Global Voices Online

Syndicate content Global Voices
Citizen media stories from around the world
Updated: 3 years 19 weeks ago

The Murder of Trinidad's Notorious ‘Robocop’ Leaves the Country Worried About What’s Next

Wed, 2016/07/20 - 12:44pm

Riot police in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Say the word “Robocop” in Trinidad and Tobago and the first thing that comes to mind is not the 1987 American action film, but Selwyn “Robocop” Alexis, a businessman and allegedly a major crime lord. Police had, in the past, arrested Alexis on various chargesincluding kidnapping, armed robbery, extortion, and perverting the course of justice. None of the charges ever stuck, but trouble finally caught up to “Robocop” on July 17, 2016, when he died in a shootout at a car-wash compound he owned in central Trinidad.

According to reports, two others were killed in the violence. Alexis apparently killed one of the assailants before succumbing to his own injuries, and a random customer also died in the gunfire. A five-year-old boy was shot as well, and is currently receiving care at a local hospital. Police have expressed concerns that the murder could spark a turf war between rival gangs operating in the area.

The news broke quickly on social media. On Facebook, Internet users shared videos from the scene of the shootout. Many people have felt compelled to comment on the murders. Kathryn Stollmeyer-Wight shared her thoughts:

[…] This man, Selwyn ‘Robocop’ Alexis […] How many times has he been arrested & let go for lack of evidence… […]
Today Robocop was shot dead.
Two other men were also killed.
Sadly, there will be reprisal deaths because thats the way it is.
We may not live in Paris, in Nice or in Baton Rouge, but ‘doh fool yuh fat’. We are living in T&T.

In another public Facebook post, Dane S.G. Wilson said:

You live by the sword you die by the sword. That's the only way out from living such a life style. […] An innocent man is dead and an innocent little boy is now fighting for his life! STOP THE KILLING!

On Twitter, photographer David Wears asked:

So here endeth the loooooong story of #Robocop. What all yuh think, #AboutTime or #SorryForTheLoss?#Trinidad#CrimeInTrinbago

— Jack WarnerBe (@DavidWearsPhoto) July 18, 2016

Calypsonian David Rudder, who always has a finger on the pulse of the country's politics and society (and who has a talent for highlighting their outrageous contradictions), tweeted:


Trinidad's most ” popular” criminal Selwyn ROBOCOP Alexis goes down in a hail of bullets.

— David Michael Rudder (@DavidRudder) July 18, 2016

In Trinidad and Tobago, euphemisms abound when it comes to describing gang leaders, who are often called “businessmen”, “community leaders”, or “entrepreneurs”. Because figures like “Robocop” may help people in downtrodden communities, they are often revered by residents who have come to depend on them economically.

Alexis’ widow has since suggested that he was killed by “ungrateful” people whom he would continually help. When her husband realised they did not want to work in order to help themselves, she said, he stopped the handouts and this “angered” them. Making the point that “Robocop” played the role of mediator in the community, she implied that the killers wanted him out of the picture so that they could have free reign with crime sprees in the area.

One Twitter user, accustomed to the insensitivity of some local media when it comes to sensationalising violent crime, asked:

@expressupdates @MarkBassant1 I see #Trinidad papers blurring #Robocop‘s body. 1st time Ive noticed censored murder victims pics. How come?

— Khadine (@khadine868) July 18, 2016

Even as Alexis’ son was giving interviews to the media, saying that his father was “a changed man” and only wanted peace, some Twitter users remained unconvinced:

finally ROBOCOP in Trinidad is dead

Categories: Global Voices

Ayatollah Khomeini Died 27 Years Ago, But a Trump Advisor Still Wants Him to Condemn Last Week's Attack in Nice

Wed, 2016/07/20 - 11:55am

Retired Lt. General Michael T. Flynn appears on Fox News. Image: YouTube

Donald Trump's presidential campaign has always advocated “getting tough on Iran,” but the rhetoric escalated ever so slightly last week, when retired Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, one of Trump's chief military advisors and a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, demanded that Ayatollah Khomeini—a man who's been dead for more than a quarter of a century—condemn the attack on July 14 in Nice, France.

Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, calls on a man dead 27 years to condemn extremism

— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) July 15, 2016

Appearing on Fox News with Megyn Kelly, Flynn said angrily, “I want the Imam, or Khomeini, to stand up and be counted and to talk about this radical form of ideology in their bloodstream, in their DNA.”

Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini died in 1989 after establishing the Islamic Republic of Iran, the first modern-day theocracy, following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Flynn either confused the name “Khomeini” with Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, or he is unaware that Ayatollah Khomeini died 27 years ago. Whether the mistake was confusion or ignorance, Flynn appeared on Fox News again the following day, on July 15, and said Khomeini again, insisting that the long-dead man denounce the attacks in Nice.

Internet users both in Iran and the US have shared a few thoughts about Flynn's curious interest in “the Imam Khomeini.” Iranian Twitter user Ameneh Mousavi tweeted:

عقلاي قوم اين درسته؟؟؟
ژنرال مایکل فلین مشاور نظامی دونالد ترامپ از “آیت الله خمینی” رهبر ایران خواسته حمله تروریستی نیس فرانسه رو محکوم کند

— ameneh mousavi (@MousaviSa) July 16, 2016

Wise people, can this be right? General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's military advisor, wants “Ayatollah Khomeini,” the leader of Iran, to condemn the Nice terrorist attacks.

Iranian-American journalist Saman Arbabi wrote:

On foreign policy #Trump team makes Bush team look like Nobel Laureate winners.

— Saman Arbabi (@SamanArbabi) July 15, 2016

American Internet users took an interest in the story, as well, after the Huffington Post wrote about it:

“Flynn’s offer to list Muslim leaders was undermined by the fact that his top example had been dead for 30 years”

— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) July 15, 2016

Cool, let's give the codes to ppl who cant tell diff bet. living ppl and really dead ones COME ON via @HuffPostPol

— Maude Snuggs (@MillCunningham) July 15, 2016

A parody account satirizing the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, also had some thoughts:

Wonder if he knows that Gorbachev isn't president of Russia.

Trump adviser wants Khomeini to denounce Nice attack

— Soviet Sergey (@SovietSergey) July 18, 2016

Categories: Global Voices

Iranian Hardliners Want to Stop Blocking Twitter — to Defeat Saudi Propaganda

Wed, 2016/07/20 - 1:28am

A screenshot of Twitter being written into the ancient Persian Cyrus Cylinder in an animation film for Farsi Twitter, highlighting the platforms importance for communications in Iran. Watch the video here.

A group of Iranian government hardliners, who typically stand at the forefront of policies curtailing freedom of expression, are demanding that Iran stop blocking Twitter.

This sudden change of tune has very little to do with the rights of Iranian users. Rather, they are making this move in an effort to ensure Iranian dominance in a so-called Twitter war with Saudi Arabia.

The group first took this new position in an article on Tabnak News, a conservative news website founded by former Revolutionary Guards’ commander (and current member) Mohsen Rezaee, in a piece entitled: “Has the time come to remove the filter on Twitter in order to enter into a  “online battle”? The unnamed author reasoned that Twitter's international appeal justified the move:

وییتر یک رسانه کارآمد و یک بلندگوی به شدت قوی در سطح بین‌الملل است که پیش از مسلط شدن سعودی‌ها بر آن، باید توسط ایرانی‌ها کنترل شده باشد. انتظار می‌رود برای حضور وسیع کاربران ایرانی در این «نبردآنلاین» که بخواهیم یا نخواهیم رسماً آغاز شده، بستر لازم در این دوره زمانی فراهم شود و قدرت عمل در اختیار تعداد بالای کاربران ایرانی قرار گیرد.

Twitter is an efficient media and a extremely strong microphone on the international level and before Saudi takes it over it must become controlled by Iranians. The necessary conditions should be provided for Iranian users during this period since the online war is official started whether we like or not.

The Tabnak article argues for the removal of censorship to obstruct a so-called “psychological operation” perpetrated against Iran by Saudi Arabia.

عربستان سعودی، یک عملیات روانی را در توییتر علیه ایران به راه انداخت و با هشتگ #ایران_تدعم_الارهاب_بفرنسا، کوشید تا به استدلا‌ل‌های مضحک حملات نیس را به گردن ایران بیندازد.

Saudi Arabia, has commenced a psychological operation against Iran on Twitter with the hashtag #Iran_Supports_Terrorism_France, trying to blame the Nice attacks on Iran with ridiculous arguments.

These concerns are nothing new, as Saudi Arabia and Iran have a long history of tensions in the region. While Saudi Arabia is often the leader in the Sunni sectarian side of regional tensions, the majority-Shiite Iran leads the other side. This past January, Saudi cut diplomatic ties with Iran when its missions in the country were ransacked following the execution of Sheik Nimr, a Shiite leader who advocated for Shiite rights in Saudi Arabia. Conflicts between the two nations also have escalated with the proxy combatants that both countries maintain in the Yemeni civil war. And last year, Global Voices documented the ongoing social media campaigns of Saudi-led Twitter accounts that fueled Kurdish tensions in Mahabad.

The Tabnak article does mark a departure from the ongoing contrast between the relatively moderate administration of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and more conservative factions of the Iranian government. However, it should be noted that Tabnak and Rezaee form into a hardline faction that are often critical of other hardliners, such as those close to the former conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Before Rouhani came into office, the government's position on Internet content was often articulated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In one speech, he said:

Today, there is Internet, satellite, and many other communication platforms for easy communications. Various thoughts compete to dominate the minds of Muslims. Today however, we are at a battlefield and face a real campaign to influence our minds. This war and campaign is not a disadvantage. In fact, it is to our advantage. I am certain that we will win the war if we enter the battlefield and do what we have to do, taking out and using our ammunitions, which are our Islamic thoughts stored in our barracks of divine studies. We have to do this.

Rouhani came into power in 2013 with promises of increasing freedoms online. While a conservative majority in other parts of the Iranian government has made this promise difficult to keep, they have had some victories.

In January of 2015 they prevented the filtering of popular messaging applications such as Whats App and Viber by blocking the decisions of the hardline judiciary in implementing their filtering rulings. In January of 2016 they also brought the CCDOC (Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content) towards a decision not to filter Telegram. This was no small feat, given that the CCDOC is managed by the judiciary (not to be confused with Iran’s Ministry of Justice), which is typically a conservative body.

Iranian Internet users have often wondered why these decisions have not been extended to unblock Twitter and Facebook, platforms that were censored following the 2009 Green Movement.

What is the the difference between Instagram or Telegram and Twitter where only the latter is blocked in Iran?!

— MAHDI TAGHIZADEH (@mahdi) July 5, 2016

The Tabnak article continues, specifically highlighting Twitter “Trends” as a reason for Saudi Arabia's success in dominating Iran on Twitter:

به نظر می‌رسد با توجه به شرایط کنونی و فعال شدن عربستان سعودی در توییتر برای ایجاد جنگ روانی علیه ایران از طریق «ترند» کردن موضوعات ضدایرانی، باید در این مقطع درباره رفع مسدودیت توییتر در کشورمان بررسی‌هایی توسط نهادهای تصمیم‌گیرنده صورت پذیرد.

It seems that considering the current situation and the active presence of Saudi Arabia on Twitter for the psychological warfare against Iran through “trending” anti-Iran issues, we must at this time gather the deciding organizations to considering the unblocking of Twitter.

The feature of Twitter “Trends” that amplifies certain social media campaigns does not in work in Iran, since the Iranian government blocks the platform, which prevents Twitter from tracking the geolocation of trends inside the country.

It is unclear how far Tabnak's call to re-open Twitter will go. Tabnak founder Mohsen Rezaee himself has been a member of Facebook since his 2013 bid to run for President and on Twitter since 2015.

In a Facebook post from earlier this year, Rezaee stoked Israeli and Saudi tensions with Iran with this statement to his followers:

روزی كه #اسرائیل، دوست امروز #آل‌سعود از ایران شكست بخورد، همه مردم منطقه فریاد زنده‌باد #ایران سر خواهند داد».

The day that #Israel, today's friend of the Al Saud's are defeated by Iran, the people of our region will celebrate with cries of “long live Iran”

A follower responded to Rezaee's post, mocking the fact that he had circumvented Iranian laws and censorship for religious reaons:

ضمنا شما برای استفاده از فیلترشکن حجت شرعی دارید دیگه؟

The day you use a circumvention tool for religious justifications?

The irony of Iranian officials belonging to social networks that are blocked in the country has long been acknowledged by Iranians.

In its conclusion, the Tabnak piece argues that the only dangers Twitter poses to Iran are through Saudi-led efforts:

حقیقت آن است که توییتر دارای ابعاد اخلاقی منفی نیز نیست و تنها ابعاد امنیتی برای آن متصور بود که با توجه به تحرکات اعراب ضدایراتی، این ابعاد پررنگ‌تر می‌شود.

The truth is Twitter does not have a negative moral dimension just a security dimension that was magnified through a anti-Iranian movement led by Arabs.

Previous official reasons given in 2009 linked Twitter to foreign efforts to promote “sedition” with the Green Movement protests.

This is part of a new tide of political figures previously inclined to condemn and censor media such as Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan who took to social media to counter the recent coup,.

Categories: Global Voices

The Lives of Migrant Workers in Thailand's ‘Little Burma’

Tue, 2016/07/19 - 9:23pm

A migrant worker is pictured laboring in a construction site in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, Thailand. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

This article by Nyein Nyein is from The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Wandering through Samut Sakhon, just southwest of Bangkok, the image of people wearing the traditional wrap-around sarongs called longyi or tamein while speaking Burmese could make a stranger feel as though they are in Myanmar's largest city Yangon, rather than a Thai city.

For many Burmese migrants in Thailand, Sunday is the only day off each week—a time for relaxation and a brief respite from hard labor; but for thousands of other daily-wage workers, there is no such day of rest.

Those who migrate to the region are often motivated by the hope of earning better salaries. Samut Sakhon is perceived from afar as a safe haven, as the pay here is known to be higher than Bangkok, yet the fishing industry situated in the province remains infamous for its low wages and exploitative conditions.

Known locally as Mahachai, but widely referred to among foreigners as “Little Burma” (Myanmar is formerly known as Burma), the port town of Samut Sakhon hosts between 300,000 and 400,000 Burmese migrants working in some 6,000 factories and fisheries.

Ma Thein Win is originally from Myanmar’s Tenasserim Division, and has been in Thailand for five years. She had previously worked in Bangkok, but in April she moved to Samut Sakhon hoping to increase her income as a construction worker.

The 45-year-old mother of four longs to return to her home village in Dawei District.

“But we have no money and no home; how could we go back and survive?” Thein Win asked softly, all the while tidying a pile of wood next to the construction site, where men worked atop the unfinished buildings.

If there was gainful employment to be had in their homeland, many in Thailand’s migrant community spoke to The Irrawaddy of going back to Myanmar, instead of seeking work in a foreign country in order to survive.

Migrant workers are pictured laboring in the Talaat Kung shrimp market in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, Thailand. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

‘We keep our patience’

In 2012, Myanmar's then-opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited Thailand—and Mahachai—for the first time. She visited a second time in June of this year, this time as state counselor after her party won elections in November 2015 by a landslide. During that most recent trip, Suu Kyi met with only a small number of Mahachai’s migrants, after Thai authorities blocked access to Myanmar’s de-facto leader for labor rights groups and a large crowd of waiting Burmese nationals.

Thein Win was one of many migrants unable to be present at Suu Kyi’s talks with Burmese workers in Thailand. Reflecting on The Lady’s visit brought her to tears, which she attributed to “mixed feelings.” Suu Kyi, Thein Win still hoped, would work to “bring good” into their lives.

Burmese workers at Talaat Kung, or the shrimp market, also became emotional when discussing the state counselor’s visit and their hopes for better job opportunities, which Suu Kyi recognized during her Thai visit. Their wages are often inconsistent, ranging from 200 Thai baht (US$5.72) to 300 baht ($8.58), the latter of which is the official minimum daily wage in Thailand, but is often not afforded to foreign migrant workers.

Sorting through shrimp on a table, Aye Myat Mon told The Irrawaddy that she earns the Thai minimum daily wage for her eight hours of labor, but that working times vary depending on the availability of shrimp or other seafood. Claiming to be 18, but appearing much younger, Aye Myat Mon arrived in Thailand four years ago from Moulmein, Mon State, and lives with her sister—she said only her parents remain at the family home in southeastern Myanmar.

Securing sources to speak on the record about working conditions in Mahachai was particularly challenging; many of the individuals laboring in the seafood industry dared not make complaints to the press.

Thai employers are reluctant to attract media coverage focusing on the region’s docks, markets or construction sites; workers told The Irrawaddy that if they were discovered as having contributed to a story on Little Burma, they feared they would be later fired.

“As we are working in another country, we keep our patience, as Amay [Mother] Suu has said,” Ye Min, a worker in Talaat Kung told The Irrawaddy, before being interrupted by a superior, ending his interview.

Migrant workers are pictured laboring in the Talaat Kung shrimp market in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, Thailand. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

‘Being preyed upon’

Workers also shared stories of their fear of Thai police scrutinizing their identity documents and employment papers, looking into whether they have permission to legally work in the country.

“The police ask for money to make extra income when they suspect our documents [are incomplete],” said one man working in the shrimp market, in both a hushed voice and on the condition of anonymity.

The number of migrant workers in Thailand is estimated at between 3 and 4 million, but less than half are officially registered. Different policies have been implemented to assist workers from Myanmar in obtaining legal documents, particularly when their current papers expire. This includes registration for a “pink card,” or employment permit, which can be pursued after the expiry of a four-year visa.

“Even if they are documented migrant workers, they are often being preyed upon,” said Sai Sai, a staff member at the Migrant Workers Rights Network, an organization assisting migrants from Myanmar in Thailand.

Sai Sai explained that authorities’ suspicions can be raised by a worker’s lack of Thai language skills, and can lead to an arrest for suspected drug use, or for traveling between provinces within Thailand—the “pink card” does not facilitate freedom of movement and only allows migrant workers to remain in the part of the country in which their documents are registered.

According to a Bangkok Post report, the registration deadline for a migrant work permit has been extended until July 29, after which, authorities say there will be no leniency. But a further crackdown is expected—on those both in Samut Sakhon and throughout Thailand—for whom meeting registration requirements remains difficult.

Migrant workers are pictured laboring in the Talaat Kung shrimp market in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, Thailand. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Categories: Global Voices

In China, a University Degree Isn't Always a Golden Ticket to Employment

Tue, 2016/07/19 - 10:57am

Chinese graduates at a job exhibition in 2007. Photo from state news agency Xinhua.

Once again, more than 7 million students in China graduated from university in May. If you add in the 300,000 overseas graduates and previous years’ graduates who are still looking for jobs, that means more than 15 million young people were reportedly seeking their fortunes at the same time this year.

As a newly rising economy power, China is considered to have a huge job market. Indeed, when you google “find a job in China”, millions of results pop up. But the reality is many graduates struggle to find work after finishing their studies. In fact, a popular saying that has arisen in recent years holds that “graduation equals unemployment.”

In 2013, the unemployment rate of graduates from colleges and universities two months after graduating was 17.6 percent, according to Times Higher Education; for those in rural areas, it was 30.5 percent. That's higher than the general unemployment rate (or at least what's thought to be the unemployment rate, since data out of China is unreliable). As China's economy has slowed down in the past two years, the graduate unemployment problem only has worsened.

The frustration of China's younger generations is reflected in a number of widely circulated social media and mobile text messages, such as the following:


When we were born, the infant formula was toxic; when our bodies were in development, we could only consume junk food; when we attended kindergarten, the school fee was out of control; when we graduated from university, we were unemployed; when we tried to earn our living via the stock market, it collapsed; when we tried hard to fall in love, we found out all handsome guys were gay; when we started chasing after the mainstream [culture and values], they were no longer mainstream.


What university means: management is like prison, the quality is for hooligans. [Students] learn how to kiss in public, consume like a white-collar worker, daydream in class. Skipping classes is common, dormitories are like internet cafes. Taking exams becomes a profession, only the aristocracy can afford school fees. Thesis looks like Baidu search results. Everyone gets short-sighted. The food in school canteens is for feeding animals. Having a job is like a dream. Graduation equals unemployment. Jobs [available] on the market are for rural-to-urban migrants.

Many believe that part of the problem of unemployment for recent university graduates is related to the policy of higher education expansion since 1999. Back then, only about 35 percent of high school graduates entered post-high school education including colleges, technical schools and universities. But in 2015, the percent was more than 80 percent, and about 40 percent became undergraduates at universities. For big cities like Beijing, the number of students entering university was more than 70 percent.

Some argue there aren't enough jobs for so many university-educated people. On popular social media site Weibo, Lydia commented on the over-supply of graduates:


Graduates are everywhere, and college students are not worth anything now. How could you tell the difference?

Another Weibo user, “Nomadic hero”, wrote that a side effect of expansion is a drop in the quality of graduates in general:


The fight for educational justice to make sure the majority of people have the chance to go to school is good. But it is true that the quality of students is getting worse. It is the university, rather than students, that lose value.

“Ling Yan San Chi” lamented:


Graduated for two years already, but I am still working on how to find a job!! Why is my life so miserable?

Though it is difficult to find job, many still consider entering university as the best path to obtain specialized skills and climb the social ladder — hence they do not feel regret for the choice. “HaiDe XiaTian” even chose to carry on his studies in postgraduate school:

后悔啊,可是后悔又能怎样 只能硬着头皮走下去,考研是通往理想大学的最后也是唯一的机会

I feel regret [about pursuing higher education], but there is no other way and I have to carry on down this path. Going to postgraduate school will be my last chance to enter an ideal university.

The graduation ceremony is called commencement, which should stand for a new beginning for graduates, but many see it like an individual struggle, such as Weibo user UsedToBe5:


Finding a job is a tough thing because you have to fall down and get up again and again. Of course, I have no one to blame since I choose it myself.

Not everyone is gloomy about the situation. A hashtag on Weibo called #graduation doesn’t mean unemployment# gives the topic a positive twist, and messages try to offer support, tips and personal experiences.

The latest status with the above hashtag was published on July 12 by Weibo user “WanAn Xin XinYu,” who was one of the 7 million newly graduated young people in 2016:

今天又要去面试工作了,希望明天能开始工作 #毕业不等于失业#加油!虽然已经失业快一个月了

I am going to have another interview today, and I wish I could start working tomorrow. #graduation doesn’t mean unemployment# Add oil [a phrase of encouragement]! Although I have been unemployed for a month.

Categories: Global Voices

The Week That Was at Global Voices Podcast: Freedom, Not Control

Tue, 2016/07/19 - 6:17am

This week we take you to Indian-administered Kashmir, Nepal and China. We also speak with Global Voices contributor Angel Carrion about Puerto Rican opposition to a US fiscal control board, and we chat with Global Voices author Thant Sin about an outpouring of support for an official in Myanmar who dared to speak out against a radical Buddhist nationalist group.

This episode features stories by Kisholoy Mukherjee, Vishal Manve, Sanjib Choudhary, Oiwan Lam, Angel Carrion and Thant Sin. Many thanks to all our authors, translators and editors who helped make this possible.

In this episode of the Week that Was at Global Voices, we featured Creative Commons licensed music from the Free Music Archive, including Please Listen Carefully by Jahzzar; The Universal Fluff Theory by Krackatoa; Anamorphic Orchestra by Alan Singley; Origami 1726 by the Blue Dot Sessions; Driving me backwards by Phil Reavis; and Carcrashlander Instrumentals by Cory Gray.

Image used in the Soundcloud thumbnail is by Andres Musta. Uploaded on to Flickr. Taken on January 2, 2012. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)



Categories: Global Voices

Russian Artists Reimagine Pokémon Go With Soviet Cartoon Characters

Tue, 2016/07/19 - 4:16am

Who wouldn't want to catch this little dude? Cheburashka, a beloved Soviet cartoon character, placed in a Pokémon Go setting. Image from 2D Among Us.

The Pokemon Go game is taking the world by storm, and although it officially launched in Russia only today, July 18, Russian users have already joined in the fun. And Russian officials have already warned that the game could be used to “spark riots” and could “ruin us [Russians] spiritually.”

Other RuNet users have taken a more light-hearted approach to making Pokémon Go their own. A group of Russian artists and designers from the 2D Among Us community on VKontakte, Russia's largest social network, asked the question: What if the game was situated in the former Soviet Union and populated with characters from old Soviet cartoons? The resulting image manipulations are frankly adorable, bringing Cheburashka and other well-known cartoon figures to mobile screens, and placing monkeys, parrots and cute poltergeist Kuzya in recognizable post-Soviet landscapes, such as shabby garages, decaying playgrounds and industrial backgrounds.

Everyone's favorite big-eared wonder Cheburashka in front of a broken phone booth. Image from 2D Among Us.

The artists also played with other game interface elements, replacing the pokeball device with a children's red rubber ball. The details look so familiar that one VKontakte user remarked they could “almost hear the sound of that ball.”

The Monkey from 38 Parrots cartoon finds herself in a dilapidated factory setting. Image from 2D Among Us.

The 2D Among Us community shares images of cartoon or movie characters edited into images of mundane reality, providing a playful and often surprising look at the things we observe around us every day. See more Pokémon Go-inspired cartoon characters on the 2D Among Us VKontakte page.

The Dude (Muzhychok), a character from the great plasticine cartoon “Last Year's Snow Was Falling.” Image from 2D Among Us.

Categories: Global Voices

‘People Are Getting on Those Boats Because They Want to Live’

Tue, 2016/07/19 - 3:06am

Screen capture of a rescue operation by SOS Méditerranée via YouTube

With conflict and insecurity plaguing North and West Africa and civil war lingering in Syria, people continue to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea on makeshift boats to seek sanctuary in Europe.

The human cost of these passages has been dramatically high. In 2015, more than one million people were estimated to have entered European Union countries by sea, five times more than the year before. So far in 2016, the figure stands at more than 240,000. According to the UN Refugee Agency, about 3,500 people who tried to immigrate to Europe died or went missing in the Mediterranean Sea in 2014. In 2015, the number rose to 3,771. This year has already seen 2,944 people perish.

This is where SOS Méditerranée comes in. SOS Mediterranée is an organization aiming to provide assistance to any person in distress at sea, whether they are men, women or children, migrants or refugees, who find themselves in mortal danger while crossing the Mediterranean. The project is financed by private donations and public funding. The funds raised go toward renting the boat and the daily costs of maintenance and rescue.

The MS Aquarius in Cuxhaven, 2012. CC BY-SA 3.0

The ship used for the operation is the Aquarius. SOS Mediterranée was started by German merchant marine captain Klaus Vogel and Sophie Beau of France, who has experience in humanitarian programs. The project was created after the end of the Italian navy's Operation Mare Nostrum, which also aimed to rescue migrants in distress at sea.

SOS Mediterranée‘s blog includes several accounts from those who have made the perilous journey. These are a few of their stories.

Kebba is a 22-year-old welder from Gambia. He fled his country because of the reigning dictator and lack of work:

La seule façon d’avancer est de devenir soldat, et je n’ai pas voulu faire ça. J’ai perdu mon père et il fallait que je soutienne ma mère et mes jeunes soeurs, alors je suis parti chercher du travail ailleurs. En Libye, j’ai été kidnappé. J’ai été détenu dans un camp pendant deux mois. Il n’y avait presque pas de nourriture, pas d’eau, pas d’endroit pour dormir. Ils ont tué six personnes que je connaissais dans les camps. Ils disent ‘donne-nous ton argent ou on te tue’, et ils tiennent parole. J’ai voulu rentrer chez nous mais je n’avais aucun moyen de m’y rendre. Alors j’ai décidé de prendre ce risque de partir en Europe. Les trafiquants nous ont gardé dans un autre camp, pendant deux ou trois semaines. Le jour venu, ils nous ont entassés dans le bateau en caoutchouc. Il n’y avait pas de capitaine, seulement la volonté de Dieu. J’ai deux rêves— de devenir soudeur en mer et d’écrire un livre sur ce voyage. Mais si la vie ne m’accorde rien d’autre, j’espère au moins pouvoir vivre en paix

The only way to get ahead is to become a soldier, and I didn't want to do that. I lost my father and had to support my mother and my young sisters, so I went looking for work elsewhere. In Libya, I was kidnapped. I was held in a camp for two months. There was virtually no food, no water, nowhere to sleep. They killed six people I know in the camps. They would say, “Give me your money or we'll kill you,” and they kept their word. I wanted to go back home, but I had no way of getting there. So I decided to take a risk and go to Europe. The smugglers kept us in another camp for two or three weeks. When the day came, they stuffed us onto the rubber boat. There was no captain, just the will of God. I have two dreams: to become an underwater welder and to write a book about this journey. But if life gives me nothing else, I hope to at least be able to live in peace.

Screen capture of a rescue video on the operation's YouTube channel

Cyrill is a Cameroonian executive who fled the brutality of the militant group Boko Haram in the northern part of the country. He spoke of torture houses, robberies and violence he witnessed in Libya, a launching point for many of the boats headed to Europe:

 La Libye est un pays hors du monde, qui a perdu tout sens moral. Un monde revenu à la condition de la chair animale. Ces enfants qui s’entraînent à tirer sur les noirs dans la rue, les rackettent en leur mettant une lame sur la gorge ou apprennent à torturer les migrants sous le regard de leurs parents. Ils parlent du viol systématique des femmes sur la route, de ces passeurs ou geôliers impitoyables qui les battent et leur crachent dessus en leur répétant qu’ils ne valent pas le pain qu’on leur donne.

Libya is in another world—it is a country that has lost all sense of morality. A world that has returned to an animalistic state. There are kids who are trained to shoot at black people in the streets, rob them by putting a blade to their throat, or learn to torture migrants as their parents watch. They talk about the systematic rape of women in the streets, the ruthless smugglers and guards who beat them and spit on them and tell them that they're not worth the bread they're giving them.

Gode Mosle is a 22-year-old Syrian who lived in Damascus. He is now in Sweden but remains traumatized by his memories of his escape:

J'ai dit à mes amis en Syrie de ne pas prendre ces bateaux. Il faut qu'ils viennent par la Turquie et la Grèce, même si c'est beaucoup plus cher.  On était environ 700 dans le bateau mais il n'y avait en fait de la place que pour la moitié .Ces passeurs sont des animaux. Ils crient sur les gens, les volent et les frappent quand ils embarquent. C'était une sorte de torture psychologique qui a commencé avant même le bateau. Deux Africains sont morts dans la cale.  Ils ont été asphyxiés, ils ne pouvaient pas respirer à cause des émanations du moteur. C'était bancal, on ne pouvait pas se mettre debout ou bouger. Dès que quelqu'un le faisait le bateau menaçait de chavirer .Il y avait beaucoup de hurlements. Je ne referais pas ce voyage. Je ne peux pas oublier ce que j'ai vu. Les gens veulent vivre, c'est pour ça qu'ils embarquent sur ces bateaux.

I told my friends in Syria to not take these boats. They should go through Turkey and Greece, even though it costs a lot more. There were about 700 of us in the boat but there wasn't even room for half of us. Those smugglers are animals. They scream at people, steal from them and hit them when they get on board. It was a kind of psychological torture that started even before the boat. Two Africans died in the hold. They suffocated; they couldn't breathe because of the exhaust from the engine. It was so rickety, we couldn't stand or move. As soon as someone did, the boat threatened to capsize. There was a lot of screaming. I wouldn't make that voyage again. I can't forget what I saw. People are getting on those boats because they want to live.

For more on the subject, a French-language documentary by Jean Paul Mari shows the daily challenges faced by SOS Méditerranée over the course of a year of SOS Méditerranée:

Categories: Global Voices

Meet the Nicaraguan Feminist Group Fighting Gender-Based Violence in Central America

Tue, 2016/07/19 - 2:00am

“The founders of La Corriente” attend a feminist conference organized by the group in June 2016. Photo: Facebook

Launched in the early 1990s, La Corriente has been described as “a type of Central American feminist network consisting of groups and individual activists alike.” Members dedicate themselves to education, publication, and the organization of conferences on the ways in which gender is lived within Central American societies and the ways women can collaborate together. Initially, and for a long time, La Corriente was a movement based in all of Central America, but it later shifted, focusing all its efforts on Nicaragua.

Based in Managua, this program has three areas of focus: education, research, and communication. Activists launch a new outreach campaign every year, aimed primarily at young men and women. They work mainly with issues such as sexual and reproductive rights and the secular state. They have further developed their activism with by staging events like “Las Reinas Chulas” (“The Pretty Queens”), a cabaret theater show and feminist movement that they and another organization created together. The theater has enjoyed great success, and allows La Corriente to reach out to many people at once and transmit values in a clear way. “Los Machos,” seen in the video below, is dedicated to viewing feminine and masculine conventions from a humorist perspective.

Another one of La Corriente's works is the radio show “Cuerpos Sin Vergüenzas” (“Shameless Bodies”), which is broadcast weekly on the Central American University radio network, where it addresses various topics related to sexual and reproductive rights, such as sexual diversity. The show’s objective is to influence the public opinion and create a space to exchange ideas with listeners. The shows are available as online podcasts through Ivoox. The last episode, titled “Celebramos Nuestro Orgullo” (“We Celebrate Our Pride”), was dedicated to LGBTIQ pride:

El 28 de junio celebramos en Nicaragua el día del orgullo lésbico-gay-bisexual-trans-intersex-queer con una marcha nacional que partió del Colegio Teresiano culminando en Metrocentro, en la que participamos diversos colectivos feministas y LGBTIQ así como personas que se sintieron convocadas a demandar respeto en una sociedad donde persiste la discriminación por motivos de orientación sexual e identidad de género.

On June 28, we celebrated the lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-intersex-queer Pride Day in Nicaragua with a national parade that started at the Colegio Teresiano [Saint Teresa High School] and ended at Metrocentro [downtown], in which various feminist and LGBTIQ groups participated as people who felt called to demand respect in a society where discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity persists.

As a part of its activism, La Corriente defends sexual diversity and has carried out initiatives like “Revivir La Foto” (“Relive the Photo”). This series is the result of a research group called “Transitar Por el Género” (“Transiting [or Crossing] Through Gender”) focused on the binary description of gender and the examination of the so-called “dissident bodies” that challenge the social and sexual order regulated by heterosexual norms. In the video, participants are asked to take a photo from years ago and explain why it was an important event:

In the episode above, Shandi shows a photo of her high school graduation and tells how her top goals were professional training and, even more so, the development of her true identity. In the video, Shandi says she was able to attend university, but the intolerant environment there prevented her from finishing her degree.

The initiatives and projects carried out by this group can be followed in more detail on its website and social-network channels. La Corriente's most-recent activity was a regional feminist meeting at the Central American Feminist Conferences in Managua in mid-June, which you can follow on different social networks. The challenge of women in Central America, the visibility of African women, and the restrictions on abortion in the region were just some of the topics emphasized by participants.

Categories: Global Voices

O Little Town of Danghara: Tajikistan Facebookers Mock Historical ‘Discovery’

Mon, 2016/07/18 - 6:45pm

One of the humorous reactions to scholars claiming that a town in Tajikistan is 4,000 years old. The image depicts dinosaurs roaming the earth with two road signs pointing the way to Danghara. Posted on Asia-Plus Media Group's Facebook page, July 16, 2016.

Looking for the ever-more-ancient roots of modern places is an important business in Tajikistan.

The government uses newly discovered historical anniversaries to justify lavish construction projects and massive festivities all over the country.

Historians acquire different perks for extending national history as far back in time as possible.

As for ordinary people, many of them are happy to learn that their towns and villages are older and more significant than they thought.

Yet often the announcements of new historical discoveries in the country draw ridicule.

On July 14, the president of Tajikistan's Academy of Sciences claimed that Danghara (also spelled as Dangara), a small town in the country's south, is more than 4,000 years old.

For many people in the country, this rural location is a synonym for “backwater town”.

However, Danghara is important as a birthplace of the country's president as well as a number of other top government officials and MPs.

“Older than mammoth feces”

Asia-Plus, the country's oldest independent news agency, posted a report about Danghara's updated age on its Facebook page.

The news instantly became a subject of ridicule.

Many people poked fun at scholars by proposing sarcastically that the town is even more ancient than they claim.

Zamira wrote, for example:

Ну зачем же так мелочиться? ученые немного ошиблись, нужно глубже капнуть и окажется, что самая древняя цивилизация на земле.

Why think so small? The scholars have made a minor mistake; if they dig deeper, they will establish that this is the oldest civilization on earth.

Ma'ruf suggested:

Дангара древнее Рима!

Danghara is more ancient than Rome!

Afzalshoh cited an ancient myth:

Дангара это древняя Атлантида

Danghara is the ancient Atlantis

Malika joked:

Адам и Ева тоже были из Дангары )

Adam and Eve were also from Danghara )

Nazar added:

Там была высшая цевилизацыя в эру динозавров еще

They had a high civilization there already in the dinosaur age

Parvina agreed:

Да древнее фекалий мамонта)))

Yes, [the town] is older than mammoth feces )))

And Mubin proposed going even further back in time:

Жизнь зародилась в Дангаре.

Life as we know it emerged in Danghara.

“Academy of Stupidity”

Some internet users have questioned the sanity and motivation of scholars responsible for the discovery.

Kahhorjon asks:

Уважаемые академики, вам что нечем заняться? Мне кажется это не академия наук, а академия тупых!

Dear academicians, don't you have anything better to do? It seems like yours is an academy of stupidity rather than sciences.

Suhrob suggested:

кажется президент академии наук метит на более высокую должность

It looks like the president of the Academy of Sciences has his eyes on a higher post

Muhiddin chipped in:

Экономически мотивированные ученые, на любую глупость могут пойти

With an appropriate monetary incentive, scholars would do anything and everything

It was not clear from the news report whether local scholars had reliable evidence to support their claim.

One Internet user reacted to the report by posting a funny image.

The image depicts the president of the Academy of Sciences as saying that Danghara is 4,000 years old. When asked whether he has evidence to back up the announcement, the scholar responds, “I swear on my mother [that is is so]”.

Farhat sarcastically explains why the ancient Danghara did not survive.

In doing so, he draws an analogy with present-day Tajikistan where the natives of the town fill a disproportionate number of middle-level and senior government posts:

Причина почему древнее население покинуло ясно. Так как история циклична одним из правителей Саразмской цивилизации 4000 лет назад стал житель Дангары и остальные поехали с семьями в центральные города что бы получить должности.

It is clear why the ancient population left [Danghara]. History is cyclical; one of the natives of Danghara became a ruler of the Sarazm civilization 4,000 years ago. The remaining inhabitants of the town moved to the cities in order to get [government] posts.

The abundance of such jokes does not mean that everyone in the country distrusts the official historical narrative.

Many people in the country, perhaps the majority, believe it.

It is also important to note that the Facebook page of Asia-Plus, the news agency that first shared the news of the discovery, is a place that is particularly prone to humorous reflections.

Over the last several months, the agency accompanied many of its news reports shared on the page with caustic comments that drew public attention and set the tone for subsequent discussion.

Categories: Global Voices

Azerbaijani Women Watch #IAmNotAfraidToSpeak from the Sidelines

Mon, 2016/07/18 - 8:24am

Sexual violence. Wikimedia image.

As an Azerbaijani woman it has been fascinating to follow the story of #яНебоюсьСказать (#IAmNotAfraidToSpeak) started by Ukrainian activist Anastasiya Melnychenko in order to discuss incidents of sexual, physical and psychological violence against women.

Whether in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Belarus or Russia, women are not only constantly subject to sexual, physical and psychological harassment, but also seen as the instigators of these attacks on themselves.

A pervasive mentality argues that “she brought it upon herself” and/or “it is her fault”.

This is because rape, violence and harassment are so stigmatised in our cultures, victims often remain silent, attempting to forget their experience, never to discuss it again.

This perhaps applies to conservative Azerbaijan more than most of the other countries in the former Soviet Union.

The persistent “it's women’s fault” mentality explains the behaviour of Azerbaijani female netizens on Facebook, who have largely remained silent about their stories in contrast to the sudden outpour of reactions on the part of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian users.

Like any Azerbaijani woman, this author has been harassed on many occasions.

Many of us have experienced harassment on Baku's busy metros and buses while commuting to work.

It is one of the few places men can find “the space” and the “right opportunity” to touch an ass or rub up against a female body, nearly always from the back, because harassment is an act of cowardice.

Digging through this trove of memories is painful and the silence of #demeyeqorxmuram — what #IAmNotAfraidToSpeak would be in Azeri — tells its own story.

The last time Azerbaijani netizens responded en masse to violence against a woman was the case of Aytac Babayeva (#AytacBabayeva), a recent high school graduate who was stabbed eight times by her former boyfriend in a fit of jealousy.


— Mehmet TAYLI (@TurkishClup) March 7, 2016

Turks and Azeris express anger online at death of teenager #AytacBabayeva

— BBC Trending (@BBCtrending) May 4, 2015

Just a few months before Aytac’s murder, 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan was raped and then brutally murdered in Turkey.

But in the event of Aytac’s murder, her case was shared by more Turkish users than Azerbaijani users.

According to a BBC Azeri service story of the time, the number of women killed as a result of domestic violence in 2014 in Azerbaijan reached 721.

Real numbers may be even higher.

Discussion of #IAmNotAfraidToSpeak in Azeri language never really got off the ground, although, ironically, the few posts that did address the topic were widely shared:

I always want to ask those who say, “it is her fault, what the hell was she doing at that hour on her own on a street” about women who have been victims of violence, “what the hell are you doing being the animal you are, among human beings?” But I never ask this question. Because I don’t want to belittle animals.

There are stories written in Azerbaijani […] It is just there are not many. There would be stories if someone starts a hashtag in Azerbaijani language. I do not believe there is one woman who has not faced harassment or violence. Not just verbal or physical but there are those who rape you with their gaze. It is a very heavy topic. Many of the men who put themselves in women’s shoes won’t understand this.

One day, perhaps, Azerbaijani women will join in regional calls for mutual respect and freedom from harassment. In the meantime, rides on Baku public transport will still be hell.

See also: #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt: Ukrainian Social Media Users Break the Silence on Sexual Violence and Women Struggle Against Violence in Kyrgyz Society, But How Many Men Will Help Them? 

Categories: Global Voices

Puerto Rico’s Flag Is Black and in ‘Mourning’ Over US-Imposed Oversight Board

Mon, 2016/07/18 - 4:19am

The famous door in Old San Juan now has the Puerto Rican flag painted in black and white, as a sign of mourning and resistance. There is also a small altar. Photo by Marina I. Pineda Shokooh, used with permission.

For many Puerto Ricans, the national flag is a symbol of cultural pride and identity, especially in light of the island's colonial status under the United States’ government. Now, with an artistic tweak, the flag also represents the state of mourning that the island has been experiencing since the US government imposed a federal control board with power over the commonwealth's jurisdiction.

A group of artists have altered a famous door painted with the Puerto Rican flag by changing its original colors from blue, red, and white to black and white to mark the approval of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, also known as PROMESA. Passed by the US Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the act was promoted as a way to manage Puerto Rico's more than $70 billion of debt.

But PROMESA severely undermines the island's political autonomy. Its measures, which include a decrease of the hourly minimum wage to US $4.24 (about $3 less than the US federal minimum wage), have galvanized people to organize daily civil disobedience events and camps.

The flag mural is located on the facade of an abandoned building on San José Street in Old San Juan, and before its makeover locals and tourists alike often took photos of it as a memory of their visit. The door is surrounded by litographs of famous Puerto Rican artists made by the collective Grabadores por Grabadores.

Some people online quickly expressed their disappointment at the color change and described it as an act of vandalism. One comment stated, “They painted the flag on San Jose Street. Any volunteers? To paint the flag back to its original colors.”

Soon, the “flag in mourning” inspired the sarcastic hashtag “Pero que no me pinten la bandera” (“But don't paint the flag”) among Puerto Ricans who reflected on the triviality of lamenting the altered colors. Many social media users proclaimed their support for the new mural, and the flag in mourning has become a symbol of resistance and civil disobedience.

Artistas Solidarixs y en Resistencia (Artists in Solidarity and Resistance), the art group responsible for re-painting the flag, released an open letter on online magazine 80grados explaining their motives:

El arte es un vehículo de expresión que se ha utilizado a lo largo de la historia para transmitir ideas, provocar reflexiones, transformar y (re)crear la realidad. Los símbolos patrios ayudan a reforzar la identidad y valores del pueblo. Desde su origen la bandera de Puerto Rico ha sido símbolo de lucha ante la condición colonial y, durante años fue un delito izarla. Más tarde bajo la ley colonial de 1952 (ELA) se adopta la bandera oficialmente. En la actualidad el triángulo representa las tres ramas del Gobierno: ejecutivo, legislativo y judicial. Las tres franjas rojas simbolizan la sangre que da vida a estos poderes.

Las leyes, los gobernantes y los tribunales, hasta este momento, no han servido a los intereses del pueblo. Reemplazar con color negro (que es la ausencia de LUZ) crea nuevas lecturas. La nuestra es una propuesta de RESISTENCIA, no es pesimista, al contrario, habla sobre la muerte de estos poderes tal cual los conocemos, pero la esperanza sigue ahí representadas en las franjas blancas que simbolizan la libertad del individuo y su capacidad para reclamar y hacer valer sus derechos.

Sirva este acto como una invitación a reflexionar y tomar acción ante el colapso del sistema de educación y salud, la privatización y destrucción de nuestros recursos naturales, el status colonial, el atropello contra la futura fuerza laboral, el pago de una deuda impagable, la imposición de un gobierno anti democrático, el estrangulamiento de las gestiones culturales entre otras. Este acto es una muestra de que hay una comunidad artística que no está de brazos cruzados, que está dispuesta a luchar contra todos los atropellos, contra la imposición de un gobierno absolutista y sus políticas de austeridad, la más reciente: la Junta de Control Fiscal (PROMESA). Puerto Rico está en pie de lucha, fortalezcamos el amor entre nosotros y por el espacio que habitamos promoviendo el respeto, la solidaridad, la tolerancia, la unión, la comunicación y el trabajo en comunidad.

Art as a form of expression has been used throughout history to transmit ideas, provoke reflection, and transform and recreate reality. National symbols help reinforce a country's identity and values. Since its origins, the Puerto Rican flag has been a symbol of struggle against our colonial status, and during several years, hoisting it was considered a felony. Under the colonial act that created the 1952 ELA [Associated Free State of Puerto Rico/Commonwealth], the flag becomes an official symbol. Today, the triangle represents the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The three red stripes symbolize the blood that gives these branches power.

Our laws, our politicians, and courts have not represented the interests of the Puerto Rican people. Replacing the colors with black (which is the result of the absence of LIGHT) creates a new discussion. Ours is a proposal for RESISTANCE; it is not pessimistic, it discusses the death of these powers, but hope is still present in the three white stripes that symbolize the individual's rights and their capacity to reclaim and create their rights.

This act is an invitation to reflect and take action against the collapse of our education and health system, privatization and destruction of our natural resources, the colonial status, abuses committed against our working force, the payment of an exorbitant debt, the imposition of an anti-democratic government, cuts made to cultural affairs, among other conflicts. This act demonstrates that there exists an artistic community that will not remain with arms crossed, that is willing to fight against any exploitation, against the imposition of an absolutist government and its austerity policies, the most recent: Federal Control Board (PROMESA). Puerto Rico is fighting, lets strengthen the love between us and the space we inhabit by promoting respect, solidarity, tolerance, union, communication, and community cooperation.

The “black flag” has been reproduced by many other artists and activists as a form of protest against the imposed federal control board. Campamento Contra la Junta (Camp Against the Board), a grassroots movement of students and activists, has utilized social media to promote their permanent camp outside the US Federal Courthouse in San Juan. A group of people have established a camp outside the federal courthouse as an act of defiance and civil disobedience.

Street art has become one of the most common forms of dissent for the movement and other political activists, with several new murals produced every week since Obama signed the PROMESA bill:

Photo of mural artwork by local artist Jesús Delgado Burgos, from Campamento Contra la Junta's public Facebook page. Used with permission.

“Rise Up and Fight”. Photo of mural artwork by local artist Jesús Delgado Burgos, from Campamento Contra la Junta's public Facebook page. Used with permission.

Grito de Lares “black flag” in Santurce with the machete, a symbol of struggle and defiance. This is the flag of the town of Lares, Puerto Rico, and it is emblematic of the independence movement of the island. Photo by Spear Torres. Used with permission.

Currently, the Campamento Contra la Junta is also organizing several demonstrations against the spraying of Naled, an insecticide with adverse health effects used to combat Zika. The movement has also inspired diaspora communities to join the struggle, with organizations like the Comité Boricua en la Diáspora holding a public meeting to discuss Puerto Rico's struggle for independence in East Harlem, New York. While it is still uncertain when the control board will be established, activists are finding creative and artistic forms of expressions to convey their opposition and resistance.

Categories: Global Voices

These African and Scandinavian Musicians Create Sweet Sounds in Copenhagen

Sun, 2016/07/17 - 8:00pm

Musicians from Scandinavia and southern Africa play a jam session at a Danish café during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival this month. Credit: Sonia Narang

This article by Sonia Narang originally appeared on on July 12, 2016, and is republished here as part of a content-sharing agreement.

During the annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival in July, people can hear music coming from street corners, open-air plazas, and iconic jazz clubs across Denmark’s capital. On one Sunday afternoon during the recent festival, I saw a little Danish café turn into a meeting place for global cultures.

Inside Café Blå Time, which means “Blue Hour café” (or “Blue Time café”) in Danish, a crowd gathered to watch a line-up of international musicians: a drummer/singer from Mozambique, Swedish brothers who play the saxophone and piano, a singer adopted from Swaziland who now lives in Denmark, a Finnish bass player, and a guitarist from Namibia.

I caught up with Mozambique-born musician Deodato Siquir before the jam session at the café. I’d seen him perform in front of a packed house at another venue in Copenhagen the previous night, and wanted to find out more about his music.

Listen to this story on »

Siquir moved to Sweden when he was in his mid-20s. “It was a rebirth for me. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know any musicians. I had to start from zero.”

Deodato Siquir is a singer and drummer from Mozambique. He moved to Scandinavia in his mid-20’s and plays with musicians from around the world at the annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Credit: Sonia Narang

In the 15 years he’s lived in Scandinavia — including seven in Copenhagen — he has built up a large network of friends and supporters.

“I had to learn the language, I had to learn the codes, and all the habits [of Scandinavians],” he says, and at the same time “not break the connection with my roots.” He sings in his first language, Ronga, and writes songs about Mozambican life. One of his most poignant songs, “Para Mutema,” is about his late mother.

In his shows, he brings together what he calls “an all-star” band of musicians who gel on stage despite disparate backgrounds.

“A Swedish guy, and a Mozambican guy, and a Danish guy, they’re speaking one language, which is the music language,” Siquir says. “That’s what we want to reflect to the society, that it’s possible.”

He’s joined on stage by two brothers — a pianist and a saxophone player — from Gothenburg, Sweden. The piano player, David Bäck, is Siquir's good friend and part of his trio.

“When we play the music, people in the audience feel like this is like my kitchen at home with the family, and we talk in a sweet way together,” Bäck says.

He enjoys playing with people of different musical styles, and says, “African music is so rhythmical and ecstatic, so it’s good for me when it takes some breaks and relaxes, and then you go with the energy again.”

While I’m waiting for the jam session to begin, I strike up a conversation with Maria Thandie Stensgaard, who I spotted in the crowd at Siquir’s concert the previous night. I find out she’s a singer who performed 16 gigs at last year’s jazz festival.

“My dad is a Zulu and my mom is from Swaziland,” she says. She was adopted by Danish parents who lived in South Africa during apartheid, and now live in Denmark.

“They’ve been quite a beautiful guidance for me, because they were the Caucasian people in the black world during apartheid and now it’s me, a little black girl in a white world,” Stensgaard says.

Jazz Singer Maria Thandie performed 16 gigs during last year’s jazz festival in Copenhagen. This summer, she says she’s mostly just attending events to support fellow musicians, and pops into a few jam sessions like this one to sing. Credit: Sonia Narang

Stensgaard grew up with gospel and blues, and says she mixed her African inspirations into that music. “I’m really a storyteller,” she says, adding, “I’m a live person. I never wanted to record. That’s my thing. I need the crowd. Whatever they bring, I’ll have that conversation by singing, that’s what I love.”

Today, she takes the stage to sing the jazz classic, “Summertime,” a lovely melody that captures the entire café’s attention.

“We do what we do best on stage, and it’s like we’re having this conversation with our instruments and getting to know each other by what we love the most,” Stensgaard says. “And, for me, that’s magic, yeah. I love it.”

A little later, singer and guitarist Jackson Wahengo adds some more lively flavor to the jam session with his rhythmic blend of African folk and pop. He grew up in the refugee camps of Angola singing freedom songs for his country Namibia, which became an independent nation in 1990.

Today, as Wahengo sings a song in his mother tongue of Oshiwambo with a Swedish band in his new hometown of Copenhagen, it truly feels like a place where cultures mix.

Categories: Global Voices

How a Stolen Student Parliament Is Macedonia's Political Crisis in Microcosm

Sun, 2016/07/17 - 5:51pm

July 1 protest in Skopje, in support of demands of Student Plenum and other youth NGOs against election fraud. Photo by Vančo Džambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

Placing illegitimate representatives in the university senate, having them vote, falsifying elections, violating the right to secret ballot, and excessive use of police force against students.

These are just some of the events that have stirred up a toxic political atmosphere connected to the student parliament of crisis-torn Macedonia's oldest public university in recent weeks.

The student parliament is a very influential institution in Macedonia.

Like elsewhere in the Balkans, it is an ‘heir’ to the former Communist “Student Union,” and has close ties with the ruling party.

By law it formally represents the students in official bodies and collects obligatory membership fees.

The lack of actual democratic accountability on the part of the Student Parliament of the University Ss. Cyril and Methodius (SPUCM), is well-known, however.

Pocket parliament

At the beginning of June, eleven student and youth organizations announced an initiative questioning its legitimacy, warning that it would compromise the process of electing a new rector at the university.

The initiative demanded a meeting with the university management to resolve the issue of the expired mandates of the SPUCM president and nine other student representatives within the senate.

The university leadership ignored the initiative, despite the fact elections within the SPUCM have been overdue for almost three years.

On June 27, the day of the election of the new rector, members of the initiative blocked the entrance to the rectorate building where the elections were to be held.

Most visible among them were the members of the grassroots Student Plenum, that organized massive protests and occupied public universities in 2014 and 2015, succeeding in averting government attempts to push through legislation that would reduce the autonomy of universities.

Members of the Professors’ Plenum joined the students and together they did not allow anyone to enter the rectorate.

Journalists and activists on the ground provided live streaming of the development which helped spread news about what was happening.

Students standing up to the rector. Photo by Vančo Džambaski, CC BY-NC-SA.

After negotiations, the outgoing Rector Velimir Stojkovski allowed four Student Plenum members to attend the session of the university senate, and students lifted the human shield.

During the session, these students warned the Senate that SPUCM members are illegitimate, submitting ample documentation in support of their argument.

The rector cut the discussion short, dismissed the evidence without examining it, and concluded that all relevant documentation had already been submitted.

Maja Stevanovikj, professor at the Faculty for Drama Arts, warned everyone of the dangers of going ahead with the elections.

If these people vote today, with illegitimate mandates, their vote will be disputed times and times over. In a year, or 6 months, when new information surfaces, the election will be disputed and it will have legal implications […] all of the decisions made by this University will have to be nullified.

Regardless of this warning, the verification commission verified the mandates of the 10 representatives of SPUCM.

With their votes, Nikola Jankulovski was elected as the new rector of the university.

Stolen election

On June 30, three days after the new Rector had been elected, SPUCM organised its long overdue student elections, which were plagued with violations and irregularities.

Firstly, there were no voting booths set up, thus the right to secret ballot was violated.

Secondly, there was no electoral commission and voters and ballots were not properly marked. Also, the elections were organised after the semester had finished and most students had gone home.

The most shocking moment occurred towards the end of the day, when several well-built individuals, whom social media users later identified as ruling party members employed in public administration, entered the university space and forcefully removed ballot boxes.

This was a clear violation of the procedure, which stipulates counting votes on site. The stolen boxes were given to Student Parliament members who ran away to their office.

After the ballot boxes were removed, activists and members of Student Plenum and other organizations arrived at the SPUCM offices and decided to wait for its president, Kiril Spirovski, to return.

They issued a call on social media for people to come and join them in front of SPUCM offices, and also called the police, reporting a robbery.

Some time after 11 pm, the Rapid Response Unit arrived in full riot gear with armored vehicles and escorted the SPUCM president and additional ballot boxes to the building.

By this time Student Plenum members were peacefully sitting in the entrance hallway.

After the attempt to bring the ballot boxes to the SPUCM offices, which plenum members protested, the Rapid Response Unit entered the building and started manhandling and even beating students, who were sitting still on the floor.

Disturbing videos of students screaming were immediately uploaded online causing public outrage.

ЕБР тепа студенти пред канцелариите на СПУКМ. Видео наскоро.

— Ѓаволот (@Gjavolot) June 30, 2016

Rapid Response Unit is beating up students in front of the Student Parliament offices. Video coming soon.

Video: Rapid Response Unit officers in full riot gear confronting and pushing students out of SPUCM offices.

Aleksandra Zivkovic, a member of the Student Plenum, gave the following testimony soon after the incident:

I can't talk, I'm crying and I keep thinking about how they could do something like this to us. All of us, with high GPAs, knowledge, scientific articles and debates in our CVs, honest freedom activists, we were stomped on by a police unit whose job is to deal with terrorists!

Later that same evening, SPUCM announced that they had elected their new president, Davor Popovski, with 3,851 votes, while the second candidate Stefan Vasilevski received 1,275 votes.

They also reported that 138 ballots were invalid, while a total of 5,264 students had voted.

The following day, there were different reactions to the event.

The police claimed there was no excessive use of force and that their engagement was purely “preventative”, as there was a danger of students violating the Law on Public Order and Peace.

As a response to this and the incident itself, human rights expert and activist Mirjana Najchevska, PhD, wrote a facebook post, which was picked up by media outlets, where she stated:

Having someone put on a uniform does not make them a policeman. There has not been such an abuse from the side of the Ministry of Interior since Macedonia's establishment as a country, in the last century.

In addition to these statements, several other organisations, such as the National Youth Council of Macedonia, Highschool Students’ Plenum, Professors’ Plenum, the Youth Educational Forum and the Liberal Democratic Party of Macedonia criticized the excessive use of police force, demanding an investigation into the irregularities and nullification of the election results.

In his reaction, Velimir Stojkovski, still UCM rector at that point, expressed concern over the allegations of SPUCM and police involvement and asked for all students, whether SPUCM or Student Plenum, to refrain from any form of association “not to worsen the situation.”

Despite this, Student Plenum organised a protest on July 1, and demanded the elections be nullified, sending out official statements to the rectorate and all of the deans the University Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

The protest started in front of SPUCM offices, which were once again guarded by police, and ended on the grounds of the University.

#Протестирам пред СПУКМ

— Jofemk (@jofemk) July 1, 2016

I protest in front of SPUCM

УКИМ да се одважи и да ги чуе барањата на студентите. #уким #спукм

— Dona Коsturanova (@malaovca) July 1, 2016

The University must show courage and listen to the students’ demands.

As a response to the events of June 30, UCM Rector Velimir Stojkovski called for an emergency meeting.

During the meeting the Student Plenum submitted 2,000 pages of documentation once more underscoring the illegitimacy of SPUCM's mandate.

The Rector declared that a commission should be formed to review the evidence but refused to nullify the election, emphasizing the fact that the University has no jurisdiction over SPUCM.

Activist and student Vladimir Delov, in a July 7 post on Medium, explained why students need to boycott SPUCM and why these elections were so important.

He explained that the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE has spread its influence through SPUCM to university circles.

By doing this, during the past several years, SPUCM, with their votes, have helped elect professors according to the preferences of the party.

Партиската војска во редовите на универзитетот. Од своето постоење тие го оневозможуваат гласот на студентот и решавањето на нивните проблеми. Но овде, врзувањето на партискиот подмладок со студентското претставување ќе го поврзам со една друга, многу пострашна и позагрижувачка асоцијација.
Видовме дека фалсификувањето на изборите не им беше мака, ниту срам. Фалсификувањето е веќе апсолвирано во нивниот светокруг како нормално, дури и како “кул” .Гордо и достоинствено. Со мускули и златни ланци, по рамбовки на факултет. Замислете како ќе биде кога оваа генерација ќе ги спроведува изборите?

They are the ruling party's army in the university ranks. They prohibit students from voicing and solving their problems. Here, intermingling the party youth with student representation has very ominous implications.
We saw that falsifying elections was no trouble to them. Without shame, they do it as something normal, even something “cool.” They do it with pride. With muscle and golden chains, Rambo-vests within the faculties. Now try to imagine how this generation will organize parliamentary elections?

The University Sts. Cyril and Methodius consists of 23 faculties, 5 institutes, and 17 other bodies.

So far, only two of them, the Scientific Teaching Councils of the Faculty of Drama Arts and the Faculty of Dentistry, have stated officially that they do not accept the outcomes of the student elections or recognize the new SPUCM president as a legitimate representative.

Categories: Global Voices

Pakistan’s Latest ‘Honour Killing’ Victim Is Social Media Celeb Qandeel Baloch

Sun, 2016/07/17 - 2:45pm

Photo courtesy: Rahema Alam  & Words by:  @Sarkhail7Khan

One of Pakistan's most famous social media celebrities, known for her bold, sensual and daring posts, was suffocated to death on July 16 — by her brothers — in what the police are calling an “honor killing” in her native city of Multan, Punjab province.

Baloch was killed in her family home while she was visiting her parents.

Her father registered a police report accusing his two sons of the murder of his daughter.

According to the police report, Baloch's father alleges that his sons murdered his daughter because they believed she brought “shame to the family.” He further said that his sons killed Baloch for her money.

Despite the initial police report, the investigation is still ongoing and the police suspect that the motive may have been a financial dispute, as one of Baloch's brothers, Waseem, was allegedly a drug addict.

Late on July 17, the police announced the arrest of Waseem, who confessed to the murder.

Despite Waseem's claims that his brother wasn't involved, Baloch's father insists that his other son Aslam, still at large, was the instigator of the murder.

Speaking to media he vowed: “My daughter was brave and I will not forget or forgive her brutal murder.”

While Baloch frequently shared videos and photos of herself, there was very little that was known about her private life.

She amassed vicious haters and dedicated followers during the brief period in which she shot to fame, but no-one could dispute Baloch's status as an internet sensation.

An honor killing is most commonly understood as “the murder of a family member by another, due to the belief that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family.”

In 2015, Pakistan's Federal Ministry of Law released statistics noting some 933 honor killings over the past two years.

‘I'm a fighter, I will bounce back’

The slain model attracted controversy as one of the strongest voices speaking out against patriarchal norms and traditional gender roles.

A self-professed ‘one woman army’, the model had posted on her Facebook page of her determination to ‘bounce back’ the day before her death.

Baloch had recently made headlines after she posted photographs and videos posing alongside religious cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi, revealing what she felt was a double standard.

According to Baloch, Qavi had invited her over to meet, claiming to be an ardent fan, despite the fact that his fellow clergy frequently criticised her.

The photos caused quite a stir, resulting in Qavi being suspended from the country's moon-sighting committee which decides when the ongoing holy month of Ramzan begins and ends.

To many Baloch was a complete enigma until recent media reports disclosed her real name, her passport, photographs of her ex-husband and her son who is a minor.

Ushbah Al-Ain, from the rights group Digital Rights Foundation, is appalled by the murder:

Qandeel Baloch, a girl in her twenties, a survivor of an abusive marriage, a mother of a child – and a woman who was taking charge of sexuality has been murdered. It doesn’t matter who killed her, because let’s be honest – we as a nation killed her. Yes! Me and you, us – we killed her and many others who die every single day in Pakistan. The approximately one thousand girls who die every year in the name of honor. And now while every news media outlet tries to capitalize on her death, while members of this society raise her son to hate her mother’s memory – we as citizens won’t be held accountable. We killed her.

Social media reactions that justify her murder are being shamed by others who believe that the killing should be condemned without qualification:

Honour killing of artist @QandeelQuebee celebrated by Pakistanis. #QandeelBaloch
Via @i_k_b

— Rita Panahi (@RitaPanahi) July 16, 2016

Pls stop using caveats while condemning #QandeelBaloch‘s murder: “I didnt approve of her, but…” You sound like a misogyny apologist.

— Neha Ansari (@NhaAnsari) July 16, 2016

Mainstream media's role under the spotlight

In the wake of her death, many are criticising the way in which the media reported her story, especially the fact that they chose to disclose her real name and identity, ignoring the fact that she used a pseudonym precisely for reasons of self-protection.

Maham Ali expressed her grief and frustration in a Facebook post:

To our “free” media who only care about ratings – you are equally responsible for her death. Qandeel came in the limelight as Qandeel Baloch, not as “Fauzia Azeem” which was her real name. But our media really doesn't care about the lives of people. They revealed her name, they revealed her address and other personal details and once they did, her family came in the spotlight as well. When she was not using her real name and identity her life choices weren't being connected to the family. Their “izzat” (respect) wasn't being questioned. But when dangerous anchors like Mubashar Lucman constantly called her on his show along with misogynists like Mullah Qavi, that's when maybe the family also started feeling threatened. The neighborhood in Multan where Qandeel's family lived started taunting the family and her brother when they found out. Even now, media is allowing people like Qavi and Haroon Rasheed to spew hatred against a dead woman.

Journalist Issam Ahmed expressed his shock by sharing the details of his last conversation with Baloch, who was deeply concerned for her security.

So shocked by Qandeel Baloch's murder, literally shaking. We had been on friendly terms since I spoke to her for a couple of pieces in recent months. Yesterday she called to ask me to edit her Wikipedia page because she wanted references to her ex-husband and child removed, I agreed because the child is under 18 and exposed to a high degree of risk. I did it but the Wikipedia editor did not accept the edits despite my comments explaining why. The risks here are all too real.

Reporters from other publications have also come forward sharing how Baloch had expressed fear and concern when her real name and personal details were reported:

I spoke to Qandeel Baloch a couple of days ago to take her comment on her marriage story. She was crying. Said “they'll kill me”.

— Hassan Choudary (@hassanchoudary) July 16, 2016:

An online petition is currently making rounds on social media, demanding that those responsible in media and political circles be sent to trial along with her brothers.

Today, we hold the Pakistani media complicit in her death. We hold those journalists, editors, directors and owners responsible who leaked private details of her life. They publicized her marriage, her child, knowing the dangerously sexist conditions in this country. They berated her and thereby prepared the way for her to be killed.

‘No country for bold women’

Condemnations online are now being followed up by demonstrations and protests offline.

Rights activist Nighat Daad posted the following photo from a demonstration at Lahore's Liberty Market:

No country for bold women. #QandeelBaloch

— Nighat Dad (@nighatdad) July 16, 2016

Civil society in Peshawar also denounced the murder as “inhumane” in a snap protest:

Mirroring the skewed media coverage that plagued her during her time as an online superstar, several Western media outlets have described her as the “Kim Kardashian” of Pakistan in the wake of her death.

Pakistani feminists feel that this couldn't be further from the truth as Baloch was a working class woman who in recent interviews had spoken openly about how she had worked hard to pay for her sister's wedding and bought a home for her parents — the same home she was subsequently murdered in.

As a tribute to her memory, political activist Ammar Rashid penned an ode to Baloch and Pakistani women:

We thrive upon the exploitation of women’s unrecognized labor our entire life, then cite scripture to tell them why they should be happy in their blessed bondage, their divinely-ordained lot in this world and the next.

We are murderously violent because we have nothing to stand on, because our fictions no longer sustain us, because the stories we tell ourselves to maintain our privileges no longer seem to fit with a reality in which women are somehow audaciously beginning to see themselves as fully human. Better, always, to eliminate such impudent threats rather than question the stories we've told ourselves all our lives.

Rest in peace Qandeel. Thank you for showing us the filth we are wallowing in.

Categories: Global Voices

A Photo Contest Captures the Stunning Flora and Fauna of Macedonia and Albania's Lake Ohrid

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 1:26am

Photo: Marina Sadikoska/OhridSOS, used with permission.

Entries to a photo contest called “The Voice of the Lake” showing lush scenery, majestic wildlife and discarded man-objects at Lake Ohrid, which straddles Albania and Macedonia, have recently sparked interest among many Macedonians.

The contest was organized by the Citizen Initiative OhridSOS, which is fighting to stop harmful urbanization projects that threaten to destroy the magnificent lake, which is the largest natural lake in Macedonia and the oldest lake on the European continent.

Shots capture mute swans, various freshwater fish and crustaceans and even some house furniture in the lake waters and shores.

The three images below featuring beautiful landscapes and an underwater resident of Lake Ohrid were chosen as the contest winners by those who voted on Facebook.

OhridSOS activists decided to also award their own favorite photo. The winner? The lovely image below featuring a sunset scene with reed and gulls on Lake Ohrid.

Photo: Nebojsha Gelevski/Ohrid SOS, used with permission.

Categories: Global Voices

Africans Aren't Staying Silent About a Scottish Woman's Patronizing and Factually Inaccurate Gap Year Memoir

Fri, 2016/07/08 - 12:51am

The cover of the book In Congo’s Shadow.

The hashtag #LintonLies has been trending on social media since British newspaper the Telegraph published an extract of a book written by US-based Scottish actor Louise Linton about her “nightmare” gap year volunteering in Zambia.

Zambians, other Africans and friends of Africa are using humor to criticize the book's factual errors, deceptive generalisation and misrepresentation of Zambia, a peaceful nation in southern Africa, as a rebel-infested country.

In the extract, Linton says she “had come to Africa with hopes of helping some of the world's poorest people,” but describes being forced to later flee for cover “deep in the Zambian bush” under the “dense jungle canopy” when armed rebels from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo raided the village where she lived. “As the night ticked interminably by, I tried not to think what the rebels would do to the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’ if they found me,” she wrote.

My innocent dreams of teaching the villagers English or educating them about the world now seemed ridiculously naïve […] I soon learned that Africa is rife with hidden danger. I witnessed random acts of violence, contracted malaria and had close encounters with lions, elephants, crocodiles and snakes. As monsoon season came and went, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in neighbouring Congo began to escalate and then spill over into Zambia with repercussions all along the lake. Thousands of people were displaced and we heard brutal tales of rape and murder.

There has never been Hutu-Tutsi conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That conflict took place in Rwanda, which does not share a border with Zambia. The country has never experienced a civil war, either. Also, Zambia does not experience monsoon season nor does it really have jungles.

Her geography was wrong, her knowledge of African politics is wrong. Somebody educate this imbecile. @BBCWorld. #LintonLies

— Kaluba Chaikatisha (@kaluba101) 6 July 2016

Besides the factual inaccuracies, people are also criticizing Linton for having a “white savior complex” — the patronizing, colonial attitude that only white people can “save” Africans — and resorting to the tired characterization of Africa as a dark and dangerous place.

#Whiteprivilege is having a book deal on experiences that cannot be verified. #LintonLies

— Sisi Majok (@modernemeid) 4 July 2016

‘You were in Southern Africa honey, not the rainforest’

On Twitter, users picked apart Linton's book, some with a sense of humor. Masuka Mutenda quipped:

The only thing missing from @LouiseLinton jungle caper was Tarzan swinging to her rescue

Categories: Global Voices

Why Did Facebook Remove a Post Criticizing Singapore Police?

Thu, 2016/07/07 - 8:30pm

Teo Soh Lung (left) and Roy Ngerng, another activist who has been investigated for political activities. Photos from International Service for Human Rights and The Heart Truths (Roy's blog).

When Singaporean police interrogated political activist and civil rights lawyer Teo Soh Lung, and searched her apartment and electronic devices without a warrant, Soh Lung spoke up. She wrote about the May 2016 incident on Facebook, and her lawyer posted video of the search on YouTube. The posts went viral.

But Soh Lung's most recent Facebook post about the incident met a different fate: censorship. Soh Lung reported that her post (see below) denouncing abuses of power by police in Singapore was removed by Facebook for ‘violating community standards.’

Teo Soh Lung received a notification that her post criticizing the Singapore police was removed on Facebook for violating community standards. Photo from the Facebook page of Singapore-based blogger Kirsten Han.

Police had investigated Soh Lung along with fellow activist Roy Ngerng “for publishing several online articles and postings that may be tantamount to election advertising” on the day prior to election day to “reflect rationally on various issues raised at an election before heading to the polls.” Campaign advertising is also banned on election day. These restrictions apply mainly to online news outlets, not individuals. Soh Lung and Ngerng suspected that they were targeted by authorities because of their previous political activism.

Teo Soh Lung published her most recent post on the Facebook page of Function 8, a socio-political website, describing her encounter with police in late May. Her post (some of which is pictured above) continued:

The police have robbed me of my properties and gravely inconvenienced me. They have mined my data. They have seen and read all my private documents and know who are my friends. They have invaded my privacy. They have committed a crime. I am angry. But where is my recourse? We do not have a national human rights institution which our so called less developed neighbors have – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

This is my Singapore. This is your Singapore. We are a police state. For the slightest irritation, Singaporeans run to the police. But when the police commit a wrong, where do we run to?

According to Function 8, the post was mysteriously removed from Facebook:

Latest post by Soh Lung in this page was automatically unpublished by facebook!! Those people who shared that post also have theirs removed automatically from their walls.

Soh Lung was also banned from posting on Facebook for one day. After signing back on Facebook, she confirmed that her post was blocked:

I have joined rank with Andrew Loh. My latest post on F8 facebook and which I shared here has been removed by facebook. It is titled “Police Terror”.

Indeed, this is not the first time a post criticizing Singapore authorities has been censored on Facebook. Soh Lung cited the case of blogger Andrew Loh whose post criticizing the policies of the Singapore government was also removed on Facebook. He was also blocked from accessing Facebook for three days. Subsequently, Facebook apologized for the ‘accidental’ removal of the post and the three-day blocking of Andrew Loh from the social networking site.

Soh Lung has been given no further information about why her post was removed. Facebook's automated message states that it violated the company's “Community Standards,” but did not specify which of the standards was violated.

Soh Lung re-posted the message on her personal page:

I am testing if there is a computer glitch on FB side since I don't know where to write to in order to complain about the removal of my earlier post.

Singapore-based blogger and Global Voices author Kirsten Han suspected that other users might have complained or reported the post using Facebook's “Report Abuse” mechanism. She is worried that it could be a “new tactic to silence” criticism in Singapore:

It's bizarre that Facebook would remove a post about police powers and due process in Singapore because it violates community standards – what standards have been violated here? Then again, it's not the first time – I had a post removed ages ago, and it happened to Andrew Loh recently.

It is possible that the post was removed because it was reported by a large number of people….If this is the case, then it's troubling how this could be a new tactic to silence.

Facebook policy documentation asserts that the company does not remove posts based on the volume of abuse reports that they receive. Any post that has been reported for abuse is said to be reviewed by a real person, who determines whether or not it violates the Community Standards.

It is possible that Soh Lung's post was removed in keeping with Facebook's standards regarding “Attacks on Public Figures.” Their policy on this issue reads:

We permit open and critical discussion of people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience based on their profession or chosen activities. We remove credible threats to public figures, as well as hate speech directed at them – just as we do for private individuals.

Did the company read Soh Lung's post as a “credible threat”? Her reference to a friend pledging to “set her dogs on the police” might have justified this move. On a different note, given that the company is on increasingly high alert regarding terror-related activities on the platform, it is possible that Soh Lung's use of the word “terror” may have triggered the response. Either way, Soh Lung hopes that her future speech on the issue remains online, for all to see.

Categories: Global Voices

Afghan Refugees: “Nobody ‘Wants’ to Leave. It is About Survival.”

Thu, 2016/07/07 - 2:46pm

Afghan refugees in Athens, Greece. Shared via Afghan Community in Europe Facebook page.

Thousands of Afghans flee increasing violence, instability and poverty in Afghanistan in the hope of a better life and future. According to Europe's statistical agency, Eurostat, Afghans make up the second largest group of asylum seekers in Europe after Syrians. In 2015 alone around 64,000 asylum applications were filed by Afghans.

Afghanistan's national unity government was set up in 2014 in the wake of a disputed election result in an attempt to unite Afghans for the purpose of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, economic and political instability, as well as unemployment are rising in the country.

In 2001, there were more than 3.8 million Afghan refugees, according to the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

With the presence of US-led ISAF forces and tentative signs of stability in Afghanistan, the number of refugees decreased sharply in the years that followed.

However, by the end of 2015, the number of Afghans seeking shelter outside the country had spiked back up to 2.6 million following US troop withdrawals that have encouraged a growing anti-government insurgency spearheaded by the Taliban.

According to UNAMA, 2015 was the worst year for civilians, especially women and children in Afghanistan, as the insurgency peaked. The new year, meanwhile, has picked up where the old year left off.

Unsurprisingly, the deteriorating security environment has proven toxic for the economy.

Afghanistan's Central Statistics Organization reported that between February 2015 and February 2016, the unemployment rate in Afghanistan shot up by 15 percent, bringing the total rate close to 40 percent across the country.

What Afghans are saying

Western politicians and sections of the mainstream media in Europe continue to characterise the current tide of refugees seeking safe haven abroad as young, male and opportunistic.

Those few Afghans who have had the opportunity to speak to media or use social media to express their plight have painted a different picture, however.

Speaking to Aljazeera, Ajmal Sherzad, 32, who left Afghanistan for good with his family in February last year, cited war and economic instability as the main reasons he and his family were forced to leave the country in search of a better life:

Everybody is leaving Afghanistan. The only people who will be left there are [President] Ashraf Ghani and [Chief Executive] Abdullah Abdullah.

Fully acknowledging the dangers of the journey to Europe, Wahid Qaderi, a dentist, and Rana Qaderi, an obstetrician, chose to leave Afghanistan with their children anyway.

In an interview with the New York Times, Qaderi said:

If we die, we die one day. If we live here, we die everyday.

The main route for citizens leaving the country is through Iran, then over the mountainous Iranian-Turkish border, and onto Greece, where thousands are effectively trapped and prevented from journeying on to other European countries.

#AfghanRefugee carries a baby as reach the Greek island of #Lesbos,#Greece,#refugeesGr June 16

— ✌☮#UpTheRebels☮✌ (@Chara_fc) June 17, 2015

The proportion of fleeing Afghans who have been  granted asylum in European countries remains small.

Abdul Basir, who had worked with Lithuanian soldiers on logistics in Ghor, Afghanistan since 2005, was one of the lucky ones. He was admitted to Lithuania after his plea on YouTube from a refugee camp in Greece went viral.

Most refugees have less luck.

One happy end: Afghan refugee flown to Lithuania from #Greece after social media plea

— Melissa Fleming (@melissarfleming) April 7, 2016

How are refugees living in the Greek camps? 

The total number of Afghans currently living in Greece is unknown, but estimates place the number at around a third of the 50,000 people that are presently trapped in refugee camps in the country.

#Afghan kid at a refugee camp in Athens Greece during protests yesterday. #Afghanistan

— shafi شفيع شريفى (@ShafiSharifi) June 4, 2016

And living in abandoned old buildings:

#Afghan refugees at an old airport in #Athens #Greece #Afghanistan

— shafi شفيع شريفى (@ShafiSharifi) May 30, 2016

Or at terminals across the Greek islands:

#Afghan refugees camped at an old terminal in #Athens.An estimated 15K Afghans are stuck in #Greece #WorldRefugeeDay

— shafi شفيع شريفى (@ShafiSharifi) June 22, 2016

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grande warned that “the world is losing sight of Afghanistan and the plight of millions of its people […] unfortunately the attention of the international community seems to have slipped.”

Toba Shahabi, an Afghan artist who has been paying visits to and raising funds for a number of refugee camps, shared on Facebook traumatic excerpts from conversations she had during her visit to the Calais “Jungle” refugee camp located in northern France.

Toba Shahabi with a group of Afghan refugees in the Calais “Jungle” refugee camp in France. Shared via Toba Shahabi's Facebook page.

One asylum-seeker told her:

How long have I been here? 4 months, yes my wife and children are still in Afghanistan and I am anxious to get out of here to a safer place of course! But the media really twists things, I never wanted to leave my beloved watan (home country) and I am not what they call an ‘economic migrant’. It's from helplessness, from futility and fear that I have left everything I know and find myself in this state. What do I want for my future? I want to return to my home, I want peace and harmony where I can raise my family. Nobody ‘wants’ to leave. That is beyond one's control; it's about survival.

It is for their survival that Afghans leave Afghanistan for European countries, where the record for welcoming them is generally poor and where political uncertainty is extending their miserable lives-in-limbo by the day.

They live this life because Afghanistan — a country torn apart by local conflicts and foreign interventions — cannot offer an existence that is any better.

Categories: Global Voices

Puerto Ricans Won't Accept US-Imposed Austerity Without a Fight

Thu, 2016/07/07 - 6:40am

The fiscal control board was approved by both Republican and Democratic legislators and signed into law by President Obama on June 30, 2016. In the picture, protesters in front of the Federal Court building in the capital of San Juan, who organized a permanent civil disobedience camp. Picture taken from the public Facebook page Campamento Contra la Junta.

June 30 was a historic day for Puerto Rico, albeit an unhappy one. US President Barack Obama signed into law the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which imposes a fiscal control board with extraordinary emergency powers over the government of Puerto Rico. The islands, which are a US territory, are grappling with more than $70 billion of debt, and the board was promoted as a kind of relief measure.

But Puerto Ricans have no say whatsoever. Many see the board, whose powers go well beyond those of other fiscal boards found in recent US history, as colonialism at its plainest.

The junta, or “board” in Spanish, will be composed of seven members appointed by the president, some of whom are chosen from lists provided by Congress. Members will have complete control over the budget, revenues and operation of the government of Puerto Rico. Its decisions are final and cannot be appealed, nor are its members held accountable if something goes wrong.

On the night of June 29, after the US Senate approved the bill in a 68-30 vote, social media users who were following the Senate's proceedings expressed feelings of sadness, uncertainty and most of all, impotence. For Twitter user and research director of the Center for a New Economy, Deepak Lamba-Nieves, PROMESA is an act of violence:

The #PROMESA vote was another violent spectacle of imperial power. They slowly braided the whip they will try to use against us.

— deepak lamba-nieves (@deepakln) June 30, 2016

Immediately after President Obama signed PROMESA into law, citizens organized a permanent civil disobedience camp in front of the Federal Court building in the capital city of San Juan.

Categories: Global Voices