosa angamba ny saziny, fa lamandy ohatra dia mba ampy. Tsy namono olona izy…fa ny dondrona kelin'ny Facebook mora [adalaina].

They need to be punished a bit as an example to [everyone], but maybe the punishment shouldn’t be jail time; a fine for example would be enough. They didn’t kill anyone…it’s stupid Facebook being easily fooled.

Elsewhere online, reactions weren't concerned with the possibility or severity of punishment, but with the fact that an arrest was made in the first place.

Zo Andriamifidisoa (Global Voices Malagasy Lingua editor) wrote on Facebook:

Manahy mafy aho fa kinendry hamerana ny media sosialy iny tsaho iny!

I am very worried that the rumor was a targeted way to restrict social media

Suspicions about potential censorship underscore the distrust and frustration that some Malagasy feel towards the government. It also echoes broader anxiety about free speech online in the context of a “fake news” crisis that has gone global—from Madagascar and India, to Bahrain and the United States.

Misinformation can have real-life consequences, especially when it is shared widely online. But not all misinformation is equal—the intentions of the speaker, the context in which the post was shared, and the actual consequences that false information carries must be considered carefully.

Experts consulted by Pew Research Center about the future of online interactions warn that moderation comes at a cost, highlighting the delicate balance between countering online violence, hate speech, and “fake news” and safeguarding free expression and access to information.

This Ambanidia incident happens amid a growing trend of governments censoring social media or switching off the Internet, in what they often justify as an effort to minimize misinformation. In Africa in particular, censorship and shutdowns are becoming increasingly common around election seasons, with Gabon and Gambia being recent examples. While these shutdowns may help curb false news, they also prevent citizens from communicating with one another, to say nothing of obtaining news and information about candidates. Shutdowns have also been known to stymie opposition candidate efforts to rally support in the final days or hours before a vote.

This trend is on the minds of Malagasy citizens, with presidential and parliamentary elections coming up in 2018. As the process unfolds, human rights defenders will keep a close watch on how the sitting government navigates challenges around misinformation, freedom of speech, and online privacy. Will the government take additional steps to prevent or punish viral “fake news”? Time will tell if Madagascar joins the trend of using Internet shutdowns to control access to information during elections.

Romania Seeks to Draw Lines Around Notions of Family

Sun, 2017-06-25 07:07

A Romanian Family in Traditional Costume. Photo by Adina Voicu (Public Domain via Good Free Photos)

By Ana-Maria Dima

A few weeks ago I spoke to a school principal from one of the poorest counties in southern Romania, about the situation of the children enrolled in her school and the other schools in the area. My intention was to gather information about the children’s overall level of well-being, an important question in a country where 46.8% of children are believed to be at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

In fact, the question was aimed at something more nuanced. I wanted to get a sense of the extent to which school staff are aware of what’s happening to children in their homes and the situation in which families whose children went to school find themselves in. As this was a rural school, it came as no surprise to hear about households affected by poverty, and sometimes alcoholism and domestic violence. But a more recent addition to the list is that of children left in the care of others members due to parents working abroad—children who end up suffering from both material and emotional deprivation as they learn to cope with the long-distance, disembodied affection from one, or in some cases both, parents.

The school principal started crying towards the end of our conversation. She was concerned that children in her school and others in the district were bearing emotional loads much too heavy for children their age, and that they were not being listened to and offered proper emotional support. School psychologists in Romania do not have the capacity to provide one-on-one counselling. They offer group support when it’s needed, and there is only one school counsellor for every 1000 pupils regardless of school level. Perhaps the principal’s own background as a counsellor got the better of her.

Since 2008, Romania’s National Authority for Child Rights Protection and Adoption has been monitoring the situation of children whose parents have left to work abroad. According to the figures released every six months, nearly 100,000 children nationwide have parents working abroad, though the numbers are thought to be largely underreported. Parents are supposed to inform local authorities when they leave the country so that local authorities can monitor the wellbeing of their children in whichever care situation they end up, whether this is with other family members, foster families, or institutions. But the practice is still not widely implemented nationally, and becomes even more complicated in the case of groups such as the Roma, either because parents may themselves not have adequate documentation, have limited literacy or are unaware of or unwilling to fulfil their legal obligations. There are also cases where parents do not report leaving the country so as not to risk losing state aid.

Romania is second only to Syria in terms of the growth of its diaspora between 2000 and 2015. This scale of population shift is unparalleled in the country’s history, and the exodus of Romanians has been a topic of great alarm and concern for both our society and state authorities these last several years. In addition to the children left behind by parents working abroad, often in situations of poverty and material deprivation the state finds it difficult to make up for, another area of concern has been the flight of qualified medical personnel. A country that is being depopulated at such a rapid pace requires an emotional rewiring of sorts, an experiment where new notions of transnational family life take shape as the familiar social fabric becomes thinner and more fragile.

As Ulrich Beck has noted, however, in the classic Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, “the family is only the setting, not the cause of the events.” The emotional landscape that many Romanian families are now navigating is difficult, to say the least. Parents may encourage their newly graduated children to seek better-paid jobs and lives in the western Europe while quietly deploring the state of affairs pushing them towards emigration. Then there are those who emigrate because they have few other choices for making ends meet, particularly if they live in remote rural areas. These are the places where families are struggling the most, not only to address material challenges, but also to maintain some sort of connection with family members beyond long distance calls, Facebook postings, WhatsApp messages and emails.

There are of course entrenched cultural beliefs around how families should function, and one of them is that families should remain physically together. This is a remnant, perhaps, of older days under Communism when Romanian migrant labourers working abroad would more often than not be denied the possibility of having their families join them abroad, as the state feared high levels of emigration. But the change is now is of a different magnitude. There are entire villages now populated only by elderly people, and which appear deserted, a demographic shift that feels justifiably threatening, given the unprecedented scale of transformation. The question “What is happening to us?” cannot too easily be dismissed.

And there are other tensions lurking beneath the surface. While the country is showing signs of progress, with many pointing to Romania’s economic growth in recent times, there is also the underlying sense that the country’s social and cultural fabric is being dismantled in ways that cannot be easily measured or discerned. This shift could also be one of the impulses behind the upcoming Family Referendum. The date has yet to be finalized, but it seeks to define marriage between a man and a woman as the basis for constituting a family. As economic pressures drive Romanians to emigrate, however, the struggle to redraw the treasured—albeit at times idealized—emotional space occupied by notions of family is likely to continue for quite some time.

Ana Maria Dima is a Romanian working in the field of international development. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaMariaDima.

Kazakhs Ridicule ‘Self-Made Man’ Puff Portrait of Presidential Grandson

Sun, 2017-06-25 05:41

Screenshot of article ‘Nurali Aliyev – Transforming Kazakhstan’s Economy, One Venture at a Time’ on

Facebook users in Kazakhstan are mocking an apparent PR piece that first appeared on the website piece focusses on the achievements of “self-made man” Nurali Aliyev, the 32-year-old grandson of long-reigning Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The article, authored by a poster “John Wilson”, is so embarrassingly misleading that it almost reads like a parody of political puff. At no point during the piece is Aliyev's status as a blood relative of the endemically corrupt, oil-rich Central Asian country's 76-year-old leader even mentioned.

The article introduces Aliyev as “one of the most celebrated names in the Kazakhstan when it comes to the field of economic transition.”

Absurdly, the author of the article then makes a point of highlighting in bold the expression ‘self-made men’, despite the fact that anyone who knows anything about Aliyev knows that he is anything but self-made.

Nurali Aliyev is one of the most celebrated names in the Kazakhstan when it comes to the field of economic transition and entrepreneurial grit. A Kazakh by birth, Aliyev has been instrumental in the success stories of several Kazakh IT startups and has amply contributed to the economy by spearheading several institutions and organizations in the country.

But, this man’s story has had humble beginnings. As with most self made men, Nurali Aliyev started his education in professedly ordinary universities and schools. Pursuing an education in Finance and Marketing, Aliyev quickly realized his career path and started working towards his goal of gaining enough knowledge and experience to help his own country’s dwindling economy.

Several quotes attributed to Aliyev are included in the piece, although it is not clear whether or not they are the result of an interview he gave to the author. At one moment in the article, the author refers to Aliyev as “the quintessential scholar”.

After providing a glowing assessment of his achievements as a magnate in the Kazakh sugar industry and as deputy mayor of the Kazakh capital Astana, the author signs off with a final foray into facepalm territory:

The economic policies of Nurali Aliyev have brought international recognition and while the man toils towards the welfare of Kazakhstan, his policies are something that every prominent person can emulate.

To eliminate any doubt, Aliyev's “beginnings” were anything but humble. Even at the time he was born Nazarbayev was one of the most important politicians in the then-Soviet republic. By independence in 1991 he was the country's undisputed leader, a status he has maintained up until the present day, against the background of an ever-expanding personality cult.

If Aliyev has any international recognition, it is most likely as a character figuring in the ‘Panama Papers’ leak, a giant data dump consisting of records belonging to the Mossack Fonseca offshore companies’ registrar.

According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project that covered the leak extensively:

The documents show that Nurali Aliyev, the president’s grandson and [presidential daughter] Dariga Nazarbayeva’s son, had no second thoughts or conscience when deciding where to keep his money or register his luxury possessions.

Aliyev owned two companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, one of the world’s least transparent offshore destinations, and used the offshores for operating a bank account and a luxury yacht.

“Whatever he deserves, he has already taken”

A search of other articles penned by ‘John Wilson’ for throws up similarly puffy efforts, including one titled ‘Anar Mammadov, Golf and Grand Prix – How Azerbaijan is Molding its Economic Landscape through Sports’.

Oil-rich regimes seeking self-promotion through paid-for-content in Western outlets (although there is nothing in the article that specifically indicates it was paid-for-content) is nothing new. Websites like Patch and Huffington Post, where editorial oversight is limited and where regular authors are effectively self-publishing, represent soft targets for such efforts.

The piece might not have triggered a public reaction at all had it not been so effusive in its praise for Aliyev, and so thoroughly ironic.

The article was subsequently translated into Russian by a local Kazakh website, without any additional commentary.

“It seems like this article was written by a freelancer from North Korea,” joked Facebook user Gleb Ponomarev in a comment underneath a public thread linking to the translated article, posted by journalist Gulnara Bazhkenova.

“We should give him what he deserves and name Almaty airport in his honour!” chimed Nazgul Zhumabayeva, indirectly referencing a recent decision to rename the airport in the capital in honour of Aliyev's grandfather, Nazarbayev.

“Whatever he deserves, he has already taken,” retorted Kairat Mukhtarov.

Several users posted puking memes under the same thread in response to the article's overboard praise of Aliyev.

Facebook remains a key medium through which local opposition to the authoritarian Nazarbayev regime can be expressed, albeit mostly only in humorous terms.

Media in the country remains tightly controlled, with anti-defamation legislation, official censorship and pervasive self-censorship combining to effectively prevent local journalists from investigating the ruling family and its business interests.

Tanzanian Media Misrepresent the Dispute Between the Government and the World's Third Largest Gold Mining Company

Sat, 2017-06-24 12:12

Did patriotism get in the way of objective reporting?

President John Magufuli, second left, with Barrick Gold executives at State House on June 14. Photo by State House.

A version of this post appeared on, Ben Taylor's personal blog. The piece is republished here with permission.

On June 14, John Magufuli, the president of Tanzania, met with John Thornton, the chairman of Barrick Gold—the world’s largest gold mining company—who had flown in from North America for the purpose. Reports of the meeting dominated the headlines in Tanzania for the next several days.

The subject of the meeting was the “mineral concentrates” produced by Barrick subsidiary Acacia Mining plc at its three gold mines in Tanzania. On March 5, 2017, a large number of containers containing concentrates were seized for investigation, and exports suspended. The committees appointed by the president to carry out these investigations accused Acacia Mining of massively understating the amount of gold and other minerals present in the exported concentrates, thus depriving Tanzania of a huge amount of revenue—to the tune of three years’ worth of the national budget.

Acacia and Barrick were alarmed, and disputed the committees’ findings, insisting their exports have always been audited and declared accurately, and that all payments of tax and royalties, etc. to the Tanzanian government had been made. For a few weeks, Acacia had been calling for dialogue with the Tanzanian government so the issue could be resolved. (This post on Bloomberg offers a comprehensive account of the matter).

After the Magufuli-Thornton meeting, the president’s office released a video, shot on the steps of State House, in which the two men give their versions of what transpired during the meeting. To spare you the trouble of watching, here’s a summary: the president thanks Thornton for coming, and for agreeing to pay what is due. Thornton says his company was pleased to be able to enter into a dialogue to resolve the ongoing dispute, and would be happy to pay the rightful amount that was due.

An accompanying statement by State House made similar claims, saying that Barrick had agreed to pay what the government has said its owed to them.

Mhe. Rais Magufuli amesema pamoja na kukubali kulipa fedha zinazodaiwa Prof. John L. Thornton amekubali kushirikiana na Tanzania kujenga mtambo wa kuchenjulia dhahabu (smelter) hapa nchini.

The president said, on top of agreeing to pay what they owe us, Prof. John L. Thornton has agreed to work with Tanzania to build a smelter in the country.

Based on Barrick's comments, the meeting seems to have concluded with an agreement to have further discussions, nothing more, nothing less. There was no consensus reached on the amount of money—if any—owed by Acacia/Barrick to the government of Tanzania, nor any admission of liability on the company's part. The government's own official press release on the meeting supports this conclusion, as do Thornton's comments after the meeting and the latest press release on the Acacia website and the market update call they held on the morning of June 15.

The next day following the meeting, however, six Swahili papers portrayed the meeting as a big win for the president and for Tanzania, going well beyond even what the president himself said about the meeting. Some stated that Acacia/Barrick agreed to pay what is being demanded of them, or that they have admitted responsibility for wrongdoing, neither of which is reflected in the actual agreement reached.

From top left: Habari Leo, “Barrick agrees to end the matter”. Imani, “Listen young man, there is no weakness here”. Majira, “Acacia bows down to the government”. Uhuru, “Acacia heeds the order”. Nipashe, “Acacia to pay”. Mwananchi, “JPM: They repented”.

Two other Swahili papers took a different line, focusing instead on an issue mentioned in the second part of President Magufuli’s post-meeting remarks, in which he condemned the media's attacks on former Presidents Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete accusing them of alleged lax oversight of the mining sector.

“Nimesoma ripoti zote mbili hakuna mahali ambapo Mzee Mkapa na Mzee Kikwete wametajwa, vyombo vya habari viache kuwachafua hawa wazee, wamefanya kazi kubwa ya kulitumikia Taifa letu, viwaache wapumzike,” amesema Mhe. Rais Magufuli.

“I have read both reports and there nowhere is it mentioned that Mr. Mkapa and Mr. Kikwete are implicated. Media outlets should stop tarnishing the names of these men, who did a great job of serving their country, they should be allowed to rest in their retirement,” President Magufuli said.

From Left: Mawio, “Invalid”. Tanzania Daima, “Not Allowed to touch Mkapa, Kikwete”.

The weekly tabloid Mawio, which did not heed Magufuli's call, was subsequently suspended for two years by the government for linking the two former presidents to the scandal.

Three English-language papers took a more measured tone, but it's still hard to agree with the sentiment expressed in The Guardian and Daily News headlines. Was the “Battle won”? Were Acacia “hiding”? The Citizen’s headline came closest to expressing the reality of what happened, as did their coverage in general, notably a balanced and sensible editorial, which stated that:

Now that the ground has been set for negotiations, our prayer is that both the parties will engage in earnest talks based on good intentions for mutual benefit. […]

[I]t is in the interest of both parties to find a middle ground and secure a win-win situation, for we wouldn’t like to see this standoff degenerate into a fully-blown crisis with devastating consequences.

The situation was also misread by several cartoonists. Nipashe and Mtanzania were off the mark, Mwananchi managed to sidestep the main point, and Daily News used aggressive imagery. The Citizen’s cartoonist did better, but Gado, who did not publish his cartoon in any of the papers, went in a completely different direction from everyone else.

Nipashe, 15/6/17: “Let’s end this”.

Mwananchi, 15/6/17: “You can use it as a trench in wartime”.

Mtanzania, 15/6/17: “He has agreed to pay”.

Gado, 15/6/17: “You want to run and you have no brake – what do you expect to happen?”.

Daily News 15/6/17.

The Citizen, 15/6/17: “We want our money back”.

The varying interpretations of the outcome of the meeting between Magufuli and Thornton by the Tanzanian media raises the question of whether these journalists and editors are aware they were potentially misleading the public; and if they did know, why were they doing so? Could it have anything to do with the law that allows the government to suspend Mawio so easily? Could they be worried that what happened to Mawio could happen to others as well?

Transgender Woman Speaks on Chechnya's Persecutions and Life Pre-Kadyrov

Sat, 2017-06-24 08:18

Map of Chechnya, surrounding federations and countries. Author: Peter Fitzgerald. Creative commons.

The following is a version of a partner post written by Aida Mirmaksumova that first appeared on the website OC Media.

Queer people in the Caucasus face a number of challenges; discrimination, physical and sexual abuse, and blackmail. In recent times, activists have observed in horror evidence of the persecution of gay men in Chechnya. But the threat to the LGBTQ community in the country did not emerge overnight. OC Media spoke to a transgender woman from Grozny, who shared some of her experiences and talked with us about what is happening in the republic.

Queer rights in Chechnya were thrust into the global spotlight several months ago, after reports emerged of the abduction, torture, and murder of queer men in the republic. The story was broken by Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina, who revealed how the Chechen authorities were rounding up suspected queer men, and sending them to the secret prisons of Argun.

‘You gave birth to a freak’

Sabrina (not her real name) a transgender woman, was born and raised in Grozny. She has felt that she was a woman since childhood. Once she reached adulthood, she realised that it wasn’t safe for her in Chechnya and moved to Moscow. After a group of Chechens learned of their compatriot's sex change, a hunt began for Sabrina. In the end, in fear for her life, Sabrina moved to the US.

Sabrina: I worked as a volunteer at a human rights organisation. Once I was told that that someone needed my help. It was an acquaintance from Daghestan, a transgender woman. She had problems; she was in danger. I immediately took her in, because she didn’t have any money. While I was trying to help her, someone I considered a friend made copies of my documents and posted them all over the internet along with my phone number and photo, sending them to his Chechen affiliates with a following note: ‘So there are no men left in Chechnya that can remove this shame?’ After that, photos of my documents were widely spread across WhatsApp.

On October 10, 2015 I was attacked. I was taking shopping bags from the backseat of my car. I heard a man’s voice: ‘This is a gift to you from your uncle’.

When I looked around I felt something in my body, but there was no pain. Then I heard another sentence, but in Chechen: ‘How long are you going to disgrace the family, scum?’ I didn’t know this person. I remember that it was a young man, under 30. Then I lost consciousness. I woke up in the hospital. Apparently some women saw everything and began yelling. The man ran away. The women called an ambulance. I learned at the hospital that I had two stab wounds in my right lung.

OC Media: Which room were you put in, the men’s room or the women’s room?

Sabrina: I have old documents with my male name, but the doctor understood everything and put me in the women’s room. I am very thankful to him for this. When I first saw his name on the door, I was crazily afraid — a Muslim name, Caucasian. But he turned out to be a decent man. I am grateful for his attitude towards me.

I spent more than a month in hospital. Last February I received threats. They called me, relatives wrote to me, strangers, some unknown people. A nightmare began. Neighbours and some distant relatives were coming to my family. They were demanding that I move back to Chechnya to prove that this [the sex change] was all a lie. There were crazy demands. Some people said that I had to prove it by walking through the streets topless. Some people said that I had to speak on the official Grozny TV and say that I hadn’t changed my sex, that it was all slander and photoshop. How could I speak on TV with C-cup breasts?

OC Media: How did your family cope with this pressure?

Sabrina: They still cope with it. Some elderly people from the street approached my mum once. They told her: ‘You gave birth to a freak who disgraced not only your family, but the entire republic. We cannot touch you, because you are a pious woman, but you must leave’. Mum couldn’t take any more and put a noose around her neck. Luckily, neighbours came and saved her.

During that time I had to switch flats several times a day. I would move into one flat and in a few hours a car would park under the flat's windows with the number 95 numberplate, [from Chechnya], and tinted windows. After the third time I understood that something was wrong. My friends, human rights activists, checked the number plates; it turned out that they were looking for me.

OC Media: How did you leave the country?

Sabrina: Activists helped me. I don't want to say their names, for safety reasons, but I want to say that I remember everyone, they really helped me.

With their help I left the country, but something unbelievable happened. I still cannot understand how it was possible.

Right before my departure from Moscow, I purchased a new sim card in order to call my mother once I arrived. I bought it without registration, without documents, without anything. I broke my previous sim card and put it in the bin. I arrived and checked into my hotel. The number was registered to a stranger.

I put the sim card in my phone. I tried to call my mother through WhatsApp and at the same moment I received a message: ‘Do you think you are safe because you left the country? We have our people there who have already been notified which hotel you are in, and even about your room number. To assure you that we know, your room number is 115’. Can you imagine?! This was indeed my room number.

OC Media: Do you keep in touch with your relatives?

Sabrina: Only with my mother and sisters. However we don’t discuss the sex change — this is a taboo. Traditional Caucasian moments are still inside me. No matter how strongly I want to, I cannot ignore this psychological barrier. I always say that while my mum is alive, I will do my best to do everything not to upset her. If we have a video chat, I do try to look like the person she remembers I was in the past, I mean in the male form. However it is very hard to do. 

OC Media: Do you know what the situation is like in Chechnya now? Do you know what friends are doing, those who are left there?

Sabrina: I introduced a report in Washington last week. I needed fresh information about the situation in Chechnya for the report. I spoke with someone who spent a month and a half in Argun Prison. He said that now, during the month of Ramadan, they are not abducting and torturing people, but that everyone looks forward for the end of Ramadan, and he didn’t rule out that there will be a new wave [of persecutions]. Most likely, they will now bet on people’s relatives. I mean, they will probably summon their relatives [those of suspected queer people]; they will deal with the person, and then [the authorities] will demand proof that so-called ‘honor’ has been satisfied with blood.

OC Media: Are there gays left in these secret prisons?

Sabrina: According to an acquaintance of mine, there are not so many now. Mainly those who do not have rich relatives, or whose relatives have abandoned them to face Kadyrov’s trials. From what I understand they are being kept there in order to show them off later as terrorists. I mean, if they murder them, they will show their bodies on TV alleging that they attacked some village or military target. Do you understand? As if they were not just people who disappeared but went underground to become militants.

OC Media: Is this an assumption or do you have a source for this information?

Sabrina: I am quoting a person, who spent a month and half at Agrun Prison. He says that several people who were kept in this prison disappeared after their beards had grown. There has been no news of them. They just took them. And this so-called Lord [Magomed Daudov, the Speaker of the Chechen Parliament, and close ally of Ramzan Kadyrov], this person, personally saw them at the moment they took these people. However, until now they have not been presented as bandits, there were no reports of this, but we suspect that such actions are possible. Otherwise why did they not allow these people to shave?

Do you know if there were previously such persecutions, abductions of people with a so-called ‘nontraditional’ orientation in the republic?

Sabrina: I always wore long hair. I had a bob cut when I lived in Chechnya. I think the whole of Grozny knew about me even before 2003 [when the Kadyrov regime came into being], when I lived in Grozny and I didn’t have any problems. Seriously! I never had problems even in 1998–1999, when Shariah Law was in force. On the contrary, it was much safer then than now. I mean Russia, which wanted to bring ‘civilisation’ to us, brought us a stone age in the end.

OC Media: How is this possible with Sharia Law?

Sabrina: My eyebrows were plucked, I had coloured eyelashes, tube-jeans, I wore short tops. The Ministry of Sharia Security never touched me. There was a spot in front of the Russian theatre in Grozny where every evening, especially on weekends, a whole bunch of people like me gathered. This was a small square with several benches, and the entire city knew about it, why men would come, young people, to meet up. We were never insulted. There is such an expression in Chechen language — Kharda ma Kharda — which means ‘do not laugh at someone else's misfortune’. They often tell this to children if they make fun of sick people.

OC Media: So they would just close their eyes to you, as they thought you were sick?

Sabrina: Yes. They would never insult me, never chase me or beat me.

OC Media: How long did this grace period last?

Sabrina: Before [Ramzan] Kadyrov came in. In 2005, when he was appointed Prime Minister [of Chechnya], he began to speak on television, talking about morality. He didn’t speak specifically about us, but mainly about the behaviour of women. However, you could feel in the city that people began to change. Those who used to smile and laugh, began looking at you questioningly. I left Chechnya in those years. But every time I went back home I would feel how the situation was worsening in the republic.

OC Media: What do you do now?

Sabrina: I earn money as a waitress. I am not paid much — $700–800 a month — which is not much in the US. Apart from that I continue being an activist. Now I am responsible for 15 Muslim women. I communicate with them as kind of a psychologist. We organise tea drinking meetings, rallies, I go to the hospital with them, I help them to get food cards. I do all this absolutely free. I found these people myself. I was going through shelters. I am Muslim and I want to help those who need help.

OC Media: Do you wear a hijab?

Sabrina: Yes.

OC Media: Many people say that there cannot be gays, lesbians or transgender people as Muslim worshipers…  

Sabrina: This is silly. This is nature — religion has nothing to do with it. It’s the same thing as Chechens foaming at the mouth to prove that they do not have any gays. Daghestanis have them, Kabardians have them, and Russians have them too, the entire planet has them, but ‘Chechens — they don’t’. I came from there, it is unpleasant for me to hear this.

I meet so many men from the Caucasus here. Many of them — Muslim worshipers, who visit the mosque and fast during Ramadan — live with men.

You know, many people mix transgenderism with men who like men, and they think that people change sex so that they have more intimate opportunities, but this is wrong. This is a different thing, different psychology in fact, different attitudes to things. For me it is important that now I feel in my own shoes and I am not ashamed of my body. It is not important if you have a partner or not. I am sorry for the details, but it’s been more than a year since I had intimate relations with anyone. And I'm absolutely not upset about this — I just know that now I am myself.

Meet the Saudi Woman Who Ignited a Firestorm When She Got Behind the Wheel

Sat, 2017-06-24 06:00

Author Manal al-Sharif. Credit: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

This story by Joyce Hackel was originally appeared on on June 14, 2017. It is republished here as part of a partnership between PRI and Global Voices.

When Manal al-Sharif posted a video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia in 2011, she angered many in the deeply conservative kingdom.

“The worst backlash was from the religious establishment,” she says. “They took the Friday sermons, and they called me things like a prostitute for just driving a car.”

Al-Sharif landed in jail. She received threats on her life. Her father had to appeal to the Saudi king for her release. But the video of her definance behind the wheel had already gone viral, receiving more than 700,000 views in just a day, energizing the global moment to drop Saudi Arabia's prohibitions on women driving.

Today, the 38-year-old activist is still one of the loudest voices calling for the kingdom to drop the driving ban. In her new memoir, “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening,” al-Sharif describes growing up in Mecca as a firm believer in conservative Islam. When she turned 18, she enrolled in King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. She met liberal women who didn't cover their faces in public, and her world view began to change. The notion of male guardianship began to grate on her.

“A woman is considered a minor from the time she's born until the time she dies,” she says. “When women drive in my country, they will have the voice and the power and the belief that they can do anything and they will act on ending the guardianship system.”

Al-Sharif says her campaign #women2drive continues to push the limits of what's socially acceptable in Saudi Arabia. In the coming months, her memoir “Daring to Drive” will also be published in Arabic.

“There are a lot of brave actions happening, more and more girls posting videos of themselves driving and more and more men are joining us,” she says. “We'll continue campaigning, using all the tools that we can.”

Read the first chapter of “Daring to Drivehere:

In a Guardian Story About an Environmental Conflict in Kenya, the White Saviour Rides Again

Sat, 2017-06-24 04:54

Colonial tropes abound in a report on the clash between herders and settlers in Laikipia

Herders with their cows in Laikipia. Photo by USAID made available under a Creative Commons license.

The Guardian recently published an article by Tristan McConnell, their correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya, titled “Who shot Kuki Gallman? The story of a Kenyan conservationist heroine.” McConnell attempts to tell the story of a conflict in Laikipia, a county in northern Kenya, through the eyes of Gallmann, who is best known for her autobiography I Dreamed Of Africa, which was turned into a 2000 feature film starring Kim Basinger.

Laikipia has been in the headlines on account of the migration, triggered by harsh weather conditions, of local herders and tens of thousands of their cows, goats and sheep in search of water and pasture. The migrating herders and their livestock have breached the fences and boundaries of private nature conservancies, which account for nearly half of Laikipia's land area. Politicians, taking advantage of historical grievances, have goaded the pastoralists on. Their call for the herders to forcibly occupy the holdings of all large landowners in the area, both black and white, has rattled Laikipia.

McConnell's framing of Gallmann as a regal, gallant hero fighting to “save the environment” against marauding hordes of “impoverished, local men” is so riddled with colonial tropes that it is astonishing The Guardian published it with that language intact.

Let's begin with the article's descriptions of the Laikipia landscape—”undulating savannah, forests, winding rivers, waterfalls, rocky hills and steep-shouldered escarpments. The land is home to elephants and rhinos, giraffes, zebras and antelopes, wild dogs, bat-eared foxes and lions.” It was here, the article continues, that “white, often British, settlers came to farm wheat and raise cattle during the first half of the 20th century, before independence. ” The ahistoricism of the description is jarring. It suggests that Laikipia was a terra nullius, an empty, unclaimed vastness waiting for someone to put it to good use. This, of course, is not the case.

Laikipia was the traditional homeland of the Maasai and Samburu people. It was violence—guns, coercion and deceit—that pushed these people out and created the “emptiness” so beloved of white settlers. Laikipia is not merely the habitat of bat-eared foxes and wild dogs—it is home to real, breathing humans. And the settlers were not a bunch of benign farmers looking to raise livestock. They were backed by the firepower and coercive machinery of the colonial state.

According to the story, Kuki Gallmann arrived in Kenya from Italy in 1972, a latecomer to the ranching enterprise, with a pile of luggage shipped in from Venice and a romantic nostalgia for a place she had never been. “I totally and utterly fell in love with Ol Ari Nyiro,” she wrote, “and I felt—and it’s irrational and difficult to explain—that I had come home and there was a reason for me to be there.”

Isn't it interesting that there are wonderful empty places in this beautiful Kenya waiting for someone to fall in love with them? That you can land in a place you have never been, where “falling in love” gets you 88,000 acres of prime ranch land? The casual erasure of the colonial violence that made Gallman's acquisition possible, and the human and social cost of it, is striking.

“Since many, many years my aim is to try to prove that people and environment can survive together, you have to have a balance,” says Gallman the conservationist. What a revelation! If it weren't for “the conservationists”, the article suggests, we Kenyans would never have grasped that fact. The White Saviour to the rescue, again.

This is insulting. Africans have been co-existing with wildlife for millennia. That's why the continent now has the wildlife to conserve in the first place! For the African, preserving nature was not something done to capture the attention of others, as the ecologist-journalist duo Mordecai Ogada and John Mbaria have noted. It was enshrined in ordinary, mundane, day-to-day life, in the form of taboos against killing certain animals, and reinforced in rituals, stories and songs. It was not the post-industrial, exaggerated fascination with nature developed by Europeans in the aftermath of their widespread and systematic looting and plundering of the natural world in the name of “industrialisation”.

Due to the current violence, McConnell's article reports, some ranches have closed and some owners are considering selling. But others, Gallmann among them, are hunkering down. “They are going to get tired of it,” she says. “I know I will outlast them. There is no doubt in my mind.” “They”, meaning the impoverished local Pokot militiias encroaching on “the environment”. They will get tired. Kuki Gallmann will outlast them.

In a way, Gallmann is right. They will get tired. They are poor, impoverished and local, after all. Their children will get hungry and thirsty. They will turn against each other. They will run out of ammunition. There'll be political changes. And they will scatter.

But there is such cruelty in someone casually waiting for “them” to scatter, to hunger, to thirst, to turn against each other and just go away and disappear. Or at least to go back to being poor, local and impoverished, but quietly. I am struck by grief when I read this, the grief of knowing that someone is waiting for our death, our silence, our hunger and thirst and confusion.

This is not to say that the conflict in Laikipia is not complex, or that there are easy answers. Climate change is leading to more frequent and more punishing droughts. Add the mix of demographic pressures and politics is an explosive one. But we have to tell the story right. Framing the conflict as between a noble conservation queen and a savage mob of impoverished locals is not only irresponsible and cruel. It is also simply not the truth.

How Balkan Egyptians Are Asserting Their Identity and Fighting Discrimination in Macedonia

Sat, 2017-06-24 04:51

Part of the audience at the celebration of the International Day of Balkan Egyptians, June 24 in Ohrid, Macedonia, including Minister of Culture Robert Alagjozovski (fifth from the left in the bottom row with a blue shirt). Photo by NGO Izida, used with permission.

The June 24 annual celebration honoring Balkan Egyptians in Macedonia received high-level state recognition for the first time when it was attended by the country's minister of culture.

Balkan Egyptians belong to a discriminated ethnic group whose ancestors migrated from Egypt to Europe between 3rd century BC and 6th century AD. Several empires during the Hellenistic and Roman periods encompassed both the Balkans and Egypt, which made possible the migration of people in these places.

In the Middle Ages, after the arrival of the Roma people from India, Europeans started lumping the Egyptians with the Roma on account of superficial similarities like darker skin color. In some European languages, the designations for Roma, including the pejorative term ‘gypsy’ have origins in the term ‘Egyptian.’ Throughout their history the Balkan Egyptians have been trying to express their separate and distinct identity from other ethnic groups.

The emblem of Balkan Egyptians, containing a pharaoh's crown, the sun as symbol of monotheism, the pyramids of Giza and Balkan medieval castles. Image by NGO Izida from Resen, Macedonia, used with permission.

Over the centuries, the surviving Balkan Egyptian communities stopped using their ancestral language when they adopted the languages of the majority populations of their local regions. So in Kosovo and Albania they speak Albanian at home; in Macedonia either Albanian, Macedonian or Turkish; in Greece they speak Greek, etc.

Since the 1970s, Egyptians living in Western Balkans have been asserting their ethnic identity by demanding a separate Egyptian category to be added in official census forms. Thanks to a sustained grassroots campaign, the governments of Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia recognized Balkan Egyptians during the 1990s.

Activists claim that the censuses still don't reflect the complete number of all Balkan Egyptians. In some regions, they suffer pressure to register as members of other ethnicity, or some census takers would mistakenly interpret the Egyptian category as Roma in official forms.

In 2010, the Second Congress of the Union of Balkan Egyptians decided to celebrate June 24 as the International Day of Balkan Egyptians, in memory of the historic 1990 assembly that took place on this day in southern Macedonia advocating the preservation and protection of their ethnic identity.

The International Day of Balkan Egyptians has become a platform to stress the need to fight prejudices and promote diversity. Below is an excerpt of the event's official statement:

Our community is just a small part of the Balkan cultural mosaic, but nevertheless it provides important contribution to the overall European diversity.

Balkan Egyptian actiivist Zizo Ljamkovski. Photo by Filip Stojanovski, CC-BY.

In an interview with Global Voices, activist Zizo Ljamkovski emphasized the cultural contributions of Balkan Egyptians in Macedonia. He added that the biggest challenge for Balkan Egyptians is how to ensure greater participation in the decision-making processes at local and national levels.

In Macedonia, Balkan Egyptians live mostly in the southern towns of Ohrid, Struga, Resen, Kichevo, Debar and Strumica. The last census in 2002 put the number of Balkan Egyptians at 3,713.

Despite the government recognition of Balkan Egyptians, discrimination continues to persist. In 2015, a leaked wiretap revealed politicians from the ruling party talking about the Egyptians in a derogatory manner while discussing election-rigging in Ohrid. Egyptian NGOs demanded an apology from a ruling party official but didn't receive any reply.

Some anti-corruption Balkan Egyptian NGOs like Izida from Resen also faced political harassment from the previous government, especially after the elections of December 2016.

Balkan Egyptian folk dancing. Photo by NGO Izida, used with permission.

A new government took power in Macedonia on May 31, 2017. Minister of Culture Robert Alagjozovski, who attended the program of this year's International Day of Balkan Egyptians, told the public that the new government will be more responsive to the needs of marginalized communities. He also tweeted about that:

Го одбележавме денот на балканските Египќани. Поддршка за младите таленти од запоставените заедници!

— Robert Alagjozovski (@RobAlag) June 24, 2017

We marked the International Day of Balkan Egyptians. Support for the talented youth from neglected communities!

During the same gathering, activists acknowledged the various successes in promoting the welfare of Balkan Egyptians. They mentioned an upcoming documentary film to be aired by Al Jazeera which they hope will provide better awareness about Balkan Egyptians. At the same time, they expressed optimism that similar efforts in other countries like Greece will also address some of the pressing issues facing the ethnic group.

Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman

Fri, 2017-06-23 15:12

Screenshot of Lehman Brightman in a 1970 video clip at the University of Oregon. (YouTube)

A pioneer of Native American civil rights and activism passed away on Sunday, June 18, 2017 in Walnut Creek, California, ending a life of rebellion and struggle to claim a lost history. Lehman

Lehman Brightman, a Native American of Sioux and Creek origin, was born on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in 1930. Brightman was a militant leader and organizer for the rights of Native Americans throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, and later taught sociology and history in the San Francisco Bay Area.

His passing, as well as his life and legacy, have received little coverage in the mainstream press—which in many ways reflects the reality of the Native American struggle for recognition and justice in the United States. But though these things are often relegated to footnote or back page, both Brightman’s life and the history of the Native American civil rights movement serve as a testament to the vitality and power of this passionate quest for justice.

Brightman often used the phrase, “Indian Power”, and believed that a militant tone was justified, given the long history of genocide and abuse suffered by Native Americans at the hands of the United States government. Brightman’s fiery language and take-no-prisoners attitude was reflected both in his rhetoric and in his actions, which brought a sense of strong leadership and dignity to Native Americans similar to that exercised by Malcolm X.

Political correctness was never a focus for Brightman. Speaking to a crowd in 1969, Brightman proclaimed that “We call ourselves native American because we were given the name Indian by some dumb honky who thought he landed in India.”  But action was.

In the summer of 1968, Brightman formed the United Native Americans (UNA) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Brightman said he formed UNA “just to raise a little goddamn hell. And I raised a hell of a lot of hell.”

On November 20, 1969, Brightman was involved in the takeover of Alcatraz Island, starting a symbolic 19-month occupation to reclaim Native American land rights and organize a united front for a new movement. The occupation grew out of an increasing sense of urgency among Native Americans that radical action was the answer to years of neglect and repression by the federal government. Earlier, in August 1970, Brightman had led a group of activists in an occupation of Mount Rushmore.

This 1970 video covers the militant stance of Brightman and the groups he was involved with him. Footage of their actions captures the vibrancy and hope of the era, and contrasts sharply with the absurd narrative offered by the media coverage.

In 1976, Brightman’s home was raided by the FBI after he harboured the American Indian Movement activist Dennis Banks, who was a fugitive at the time. The case received national attention and Brightman expressed no regrets for his actions, often retelling the story to his students as a professor.

Headline in the San Francisco Examiner featuring Brightman in 1976

I was one of those lucky enough to have taken a class with Brightman, who often colored his discussion of US history with his own accounts of serving during the Korean War, organizing during the 1960’s, and spoke frankly about the conduct of Federal Authorities.

The recent events at Standing Rock serve as a reminder that injustice against Native Americans remains an ever-present issue in the United States. Lehman Brightman’s refusal to accept complacency, as well as his generation's quest for dignity through direct action and change through confrontation, holds lessons for the present and future, particularly for communities of color and for people of the Third World.

This brief account cannot adequately do justice to Brightman or his tremendous legacy. I do hope, however, that it encourages those who were not aware of him to draw inspiration from his work, and from the extraordinary history of activism and resistance on the part of Native Americans in the United States.

Netizen Report: Arrest and Web Censorship Spark Online Protests in Palestine

Fri, 2017-06-23 11:18

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.

Censorship has been on the rise in Palestine in recent weeks. On June 12, officials from the Palestinian Authority demanded that ISPs in the West Bank block a reported 22 websites, most of which are affiliated with the opposition Islamist party Hamas or are otherwise critical of President Mahmoud Abbas. The websites appear to be blocked only in the West Bank.

An official from the Attorney General’s office, who wished to remain anonymous, said the sites were blocked for violating “rules of publication” but did not offer further specification. The 1995 Press and Publication Law includes several vague restrictions on freedom of expression, including a rule that forbids the press from “contradict[ing] the principles of….national responsibility” or publishing material that is “inconsistent with morals.”

The Haifa-based Arab Center for Social Media Advancement (7amleh) denounced the order, saying “[We] find that this move fully contradicts all international treaties and conventions, and marks a significant violation of the digital rights of segments of Palestinian society.”

Online, Palestinians have expressed frustration over the blocking and lack of transparency around the PA’s order. They have launched a campaign under the Arabic hashtag #لا_للحجب (“no to blocking”) demanding that the Attorney General explain the decision in a public statement.

This spate of online censorship comes on the heels of the June 8 arrest of Nassar Jaradat, a young Palestinian Facebook user. The PA charged Jaradat with “insulting and defaming public officials” in a Facebook post critical Jibril Al Rajoub, a prominent figure among PA leadership. In a recent interview with Israeli news program “Meet the Press,” Al Rajoub said that the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem should “remain under Israeli sovereignty”, a statement denounced by many Palestinians.

In his Facebook post, Jaradat said of Al Rajoub’s statement:

To give what you don’t personally own to those who do not deserve it. This is the essence of deception and the terror of concession.

Jaradat could risk anything from three weeks to two years in jail, in accordance a provision on “defamation, insult and abasement” in the Jordanian Penal Code of 1960, which is still applicable in the West Bank.

Activists expose Mexico’s multi-million dollar surveillance tech market

Mexican human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists were targeted by spyware acquired by the government, according to research published this week by a group of NGOs in Mexico and Canada. The spyware was purchased by Mexican authorities from the Israeli company NSO group, under an explicit agreement that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. Among those targeted were prominent journalists, lawyers investigating the mass disappearance of 43 students, and an American lawyer representing victims of sexual abuse by the police.

The government has denied engaging in surveillance and communications operations against human rights defenders without prior judicial authorization. However, research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab suggests that the choice and targets and style of targeting “provide strong evidence the targeting was conducted without proper oversight and judicial accountability.”

Twitter censors Venezuelan government supporters

Venezuela’s Information Minister reported last week that at least 180 Twitter accounts belonging to government supporters and government-sponsored media channels have been suspended from the US-based platform. On June 17, President Nicolas Maduro made a public statement condemning the suspensions as an “expression of fascism” and vowing to open thousands of new accounts. “The battle on social media is very important,” he said. Although Twitter’s guidelines prohibit violent threats, harassment and “hateful conduct”, the company’s implementation of these rules is known to be uneven and unpredictable.

Spy tech threatens Chinese jaywalkers

Chinese cities including Jiangbei, Jinan and Suqian, have implemented facial recognition software to shame and fine citizens for jaywalking. Once captured, their images appear on big screens at intersections and their information, including a headshot, name, age, home address, registration and ID number are uploaded to a police system.

Japan’s anti-conspiracy bill puts citizens under microscope

On June 15, Japan's parliament ratified a controversial “anti-conspiracy” bill into law. There are fears the vague nature of the new law, which covers nearly 300 crimes, will erode civil liberties in Japan by providing authorities with broad surveillance powers, leaving the question of who can be monitored open to interpretation. Joseph Cannataci, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, has criticized the bill and expressed concern that may “legitimize and facilitate government surveillance of NGOs perceived to be acting against government interest.”

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Afef Abrougui, Mahsa Alimardani, Renata Avila, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Marwa Fatafta, Leila Nachawati, Dalia Othman, Elizabeth Rivera and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

The 1944 Thiaroye Massacre in Senegal, a Shameful Episode of the French Colonial Period in Africa

Fri, 2017-06-23 10:34

Screenshot of Thiaroye Camp from the film Le Camp de Thiaroye by Ousmane Sembene on YouTube.

On December 1, 1944, an unspeakable tragedy took place at the military camp of Thiaroye, a small village in the suburbs of Dakar. Thirty-five Senegalese Tirailleurs (a type of rifleman or sharpshooter) were killed, according to official records, but other testimonies reported more than 300 dead, gunned down by colonial troops after protesting to be paid for their military service. The general public did not learn of this tragedy until 1988, when a film called “Camp de Thiaroye,” by Senegalese cineaste and writer Sembène Ousmane, was released.

The massacre is symptomatic of the French colonial power’s contempt for the African soldiers who had fought for its liberation during World War II. The film, which was produced by Senegal and Algeria, was banned in France for 17 years before being becoming available on DVD in 2005.

The Facebook page “Massacre du 1er Décembre 1944 : CAMP DE THIAROYE” (Massacre of December 1, 1944: CAMP THIAROYE) was created to honor the victims, killed by their metropolitan army comrades with whom they had fought the Nazi enemy. The course of events is recalled:

Le 1er Décembre 1944, furent massacrés des soldats africains, libérateurs de la France par… la France. Ces soldats Africains, communément appelés ‘ ‘Tirailleurs Sénégalais’  ont commis un seul crime: celui d’ être Africains.

En effet, comment expliquer autrement l'assassinat dont ils ont été victimes?  Car ces Tirailleurs africains* , à qui on avait toujours répété que la France est la mère patrie, avaient pour la grande majorité, même si ils ont été pour la plupart recrutés de force, combattu avec conviction l'ennemi Nazi, dont ils sont finalement venu à bout. C'est donc fiers de leur victoire qu'ils ont été démobilisés et sont arrivés au camp de Thiaroye* au Sénégal, le 21 novembre 1944. Sur leur visage, se lisait le bonheur de retrouver enfin leurs familles, après quatre longues années d'absence, malgré le traumatisme de la guerre et la perte de leurs nombreux camarades morts au combat ou fusillés par les Nazis. Ils ne se doutèrent pas qu'ils ne reverront plus jamais les leurs, ou leurs pays, pour ceux originaires d'autres pays du continent. Ils sont au nombre de 1280, originaires de pays d'Afrique Occidentale Française.

Mais le 30 Novembre 1944, il y’ eut une révolte au camp de Thiaroye, suite à la réclamation de leurs arrièrés de solde et de leur prime de démobilisation, qu'on leur avait déjà refusés en France, avant leur retour en Afrique. Ils prirent le général Damian en otage donc. Le 1er Décembre 1944, le bataillon de Saint-Louis donne l'assaut de nuit, sans sommation, du camp désarmé. Il y eu une trentaine de survivants qui  furent condamnés à des peines allant de 1 à 10 ans, avec amende, et perte de leur indemnité de mobilisation. Ils ne furent libérés qu’ en 1947, par le président Français de l'époque Vincent Auriol, sans avoir été rétablis dans leur droits, et n'ont pas eu droit à une pension de retraite.

On December 1, 1944, African soldiers, liberators of France, were massacred by… France itself. These African servicemen, commonly known as the Senegalese Tirailleurs, had committed one crime: that of being African.

Indeed, how else could the assassination they suffered be explained? These African Tirailleurs, who mostly had been recruited by force and who had repeatedly been told that France is the motherland, fought the Nazi enemy with conviction and finally triumphed. They were proud of that victory and were afterwards demobilized, arriving at Camp Thiaroye in Senegal on November 21, 1944. In spite of four long years of absence, the trauma of war, and the loss of their many comrades who perished in combat or were shot by the Nazis, their faces shone with happiness to finally be reunited with their families. They did not suspect that they would never again see their loved ones or home countries, for those originating from other parts of the continent. There were 1,280 of them, coming from all over French West Africa.

On November 30, 1944, however, there was a revolt at Camp Thiaroye. It came about after they demanded to be paid their salary arrears and demobilization allowance, which had already been denied to them in France before they returned to Africa. They thus took General Damian as hostage. The night of December 1, 1944, the battalion of Saint-Louis stormed the unarmed camp without warning. There were about 30 survivors who were condemned to one to 10-year prison terms, fined, and denied their mobilization pay. They were only released in 1947, by France's then-President Vincent Auriol. They were not restored their rights and were not entitled to a retirement pension.

Léopold Sédar Senghor, one of the rare public figures at the time to have denounced this colonial crime, dedicated a poem to the victims in December 1945 and wrote an article on their subject in the July 1945 issue of the review Esprit.

In contrast, the French administration tried to minimize the contribution of these soldiers in an effort to avoid paying what it owed them, before finally killing them.

In a 2014 letter and petition addressed to French President François Hollande, the Vigilance Committee on the Public Use of History (Comité de Vigilance face aux usages publics de l’histoire), an advocacy organization that aims to rectify the historical recollection of the French colonial period, broke down the lies of the state and denounced the attitude of the French authorities in this affair:

Des droits spoliés. Ces hommes qui s'étaient battus pour la France, ont réclamé le paiement de leurs soldes de captivité que les autorités militaires de Dakar avaient refusé de leur verser, enfreignant ainsi la réglementation en vigueur. Cette spoliation fut couverte par le ministère de la Guerre qui a fait croire, par une circulaire datée du 4 décembre 1944 -donc postérieure au massacre-, que les rapatriés avaient perçu la totalité de leur solde avant leur embarquement en métropole. Un massacre prémédité puis camouflé. Dans le but de faire taire les légitimes revendications de ces hommes, une opération des forces armées destinée à écraser/réduire les rebelles a été montée. Pour camoufler le massacre, certains officiers ont produit des rapports à charge, et ont fabriqué de toute pièce l'histoire officielle d'une mutinerie. Dans ces rapports, les ex-prisonniers de guerre sont décrits comme étant à la solde des Allemands et lourdement armés. Afin de justifier la lourde riposte, ils sont accusés d'avoir tiré les premiers.

Stripped of their rights.

These men had fought for France and demanded to be paid for their time as POWs. Their request had been refused by the Dakar military authorities, which was a transgression of the regulations at the time. This despoliation was covered up by the then Ministry of War. It falsely stated in a circular dated December 4, 1944 — thus after the massacre — that the repatriated soldiers had received the totality of their compensation before their departure from France.

A massacre premeditated and concealed.

Aiming to silence the legitimate claims of these men, an operation of the armed forces was mounted to crush/diminish the rebels. To conceal the massacre, certain officers produced damning reports and fabricated an official account of a mutiny. In these reports, the ex-prisoners of war are described as being paid by the Germans and heavily armed. In order to justify the heavy response, they were accused of being the first to shoot.

For decades, this attempt to erase all traces of the massacre succeeded so well that we still don’t know, 73 years later, how many soldiers were massacred or where the victims’ remains lie. An article by Benoit Hopquin, published in Le Monde culture et idées in March 23, 2013, presents the struggle of historian Armelle Mabon in this matter. A lecturer at the University of Southern Brittany and specialist in prisoners of war from the French ex-colonies, she has striven to uncover the lies of the French Army and to bring the truth to light:

A partir de là, rien n’est clair, si ce n’est qu’une fusillade éclate peu après 9 heures. C’est ici que l’historienne doit se faire limier, tant les rapports sont litigieux. Le témoignage écrit du lieutenant-colonel Le Berre diverge ainsi de celui du chef de bataillon Le Treut, du capitaine Olivier, du colonel Carbillet, du général Dagnan, du lieutenant-colonel Siméoni, du lieutenant de gendarmerie Pontjean, du colonel Le Masle ou du général de Perier, qui diligentera une commission d’enquête en 1945. Certaines circulaires ou certains comptes rendus sont même introuvables. “Ils ont disparu”, explique l’historienne, qui a exploré les différents centres où sont conservés les documents de l’époque, en France, mais aussi au Sénégal.

Au fil des versions se développe l’idée d’une riposte à des tirs à la mitraillette ou au pistolet-mitrailleur venus des mutins. Le général Dagnan a fait établir à l’époque une liste des armes prétendument retrouvées. Armelle Mabon l’a fait examiner par des experts de l’Union française des amateurs d’armes. Rien ne tient dans cet inventaire ni ne justifie d’utiliser de tels moyens – un char, deux half-tracks, trois automitrailleuses – pour y répondre.

Officiellement, 35 tirailleurs furent tués ce 1er décembre, chiffre repris par François Hollande dans son discours à Dakar. Vingt-quatre seraient morts sur le coup et onze à l’hôpital. Mais le rapport du général Dagnan daté du 5 décembre fait état de “24 tués et 46 blessés transportés à l’hôpital et décédés par la suite“,soit 70 victimes. “Pourquoi aurait-il eu intérêt à alourdir le bilan ?”, demande l’historienne qui accrédite plutôt ce dernier chiffre.

The shooting began shortly after 9 am, but what followed isn't clear. The reports are so contentious that the historian has to become a sort of detective. Testimony written by Lieutenant-Colonel Le Berre diverges from that of Battalion Chief Le Treut, Captain Olivier, Colonel Carbillet, General Dagnan, Lieutenant-Colonel Siméoni, Gendarmerie Lieutenant Pontjean, Colonel Masle, and General de Perier, who initiated a commission of inquiry in 1945. Certain circulars and reports are nowhere to be found. “They’ve disappeared,” explains the historian, who explored the various centers where the documents of the time are preserved, in France and in Senegal.

Successive accounts communicate the idea of a response to machine or submachine gunfire from the mutineers. General Dagnan had a list made of the weapons allegedly found. Armelle Mabon had this list examined by experts from the French Association of Arms Enthusiasts. Something doesn’t add up in this inventory, and the response to it – a tank, two half-track vehicles, and three armored cars – is totally unjustified.

Officially, 35 sharpshooters were killed on December 1, the figure used by François Hollande in his speech in Dakar. Twenty-four were reported to have died during the attack and eleven at the hospital. But General Dagnan’s December 5 report cited “24 killed and 46 wounded transported to the hospital and deceased thereafter,” for a total of 70 victims. “What could he have stood to gain by overstating the number of deaths?” asks the historian, who gives credence to this last figure.

On the occasion of a conference on colonial massacres, organized at the University of Southern Brittany in Lorient from November 27 – 29, 2014, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, a French historian, specialist on Africa, and professor emeritus at Paris Diderot University, wrote on the website of the Vigilance Committee on the Public Use of History:

On ne sait toujours pas où ils furent enterrés, sans doute dans une fosse commune non loin ou dans le petit cimetière militaire oublié de Thiaroye. Jean Suret-Canale fut l’un des tout premiers à évoquer cet épisode dans le tome II de son Histoire générale de l’Afrique occidentale (1963). J’en entendis pour ma part parler vers la fin des années 1970 par des amis sénégalais qui en avaient une vague notion. Je partis à la recherche du cimetière que je finis par retrouver avec une certaine difficulté car plus personne ne savait où il se trouvait, dissimulé derrière un petit mur pas très loin de la route partant vers la petite côte (il est aujourd’hui restauré et bien entretenu).

We still don't know where they are buried, probably in a mass grave nearby or in the small, forgotten military cemetery of Thiaroye. Jean Suret-Canale was one of the very first to evoke this episode in Tome II of his General History of Western Africa (1963). I heard about it towards the end of 1970 from some Senegalese friends who had a vague idea of what had happened. I went looking for the cemetery but had trouble finding it, since no one knew where it was. It was hidden behind a small wall not very far from the road heading towards the Petite Côte. Today it has been restored and is well maintained.

In November 2014, through the voice of President Hollande, France paid homage to the victims of this crime – but it still did not apologize. France did not facilitate the acquisition of French nationality for the Senegalese Tirailleurs until 70 years after World War II was over; this measure would help the soldiers and their family acquire French citizenship if they wish to do so. In Africa, there have been some initiatives to commemorate them. Senegal instituted a Tirailleurs’ Day in memory of all the soldiers who fought wars alongside France. Its theme this year was “Les évènements de Thiaroye : histoire et mémoire” (The Events of Thiaroye: History and Memory). In Bamako, Mali, a monument was specifically dedicated to the victims of Thiaroye.

June and July Mark the Anniversary of the Wartime Destruction of Japan's Cities

Fri, 2017-06-23 06:33

The regional city of Shizuoka after being firebombed on June 18, 1945. Photo by Hidenori Watanave.

The summer months are a time of reflection in Japan. Each August marks O-Bon, the annual festival of the dead, when deceased relatives are said to visit their ancestral homes mid-month before returning to the netherworld. August is also the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as Japan's capitulation in 1945 and the end of the Second World War.

The bombing of Hiroshima, and, to a lesser extent, Nagasaki, which resulted in the destruction of both cities and hundreds of thousands of dead, is well known outside of Japan. What is not as well known is the methodical firebombing campaign in the months that lead up to the deployment of nuclear weapons and the end of the war that destroyed nearly all of Japan's cities.

Starting with the firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945 — the single-most destructive air raid of the war –bombing raids systematically targeted Japan's cities for complete and utter destruction in June and July 1945. Japanese researcher Hidenori Watanave, who specializes in online mapping technology, has posted colorized images of the bombings on Twitter.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 21, 2017

On this day, 72 years ago: on June 22, 1945, the great Himeji Air Raid occurred. At about 9:50, 60 B-29 bombers appeared, targeting the Kawanishi airplane factory in Himjeji for about an hour with bombs. 341 people died, and 10,220 were left homeless. Image colorized by neural network.

Watanave uses a web-based tool to add color to black-and-white images, and often researches the images of the bombing on, a digital archive dedicated to the international dissemination of information about the air raids conducted by the United States Army Air Forces and Navy against Japan.

‘Tokyo – the the morning after!’ Source: Library of Congress, Curtis LeMay Papers, Air Intelligence Report, Vol. 1, No. 2. and Journal of Historical Geography, ‘A cartographic fade to black: mapping the destruction of urban Japan during World War II.

The methodical destruction of Japan's cities is estimated to have resulted in 333,000 killed and 473,000 wounded civilians, with an estimated 15 million left homeless.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 21, 2017

On this day, 72 years ago: in the morning of June 22, 1945, the Kure Naval Yard air raid occurred. 162 B-29 bombers dropped a total of 1,289 bombs on the facility. Harumi, a character in the [2016] animated film ‘In This Corner of the World‘, was killed by a delayed-release bomb in this air raid.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 21, 2017

72 years ago today: Kure under attack.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 21, 2017

The port of Kure, following the air raid.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 18, 2017

72 years ago today: Shizuoka burns during an air raid.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 18, 2017

72 years ago today: the Great Shizuoka Air Raid. Late at night on June 19 until the early morning hours of June 20, 137 B-29 bombers attacked what was the city center of Shizuoka. 1,952 died, and more than 5,000 were injured. 26,891 homes were destroyed by fire.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 18, 2017

On this day, 72 years ago: the Great Fukuoka Air Raid occurred on June 19 and June 20 when Fukuoka City center was attacked. This air resulted in more than 1,000 dead and missing.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 18, 2017

On this day, 72 years ago: Hamamatsu (in Shizuoka Prefecture) and Yokkaichi (in nearby Mie) were bombed. In Hamamatsu, 1,720 people were killed, and 15,400 houses destroyed. In Yokkaichi, 736 people died, 1,500 were injured and 63 went missing. The number of displaced was 47,153 and the number of houses destroyed was 11,390. This photograph is of Hamamatsu.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 18, 2017

72 years ago today, the center of Hamamatsu was destroyed after being bombed.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 16, 2017

72 years ago today: on June 17, 1945, the Great Kagoshima Air Raid occurred. The entire city was targeted with incendiary bombs, leaving 2,316 dead and 3,500 injured.


— Hidenori Watanave (@hwtnv) June 16, 2017

Bombed-out Kagoshima and neighboring Taramizu.

To colorize the images, Watanave has relied on a Waseda University online project called Neural Network-based Automatic Image Colorization. Neural networks are computer systems that work in a way that's similar to the human brain. 

Watanave has used the tool in several projects devoted to preserving and mapping eyewitness testimony from World War II, including an interactive map of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, and the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Watanave is also the creator of a similar innovative mapping project that tracks the last moments of the victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Anyone can use Waseda University's neural network-based automatic image colorization tool here.