Latest activities of group Democratic Cycles Art Of Subversion2013-05-22T16:57:37Z<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2Fba%2F88%2Fba88fc383832f715f526ac70ab44f15b.jpg" alt="Can Art Save Iran?" width="580" height="387" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">On 14 June, Iranians will go to the polls to choose the successor to outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Against the backdrop of escalating nuclear posturing, and with memories still fresh of the popular disaffection embodied in the mass protests of the Green Movement, the world will be watching. Beyond the clich&eacute;s, however, Iranian society is more complex than meets the eye. For Tehran&rsquo;s artists and intellectuals in particular, each day is a delicate balancing act between freedom and subversion.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">At the House of Culture at Park Honor el Mandan in the heart of Tehran, around 300 people are gathering for an indie rock concert. An hour before the beginning of the show, the entrance is already heaving. All up the narrow stairs, veiled women and men are squeezed together, clutching cameras &ndash; most are young and would not dare to miss the opportunity to attend a performance of this type. Farid, son of a famous Iranian actor and a musician since childhood, is the group&rsquo;s lead singer. Dark haired, disheveled and bearded, he is, at 35, about to give his first ever public concert. &ldquo;Without my father&rsquo;s connections, I never could have organized such an event,&rdquo; confesses the young musician, hovering at the door.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">After the show, the sun disappears behind the towering grey skyline of the Iranian capital, as if melting into the smog. The early-evening March air is still chilly and the young musician re-buttons his coat before leaving the premises in a hurry. Farid later recounts how a mysterious man approached him, nagging him incessantly to rewrite his songs according to verses of the Qur&rsquo;an. Farid nodded politely, replying he would think about it.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Two weeks earlier, a pair of thieves were hung in the very same park, found guilty of threatening a passer-by with a sabre. Many believe the choice of location for the executions &ndash; an area cherished by artists and intellectuals alike &ndash; was no coincidence, but instead a tacit warning from the government. For others, however, it was simply linked to the site&rsquo;s proximity to the crime scene,&nbsp;the park being the closest open public space in the neighborhood.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Two months ahead of the Iranian presidential elections, the intelligentsia exists in a limbo between total liberty and perpetual paranoia. Few countries in the world project such a contested image of freedom of expression. For foreign civil society observers, the picture is clear &ndash; in the most recent Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 174th out of 179 countries. According to the Paris-based NGO, not content with imprisoning journalists and bloggers, the Iranian regime led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also &ldquo;harasses the relatives of journalists, including the relatives of those who are abroad.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Yet, contrary to the image most commonly painted by Western media, the situation is not so black and white. The lifestyle of Tehran&rsquo;s artists is highly representative of this continuing dichotomy between freedom and oppression. A group marginalized within civil society on account of their actions and free spirit, they at the same time represent the core of Iranian identity. If their position is sensitive, it is also because the cultural heritage of the country is one shaped by mixed values. Dating back to the fall of the Sassanid Empire at the hands of Muslim invaders during the 7th century, contemporary Iranian society is marked by a double belonging &ndash; the twin influences of ancient Persia and Islamic tradition.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Though not especially charming at first glance, Tehran bursts with often hidden cultural treasures, as if shielding the newcomer from the extent of the city&rsquo;s true beauty. Strolling towards Engelhab Square &ndash; &lsquo;square of the revolution&rsquo; and Tehran&rsquo;s cultural heart &ndash; one would not expect a decrepit high-rise to house an art space in its basement. It is here, however, that Sarah opened her gallery five years&nbsp;ago.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The large paintings of nudes exhibited in such a minimalist setting are outwardly shocking given the context. Most are by famous artists who could not exhibit anywhere else in such a conservative society. Marjan, a divorcee in her early forties, welcomes us without a scarf. Her gallery &ndash; not officially declared &ndash; is &lsquo;semi-illegal.&rsquo; Usually, before each exhibition, the works to be included must be sent to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for approval. Operating off the books, however, Marjan never complies. Advertisements for upcoming shows are disseminated via Facebook and word of mouth. On the flyers she distributes, there is no address.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Despite the difficult exhibition conditions, there are many galleries in Tehran, largely concentrated in the center and north of the city. The Gallery Guide provides the details of more than 30 art spaces that can be visited. All are more or less controlled and under the custody of the government, but content varies hugely from one to another. The pieces displayed in the House of Culture are more &lsquo;politically correct,&rsquo; for example, than those in the Aaran Gallery, despite being situated a mere few blocks away.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Introduced to the visual arts early in her childhood, Marjan is not na&iuml;ve and understands she enjoys special treatment. &ldquo;The government knows me; they are watching me. But plastic arts are treated differently from other arts. And frankly, right now, the authorities have other priorities.&rdquo; Recently, Marjan granted carte blanche to three artists from different generations, assuming all responsibility for their work if they were to produce any pieces that proved controversial. Ultimately, however, she was left disappointed with the lack of risk the painters took in their projects. Not a single subversive message emerged. &ldquo;It looks like the limit is inside of them,&rdquo; says Marjan, slowly peering into the distance.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Censorship is an inescapable theme on the Iranian art scene. After a year&rsquo;s leave presenting in France and Switzerland, Rostam, a young artist, has returned home to Tehran for a new exhibition. &ldquo;In Iran, the red line between what is allowed and what&rsquo;s not is blurred. We navigate between absolute freedom and total paranoia.&rdquo; During the event launching the exhibition, hundreds of visitors of all ages arrive. One corner of the room is enclosed by large windows, leading to a patio surrounding an empty swimming pool. Outside, from the small veranda, the skyline is visible. Women&rsquo;s veils drape casually off their heads, lending an air of mystery and rebelliousness. Rostam estimates Tehran&rsquo;s artistic community numbers no more than 1,000 individuals. &ldquo;We all know each other. We go to the same exhibitions, the same restaurants.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">* Names have been changed to protect interview subjects.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">Photo &copy;&nbsp;Jonathan Braun</span></p>The Meteoric Rise Of Joko Widodo2013-05-22T16:41:12Z<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2Ff0%2Fcc%2Ff0cc98c7f5d4ee3c39a600399147b512.jpg" alt="Joko Widodo" width="560" height="389" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Beset by multiple corruption scandals, the Democratic Party of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is yet to designate a candidate to contest next year&rsquo;s election. In the meantime, change is in the air. Since taking office in October, Jakarta&rsquo;s unassuming governor, Joko Widodo, has turned the country&rsquo;s political establishment on its head. Touted as &lsquo;Indonesia&rsquo;s Obama&rsquo; for his consensus-based approach, broad popular appeal and outsider status, Widodo is increasingly being talked about as a contender for the top job in a nation on the rise.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">With simple speeches delivered in a country drawl, untucked white shirts, rolled up sleeves and black Airwalk sneakers, Joko Widodo makes an unlikely politician. But the former furniture businessman turned mayor has used his common touch to win the leadership of Indonesia&rsquo;s most important city, Jakarta, and the cult formed around him has seen him elevated into a national phenomenon. In this cluttered, creaking metropolis &ndash; one of the world&rsquo;s largest &ndash; Widodo, affectionately known as &lsquo;Jokowi,&rsquo; has captured the trust and support of millions. His visits to Jakarta&rsquo;s raucous neighborhoods elicit cheers from men and women who gaze upon him star struck. At schools, students whoop when he enters a room, their teachers enraptured by his unconventional charisma. Just six months after assuming office, Widodo has surprised seasoned political analysts by becoming a household name.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">&ldquo;He is now a national figure,&rdquo; says Marcus Mietzner, a political scientist at the Australian National University in Canberra. &ldquo;He has now transcended Jakarta and is as popular in Kalimantan as he is in Papua as he is in Sumatra.&rdquo; Widodo&rsquo;s meteoric rise was built on a promise of &ldquo;a new Jakarta,&rdquo; sparking hope amongst ordinary Indonesians that politics, long dominated by former generals and elites tied to fallen autocrat Suharto, may be changing.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Mietzner calls him a &ldquo;pop culture phenomenon&rdquo; in much the same way current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was in 2003, when he first ran for office. At the time Yudhoyono was a little known minister with few accomplishments to speak of, but appealed to an electorate looking for a non-combative leader who would build bridges and strive for consensus. &ldquo;With Jokowi it&rsquo;s the same thing,&rdquo; says Mietzner. &ldquo;Just one decade after that we have different requirements. What people want is an anti-SBY &ndash; somebody who goes beyond the pompous state language &ndash; they want somebody who goes to the grassroots and tries to solve problems,&rdquo; he adds, referring to Yudhoyono by his initials.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">When Widodo came out on top after the first round of voting in the race to be Jakarta&rsquo;s governor last July, political commentators said the surprise win illustrated that the city&rsquo;s residents were fed up with Jakarta&rsquo;s graft-ridden politics and were eager for reform. Incumbent Fauzi Bowo had powerful political backers and financial heft at his disposal &ndash; his assets included a Hummer SUV and a Van Gogh painting. Widodo, on the other hand, had a reputation for being clean &ndash; a rarity amongst politicians in a country ranked by Berlin-based Transparency International as one of the world&rsquo;s most corrupt. He also had a track record for transforming Surakarta, the mid-size city where he served as mayor, into a model of efficiency.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">As mayor, Widodo helped relocate vendors sprawled along the city&rsquo;s streets to ease the flow of traffic. He also introduced a modern tram system and upgraded traditional markets, providing support to the many vendors who depended on this infrastructure for their livelihoods. After a main river, the Bengawan Solo, spilled its banks in 2007, inundating poor neighborhoods, he helped relocate more than 1,000 households by providing this sizeable population with land and subsidized housing. In the following years, he worked in close contact with groups like Solo Kota Kita, a local non-profit organization that supports participatory planning. Taken together, that work landed him a nod from the City Mayors Foundation, an international think-tank that ranked Widodo as the world&rsquo;s third best mayor in 2012.</p> <p><span style="color: #888888;">Photo &copy; Reuters/Supri</span></p> <p><span><br /></span></p>Belarus: Harlem Shake(s) in Slow Motion2013-04-23T16:08:22Z<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F54%2F0b%2F540b432202ce7a1b344c95af43c1d740.jpg" alt="" width="580" height="387" /></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">At a first glance, Belarus appears to be a calm and empty country, which many consider to be stuck in a Soviet-era time warp. Others describe it as a black hole, a ghost country. But looking more closely, the observer may be surprised to see the stage becoming more colorful and animated, somewhat reminiscent of the classic &ldquo;Harlem Shake&rdquo;, the delirious dance that has engulfed improbable places around the world... Not everyone is flailing their arms anarchically, in strange disguises, waving strange objects, and dancing in random chaos... More simply, they are silently living and running, writing, fighting, creating, shouting, and hoping for a better future that they wish would come sooner. Belarus&rsquo; &ldquo;Shake&rdquo; is in slow motion but it is continuous, and spreads throughout most of society. However, the convulsions are likely to last for several years before any changes manifest themselves.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Paradoxically, it was in a graveyard that the shaking process first began. In the immediate fringes of Minsk, along an anonymous road, lies the forest of Kurapaty. There, around 30,000 persons between 1937 and 1941 were executed by the Soviets (or by Nazis invaders, according to the Belarusian government&rsquo;s version). Looking at the forest, only evergreen canopy dominate. Yet by examining the same space more closely, a regiment of wooden crosses materializes. As soon as the murdered people would start moving or be moved, a story about Belarusian identity, distinct from Soviet uniformity, would be unearthed, bringing back the Belarusian People&rsquo;s Front and its democratic attempts in the early 90s.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Since Lukashenko&rsquo;s ascent to power in the mid-90s, no decadent shakes can occur at the surface. Instead, an intense struggle for individual rights and personal honor has been pushed underground. For several years, Belarus has seen the development of a few independent trade unions. These are non-politicized, and rather prefer to focus on the daily issues that the workers face. One of the most active independent trade unions is at a mine called &ldquo;Granit&rdquo;, located in Mikashevichy in the Brest-Litovsk region, near Poland&rsquo;s eastern border. On 1st April, Granit&rsquo;s trade-union secretary-Treasurer, Anatoli Litvinko was fired. One year ago, his wife, Ludmila, was dismissed, along with almost all the activists who had created the trade union - Oleg Stahaevich Nicholas Karyshev, Vitaly Pashechka and Gennady Pavlovsky. It triggered no upheaval but it demonstrates rising tensions.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Nevertheless, one of the most promising Belarusian &ldquo;Shakes&rdquo; remains what the political opposition is gradually building. Large Belarusian squares rest empty since December 2010. Outside, there are no billboards of opposition figures, nor plates indicating the premises of a political party or non-registered or opposition media. Inside small, private flats however, around street corners, at the 1st or 2nd entrance, somewhere, a substantial contingent of bright, and often young, journalists, experts, intellectuals and politicians permanently brainstorm, deliberate, elaborate strategies, cancel those strategies, adjust those strategies, communicate with their fellow citizens, meet with them, visit them, resist official pressures and learn a lot. Compared to the leading candidates in 2010, the next generation appears to be far more efficient. The opposition is gaining significant momentum for what will perhaps be the final Shake in the 2015.presidential campaign. Meanwhile, however, as a way to relax, a &ldquo;Belarusian Shake&rdquo; on October or Independence Square could be fun.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Related articles:</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">A Dictatorship&rsquo;s Success Stories&nbsp;</a></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Belarus: Year 0 ...Once Again!</a></p>Fighting Censorship: An Interview With Grigoriy Okhotin 2013-04-16T17:46:34Z<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F01%2Ff2%2F01f2fdbef0369264aecceff1fbcc9f24.jpg" alt="" width="380" height="539" /></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #800000;"><em>Tell me a little bit about your project:&nbsp; What do you hope to achieve? And what role does the Internet play?</em></span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Our project came into existence after the first major protest against mass election frauds in December 2011 during which a lot of people were arrested. We realized that something needed to be done after many of our friends were arrested &ndash; so we started gathering information about who was being incarcerated, where they were taken, and what was being done to them. Very quickly, however, it became clear that we could do something more interesting and practical than simply an emotional project.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"> was what we came up with. At the beginning, we had two leaders; I was responsible for the media part, whereas, my friend and colleague programmed our database and was responsible for the technological aspect. We decided that we would be the liaison between the media and the detained activists. We would gather the information, gain credibility and have the media use our information. Then, in order to liberate people, we would enable lawyers to use this information. Finally, the third stage &ndash; which evolved independently &ndash; was to demonstrate the level of political repression in Russia.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The information we gather daily shows the extent of the problem. The goal is to eradicate detentions, but if they do happen, they must be safe and legal. We scare the police with our evidence. As soon as their departments and their names show up in our database, the police become scared to physically abuse detainees. Law enforcement is scared to violate the law because they understand that they are being watched. This is our main vision.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Along the way, we&rsquo;ve come up with new ideas.&nbsp; For example, we interview the detainees.&nbsp; These are psychological, not media interviews, that reveal how the system is structured &ndash; how the police, prisons and courts function and interact. This understanding is necessary for reform; we are collecting this information to be able to make our own suggestions and improve the system.&nbsp;&nbsp;Perhaps, this will not happen now, not in the current political situation, but someday, it will be possible.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Your second question was regarding the Internet.&nbsp; In many ways, I am not a supporter of the theory that the Internet significantly changes one&rsquo;s life, nor that it changes activism in the sphere of politics or human rights.&nbsp; Because for me,&nbsp; one of the main roots of our movement are the chronicles of the samizdat; which were produced by soviet dissidents and human rights defenders of the 60s and 70s. The Internet did not exist during their movement, but they too gathered information and protected political detainees &ndash;&nbsp;these chronicles then became known in all the foreign embassies and all the foreign correspondents whom had offices in Moscow.&nbsp; As a result, the Soviet regime could no longer easily suffocate or kill or imprison these detainees. Of course, the Internet changes the circumstances, but mostly it speeds up and eases our tasks. Our main instrument is a hotline, so when someone is detained, people can call this phone number, but they can also do this via Twitter or an online form.&nbsp; However, this is only a question of speed, it does not make a principle difference. Of course, information spreads online much faster than the cycle of a daily newspaper. We publish a piece of news 15 minutes after we find out about it, and within 30 min it is already published in all Internet news publications. But if this was a newspaper; within 24 hours, the public may no longer be interested. However, the Internet is not the biggest factor.&nbsp; Media is media and the Internet is just another media.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">More seriously, the Internet influences all kinds of instruments like crowdsourcing. We can say that crowdsourcing would not be possible without the Internet; it would just be too expensive. In this way, we can gather information from other cities without having our own branches and staff in those locations.&nbsp; For example, we made a video service with the help of crowdsourcing.&nbsp; [We put out a call] that if you have a video of people being detained at demonstrations, you can easily and comfortably upload it to our site.&nbsp; From there, lawyers or journalists can use it for their purposes.&nbsp; Of course, without the Internet, such services are impossible.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">We want to use this aspect of the Internet to enhance coordination.&nbsp; For example, right now we are coordinating legal help by sending e-mails and making phone calls.&nbsp; This takes a lot of time.&nbsp; So we want to create a simple service where you can request legal help and this electronic request would automatically go out to ten human rights-defending organizations; one of them would then agree to help. This would all happen online without extensive moderation/efforts.&nbsp; These kinds of technologies and services are how the Internet contributes to human rights. What is surprising is that this is still very underutilized.&nbsp; Everyone is talking about it but there are so few in reality. We&rsquo;ve searched many sites of international organizations and very few of them are using online instruments and online rights defense.&nbsp; This is truly new ground, everything else is just a question of speed; fifteen minutes instead of a day.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em><span style="color: #800000;">In comparison to television and printing press, the Internet is relatively uncensored in Russia. Of course, sometimes there are DDoS attacks that are carried out by groups who may have links to the government. In your activities, have you come across such attacks on your site?</span></em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">No, our site has not been attacked.&nbsp; I don&rsquo;t know why.&nbsp; But we did experience something that was more unpleasant for us, which was a DDoS attack on our hotlines. For example, when 500 telephone calls come in per minute, it is no longer possible to get through. Our site hasn&rsquo;t been DDoS&rsquo;ed [this is a verb], but this is a very widespread tool for fighting free media.&nbsp; Perhaps it hasn&rsquo;t happened, because we are still a very new organization. Larger organizations, such as Memorial or Human Rights Watch, have yet to be DDoS&rsquo;ed. They really do tend to attack&nbsp;mass&nbsp;services, such as blog platforms.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Furthermore, this doesn&rsquo;t just happen randomly, but usually on the eve of some important event - to overload a site two days before a big demonstration, for example.&nbsp; They just take out the blog platforms completely so that people can neither communicate nor coordinate. Over the last two years, the instances of DDoS attacks on independent media have increased.&nbsp; As you rightly noted, this is somehow tied to the government yet it hasn&rsquo;t been proved. Since it is the Internet, everything is quite anonymous, but the impression is that a budget is set aside in advance.&nbsp; Perhaps, they haven&rsquo;t had enough time to include our website in their budget.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">In relation to Internet media compared to television.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">In response to your question regarding the difference between Internet and television as a form of media; we monitor very carefully who cites our website and uses our information.&nbsp; Surprisingly, our data is used by everyone, including government-owned newspapers, but mostly in the Internet versions, not the print versions. Television companies also use our information occasionally, but, once again, on their internet releases rather than on air.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em><span style="color: #800000;">Besides DDoS attacks, do you foresee more serious threats to Internet freedom in Russia now or in the near future?</span></em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Yes, the situation is rapidly getting worse. Indeed, the Kremlin became scared of Internet freedom after the revolution in Egypt and the killing of the Libyan leader. They believed the tall tale that the revolution was a result of Twitter and Facebook, which is, of course, not the case.&nbsp; Without grassroots activity, it would have been impossible. Internet is just an amplifier of activity.&nbsp; Without that activity, there would be nothing.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Despite this however, the Russian government started to adopt new legal measures to curb Internet freedom, such as black lists. In Russia, we love children, they are almost holy, so under the guise of protecting children from pornography, drugs, and suicide, the government created a black list which was formed via very non-transparent conditions. Yet what is most interesting is that the system used IP addresses; by using one IP address, there could be a pornographic site or my site, drug propaganda or a blog post.&nbsp; This is absurd.&nbsp; Everyone was very much against this law, including Yandex, the search engine. The government promised that it would take all this into consideration, but of course it didn&rsquo;t.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Within one month of its creation, our Pirate Party released an analytical report that 95% of what goes into the Black List does not relate to pornography or drug propaganda.&nbsp; So far, this list hasn&rsquo;t been used in political battles, but the government can close an IP address forever simply by registering a pornography site to the same IP address.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">There is another negative development.&nbsp; Right now we have GONGOs, or so-called civil society organizations created with the help of the government. In one of the provinces the GONGO conducted an experiment to create a White List.&nbsp; This means that when you buy an Internet package, you will have access only to the White List of websites, which have been checked for the absence of &ldquo;bad&rdquo; content. Currently, in this list are 5,000,000 websites, which is less than 1% of all world websites. This is a Russian innovation.&nbsp; This doesn&rsquo;t even exist in China. &nbsp;So this all happens when you sign a contract with your Internet provider.&nbsp; But if you don&rsquo;t want this, you have to sign a separate contract saying that you don&rsquo;t want to protect your children from pornography.&nbsp; This experiment is only in one province and remains unofficial &ndash; but still, it&rsquo;s an alarming development.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Yet more than the above problems, there exist several other issues. For instance, companies that are close to the government acquire social platforms to exert control. Livejournal &ndash; originally owned by an American company&nbsp; - was the most popular blog service in Russia; and the government simply had it bought up by a Russian company.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Moreover, social media is being put to criminal trial for spreading extremism. This is just another tool for putting pressure on activists. The latest example was against activism to close a school &ndash; an activist organization posted a quote by Hitler that stated, &ldquo;If you wanted to control your population, close your schools.&rdquo; They were then blamed for spreading extremist propaganda. Of course, it had nothing to do with real extremism.&nbsp;</p> <ul style="text-align: justify;"> <li>Another incident was somewhere in the provinces.&nbsp; A political activist received a warning that he was noted for extremist activity because another user put a photograph with extremist content onto his vKontakte [Russian version of Facebook] wall. But it was the owner of the wall that was blamed. Of course, this is a very alarming episode, especially in the provinces.&nbsp; In Moscow, such an act would not have been possible &ndash; people protest such human rights violations, and activists can usually get good lawyers. In the provinces, however, there are very few activists &ndash; it&rsquo;s a difficult moment.</li> </ul> <p style="text-align: justify;">Yet the DDoS attacks remain the most common activity.&nbsp; It is very difficult to protect your site from them.&nbsp; Even the biggest sites cannot protect themselves.&nbsp; It is just too cheap to overload a site, about 200 USD for even the most heavily-securitized IP addresses. At the same time, to be DDoS&rsquo;d is not catastrophic.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">You mentioned the difference between Moscow and the provinces.&nbsp; But there is also a difference between generations.&nbsp; For example, the International Research and Exchange Board&rsquo;s Media Sustainability Index of 2012 indicated that the younger generation has a bigger expectation of freedom because they use the Internet, which is less censored than television. What effect might this generational difference have on the situation in Russia?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">There is a general sense that Russia is changing on a societal rather than political level; but they are mostly related to consumer behavior.&nbsp; Automobile insurance works quite well in Russia and people are becoming more used to following a contract. They know that if they are paying for insurance, they are promised a certain service and they will receive that service. Since we have a lot of drivers, this affects a big part of society.&nbsp; They become used to signing contracts and following through with them. This carries over and now people demand the same from the government with whom they feel that they are in a binding contract. They pay taxes, after all.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Another factor is that now in Russia you can buy 40 different types of cheese, 40 different types of jeans and so on - so people are used to choices.&nbsp; But despite this variety, we have Putin over and over again. So people who have become used to consumer freedom are beginning to carry this over to the political sphere. &nbsp;Internet works in the same way, when you can look at this site or that site and compare different sources of information, you begin to question what you&rsquo;re told.&nbsp; You&rsquo;re told something from the &ldquo;box&rdquo; [how Russians refer to the TV] but you say &ldquo;I will check that on Wikipedia&rdquo;. So those who are used to using the Internet have stopped trusting the &ldquo;box.&rdquo; It is true that the Russian television audience is aging and decreasing. In 2012, for the first time, daily Yandex users in Russia surpassed television viewers. This change clearly effects the way society thinks and behaves in regards to its rights.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Yet, I don&rsquo;t think that this is such a difference in age.&nbsp; For example, I was an observer at a voting station and there were some elderly official that said &ldquo;be careful because whatever you say, he will find something about it on the Internet&rdquo;.&nbsp; They think the Internet is one, big wasteland. So this understanding [of checking information] is not just among the younger generation but everywhere.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em><span style="color: #800000;">What do you hope to achieve as a Freedom Fellow?&nbsp; You have come to Geneva and will continue on to Washington, D.C.&nbsp; What effect do you hope this will have for your activities in Russia?</span></em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Our project&rsquo;s team is very interesting - we have journalists and programmers. We believe that throughout the world, NGOs do not fully utilize modern technologies for spreading their agenda. We are quite good at doing this in the context of Russian NGOs and we are interested in sharing our competences, to show them how to better utilize the Internet to spread their agenda. We would like to create trainings that emphasize knowledge sharing &ndash;that outline how an NGO site should look, and what activities that site should develop.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">During this Fellowship, I will meet a large number of professionals in the NGO world.&nbsp; Their experiences will enrich my understanding and allow me to network. We then hope to collaborate in the future and help NGOs to modernize their websites and Internet activity.&nbsp; I ended up here unintentionally- I was invited to come here, so I came here. In the end it was timely and exactly what my colleagues and I believe we need.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em><span style="color: #800000;">Besides networking, do you hope to exert any pressure on a political level?</span></em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">This fellowship was created to network and share experiences. There are many other forums that exert political pressure. We also engage in this by translating all of our reports into English and sending them around the globe.&nbsp; This fellowship is more about learning from each other.&nbsp; We are not alone - there are many people facing similar problems in other countries.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">We love data and we love to make this data available to others for their use. This is, of course, only possible with the help of the Internet. This is the feature of the Internet that will change the world.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em><span style="color: #800000;">What is next for</span></em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #000000;">Besides software development of NGOs, we are expanding geographically - covering big cities outside of Moscow. We also want to expand our topics.&nbsp; Currently, we cover mostly detentions, but we want to also cover all types of political repression.&nbsp; We already cover police and freedom of assembly, so now we want to cover courts, prisons, and political migration. We are planning to do this in the next year or two. In a way, we want to become like, an American, independent, non-profit media which produces investigative journalism on public interests by working with open data. They then distribute it via the Internet and by re-publishing at the partners&rsquo; traditional, off-line media.&nbsp;</span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #800000;"><strong><em><br /></em></strong></span></p>Justice Crushed in Sri Lanka 2013-03-18T12:29:11Z<p style="text-align: justify;"><img style="margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;" src="/s3/photos%2F2013%2F03%2Fd7eede3e37439645.jpg" alt="" width="250" height="250" />The Commonwealth is sleepwalking towards a human rights disaster, if it goes ahead with November's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, where it will be presided over by Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Perhaps emboldened by getting away with murder - the army slaughter of some 40,000 Tamil civilians in 2009 - his government has now moved to destroy the independence of the judiciary. It has sacked the Chief Justice for a decision that it finds inconvenient.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, former dean of Colombo Law School and the first woman to be made a Supreme Court judge, is a highly respected jurist.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Last year she infuriated the government by declaring unconstitutional a bill introduced by the President's brother, the Minister for Economic Development, which would have centralised political power (especially at the expense of the northern, largely Tamil province) and would have given the minister wide-ranging powers to infringe civil liberties. So the government decided to remove her and 117 of its tame MPs introduced a bill to impeach her on 14 charges of alleged ''misconduct''.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The principle of judicial independence requires that no judge should be impeached for doing his or her duty, merely because the decision has upset the government. That is exactly what the Rajapaksa government has done in the case of Dr Bandaranayake.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Three of the charges accused her of misinterpreting the constitution. But it is a judge's job to interpret the constitution and she gave it a purposive construction with which most judges - in Australia and elsewhere - would have agreed. Indeed, with two colleagues who joined in her judgment she interpreted the meaning of a key word in the constitution by looking it up in the Oxford English Dictionary - a familiar source of linguistic enlightenment in courts throughout the Commonwealth. But not for these 117 MPs.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Before politicians sack a respected judge, they must at least afford her a fair trial. So to whom did the Speaker, Rajapaksa's elder brother, entrust this task? To a ''Star Chamber'' of seven cabinet ministers.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">It sat in secret, refusing the Chief Justice's request to admit the public and refusing to have international observers. It declined to be bound by any rules about the prosecution bearing the burden of proof and it gave her no time to prepare any defence - she was presented with 1000 pages of evidence and told to be ready for a trial starting the following day.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The tribunal chairman told her expressly that it would allow no witnesses, whereupon she and her counsel walked out, despairing of any fair trial. The next day, in her absence and without notice to her, they called 16 witnesses whom she could not in consequence cross-examine.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The result was a foregone conclusion. She was found ''guilty'' on three charges of misconduct on evidence that could not stand up in any real court and could not in any event amount to ''misconduct'' under any sensible definition.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">For example, the fact that her bank had addressed her as ''Chief Justice'' on her statements was regarded as an abuse of office justifying her removal. The Supreme Court quashed the Select Committee's findings of guilt, but the President refused to obey their orders.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The President sacked her and appointed the government legal adviser, who had no judicial experience, as Chief Justice in her place. Her impeachment was celebrated with a fireworks display from the Sri Lankan navy and with entertainment, feasting and fireworks supplied by the government.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The prospect of the Queen travelling as head of the Commonwealth to Sri Lanka to provide a propaganda windfall - a royal seal of approval - for the host President after his destruction of judicial independence would make a mockery of the core democratic values for which the Commonwealth is meant to stand.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Canada has already signalled it may refuse to attend what will be a showcase for the regime, but Bob Carr is determined that Australia will be there, a position that is sure to damage Australia's standing on human rights. Mauritius, an exemplary democracy, is willing to host CHOGM, and that's where it should take place.</p> <p><span style="color: #888888;">Opinions voiced by Global Minds do not necessarily reflect the opinions of<em>&nbsp;The Global Journal</em>.</span></p> <p><span><br /></span></p>The Sino-Tibetan Issue: Searching for a Middle Way2013-02-26T17:58:10Z<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F25%2Fd0%2F25d0b8a81da1395c821d521db3211d7c.jpg" alt="D.C." width="580" height="386" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">In the run up to the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Kalon Dicki Chhoyang addressed the issue of Sino-Tibetan relations at the <a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">5th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy</a>&nbsp;on 19 February. This annual event gathers hundreds of dissidents, human rights victims and activists to bring urgent human rights situations to the attention of the international community.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Dicki Chhoyang was born in India in 1966 and grew up in Montreal, Canada. She began working for the Tibetan community at a young age through various development projects. Between 1994 and 2003, she studied in Beijing and lived in Tibet where she learned the local Tibetan dialect and conducted field research on Tibetan-medium higher education. She then worked for a private American philanthropic foundation that funded community development projects in Tibetans areas of the Qinghai and Gansu of China. In 2011, Chhoyang was appointed head of the&nbsp;Department of Information and International Relations for the Central Tibetan Administration&nbsp;based in Dharamsala, India.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #800000;">Since 2009, over a hundred Tibetans have self-immolated in protests against Chinese rule. The self-immolations began with monks and now include teenagers, women, middle-aged parents and nomads. Tibet has been under Chinese rule since 1951, why this outbreak now?</span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">I think there is a sense of urgency about the gravity of the situation. Eighty-six of the self-immolators have passed away since 2009. This is a clear signal from Tibetans against the repressive policies of the Chinese government in Tibet. We are losing our language, our way of life and the environment is being destroyed. It is not a new phenomenon, but the form of protest we are seeing now is a consequence of the fact that Tibetans inside Tibet have no other conventional space for protest. They tried demonstration and petition, but when you live in a police state you are silenced within a matter of minutes and never heard. Also, a lot of the self-immolators were born and raised after the Chinese occupation and have their own view as to how they want to react to China's occupation of Tibet.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Policies imposed on Tibetans are characterized by cultural assimilation, with Tibetan monasteries run by the Chinese Communist Party and the language of instruction being changed from Tibetan to Chinese. Environmental policies include a lot of mining operations and dam building without consultation with local communities and the benefits going to the Chinese government. A direct consequence of this is the forced settlement of Tibetan nomads who are being settled into simple brick houses and forced to sell their livestock and to abandon a way of life they have known for generations without planning as to how they will cope with livelihood issues once they run out of the<span>&nbsp;&nbsp;</span>few thousand Renminbi they have been giving when settled by the government. Thirdly, there is the economic marginalization of Tibetans with an influx of Chinese migrant workers and increasing unemployment of young Tibetans in urban areas. These are some of the causes behind the self-immolations.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #800000;">Do you see a significant difference between the administration of western and central Tibet (Tibet Autonomous Region) and that of eastern areas, which are mostly incorporated into the neighbouring Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai?</span>&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Even in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibetans do not have much more autonomy than in the east because the decisions are made in Beijing and executed locally. Each province in China is governed according to a parallel system. There is an administrative system with governor and vice-governor, and a party-system with party secretary and deputy-secretary of the communist party. The power belongs to the party structure. So even if a governor in western Tibet is Tibetan, the power lies with the party secretary who will always be a Chinese person.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #800000;">Considering China's refusal to engage in open dialogue on the situation in Tibet, do you think the international community's perception of the political reality in this region is accurate?</span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">What is important for the international community to know is that China keeps saying everything is fine in Tibet and people who are self-immolating are being incited by the Dalai clique and the diaspora. Well, if everything is fine in Tibet then why aren't they letting anybody in? The United Nations (UN), the media and foreign envoys are being denied entry. The Chinese have developed infrastructure in both urban&nbsp;and rural&nbsp;Tibetan areas. Sure, they developed the infrastructure in cities, but to whose benefit? If after all these improvements, Tibetans still feel compelled to protest against Chinese policies, it means something in these policies is misguided. What people see when they go to Tibet is a facade. The monasteries have no control over the curriculum for monks and nuns, historians cannot research any topic they want, and now they cannot even teach in Tibetan. But China wants to maintain appearances.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">It is internationally unprecedented to have self-immolations on that scale as a form of political protest, and it certainly is unprecedented in Tibetan history. We have seen it in Vietnam, Tunisia, China but nowhere on the scale we are witnessing in Tibet. Right from when the immolations began, the Central Tibetan Administration* appealed to Tibetans inside Tibet not to resort to drastic measures, including self-immolation. Despite our appeals, the self-immolations have persisted. So as an administration, we feel a duty to speak up on their behalf and explain to the international community the reasons behind the self-immolations. We also have been making great efforts to appeal to the Chinese government not to respond to protests with greater repression but to listen to Tibetans. None of these people, including the administration that I represent, is challenging China's political and territorial integrity. We are not asking for independence. We are willing to remain a part of China provided we are given genuine autonomy on matters such as education, culture and religion. &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #800000;">Is the UN taking appropriate action with regard to the situation in Tibet?</span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">We have seen some reactions. In November last year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a very strong statement regarding the situation inside Tibet and foreign affairs ministries have also issued statements of concern. But it is clear that more needs to be done. I think Tibet is a very strong test of people's principles when it comes to supporting non-violence and encouraging peaceful conflict resolution, because Tibetans are faced with formidable force in China. We talk a lot about principles of non-violence and peace. These principles have to be upheld not when it is convenient, but particularly when it is inconvenient. In the context of the UN, we are asking to have China held accountable as a member of the UN and the Human Rights Council - to uphold the commitments it has made. There are 12 outstanding human rights related requests by special rapporteurs to visit China. In 2004, China agreed to have the special rapporteur on freedom of religion visit Tibet and the visit has yet to take place.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">China's strategy is to turn a deaf ear to whatever the international community says about Tibet, claiming Tibet is China's internal matter. But pressure has to be sustained because I do believe China pays attention to public opinion and it can make a difference.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #800000;">How do you think the situation will evolve in Tibet?</span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">We see the interest for Tibetans to be part of China, and of course China wants Tibet to remain in China. Tibet is very strategically located and has huge amounts of natural resources. It is the origin of ten of Asia's major rivers and has various types of minerals. The last round of talks took place in 2010 and there has not been any contact since then. For us, substance is primary and we want to engage in dialogue. So if China wants envoys of the Dalai Lama, we will send them. Whenever they want to meet, we are ready to resume dialogue&nbsp;without pre-conditions.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">As we speak, there are some misconceptions that the Chinese government is trying to perpetuate when it comes to the issue of Tibet. One is that we are seeking independence. Of course, there are two schools of thought within the Tibetan community, one is for independence and the other is for autonomy. I represent the legitimate, democratically&nbsp;elected leadership of the Tibetan community and our position is autonomy &ndash; just like the Dalai Lama's. But we let the people who believe in independence speak because they have the right to express their views. Secondly, it is often believed in Europe that Tibet is still a theocracy, which is not the case. The Dalai Lama devolved his political authority to the elected leadership in 2011.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">During the last round of talks,&nbsp;at the request of the Chinese government, we submitted a document presenting our vision of autonomy.&nbsp;So we put it in writing in a document called <em>Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy</em> &ndash; also known as the <a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Middle Way Policy</a> &ndash; where we seek a middle-ground between complete independence and the status quo. Currently, the decision making power is centralized in Beijing, but if we look at places such as Hong Kong we see it is possible to have one country with two systems. So we believe that if there is a political will, common ground can be found.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">*The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), commonly referred to as the Tibetan Government in Exile, is based in Dharamshala, India and was established by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959 shortly after his exile from Tibet. While its internal structure is government-like, it has stated that it is &ldquo;not designed to take power in Tibet&rdquo; but aims to restore freedom for Tibetans inside Tibet.&nbsp;The CTA's policy does not seek independence for Tibet, but proposes that Tibetan regions remain an integral part of China provided they are granted genuine autonomy.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">Photo &copy;&nbsp;</span><a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank"><span style="color: #888888;">Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy</span></a></p>A Dictatorship’s Success Stories2013-01-23T07:31:53Z<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F1e%2F03%2F1e0363a39ce5072d547cec6599da80f2.jpg" alt="Belarus" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Aleksandr Lukashenko is resilient. The President of Belarus has stood firm against the European Union (EU) and its renewed political and economic sanctions in response to his increasingly autocratic rule. In six months, he has freed two political prisoners while a dozen remain in custody. On September 23, nation wide parliamentary elections ran smoothly in an atmosphere of total indifference from the great majority of the population. Russia, for its part, supports Belarus with financial subsidies, ready to buy out everything possible at discounted prices.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>The village was still part of the Soviet Union when Yuri Chizh &ndash; today one of Belarus&rsquo; richest businessmen, with close links to President Aleksandr Lukashenko &ndash; preferred to run around in the neighboring forest rather than attend school. To get up to childhood mischief, he had to carefully avoid his family&rsquo;s bright yellow home, which stood only a few meters between the school and the kolkhoz. At that time, it seems, the two intersecting streets of Sabali in Biarozovsky district, 250 kilometres south of Minsk, were full of life. Forty years later, while the petrified Soviet Brezhnev era has disappeared into history, the village has plunged into a kind of hibernation. The school has been dismantled, and families with children have fled to the cities. Most of the wooden houses lie empty &ndash; indeed, only 70 pensioners remain. </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>The kolkhoz holds on unconvincingly, with two or three old tractors languishing in a yard. The endless wet and flat countryside, dotted with familiar birch trees, has become noticeably sadder. The yellow house is slightly less colorful. </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>Chizh had to leave for Minsk relatively early, in order to commence studies in electronics at the Belarusian Polytechnical Institute. From then on, everything moved quickly. He had a chance to exercise his entrepreneurial skills during perestroika, and now heads a business empire based on the Triple holding, which reprocesses and exports oil products bought from Russia at discounted prices. Chizh has also diversified into civil engineering, construction, manufacturing, restaurants, food production and a network of hypermarkets &ndash; the Prostore chain. He has been especially prominent in media headlines in recent times for building the first luxury Kempinski hotel in central Minsk, just behind the Circus and near the unchanged Sovietera Gorki Park. Although associated with the Slovenian Riko Group in the context of that project, Chizh has failed, however, to escape the EU&rsquo;s sanction list. </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>Blacklisted since March, Chizh is undoubtedly paying for his close links with Lukashenko, and, by implication, for his impressive success. Yet in compensation for the European punishment, his boss has just granted Chizh a 99-year concession over his native Sabali village. Essentially, this means that every single square inch of the land where he grew up ultimately belongs to him. After years of fruitful wanderings in the capital, the oligarch has returned home. He has brought with him an immense sponsorship project focused on building a large complex boasting a hotel, restaurant, ethno-museum and a host of other infrastructure. In theory, Sabali will benefit as a revitalized rural center. At the very least, the faded paintwork of the wooden houses will be refreshed. </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>Belarus is not devoid of successful private companies. Chizh&rsquo;s Triple ranks among the leaders, but many others follow close behind. Alexander Moshensky&rsquo;s Santa Impex for food &ndash; particularly seafood &ndash; processing, Pavel Topuzidis&rsquo; Tabak Invest, Alexander Shakutin&rsquo;s Amkodor for road-building machinery, or Anatoly Ternavsky&rsquo;s Univest-M group &ndash; with activities ranging from petrochemical exports to banking, restaurants and construction &ndash; have no reason to be ashamed. Among these business leaders, only Ternavsky has been the subject of EU sanctions. Notably, the other three have significant investments in neighboring European countries. The old Belarusian economic clich&eacute;s of arms traders linked to rogue states (such as fellow oligarch Vladimir Peftiev &ndash; blacklisted) and manufacturers of heavy machinery have faded away. Now engaged in more conventional enterprises, most &lsquo;normal&rsquo; Belarusian businesses owe their success to efficient and skilled CEOs, whose first talent is to maintain close, loyal and &lsquo;friendly&rsquo; relations with their unique common business boss: Lukashenko. Ironically, in the few remaining post-Soviet dictatorships, the Marxist economic model has been reversed. Political superstructures today prevail over the base.&nbsp;</span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>The new bourgeois class of Belarus, owners of the means of production, have been reduced to acting as presidential &lsquo;wallet persons,&rsquo; or koshelki as they are nicknamed in Russian. They cannot even pretend to stand alone as independent partners or shareholders in the national wealth. Lukashenko usually considers these individuals as simple business managers tasked with implementing his instructions. Their dependence is as prodigious as their efforts to maintain the President&rsquo;s confidence. Ternavsky, for instance, has been obliged to employ Lukashenko&rsquo;s daughter-in-law, Anna. He also sponsors the Presidential Sport&rsquo;s Club, headed by Dmitri Lukashenko, Alexander&rsquo;s son and Anna&rsquo;s husband. Meanwhile, Chizh seems to prefer playing ice hockey on the same team as the President. He cannot refuse to sponsor the cultural resuscitation of Belarus&rsquo; birch-dotted countryside in the south, and when, for mysterious reasons, several of his top managers were arrested, he remained silent. The new Christian cross presented recently to Sabali by a Polish historical society, commemorating the Polish-Belarusian insurrection against Tsarist Russia in 1863 &ndash; and which will hardly be a tourist attraction in the middle of the kolkhoz &ndash; has a poignant political meaning. </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>In Belarus, Lukashenko decides almost all matters. The 58-year old former state farm manager assumed power in 1994, and recently described himself in a widely publicized interview as &ldquo;the last and only dictator in Europe.&rdquo; Though most infamous internationally as a result of accusations of torture and other human rights abuses &ndash; often focused on opposition figures &ndash; his political choices also determine business strategies. Chizh may have willingly agreed to allocate some money to his childhood village so long as he could also run his business according to his own interests and economic rationale. Now on the EU sanctions list, he has fallen as collateral damage in the President&rsquo;s acrimonious relations with Europe, entrapped within Belarusian diplomatic strategies.<br /></span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span>To read the full report,&nbsp;</span><a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">subscribe</a> or order a copy of <em><a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">The Global Journal</a></em>.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">By Laurent Vinatier </span></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">Photography courtesy of Alexander Vasukovich</span></p>A Tyrannical Victory at the Human Rights Council?2012-11-14T15:37:11Z<p style="text-align: justify;">It is a good day for intolerant rulers like Hugo Chavez and Nursultan Nazarbayev, as seven countries with particularly appalling human rights records&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">were elected to the UN Human Rights Council</a>: Ethiopia, Gabon, C&ocirc;te d&rsquo;Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The Human Rights&nbsp;<em>Council</em>&nbsp;was founded in 2006 in response to the censure that the UN Human Rights&nbsp;<em>Commission</em>&nbsp;was facing for including major human rights violators in its ranks. For decades, the Commission was actively destructive to the interests of human rights by providing diplomatic cover to the worst tyrants. The success of human rights-abusing governments in using seats on the Commission to deflect pressure for reform became one of the most cynical games in international politics.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">At the time, <a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan</a>&nbsp;admitted that<a rel="nofollow" href="">&nbsp;</a>the Commission's &ldquo;declining credibility&rdquo; had &ldquo;cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system. Unless we re-make our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself.&rdquo; His advice, that the Commission be &ldquo;scrapped and replaced,&rdquo; was heeded. The new council was to be different; it would only elect countries that&nbsp;&ldquo;uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.&rdquo; It was to right the wrongs of the defunct Commission. Unfortunately, today's elections seem to indicate total failure. The Council is the same old wine in a new bottle.&nbsp; Take three of the countries that were elected to the council with questionable human rights records: Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.</p> <p><img style="vertical-align: middle; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F79%2F90%2F79906810dfc450da29c4ac1813a13a02.jpg" alt="HRC" width="580" height="386" /></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The Venezuelan government has&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">continually engaged</a>&nbsp;in human rights violations. Arrests, incarceration, and&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">criminal prosecution</a>&nbsp;of individuals who express opinions opposing the state are rampant. Press freedom is&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">under assault</a>, and the regime holds a&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">communications hegemony</a>. Legislation by the state has&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">criminalized legitimate criticism</a>&nbsp;of public officials, disregarding the principles of accountability, transparency and honest government. What's more, the Venezuelan government has consistently ignored various&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">international recommendations</a>&nbsp;from UN member states. For instance, recommendations from Norway, Switzerland, the UK and Czech Republic to improve Venezuela's&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">hellish prison conditions</a>&nbsp;have been denied. Venezuela has failed to uphold international obligations on freedom of speech, and has yet to respect a single decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which has determined in numerous cases that Venezuela's&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">political prisoners should be freed</a>.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Equally problematic is Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's repeated endorsements of some of the world's top human rights violators:&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Vladimir Putin</a>&nbsp;of Russia,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">Fidel Castro</a>&nbsp;of Cuba,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Alexander Lukashenko</a>&nbsp;of Belarus,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Bashar al-Assad</a>&nbsp;of Syria,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Muammar al-Qaddafi</a>&nbsp;of Libya,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Saddam Hussein</a>&nbsp;of Iraq,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Mahmoud Ahmadinejad</a>&nbsp;of Iran, and&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">Robert Mugabe</a>&nbsp;of Zimbabwe. The Venezuelan strongman has described these men as his &ldquo;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">brothers</a>.&rdquo; It is doubtful that Venezuela can objectively address the human rights violations of leaders considered allies, and friends and from whom Chavez purchases&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">billions of dollars in arms</a>&nbsp;or shares totalitarian best practices. &nbsp;Things will only become worse with Venezuela, a country with neither rule of law nor freedom of speech, and with a track record of ignoring the international decisions of the Council.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Kazakhstan is another country with a litany of human rights abuses on its government's record. The regime controls public assembly, and the denial of permits for any politically motivated public meeting is common. Authorities will often use lethal force to break up peaceful strikes and protests. The&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Zhanaozen massacre</a>&nbsp;that occurred in December was a bloodbath that is yet to be properly investigated. Kazakh media are subject to censorship and legal restrictions, and those with dissenting opinions have been met with&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">harassment, libel and defamation charges, and physical attacks</a>. If this isn't enough to prove the government's media chokehold, consider that the main media broadcast company is owned by state agents and associates of the president's family. According to the&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Economist Intelligence Unit</a>, President Nazarbayev's authoritarian rule is likely to continue; national elections are laughably fraudulent with the president-for-life winning more than&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">95 percent of the vote</a>. Nazarbayev has stated that a one-party parliament was a &ldquo;wonderful opportunity to adopt all the laws needed to speed up our country's economic and political modernization.&rdquo; The election of Kazakhstan to the Council will provide the country with the means to silence not just domestic, but also international criticism of Kazakh human rights violations.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Pakistan similarly fails to meet the minimal standards of a free democracy. Criticism of the government in the press is limited by the state,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">Internet censorship has increased</a>, and the government restricts the registration of NGOs. Reporters Without Borders has declared Pakistan &ldquo;<a rel="nofollow" href="">the world's deadliest country for journalists for the second year running</a>,&rdquo; ranking the country 151st out of 179 countries in its 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index. Insulting Islam, the prophet Mohammed, or the Koran is&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">punishable by death</a>, and many, like&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="">Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five</a>, remain on death row for the crime of blasphemy. Some Pakistanis believe their government is complicit in the culture of intolerance and violence that&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">allowed 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai</a>&nbsp;to be shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating education for herself and other girls. Pakistan's UN voting record is also worth examining. Pakistan has abstained from voting on the resolution for victims in North Korea, Myanmar and Syria and outright opposed the resolution for victims in Iran. What else can we expect from Pakistan being on the Council?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The Council, which was supposed to be an improved replacement of the defunct Commission, is plagued by the same faults as its autocratic member governments. I learned this first hand when&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">I testified</a>&nbsp;in Geneva earlier this year and was shut down by the servants of the Chinese, Cuban, and Russian dictatorships. The US, which just won re-election to the Council, is not free of criticism on the grounds of human rights violations. However, its government protects the right to freedom of speech and assembly, separation of powers exists, and a free press holds the government in check. Most importantly, it has a demonstrable track record inside the Council of addressing its own human rights violations while being an honest ally of witnesses who come to testify.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The Council pledged to subject member countries to an entirely new and universal periodic peer review &ldquo;based on objective and reliable information&rdquo; of their human rights records during their terms. Yet, tyrannies like China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">continue to enjoy member status</a>. And other candidates not remotely qualified for membership are winning new seats, despite&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">our best opposition</a>. The Council must not continue to act as a criticism shield for governments that fail to uphold the very standards it espouses.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The Human Rights Council has become perhaps the most effective tool for dictators to divert attention away from their own abuses. We must ask, with some of the world's most egregious rights violators newly elected, exactly how much credibility does the Council have left?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><em>Opinions voiced by Global Minds do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Global Journal.</em></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">(Photo &copy; UN)</p>The Great Internet Governance Swindle2012-11-02T17:12:27Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F00%2F77%2F0077a37e828facf7dd092c74ca588f1c.jpg" alt="Internet Governance" width="580" height="387" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Could we see, beginning in Dubai in December, the end of the Internet as we know it? The 193 member states making up the <a rel="nofollow" href="../../../../article/view/907/" target="_blank">International Telecommunications Union</a> (ITU) are scheduled to meet next month to review the treaty that has formed the binding international framework for International Telecommunication Regulations for almost 25 years. While the scale of change is likely to be more modest, for some &ndash; most notably the United States (US) government and the powerful players it represents &ndash; any reform is seen as potentially disastrous. &nbsp;Read why we think the US government and its private affiliates should be seriously questioned, and why a reform is necessary.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">The US is at war with the ITU, and despite the behind-the-scenes nature of the issues at the heart of the dispute, it is a war being waged in plain sight. Whether representing the government or private sector, each US anti-ITU speaker takes the floor to recite the same arguments. If the ITU assumes the lead on Internet governance, the web will never be free again. To prevent the disaster of an online world subject to a draconian form of censorship and control, <em>Netizens</em> should stand united and defend their freedom against an approaching UN plague. According to these white knights, the Internet requires no central control, no authority. The true heir to the counter-culture of the 1960s, it is a decentralized system, bottom-up, and rightfully beyond the reach of any governmental hands. &lsquo;Multi-stakeholder-ism&rsquo; is the rule, indeed religion. Why change a status quo that works (almost) perfectly well? Notwithstanding the simple attraction of an &lsquo;if it ain&rsquo;t broke, don&rsquo;t fix it&rsquo; pitch, such a narrative demands some concerted rethinking. Let's first listen to what the US camp is angrily saying.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Back in May, a resolution passed by the US Congress expressed full opposition to international regulation of the Internet by the ITU. In his introductory remarks at a hearing of national experts, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman, <a rel="nofollow" href="../../../../article/view/921/" target="_blank">Greg Walden</a>, insisted that &ldquo;weakening the multi-stakeholder model threatens the Internet&rdquo; &ndash; a model that had &ldquo;served the Internet and the world so well.&rdquo; Walden went on to remind his audience that the ITU was &ldquo;originally formed in 1865 to govern international regulations of the telegraph,&rdquo; and that even when the organization adopted the <em>International Telecommunications Regulations</em> in Melbourne in 1988, world telecommunications were still &ldquo;dominated by voice telephony.&rdquo; After insisting on the end-effect of that treaty &ndash; &ldquo;transferring money to foreign companies run by governments&rdquo; &ndash; in the process avoiding the fact that the agreement had paved the way for an integrated, open and regulated network of national telecommunications providers for the Internet, Walden finally delivered his bottom line: it would be inappropriate to ask an organization such as the ITU &ndash; a prehistoric relic &ndash; to regulate the vibrant and technologically diverse Internet. &ldquo;The ITU ignores the technology of the Internet and the fact that [it] doesn&rsquo;t work with national boundaries. Such international regulation would soon become unmanageable.&rdquo; Are you smelling any 'mauvaise foi'?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">All were presented as good reasons for the US to reject any international regulatory regime involving governments. Immediately after Walden finished, however, came the killer-quote from Russian President, Vladimir Putin, about December&rsquo;s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai: &ldquo;international control over the Internet is one of the stated goals.&rdquo; The UN, ITU, Russia, China, governmental authority, censorship &ndash; Congress seemed to have a Cold War revival on its hands. &ldquo;When it comes to regulating the Internet, the answer is <em>niet</em>!&rdquo; The witnesses that followed favored a less theatrical approach, grounded in clear expressions of US national interest. &ldquo;What is at stake here is the creation of 231,000 jobs.&rdquo; Members of Congress learned about &ldquo;endangering net neutrality,&rdquo; and &ldquo;balkanizing the Internet.&rdquo; But of all the arguments thrown in the face of the UN, its affiliates and members, one deserved special attention: the notion that the US government&rsquo;s handover of control over the Internet to the private sector represented &ldquo;one of the great success stories of American history.&rdquo; A total irony, as we shall see.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Before going into this fascinating story, however, let&rsquo;s first meet the witnesses present at that May hearing, which included <a rel="nofollow" href="../../../../article/view/918/" target="_blank">Ambassador David A Gross</a> &ndash; former US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy turned lobbyist &ndash; who attended on behalf of the &lsquo;WCIT Ad Hoc Working Group,&rsquo; an industry-led coalition counting AT&amp;T, Cisco, Comcast, Google, Intel, Microsoft, News Corporation, Oracle, Telefonica, Time Warner Cable, Verisign and Verizon amongst its members. In effect, an informal grouping representing most major players with an interest in the Internet. No doubt, the friends of Ambassador Gross had sufficient resources to get their point across to the assembled congressional audience. With the deft skill of a seasoned diplomat, Gross first acknowledged that &ldquo;the ITU&hellip; is extremely important to US national interests,&rdquo; citing the &ldquo;vital&rdquo; role it played in spectrum policy, satellite management, telecommunications standards development, and as a cooperative forum for international experts from around the world. He also praised the leadership of ITU Secretary-General, <strong><a rel="nofollow" href="../../../../article/view/915/" target="_blank">Hamadoun Tour&eacute;</a></strong>, in seeking to advance global uptake of broadband technology. While Gross went on to refer to &ndash; unspecified &ndash; countries seeking to use the ITU and its treaty-based authority for &ndash; unexplained &ndash; counter-productive purposes, he refrained from unnecessarily attacking or criticizing the ITU itself.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Another individual present was <strong><a rel="nofollow" href="../../../../article/view/913/" target="_blank">Vinton Cerf</a></strong>, who as a PhD student in the late 1960s witnessed the birth of some of the key concepts in computer science, and lived with many of the founding fathers of the Internet. Cerf attended the hearing as Vice President and &lsquo;Chief Internet Evangelist&rsquo; at Google. While a number of industry counterparts have joined the ITU as non-voting members &ndash; as is their right &ndash; Google has never applied to do so, nor responded to the repeated invitations it has received from the organization. Cerf expressed his deep concern ahead of WCIT-12, but also recognized the challenge faced by developing countries to share in the &ldquo;$4.2 trillion growth opportunity&rdquo; referred to by the Boston Consulting Group in a March report.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">&ldquo;The very real concerns about the damage that ITU regulation could do to the Internet should not minimize the existing concerns that developing nations have as they try to keep up with the 21st century economy. We can and should solve problems of access and education without compromising the Internet&rsquo;s essential open and decentralized character.&rdquo; With approximately $8 trillion exchanging hands each year via e-commerce, this opportunity will be lost to developing countries if they do not cope with associated infrastructure, maintenance and investment costs. It is also a concern at the forefront of Tour&eacute;&rsquo;s speeches, himself a citizen of Mali. In economic terms, a May report from the McKinsey Global Institute noted that the Internet is integral to economic development and job creation, generating over 10 percent of GDP growth in the past 15 years in the countries under review. &ldquo;With more than two billion users worldwide, the Internet still has enormous capacity for growth,&rdquo; concluded Cerf.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Interestingly, many of the arguments presented by key witnesses at the hearing could also be found a few weeks later in a paper published by the Stanford Technology Law Review. The article&rsquo;s author, <a rel="nofollow" href="../../../../article/view/922/" target="_blank">Patrick Ryan</a>, is a Policy Counsel at Google, as well as an Adjunct Professor in the University of Colorado at Boulder&rsquo;s Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program. He was kind enough to thank Cerf and other Google employees for assistance in writing the article, though maintained the content did not reflect the official views of Google. Why then, did Ryan quote the assessment of an unnamed colleague that the ITU&rsquo;s regulatory proposals made &ldquo;the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) &ndash; which threatened to grant new censorship and blocking powers to the US government &ndash; look like the equivalent of a bad hair day&rdquo;? Such a view is certainly not grounded in fact. Ryan then turned to a sympathetic voice from the US government: &ldquo;more to the point, Federal Communications Commissioner <a rel="nofollow" href="../../../../article/view/923/" target="_blank">Robert McDowell</a> recently described&hellip; the dangers of ITU involvement in Internet regulation, noting that a topdown, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net.&rdquo; The alignment of rhetoric between Google, Stanford and senior government regulators gives one cause to pause.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">What can be said with confidence is that private and public stakeholders in the US are strongly opposed to international regulation of the Internet. This raises the question of whether there is a legitimate basis to such reservations. Could the ITU be manipulated by rogue states or repressive regimes? Could the ITU exceed its own mandate? Could the ITU act without taking into account civil society stakeholders? Could the ITU provide a platform for top-down Internet censorship? None of these questions can be answered unequivocally in the affirmative. So what, then, is the reality behind all of the ardent speeches and public declarations from a US-led coalition of governmental and industrial players?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">To read the full report,&nbsp;<a rel="nofollow" href="" target="_blank">subscribe or order a copy of The Global Journal.</a></p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><a rel="nofollow" href="../../../../article/view/904/" target="_blank">Click here</a> to read the latest updates concerning the future of the internet.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">(Photo &copy; DR)</span></p>When the Media Speak European2012-11-02T16:38:34Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2Fab%2F59%2Fab5927c4e6eb4e5f5508de67f06b6dce.jpg" alt="European Identity" width="376" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p>European Identity: What the Media Say, Paul Bailey &amp; Geoffrey Williams (eds), Oxford University Press &pound;55.00.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">This volume presents parts of the findings of the <em>IntUne Project</em>, a transnational quadrennial project questioning the idea of European citizenship in an ever closer Europe. As researchers across Poland, France, Italy and the UK analyze television news and newspapers, the reader learns that the European Commission appears overwhelmingly as the heart of EU governance; that Italian newspapers feature more negative representations of refugees and immigrants than UK newspapers; and that the idea of &lsquo;European&rsquo; history remains multifarious and uncertain. Researchers used an innovative methodology combining quantitative (computer-assisted analysis) and qualitative methods (discourse analysis) that will be particularly exciting for academics in linguistics and media studies. Yet, the authors were also careful to write in layman&rsquo;s terms for anyone interested in issues of European institutions, identity and governance. Although the linguistic plurality of the volume makes it original, one can regret the absence of Germany in the project. Similarly, the online evolution of news media, and more generally the material context of news production are not addressed. But <em>European Identity</em> provides a thorough overview of the language used by the media to represent Europe &ndash; and shows, dialectically, how the media contribute to constructing a certain idea of Europe.</p> <p style="text-align: right;">-T. N.</p>