politics of cyberspace
US citizen Alan Gross, serving a 15-year prison term in Cuba for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), held a liquids-only hunger strike from April 3 to 11 to protest his treatment by both the Cuban and the US governments. According to Scott Gilbert, Gross's Washington, DC-based lawyer, the prisoner started his hunger strike after he learned about an April 3 Associated Press report on ZunZuneo, the "Cuban Twitter" service that USAID launched after his arrest in December 2009. Gross was charged with seeking to subvert the Cuban government by supplying dissidents with Internet technology, and ZunZuneo had the potential to damage his legal case.
Experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced concern on April 10 about the lack of medical treatment to two political prisoners in Iran who are at risk of dying in detention. The experts have urged the Iranian government to provide medical care to the two prisoners, blogger Mohammad Reza Pourshajari and religious leader Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi. The experts found that the prison physicians have recognized the prisoners' need for specialized medical treatment, but that the government has not responded to the requests. They have stated that the deteriorating health of the prisoners is due to abuse, poor living conditions, long-term solitary confinement and torture occurring in the prison. Pourshajari was arrested in 2010 for "propagating against the regime" and is currently suffering from a recent heart attack, prostate disease, kidney stones, high blood pressure and breathing problems. Boroujerdi was arrested in 2006 for criticizing political Islam, and is currently suffering from Parkinson's disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney stones, a heart condition and breathing problems.
An Egyptian court of appeals on April 7 upheld the jailing of three men who co-founded the April 6 opposition movement which played a large role in the country's 2011 revolution. The ruling has been described as part of a crackdown on those opposed to the military-backed government, and critics have called it an attempt to stifle the street activism that has become common since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Sentences for the three activists, Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel, for protesting without permission and assaulting the police were handed down by a court last December. The verdict was the first under a controversial anti-protest law requiring police permission for public demonstrations. Though the men have one more chance to appeal to a higher court, analysts do not foresee the verdict being overturned. One of the defense lawyers, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, has said that he plans to challenge the ruling, and that if it cannot be overturned he will take the case to the African Court on Human and People's rights.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID), a US government foreign aid agency, secretly ran a cell phone-based imitation of the Twitter social networking service in Cuba from 2010 to 2012, according to an April 3 report by the Associated Press (AP) wire service. The service—named "ZunZuneo," Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet—was developed in conjunction with two private contractors, the Washington, DC-based Creative Associates International and the Denver-based Mobile Accord. ZunZuneo was popular with young Cubans, who were unaware of its origin; by 2012 the service had some 40,000 subscribers.
Turkish Prime Miniter Tayyip Erdogan's banning of YouTube is making more headlines than the extraordinary leak the prompted the move. Posted to YouTube anonymously, it appears to show Turkey's intelligence chief and cabinet members discussing a possible attack on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Sultan Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan seemed to confirm the leak, telling a crowd of supporters: "They even leaked a national security meeting. This is villainous... Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?" The government said in a statement: "It is a wretched attack, an act of espionage and a very heavy crime to record and leak to the public a top secret meeting held in a place where the most delicate security issues of the state are discussed." But outrage over the leak seems intended to distract from the actual conent of the leak...
A Cairo court on March 23 ordered the release on bail of blogger and activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was imprisoned by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in October 2011 for violating Egypt's controversial protest law and refusing to answer prosecutors' questions. The SCAF accuses Abdel Fatah of inciting violence during protests in October, in which 27 people were killed and 300 people were injured. Abdel Fatah is currently on trial with 24 co-defendants, all of whom are charged with organizing public protests without prior government approval, destroying public property and assaulting members of the police. Abdel Fatah is reportedly known throughout Egypt for his criticism of the nation's shifting regimes. He was imprisoned once during the rule of Hosni Mubarak in 2006, and again during military rule in 2011. Reports indicate that Abdel Fatah's release on bail does not mean he has avoided conviction and sentencing for his alleged crimes.
Local authorities in Kunming, capital of China's Yunnan province, said March 2 that a deadly mass knife attack at the city's main rail station that morning was "orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist forces," the official news agency Xinhua reported. At least 29 were killed and more than 130 injured as a group of black-clad men chased down and stabbed commuters in the early-morning rush hour. Five suspects were shot by police, and it is unclear how many may have escaped. President Xi Jinping pldged to respond "with all-out efforts and punish the terrorists in accordance with the law." (Xinhua, Xinhua, Xinhua, March 2)
Riot police in Istanbul used water cannons against demonstrators Feb. 9 in the latest protest against a bill that would increase government control over the Internet. Last month, demonstrators attempted to occupy Istanbul's main Taksim Square in protest of the law, before being evicted by riot police with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. The bill, granting Turkey's telecommunications authority the ability to block websites or remove content without a court order, has been approved by parliament and awaits the signature of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey made almost 1,700 requests for Google to remove material from the web in the first six months of 2013—more than three times any other country, and a rise of nearly 1,000% in one year. Google says most of the requests were turned down. (AFP, Feb. 9; Jurist, Feb. 7; Euronews, Jan. 18)