politics of cyberspace
Ge Yongxi, a civil rights defense lawyer, was detained and released April 15 by Chinese authorities for posts on social media that "poked fun" at President Xi Jinping in relation to the Panama Papers. The president's brother-in-law, Deng Jiagui, was named—along with a handful of elite Chinese citizens—in the data leak from a Panamanian law firm that exposed offshore accounts held by prominent politicians and others across the globe. Information about the Panama Papers has been censored across China with websites in that country "forbidden" from publishing material about the subject. Ge was also detained 10 months ago and questioned by authorities for being involved in a lawyers' rights movement.
Amnesty International on March 25 expressed concern over the conviction of journalist Alaa Brinji by the Saudi Arabian Specialized Criminal Court. Alaa Brinji has been in detention since May 2014 and has not been allowed access to a lawyer. He was convicted this week on charges of insulting the rulers of the country, inciting public opinion, accusing security officers of killing protestors, ridiculing Islamic religious figures and violating the Anti-Cyber Crime Law. All of the charges are based on tweets by Alaa Brinji expressing oppositional views. Some of of the tweets expressed support for women's rights, human rights defenders, and prisoners of conscience. The sentence includes five years in prison, an eight-year travel ban, and a heavy fine. The court also ordered that his Twitter account be closed. In its press release, Amnesty called Alaa Brinji "a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing his views." AI has called for his release, and urged Saudi Arabia to take accountability for "its gross and systematic violations of human rights."
Just hours before Obama arrived in Cuba March 20 for the historic first visit by a US president since the 1959 revolution, a pro-democracy march was broken up in Havana, with over 50 detained. (Havana Times) Among those arrested was the famous activist graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, nicknamed "El Sexto," who according to the New York Times had increased pressure on the regime to open democratic space in the preceding days by streaming live broadcasts from the newly unveiled wifi spots around Havana. Activists whose hopes had been raised both by reconciliation with the US and the regime's recent moves to allow greater Internet access were disappointed by the repression. "We thought there would be a truce, but it wasn't to be," Elizardo Sánchez, who heads the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the NY Times.
The mounting terror campaign in Turkey just scored its latest entry with a suicide attack in a busy shopping area of Istanbul that killed at least four and injured some 35. It was probably just a happy coincidence for the perpetrators that the dead include two Israelis with dual US nationality and an Iranian. (BBC News, March 19) This comes five days after a deadly terror blast in Ankara—that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed on Kurdish militants, despite no claim of responsibility and a modus operandi that points instead to the jihadists that he is conniving with in Syria. Just a day before the new Istanbul blast, Erdogan raised the stakes by warning that Europe could be targeted next...
Hundreds of taxi drivers from across Colombia converged on Bogotá March 14, clogging the streets and blocking intersections to demand the government ban Uber. Streams of slow-moving yellow cabs, many sporting with the Colombian tri-color flag finally joined in a caravan that ended in a mass rally at the Plaza de Bolívar. A handful of taxi drivers were arrested for forcing passengers out of cabs and other infractions, and a dozen vehicles impounded. At least one Uber driver's vehicle was reportedly damaged. The mobilization, dubbed "M-14," was joined by labor unions, students, miners, truckers and campesinos both in the capital and in solidarity protests around the country. Opposition to President Juan Manuel Santos' austerity program was also a part of the mobilization's demands.
A car bomb exploded in a park in the central Kizilay district of Turkish capital Ankara March 13, killing 32 people and wounding more than 100. No group has yet claimed the attack, but officials told Reuters that initial findings suggested it was the work of the PKK or an affiliated group. (BBC News) The Feb. 17 bomb attack in Ankara that left 28 dead was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK)—which is a break-away faction of the PKK, not "affiliated" with them. That attack killed many civilians, but military buses were the target. Previous recent attacks in Turkey that, like this new one, actually targeted civilains were the work of ISIS. The PKK itself, while hardly fastidious about avoiding civilian deaths, has neither targeted civilians like ISIS nor been as reckless about "collateral damage" as the TAK. It is waging a campaign of guerilla warfare, not terrorism. The rush to blame the PKK in the new attack is political and unseemly.
Kuwait's Supreme Court on March 7 upheld the four-year prison sentence against an activist found guilty of insulting judges on Twitter. Ahmad Fadhel was convicted for writing comments considered offensive to a number of judges in Kuwait. Three top judges sued Fadhel for defamation, and a lower court issued the four-year sentence in October 2014. The appeals court upheld the sentence last February, and now the ruling by the Supreme Court is final.
Two Turkish journalists were released from Silivri prison early Feb. 26 after Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that the detention violated their personal liberty, security, and freedom of expression and press. Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, employees of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, were arrested last November for reporting in 2014 that Turkish trucks were smuggling arms to Islamist groups in Syria. The Turkish government denied the allegations and later made contradictory claims that the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid or ammunition to rebel groups. Subsequently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a claim against the reporters and accused them of cooperating with FETO, a secret movement intending to falsely link the Turkish government to terrorist groups. Though Dundar and Gul have been freed, they still face the government's charges and must stand trial on March 25.