2012-01-11 The old boys club of the Holy Mountain

A recent real estate scandal brought Mt. Athos, or Holy Mountain, an autonomous part of Greece, and one of the last theocratic states, back into the spotlight of the main stream media. Yet, the validity of Ottoman land titles and the political connections of the 20 monasteries that include visits from Prince Charles and Vladimir Putin, are not the only controversies associated with the Byzantine community.

As it is often pointed out briefly in wire reports and newspaper articles discussing the World Heritage site, women, and most female animals have been barred from entering the peninsula for over 1000 years. Men may apply for a visa, at a fee of 25 Euros. Yet, this restriction does not only affect visitors wishing to visit the monasteries for spiritual recreation.

In effect, it bars women from conducting research on the monasteries themselves and the artifacts they hold, for instance Byzantine icons and vast library collections. At present, these items are only accessible on photographs, which may or may not be provided, in varying quality. A first hand inspection of the artifact, which would be required for scholarly publications, is per se not possible. There are no mechanisms in place that would grant access to the originals for all researchers in a pragmatic manner while preserving the rules of the monasteries, e.g. by temporary transfer to the mainland.

This policy is in clear violation of a 2003 EU parliament resolution on "basic rights":

"The European Parliament,...

2011-08-20 Anonymous Takes Cyber-Activism to the Streets #OpBART

Image Credit -  @exiledsurfer Image Credit - @exiledsurfer

On August 15, a group of online activists known as Anonymous showed that their words and deeds can indeed move beyond cyberspace. In response to BART's August 11th attempt to foil protest with a shutdown of their wireless communication system, Anonymous launched OpBART to protest these actions. Over that weekend, Anonymous lit up, defacing myBART.org and commandeering thousands of user names from the woefully insecure BART network. This is par for the course for Anonymous.

The events broke into the mainstream news. On Monday morning it was on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle and other papers. Monday August 15th was X day for OpBART. With Twitter and social media facilitating the communication, those who care about free speech around the world watched to see if Anon could actually take their action to the streets.

Anonymous successfully carried out their intention. This was a rare pubic appearance that echoed some of their first actions against the Church of Scientology. Shawn Gaynor, writing for the San Francisco Bay Guardian noted how this protest was “the most civil of civil disturbances the city has seen surrounding the police brutality issue”.

Anonymous, who defaced BART’s external website now showed their face publicly as activists. Across time and space, struggles for justice from the past converged in SF with present action. Online activism led by the meme of Guy Fawkes masks from the film V for Vendetta emerged and entered the frame of conventional activism. People of all ages came. Ordinary people in nonviolent protest against BART violence and censorship showed solidarity with the group.

2011-05-23 Corrupção, Violação de Direitos Humanos e Censura no #SaaraOcidental

O Sahara Ocidental é um território em disputa desde a década de 60 no norte da África, desde lá sendo palco de diversos conflitos. A área disputada localiza-se numa região no Sul do Marrocos, fazendo fronteira também com a Argélia e a Mauritânia. Na área de Tindouf, no sudoeste da Argélia, estão campos de refúgio da população Saaráui operados pela Polisario.

A Frente Popular de Liberação de Saguía-Hamra e Rio de Ouro, POLISARIO, www.saharalibre.es, é um movimento para a independência do Saara Ocidental ante o Marrocos. Constituída oficialmente em Maio de 1973 para forçar o fim da colonização espanhola, é uma derivação de organizações existentes desde os anos 50 na região. Desde 1979, a organização com sede em Tindouf é reconhecida pelas Nações Unidas desde 1979 como representante do povo do Saara Ocidental.

Telegramas recentemente divulgados pela organização Wikileaks denunciam extensa corrupção, violação de direitos humanos e de informação por parte da POLISARIO. O documento 09ALGIERS1117 aponta que "Contatos da Embaixada[Estado-unidense] com a UNHCR e ONGs Americanas trabalhando nos campos da Polisario perto de Tindouf dizem que indivíduos Saaráuis estiveram envolvidos em atividades de contrabando, mas o "governo" da Polisario pune severamente qualquer um que é pego traficando pessoas ou armas que poderiam ajudar terroristas". O mesmo documento reafirma posteriormente que "A Frente da Polisario responde violentamente a qualquer envolvimento com tráfico de armas, pessoas ou drogas".

2011-03-21 US military blames photos of war crimes for causing "distress" [Update 2]

UPDATE: Soldier sentenced for murder: "I lost my moral compass."
UPDATE 2: Rolling Stone, "The Kill Team"
Updates on the turn

“We apologize for the distress these photos cause”

On Sunday, the German weekly Der Spiegel published three photos -- from a reported trove of 4,000 videos and photos -- taken by members of a US army unit operating in Kandahar province last year. Two of the photos show soldiers in the unit lifting the body of an Afghan civilian by the hair and posing thus for the camera; the third shows two Afghans apparently or possibly killed while handcuffed together back to back. The photographs are not yet available onsite at Der Spiegel; David Dayen at firedoglake links to them here, here, and here.

As the Washington Post reported Sunday night, the identities of Gul Mudin, an unarmed Afghan civilian killed by the 5th Stryker Brigade unit, and the two soldiers photographed treating his body as a trophy have been known for some time. Twelve soldiers from the unit are currently being prosecuted in the deaths of three unarmed Afghan civilians last year; two are charged with murder and could face life imprisonment or the death penalty if convicted. The Post follows up with the best analysis so far of the impact these photos might have on those cases.

It is news, however, that the unit would have collected such a store of photographic evidence of their activities -- the Post, following suppressed military court evidence in the US, refers to "several hundred," but the Guardian, citing Der Spiegel, refers to 4,000.

The most telling news of all, however, is the official reaction of the US military to the publication of these three photographs.

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Mo Nabbous is thought by many to be the most inspiring journalist we have seen in a very long time. We feel that he ought to be a CNN 2011 hero. Please go here to nominate him.

Everyday People Changing the World

From Wikipedia: NPR social media strategist Andy Carvin called Nabbous "the face of Libyan citizen journalism;" Nabbous was the primary contact of many international media outlets looking for information regarding the situation in Libya.[citation needed] Nabbous was also the founder of the independent internet tv station in Libya: Libya Alhurra TV, broadcasting on Livestream.com.

Nabbous' online news station, Libya Alhurra TV, was the only broadcast coming out of Benghazi when Muammar Gaddafi shut down internet lines when the February 2011 uprising began.[4] Using an illegal satellite connection, Nabbous was able to bypass government blocks on internet in order to broadcast live images from Benghazi across the world. As the independent voice for a Libyan population during the 2011 Libyan uprising, Der Spiegel reporter Clemens Höges called Nabbous "the man who just might be the most important person in the revolution."

2011-03-14 North Korea as a future member of 'region in turmoil'? - Possibilities based on similarities and differences

Measuring the Possibilities: Unlikely, although sharing critical conditions that ignited revolutions in Arab nations

Possibilities of ‘North Korean Jasmine Revolution’ based on similarities and differences between the revolution-flaming countries and North Korea, with a glance on the country’s current IT environment, are discussed here.

-Grievances among young soldiers due to decades of food crisis
-High percentage of the youth among the population

Food crisis has been a chronic, serious problem in North Korea since the 1990s’ infamous famine which had taken about 2.8 million lives. The crisis has caused not only huge annual deaths by starvation but also widespread malnutrition which makes the people extremely prone to illnesses and epidemics that almost always lead to death. According to the Report of 2010 published by Amnesty International, about 9 million people suffered ‘severe food shortages’ in the year. International food aids, including the emergency operation of World Food Program, have dropped violently after the series of nuclear weapon tests.

Working in the national army has been one of the most honored jobs in North Korea. However, the army has failed to escape the wave of nationwide food shortage; there have been brigade-scale disobedience inside the army, including the officially reported one from the 47th brigade in Hwanghae district working on nuclear project, calling for enough food.

2011-03-14 After the Jasmine Revolution: Waging information battles in and out of North Korea

Would revolutions and movements in North Africa and Middle East be able to fuel similar ones toward democracy in North Korea? After the fall of Hosni Mubarak, North Korea’s already harsh censorship has been intensified against the use of mobile phones to block any news about the topic. However, amid the growing grievances due to desperate food crisis, small-scale protests have burst out around the country recently. Part one will roundup what’s reported so far about North Korea in relation with the effects of the revolutions.

A nighttime satellite photo of the Korean peninsula, showing almost no sign of electricity provided in the North.
Source: DailyTech

Spreading and blocking the news; an ongoing battle

North Korean defectors and South Korean military have tried to send news to the North, including news of recent revolutions, by millions of air-drop leaflets. Such attempts became politically sensitive actions which attracted many criticisms, including worries that the action might lead to another bombing similar to the one that hit the Yeonpyeong Island last November. On 27th February, North Korea sent an official notification in the name of the North’s chief delegate to inter-Korean general-level military talks, warning that it would ‘fire aimed shots’ against ‘the spots of propaganda’(Source). North Korea was reported to not have broadcast anything about the revolution in Egypt until at least the 22nd of February.

North Korean defectors secretly distribute 'Stealth USB' to the North

2011-03-07 "Climate of Fear" heating up in Turkey: More journalists arrested

Over the course of the past 2 days, a Turkish court has reportedly ordered a writer and 6 journalists to be remanded in custody for alleged membership in an anti-government terrorist organization (Ergenekon). Odatv.com reports that a total of 15 journalists who write for the Turkish anti-government web site have been detained as a result of the "Odatv raid," which apparently revealed connections with Ergenekon. Yet Odatv reporters insist that the relationship between the suspects and Ergenekon is one of friendship and not active involvement.

The current Turkish government, in power since 2001 and led by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), claims that Ergenekon is one of many terrorist organizations aiming to overthrow the AKP by force. Approximately 400 suspects are already on trial for suspected ties to the Ergenekon coup and similar anti-government coups. Since 2007, AKP government authorities have been rounding up suspects perceived as secularist or anti-Islamist, having questioned, detained and jailed writers (including fiction writers), professors, editors, military officers (including 4-star generals) and others.

2011-03-06 Julian Assange to speak at Cambridge Union

Julian Assange has agreed to address the Cambridge Union on 15 March, reports the student paper The Tab.

The Union, officially the Cambridge Union Society, is a debating society founded in 1815 and is distinct from the student union. In addition to its weekly debates, it welcomes distinguished speakers from around the world.

The event will be open to Union members only. There is no word yet whether it might be otherwise transmitted.

Via @MarksLarks on Twitter

2011-03-05 Mugabe issues a 'major clampdown'

Image Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party have stepped up the customary rampage over human rights in Zimbabwe. Amnesty has issued an alert stating that with over 60 currently held in detention and many allegedly tortured, activists are facing a major clampdown.

Previously on WL Central we reported on the arrest, imprisonment, and torture for some, of Munyaradzi Gwisai, the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) general coordinator, and 45 others on February 19. They were charged on the 23rd with treason, which carries the death penalty, or subverting a constitutionally elected government, for which the maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment, for watching a video of the uprising in Egypt. More activists have been arrested in Bulawayo and Manicaland province.

SW Radio Africa reports a man in Bulawayo was arrested over a Facebook comment he posted on February 13. Vikas Mavhudzi of Old Magwegwe, is being charged with “subverting a constitutional government” after posting a message on a Facebook page allegedly belonging to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “I am overwhelmed, I don’t want to say Mr. or PM what happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose worth emulating, hey.” He was arrested on February 24th and accused of “advocating or attempting to take-over government by unconstitutional means”. He has been refused bail and was remanded in custody till March 9th.

2011-03-05 Amnesty alert for Qatari blogger, arrested, held incommunicado, at risk of torture

Amnesty has requested urgent action be taken in the case of Qatari blogger Sultan al-Khalaifi, who was arrested on March 2 and is being held incommunicado. Amnesty is concerned that he is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

Amnesty is requesting people to write

Urging the authorities to ensure that Sultan al-Khalaifi is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and is allowed prompt and regular access to a lawyer of his choosing, his family and any medical treatment he may require;

Asking for details of any charges he faces to be made public and calling on the authorities to ensure that any legal proceedings against him conform to international fair trial standards.

Human rights organization Alkarama reports the arrest of three other Qatari nationals as well and says at nine o'clock at night on March 1, "a number of state security agents" raided Khulaifi's Doha residence and car and took him away. An officer informed his wife that the agents were sent by the Attorney General, but they had no judicial warrant.

Alkarama feels the arrest is a result of Khulaifi's human rights activities. He had served as Secretary-General of the Alkarama Foundation until the beginning of 2010, before leaving to found a new organization for the defense of human rights and he had contacted them recently regarding three cases of arbitrary detention which Alkarama then appealed to Qatari authorities about. The three individuals incarcerated are: Abdullah Ghanem Mahfouz Muslim Jouar, Salim Hassan Khalifa Rashid Al Kuwari and Hamad Rashid Al-Marri.

2011-03-03 Rampant, nationwide corruption in Vietnam; how people fight back on the web

Systematic Corruption ruptures Vietnam with inequality

Since the mid-1980s, the time when Vietnam launched the ‘Doi Moi (industrialization)’ project to boost the national economy, Vietnam has recorded remarkable GDP increase rate, 7 to 8% a year. However, the economic inequality gap and government debts are huge, and show no sign of shrinking.

Primary reasons for the problems lie in the structure of the ‘industrialization’. The only legal political party, the Vietnam Communist Party, utilized state owned enterprises(SOE) as useful tools which enable the government to take a firm grip on the state economy. In a rare thesis discussing the privatization of the Vietnamese economy, Fredrik Sjöholm pointed out that it’s actually a state takeover of economy in disguise of ‘privatization’; about one-quarter of state revenues come from SOEs and the state can take control of any SOEs by having ‘minority state ownership share’(Sjöholm, 2006)

Commonplace collusion between politics and economy, interwoven through shares, squandered bailout money and venal practices in the name of ‘industrialization’, generated astounding breeding ground for corruption and rapidly increasing debts. The ‘industrialization’ process had few constructive plans behind it, which produced obfuscated ownership responsibility while working on ad hoc economic strategies. This opened the door for private, often political, actors to ‘hijack’ the real control of the firms.

2011-03-03 The Internet, the spirit, the resistance – How the Internet fuels voices of dissent in Vietnam

Despite the fact that the communist government firmly controls the Internet and blocks any web sites that might be any ‘threat to national security’, the Internet silently mends the fire of dissent voices simultaneously around Vietnam.

Courage cannot be ‘centralized’ – Farmers protest against arbitrary land seizures with the help of Internet

In a tightly controlled, Facebook-blocked country, Vietnamese farmers marched out to the Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s second largest city and a national economic hub, to resist the government’s decision to seize their land.

Due to the centralized economy, government authorities are sole legal actors who can switch legal status of any land. Besides, the legal procedure of dealing with various different land rights of the government and farmers are extremely complicated, which becomes the central loophole allowing public officials to blur the line where exact responsibilities lie.

Exploiting this, lots of corrupt officials can take away seemingly profitable lands, handing tiny amount of compensation money to the land owners. The victims mostly fail to find the proper government authorities to get the fair compensation due to the blurred responsibility.

Government officials have been arbitrarily ‘robbing’ the lands as huge ‘development plans’ have swept the major urban cities into the swirl of dazzling real estate speculation. The real estate prices have hit thousands of dollars per square meter, which made both cities involved in the ‘Most Expensive Cities in the World’ list. However, Vietnam has the lowest real estate transparency index among 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Google Supports Revolts | Anonymous does too!

I am blogging today from the So. Cal. Linux Expo [SCALE9x]. I am promoting Anonymous, among other things to the Linux and Free Software communities. While I was here yesterday, someone attending the conference told me what Google did to support the popular uprisings in Iran a few years ago.

He said that at before that time there was basically nothing in the way of computer based Farsi translation but Google had a project in the lab which they rushed into production to support the struggle then rapidly developing in Iran.

"We feel that launching Persian is particularly important now, given ongoing events in Iran" said Google principal scientist Franz Och in a statement on Goolge's Official Blog.

After Wael Ghonim was released from the custody of Mubarak's thugs, he said he would like to return to work at Google if he was not fired. Outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt tweeted back "We're incredibly proud of you, @Ghonim, & of course will welcome you back when you're ready."

Just why founder Larry Page is now stepping in to replace Eric Schmidt as Google CEO is not clear but rumor has it that differences over Google's China policy played a big role. Schmidt opposed the decision by founders Page and Brin to pull out of China over government censorship.

2011-02-24 Extradition hearing: Day four (Final round)

Today Julian Assange faced his last extraditon hearing (apparently). We will be updating Court´s events in Belmarsh here. If you have related live information and audio or video feeds, please send to @wikileaks_world on Twitter.

After 1 hour and 45 minutes, the hearing is over. Judge orders Assange be extradited in Sweden. Assange has 7 days to appeal. For now, he will remain on bail. Lawyer Mark Stephens says they will appeal.

Full judgement is up here.

Relevant Twitter feed from Belmarsh, based on @federicacocco, @estheraddley, @c4marcus and @ravisomaiya:

c4marcus (12.13 GMT)
#Assange bailed until 2pm while issues around sureties are sorted out.
federicacocco (12.12 GMT)
Judge: Assange will remain on bail
federicacocco (12.10 GMT)
Robertson: To save time, we have 2 alternative sureties. One of the original sureties was Lord Evans but he couldn't be here today
estheraddley (12.10 GMT)
Decision postponed on costs. On bail, defence offering two alternative suretors. Judge 'I'm afraid I don't know who these people are'
(12.08 GMT)
Judge: I can't rule on costs today as Crown hasn't provided me with their total. #Assange
federicacocco (12.05 GMT)
Judge: A schedule has not been made. For these purposes, the court has no longer jurisdiction after today.
federicacocco (12.05 GMT)
Judge: In principle I would today make an order for costs in the amount I consider Judge. Today I'm not in a position to assess costs
c4marcus (12.00 GMT)
Appears Crown aren't actually sure what their costs are, which is making dealing with that issue today a bit tricky. #Assange
federicacocco (11.58 GMT)
Judge to prosecution: If the appeal in successful you have a right to apply for the reimbursement of legal costs
federicacocco (11.56 GMT)

2011-02-19 #Jordan: The industry of war in the Middle East

A recent cable, from 2010, announces: “Jordan continues to face some of the most troubling challenges of King Abdullah's 10-year reign.¨ These problems are a deficit of USD 1.43 billion, unstable regional politics, originated from the continuous privilege of rural communities in the East Bank over urban communities with larger Palestinian populations, rigged elections and unequal political rights (09AMMAN813). The cables also reveal that this inequality is created by the government and pushed through by force: “The King's economic and political changes face domestic opposition from tribal leaders and an array of entrenched East Bank interests. The latter include many in the military, security services, and bureaucracy, who enjoy a disproportionate share of the current system”. (10AMMAN329).

According Amman News, Secretary General of the Popular Unity Party Saeed Dhiyab stated that “the clashes were instigated by a group of hooligans, and charged that security forces condoned the violence by not intervening to break out the fights”. The current unrest in Jordan seems to be -once again-, the response of the population towards a whole history of repression and injustice practiced by its government. The clashes started on the 18th of February in the capital, Amman, between protestors calling for political and economic reform, and a group for "Loyalty and Belonging" to King Abdullah II. The clash produced an unconfirmed number of victims. Foreign journalists reported violent threats to confiscate their cameras and the media is still gagged by the government.

2011-02-16 Update: US lawmakers to consider criminalizing publishing

Peter King (R-NY), chair of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, yesterday reintroduced legislation that would extend the definition of espionage to include publishing the names of sources who collaborate with the US military or intelligence services.

King had proposed similar legislation in 2010. Last week three members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, led by chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT), reintroduced a similar bill, known as the SHIELD Act. In US congressional parlance, SHIELD appears to mean "Securing human intelligence and enforcing lawful dissemination."

Many students of the First Amendment have pointed out the dangers to journalism and publishing in the US if the definition of espionage (traditionally understood to involve intentional and interested transmission of information to a foreign power) were to be so broadened. The ACLU argues:

2011-02-15 Syria and teen blogger Tal al-Mallouhi


Tal al-Mallouhi was arrested in Syria in December 2009, and yesterday, at 20 years old, was sentenced to five years in prison for spying, an action condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists. She had written blog articles saying she wished to play a role in shaping the future of Syria, and asking US president Barack Obama to do more to support Palestine. She was charged with "revealing information that should remain hushed to a foreign country". An official told Al Jazeera she "deserved 15 years in prison but her sentence was commuted considering her age".

PJ Crowley, of the US state department, "sharply criticized" Syria's handling of this case. Obama recently interfered in a similar case in Yemen, that time demanding that a Yemeni journalist remain in prison for reporting the truth about a US attack in Yemen that killed 55 civilians.

2011-02-14 Omar Suleiman and Canadian complicity in torture

Ahmad Abou El Maati is one of four Canadian citizens of dual nationality who became loosely linked together, incidentally and accidentally, by botched police and intelligence investigations in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US.* All four were either apprehended in or kidnapped and transferred to Syria, where they were tortured.** Because El Maati’s country of origin was Egypt (born in Kuwait to an Egyptian father), he alone was transferred from Syria to Egypt months after he was detained, and survived another two years of torture in a succession of Egyptian prisons.

These four cases have received decisive if not finished judicial investigation in Canada. The first and best-known of the four, the case of Maher Arar, was the subject of Justice Dennis O’Connor’s inquiry in 2004-06, which led to an official apology to Mr Arar from the Canadian government and compensation of $10 million. Although the O’Connor inquiry was able to investigate the behaviour of Canadian agents and officials thoroughly, it remains unfinished because the governments of the United States, Jordan, and Syria refused to co-operate with the inquiry.

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