On Friday, chaotic clashes broke out in Georgia as an angry mob -- comprised mainly of young men but also including robed priests and some women -- descended on a gay rights rally commemorating International Day Against Homophobia. A day earlier, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church had demanded that authorities stop the rally, calling it a "violation of the majority's right."
According to EurasiaNet, the mob, which numbered in the thousands, shouted violent slogans while chasing activists away from downtown Tbilisi. Clamors of "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" and "Where are they? Don't leave them alive!" rang out as police herded activists into municipal buses and away from the area. As the activists left, protesters pelted the buses with stones and overpowered policemen trying to contain the scene. Seventeen people have reportedly been injured in the violence.
The video footage is quite dramatic:
Members of the Georgian government have spoken out against the attacks. UNM parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli dismissed today's events as "anarchy" and added that "this is not the state we were building," while Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani affirmed that "both groups have the right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable." While many have condemned the violence, comments later came from several ruling Georgia Dream party members that criticized the LGBT activists for raising tensions.
On May 15, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that sexual minorities "have the same rights as any other social groups" in Georgia and that society will "gradually get used to it." Judging from today's episode, Georgian society still has a ways to go.
(H/T: Arianne Swieca)
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
"I like Camus, man."
That's how Cody Wilson, the man behind the first fully functional 3-D printed gun, replied when asked by the right-wing radio host Alex Jones to describe his political heroes. This past week, Wilson's company, Defense Distributed, announced that it had created a functioning handgun produced by a 3-D printer -- a device that creates products from electronic blueprints by layering plastic -- and that it planned to make the schematics freely available online.
So far, Wilson's effort has largely been portrayed in the media in two ways: as a dangerous way to circumvent gun-control statutes and as a tech story about how an innovative manufacturing technology is being harnessed for unanticipated ends. But there's a political story here, too. While it's easy to caricature Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas, as a right-wing nut hell bent on defending his Second Amendment rights, a common thread of anarchist thinking runs through nearly all Wilson's public statements. This isn't just a guy who loves his guns -- this is a political project. Or at least it purports to be.
"Now that we have a [federal license to manufacture guns] we can ... develop something like a single-shot completely printable plastic gun," he said on Alex Jones's show back in March. "Yes, it's undetectable, but more importantly it's unobservable by institutions and countries and sovereigns.... This might be a politically important object."
Wilson is the rare gun-rights advocate who drops names like Michel Foucault, Albert Camus, and John Milton in his interviews, and the worldview he's selling has more in common with hacktivist collectives like Anonymous than bearded woodsmen preparing for the end times. Here he is diagnosing the current state of American politics in a revealing Vice documentary:
There's this Fukuyamaist idea that like history had ended after the Cold War. Right? And that like if we could just tweak neoliberal democracy, everything's gonna be fine. Forever. You know that like somehow this is like the final political form? I mean this is ridiculous. And like you can see it -- there is no evidence of a political program anymore in the world, in America. There aren't genuine politics. There's the media telling you Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney is like the epic clash of ideology when we both know they're globalist neoliberals. They both exist to preserve like the interests of this relatively autonomous class of Goldman Sachs bankers.
So what exactly is Wilson proposing? Well, like any good leftist he's short on specifics. But consider the following exchange with Glenn Beck -- an appearance, by the way, that had Beck visibly uncomfortable:
GB: Ok, so are you an anarchist?
CW: I guess in a functional sense, sure. But perhaps like a principled one.
GB: I don't know what that means.
CW: Well there's a guy named Michel Foucault. And I'd recommend that you read him some time. Really I see the battle as one of just trying to remain human and against you know massive forces, anonymous forces of discipline and control that we can't really understand. I don't think there's a massive conspiracy. But I do think the self is under siege and I think liberty itself is under siege...
So if we take Wilson seriously, his 3-D gun project is aimed at reclaiming some sense of individual autonomy, which has been stripped away by the regulatory impulses of the state. The project, he claims, is a deeply moral one aimed at forcing individuals to face up to their choices:
Milton's Areopagitica is essentially the spiritual analogue that I'm holding out for people. Which is more to do not about like why guns are good. It's more about why like speech and information is good. Why like you just must reckon with, you must be free to reckon with whatever ideas that you can. It isn't enough that a society can just withhold things. That doesn't befit you as a moral agent. That doesn't allow you to exist or to, that doesn't allow you to fully exercise your capacity as a human being, as a moral agent.
As much as Wilson would like to present himself as a gun sage, he also possesses a deal of old-fashioned anti-establishment anger, and that's a perspective that doesn't quite square with his high-minded invocation of John Milton:
But what this project's really about, fuck your laws, you know what I'm saying? It's stepping up, it's being able to go, you know what, I don't like this legal regime I neatly step outside of it. Now what, you know?
That's a perspective that should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Anonymous. And it's a serious problem when a group aspiring to real political power busies itself instead with cursing off the government. Maybe Milton has something to say about that.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo's Twitter feed disappeared for about an hour today following an online sparring match with a feed operated by the office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy over Jon Stewart's impassioned defense of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef. When the embassy's feed returned, a tweet linking to the Daily Show clip had been deleted, and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that embassy officials "came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."
There's bad diplomacy, and then there's the Twitter fight that followed this afternoon between the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language Twitter account (@IkhwanWeb) and American radio show host and media personality Rick Sanchez (@RickSanchezTV). The improbable feud started when the Muslim Brotherhood tweeted an Al Jazeera report featuring a comment Sanchez made in 2010 that was widely reported as being anti-Semitic and led to his firing from CNN. The Muslim Brotherhood pointed to the incident as an example of the West's "double standards" about free speech:
The Muslim Brotherhood's confusion about the government-ensured rights of an individual vs. the rights of private employees notwithstanding, Sanchez came looking for a fight this afternoon. Armed with a loose understanding of the situation, Sanchez eagerly began trolling @IkhwanWeb.
The Muslim Brotherhood responded, and from there, it was a good, old-fashioned troll fight. @IkhwanWeb was right that Sanchez didn't have his facts straight, but their defense of Egypt's freedom of speech rang a bit hollow given the circumstances:
.@ricksancheztv Mr. Shanchez, we value freedom of speech, it's what Egyptians fought for & no power can take this fundamental right away— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv perhaps u shld get facts first. He wasn't arrested, but questioned and released re complaint brought by pvt citizen, not us— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv absolutely false, we've nothing to do w investigations, it's a fact & if u ve evidence to contrary plz announce to the world— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
Sanchez then declared victory. Several times.
And that's today's installment of how Twitter is making politics weird. Remember, folks: Don't feed the trolls.
Who knew calling for pedestrian safety could be so dangerous? Earlier today, skirmishes between students and the guards at Egypt's Misr International University resulted in bloodshed following a 15 day sit-in to protest the suspension of 16 students and expulsion of eight.
The suspended students had been calling for greater safety measures after several incidents of pedestrians being hit, hospitalized, and even killed by traffic outside the university. As reported by the Daily News Egypt:
[On March 3], students demanded a pedestrians' bridge outside the university gate to prevent accidents. Protesting students marched to [the University Deputy Chairman Hamdy] Hassan's office to put forward their demand. They claim to have been stopped by the security personnel.
"We have a video of Hassan asking the security personnel to beat anybody who tries to move forward," said Bassem, another MIU student who preferred to withhold his last name. "In another video, Hassan threatens to kill any student who approaches his office."
Hassan denied these claims. "I told the protesting students we could meet in one of the lecture halls; my office was too small to fit us all in," he said, adding that there were between 70 and 100 protesters. "They insisted on coming into the office, so I asked the security personnel to prevent them from breaking into the office, giving them clear instructions not to beat any of them."
Hassan said that after this incident, the university chairman referred the students involved to investigation. The students accuse the administration of arbitrarily suspending students. "We don't even have disciplinary bylaws to resort to," Mustafa said.
Things escalated quickly when protesting students tried entering the campus today. They were met by security who used "rubber bullets, rocks, and fire extinguisher gas." Photos emerging show many with head injuries from bird shot. Video shows the state of chaos around the campus. It's currently unclear if it's campus security or hired security that's engaging in attacks.
Classes have been suspended until further notice.
Earlier this week, we reported on the controversy in Tunisia and Egypt over some "Harlem Shake" videos, which have provoked arrests and an investigation by the Tunisian Ministry of Education, and the follow-up Harlem Shake protests Egyptians and Tunisians were planning.
Well, they happened.
The video above is from Cairo, outside the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. Another protest took place outside the Ministry of Education in Tunis, though rain deterred some dancers.
The videos are spreading (here's one from another school, Tunisia's Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology), as is the backlash. Salafist groups have tried to intimidate students making Harlem Shake videos, and, at one school, a protest broke out that was dispersed by police with tear gas.
The videos are clearly becoming more political. In the video from Egypt, for example, a protester is wearing a large fake beard to mock conservative critics. And in the videos from Tunisia there are a number of protesters wearing the Guy Fawkes and gas masks that were popular during the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Unlike so many other flash-in-the-pan memes, the Harlem Shake might be around for a while -- especially if politicians in Egypt and Tunisia keep trying to get rid of it.
The Uprising of Women in the Arab World is not pleased with Facebook.
The group, which advocates for women's rights in the Middle East, issued a press statement on Nov. 7 claiming that Facebook, once hailed as the catalyst of the Arab Spring, was purposefully targeting the organization through censorship. After a member posted a controversial photograph to the group's Facebook page on Oct. 25, group leaders say, the social networking giant reacted by blocking the image and suspending the account of the administrator who posted it for 24 hours.
"The photograph was part of a campaign which asks the members of our Facebook page to post pictures of themselves holding banners that explain why they support The Uprising of Women in the Arab World," Diala Haider, one of the organization's administrators, explained in an interview. "Women from all the Arab countries participated and expressed their demands and outrage at social discrimination and the ways in which women have been marginalized in the public sphere."
This particular photograph was posted by Dana Bakdounes, a young woman from Syria. In it, Bakdounes is pictured with her hair uncovered, holding her passport, which has a photo of her wearing a hijab. She also holds a sign which reads: "I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I was not allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body."
Haider says that after the first time Bakdounes' photo was removed by Facebook, supporters of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World responded by posting the image to their own Facebook pages and on Twitter. Convinced that the removal of the photograph had been an error on the part of Facebook, one of the administrators, Yalda Younes, reposted the image to the original page. Facebook then allegedly removed the photograph again and suspended her account for seven days. The group filled out a feedback request stating that Facebook's actions were a violation of free speech, and on Oct. 31 the block on Bakdounes' photo was removed. But just a week later, after the organization posted a status update on Facebook asking its supporters to follow the group on Twitter and use the hashtag #DanaWind for solidarity, Haider says Facebook suspended all five of the administrators' accounts and sent them an official notice warning that their accounts could be deleted if they violated Facebook community rules again.
"We've had a lot of religious fanatics and extremists who use offensive and insulting language in reaction to our efforts," says Haider. "They call us infidels for supporting the freedom of women to choose things like whether to wear a veil or not. We've come under attack, but that was expected.... The real surprise was Facebook's reaction to the page."
In a statement posted on Reddit on Nov. 13 and confirmed to Foreign Policy as official by a Facebook spokesman, Facebook explained that the incident was simply an error:
"We made a mistake," the statement reads. "In this case, we mistakenly blocked images from The Uprising of Women in the Arab World Page, and worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified.... To be clear, the images of the woman were not in violation of our terms. Instead, a mistake was made in the process of responding to a report on controversial content.... What made this situation worse is that we made multiple mistakes over a number of days, and it took time to rectify each of these missteps."
Incidents such as the removal of Bakdounes' photo raise questions about Facebook's content moderation system, which has come under fire in recent months. In February, Amine Derkaoui, a Moroccan employee of oDesk, one of the outsourcing firms that Facebook used to moderate its content at the time, leaked internal documents to Gawker detailing the social media site's content guidelines. According to the documents, while "camel toes" and breastfeeding mothers are off limits, "Crushed heads, limbs etc are OK as long as no insides are showing." Facebook terminated its partnership with oDesk in May.
An incident similar to the removal of Bakdounes' photo occurred in April 2011 when a photograph of gay men kissing was removed (and subsequently reposted by Facebook with an apology for its "error"). The site has also been criticized for blocking the New Yorker's Facebook page after the magazine posted a cartoon that depicted female nipples. In October, a group of Navy SEALS claimed that Facebook was censoring an anti-Obama meme when it took down the image and provided no explanation for its removal until after the story was reported -- at which point Facebook issued statements to news outlets apologizing for its mistake.
These episodes begin to make more sense when you factor in the system that, at least until May, Facebook used to moderate its content. Derkaoui told Gawker that he was part of a team of 50 people from across the globe -- many from poor countries -- who moderated Facebook's content from home for as little as $1 an hour. He did not return requests for comment, and Facebook has been tightlipped about which companies it now uses to moderate content, failing to respond to emailed questions sent by Foreign Policy.
Vaughn Hester, who works at Crowdflower, a San Francisco-based crowdsourcing firm that also tasks employees from around the world with moderating content, told The Daily Beast in September that "asking moderators to flag photos that are ‘offensive' can result in very different attitudes in terms of what constitutes offensive content versus permissible content." Given what seems to be the inherent subjectivity of the content moderation industry, as well as the vast cultural and religious differences between employees from different countries, it seems possible that a photograph like Bakdounes', which Americans might not find offensive in the least, could have upset a moderator from another country.
Panagiotis Ipeirotis, an associate professor in the Operations and Management Sciences department at New York University's Stern School of Business, says that there are many ways to identify and eliminate biases in the content moderation industry.
"You might, for example, compare different moderators' work against each other," says Ipeirotis. "So, if you're worried about cultural biases, you can take five moderators from different regions and get blended input on an image."
Ipeirotis says he is unfamiliar with Facebook's content moderation policy, but maintains that the content moderation systems of different companies are only as efficient as the standards they implement.
Haider says that while she understands that mistakes are made, it's important that Facebook take incidents like this seriously because arbitrary acts of censorship aren't compatible with the site's role as a forum for free speech.
"It's only normal that Facebook, which has penetrated the whole globe, hires employees from all over the world with various religious and cultural backgrounds," she says. "This becomes problematic only when those employees favor their cultural and religious biases over Facebook's policy of respecting freedom of expression. This is why Facebook should take serious measures regarding such mistakes. We trusted that Facebook would be a supporter of freedom of expression and the uprising; we have faced the opposite by feeling that Facebook is assisting extremists and misogynists to put us in a corner.... It is disappointing, to say the least."
Facebook outlines some of its guidelines for acceptable content on its community standards page while maintaining that it attempts to balance the need for a safe online environment with its commitment to freedom of speech.
"Facebook gives people around the world the power to publish their own stories, see the world through the eyes of many other people, and connect and share wherever they go," the page reads. "The conversation that happens on Facebook -- and the opinions expressed here -- mirror the diversity of the people using Facebook. To balance the needs and interests of a global population, Facebook protects expression that meets the community standards."
Despite the removal of Bakdounes' photograph, The Uprising of Women in the Arab World's Facebook page has over 66,000 likes, and Haider acknowledges the important role that social media sites such as Facebook have played in mobilizing activist groups such as hers.
"We wanted a forum that can provide a free space for women and men from around the Arab world to meet and voice their concerns and propositions for a better reality for women within the transforming Arab societies," she says. "In this sense, Facebook helps break the borders and helps in sharing real experiences and awareness with the least possible costs."
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The Egypt Independent reported on Wednesday that two children, aged nine and ten, were arrested and charged with blasphemy in the Upper Egyptian city of Beni Suef after being accused of urinating on copies of the Quran.
Ibrahim Mohammad, a local sheikh, filed a complaint about the incident, stating that the children were incited to desecrate the Muslim holy books. A prosecutor ordered that the minors be transferred to a juvenile facility on Tuesday night.
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told the Egypt Independent that 17 cases of religious blasphemy have been filed in Egypt in the wake of violent protests against the anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims.
On Sept. 27, an Egyptian court upheld a six-year prison sentence for Albert Saber, a Christian man accused of posting the controversial video to his Facebook page. In a speech at the United Nations on Sept. 26, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi defended Egypt's blasphemy law, stating that "Egypt respects freedom of expression," but "one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed toward one specific religion or cult."
These arrests worry activists who are concerned that free speech in Egypt is being silenced by the new government, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information expressed its outrage at the crackdowns, calling them a "general inclination by the state to silence opponents."
Prominent Egyptian-American journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy, author of FP's May/June cover story, was arrested on Tuesday in New York City and jailed overnight following a scuffle over American Freedom Defense Initiative leader Pamela Geller's anti-Islam subway ads. In a video shot by the New York Post, Eltahawy is seen defacing one of the ads with a can of pink spray paint, until Pamela Hall, a supporter of Geller's initiative, throws herself into the line of fire.
"Mona, do you have the right to do this?" Hall yells.
"I think this is freedom of expression," Eltahawy counters before letting loose with her brightly colored weapon of choice.
Things continue in this vein until NYPD officers intervene and promptly handcuff an indignant Eltahawy, who is clad in a coat almost the same shade as her paint.
"This is what happens when you nonviolently protest in America!" she shouts to the gathering crowd.
Eltahawy was later charged with criminal mischief, making graffiti, and possession of a graffiti instrument, all misdemeanors.
Geller's ads, which read "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man" and conclude with "Support Israel. Defeat Jihad," have been the cause of a legal and political firestorm in recent weeks. In late August, a federal court ruled that the Metropolitan Transit Authority couldn't prevent the ads from being posted. This order was unaffected by the spate of violent anti-American protests over the anti-Islam film "The Innocence of Muslims" currently taking place across the globe.
"Our hands are tied," Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, told the New York Times. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the decision on Sept. 21, saying that Americans often have to tolerate things they find offensive because of the First Amendment.
Geller later blogged her version of the pink spray paint spat, calling Eltahawy a "thug" and correctly predicting that "This criminal behavior and fascism will be lauded in Leftist circles." The flurry of celebratory tweets from Eltahawy's many Twitter followers following her arrest would seem to confirm Geller's fears.
Today, only the squat silhouette of a woman outlined in pink serves as a reminder of the confrontation, but Eltahawy's arrest has become something of a social media legend, inspiring the hashtags #freemona and #proudsavage as well as an online parody.
"As an US citizen I know that non-violent civil disobedience is one of many ways to fight racism," Eltahawy later tweeted.
If only Gandhi had thought of acquiring a can of pink spray paint.
Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't choose his foreign visits lightly. On May 31, Putin makes his first trip abroad since being inaugurated for a third term as president on May 7, to neighboring Belarus. The visit is highly symbolic of Russia's desire to be the leader in the post-Soviet space, as well as Putin's continued support for the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko (also known as "Europe's Last Dictator"). Afterwards, Putin will head to Germany and France, Russia's major trading partners in the EU. After the European visits, Putin will fly to speak with Uzbek ruler Islam Karimov in Tashkent, to Beijing, and finally to Astana, Kazakhstan, to meet with long-time ruler Nursultan Kazarbayev; countries central to Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union.
Earlier in the month, Putin suddenly declined to attend the G8 Summit in Camp David, under pretext that he was too busy forming a new Cabinet of Ministers, sending instead Prime Minister Medvedev. The move was widely seen as a snub to President Obama, as Putin avoided a meeting with the president, and sidestepped making the U.S. his first foreign visit. A few days later, Obama announced he would not be able to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Vladivostok this September, because it conflicted with the Democratic Party convention.
Putin has now also taken the opportunity to snub the UK, by announcing he will not attend the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, even though the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held on Russian territory in Sochi. Likely, Medvedev will once again be sent in his stead. Russian-British relations have been tense since the 2006 poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Moreover the West has been pressuring Russian officials over the 2009 death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while he was detained in prison. Putin's foreign trip destinations are by no means accidental.
It might be the end of American hegemony in the global political and economic order, but unemployed and underpaid Americans can at least take heart at today's news.
Social networking site Badoo.com conducted a poll of 30,000 people in 15 countries to name the coolest nationality. Surprise! - despite a sinking economy, pathetic politics, and increasingly suspect pop culture exports -- Americans are still number 1.
According to Reuters, the top ten coolest nationalities are:
The five least cool?
According to Reuters:
"We hear a lot in the media about anti-Americanism," says Lloyd Price, Badoo's Director of Marketing. "But we sometimes forget how many people across the world consider Americans seriously cool."
"America," says Price, "boasts the world's coolest leader, Obama; the coolest rappers, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg; and the coolest man in technology, Steve Jobs of Apple, the man who even made geeks cool."
It's unknown how Obama's coolness factors into his job approval ratings by Americans - the most recent polls say that more than half of the country disapproves of him as leader of the pack.
While an increasingly devastating famine continues to drive Somalis from their homes, many families are citing another reason for leaving: the forced recruitment of child soldiers. A recent Amnesty International report revealed that al-Shabab has intensified its recruitment process in order to gain more control of Central and South Somalia.
Primary schools are raided for soon-to-be soldiers and children are abducted from local playgrounds. Some are bribed with money and phones. Those who run away are often shot in the back, deemed traitors.
A Somali woman who lost several young family members at the hands of the armed rebels told Amnesty International:
"Those recruited by al-Shabab do not come back."
Boys, sometimes as young as eight, are given guns and forced to fight alongside grown men. Girls are used as servants for al-Shabab members, and in some instances, even wives. One testimony of a 16-year-old boy described how young girls are charged with adultery if they refuse to comply with the marriages. Floggings are a common punishment, sometimes ending with the death of the child. Girls and women accused of being raped (yes, accused) have been beaten or stoned to death - even though refugees have told Amnesty International that al-Shabab was responsible for the rape themselves.
Interviews with youth in the region have produced evidence that the Islamist militant group may be using children as suicide bombers, although Amnesty International cannot verify this. A 15-year-old boy described al-Shabab's recruitment tactics:
"They have a methodology, they say you will fight a jihad and then go to paradise. One friend was recruited by them and then he came to the village asking us to join...He had an AK47 and he said he was given lots of money."
While al-Shabab has been criticized for using children as weapons of war, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is internationally-backed and U.S.-funded, has been listed on the UN's annual list of parties that recruit children for armed conflict for seven years in a row —although they dispute the accusation. During a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on May 4, 2011, TFG members cited a lack of birth certificates and international financial assistance as the main causes of child recruitment. Human Rights Watch, alongside Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations, have expressed grave concern over TFG training camps that hold refugee children against their will in neighboring Kenya, which has also denied allegations of using child soldiers.
An ex-child soldier who fled to Kenya told Amnesty International:
"I am not feeling safe. I am stressed. I have flashbacks. I am scared that al-Shabab will come here too. I want a better future, better security, further education. I live in fear here."
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
While gay Americans have a lot to celebrate lately -- the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and New York becoming the sixth state to legalize gay marriage, among them -- 76 countries still consider being gay a crime. Homosexuality has long been a heated issue in Ghana, and now its LGBT community may face jail time. "All efforts are being made to get rid of these people in the society," said Paul Evans Aidoo, an MP from the western region. Ghana's Bureau of National Investigations has been directed to track down and arrest anyone suspected of being gay.
Aidoo is not the first high profile person to go on the attack publicly. Reverend Stephen Wengam, a prominent religious figure in Ghana, recently wrote an op-ed for the Ghana Broadcasting Company where he stated:
"If homosexuality is tolerated, very soon the human race will be extinct."
Aidoo's efforts could lead to a witch-hunt as he has asked landlords to keep an eye out for "people they suspect of being homosexuals". The police are to be informed of any suspicious activity.
Ghana News Agency, a media outlet based in Accra, is claiming that homosexuality can lead to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. While Ghana has recently cut its AIDS rate in half, the disease remains a constant fear of the small West African nation. The homosexual community has now fallen victim to the AIDS blame game.
Apart from South Africa, where gay marriage is formally recognized, homosexuality is shunned by most African leaders. Along with Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Africa is also home to several countries where being gay is quite literally, a death sentence. In Nigeria, those convicted face death by stoning. LGBT individuals in Ghana may soon join this disturbing trend. One member of parliament, David Tetteh Assuming, recently hinted that more permanent punishments will be instituted for those found guilty of homosexuality:
"I believe that they are treading on dangerous grounds and they could face lynching in future."
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Women in New Delhi are taking to the streets this July -- but don't expect to see the average run-of-the-mill protest sign or megaphone. These women are participating in a SlutWalk, an international craze that has been unleashed from Sao Paulo to Syndey. New Delhi, where 85% of women are afraid of being sexually harassed in public, will follow a string of over 60 cities to participate in the SlutWalks. The Mission? To blur the definition of slut and protest the notion that a woman's dress instigates rape.
The protests were spurred by the remarks of Toronto police officer Constable Michael Sanguinett, who told a small group of students that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
Little did he know, his comment would set off a nearly-naked international revolt. Some clad in bustiers and others dressed conservatively, protesters now hold signs saying, "society teaches don't get raped rather than don't rape" and "sluts of the world unite".
Umang Sabarwal, a Delhi University journalism student, is one of the main organizers of the planned protest. She believes that Indians have an opportunity to voice their concerns over women's safety in a city where she says women are eyed like meat. Sabarwal hopes to challenge the rape blame game, saying:
"Every time a woman is assaulted, people don't blame the perpetrator of the crime. Instead women get a lecture about what they're supposed to wear and where they can go or not go."
But the planned Delhi protest is generating criticism from both men and women. Some feel using the word slut, even in an act of protest, further degrades women. Others feel that the message of the protests is trivial as they are demanding the freedom to wear revealing clothing, not demanding "protection against violence", as Amrit Dhillon said in her article published in the Hindustan Times. The journalist cites issues like honor killings, sex-selective abortion and child prostitution that she believes should addressed first and foremost.
But with intensifying criticism comes even more feminstas, mothers, anxsty teenagers and other SlutWalkers that will undoubtedly strut their stuff in the coming months.
A Bahraini security court sentenced 20-year-old student Ayat al-Qurmezi to one year in prison yesterday. The young woman, infamous for her February recitation of an anti-government poem in Pearl Square, has been found guilty of speaking out against the king and inciting hatred. Her poem has become an international symbol of the Bahraini opposition:
We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery
We are the people who will destroy the foundation of injustice
Don't you hear their cries, don't you hear their screams
Down with Hamad
Al-Qurmezi has been in captivity since March. She was rumored to have been raped and tortured after an alleged phone call was made from doctors at an army hospital in April. Yesterday, a relative confirmed that her face had been shocked with an electrical cable, she was forced to clean the prison bathroom with her hands, and held in a near-freezing cell for days at a time. Ayat al-Ghermezi has incited a rally cry for free speech in Bahrain, where female students, doctors and professors have become targets of government crackdown on civil rights.
She is not the only poet to face such harsh punishments recently in the Middle East. Waleed Mohammad al Rumaishi had his tongue cut out after reciting poetry in support of embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2009, civil servant and poet Moneer Said Hanna wrote a five-lined satirical poem about former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and is now serving a three year sentence, as well as paying a fine of over $16,000. Syrian poet, Faraj Bayrakdar, now fuels the revolution from Sweden after enduring over 13 years of torture in prison where he would carve pens from wood splinters and make ink from tea leaves in order to write poetry.
Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation, but for Ayat al-Qurmezi and her fellow dissident poets, the message is quite clear.
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In 2008, Yu Keping, the head of China's Central Compilation and Translation Bureau and a professor at Peking University, published an attention-grabbing collection of essays called Democracy is a Good Thing. Coming from a Chinese Communist Party official said to be close to President Hu Jintao, Yu's bold assertion that "democracy is the best political system for humankind" was striking. But so was the fine print: Yu argued in the book that while "it is the inevitable trend for all nations of the world to move towards democracy ... the timing and speed of the development of democracy and the choice of the form and system of democracy are conditional." Among other things, he has resisted the idea that a multi-party political system would be appropriate for China. All of which is to say that Yu is something of a sphinx: As a New York Times profile observed last year, "Even China experts have a hard time determining whether Mr. Yu is a brave voice for change or simply a well-placed shill."
Which makes Yu -- who is in Washington this week -- a particularly interesting person to ask about the current moment in Chinese politics, in which the Communist Party is managing the transition from Hu to his presumed presidential successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, while watching the sudden explosion of anti-government, pro-democratic sentiment in the Arab world with palpable unease. The Chinese government began cracking down on human rights activists, artists, and writers in March, and barred another prominent writer from leaving the country this week.
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As protesters overwhelmed former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's security forces in Tunis, the regional office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the George W. Bush administration's signature democracy promotion organization, watched as its mandate was fulfilled in the most unlikely of places.
It is, to say the least, an awkward bit of symbolism. MEPI defines its mission as "develop[ing] more pluralistic, participatory, and prosperous societies." And in the country where it is based, the Tunisian people proved themselves to be uniquely and spectacularly unhappy with their regime.
But according to current and former democracy promotion advocates in the U.S. government, the decision to base MEPI's offices in Tunisia was made because the embassy had enough free space to accommodate its staff, and the country was thought to be stable enough to not interfere with the organization's sometimes controversial work.
Scott Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration who oversaw the creation of MEPI, said that the Ben Ali regime was "constantly paranoid" about the organization's presence in the country, and never allowed it to undertake significant democracy promotion programs. As a result, "we were doing a lot of stuff very, very quietly - not to say covert, but very quietly," Carpenter said.
The Ben Ali regime's hostility to any efforts to open up the political system was attested to by other Western diplomats who served in Tunis. Alan Goulty, who served as the British ambassador in the country from 2004 to 2008, said that the government would constantly raise the specter of terrorism to discourage any contact with Tunisian opposition figures.
"There was one explosion in 1987 of a bomb, where a British lady was wounded and lost her leg," Goulty said. "I lost count of the times that Tunisian officials, 15 years later, reminded me of that incident to justify their claims that the Tunisian opposition, whatever form it took, was terrorist."
In theory, the European Union should have had considerable economic and political leverage to convince the Ben Ali regime to liberalize. Trade between EU member states and Tunisia in 2009 was in excess of $20 billion - by comparison, total U.S. imports and exports to the country were valued at around $800 million. The EU association agreement with Tunisia also provided a ready-made avenue for discussion human rights and political liberalization. In practice, however, EU efforts in the country were anemic at best.
"Frankly, the EU always pulled its punches [on democracy promotion], because of the need to operate unanimously," said Goulty. "And a different approach was taken by [our] Mediterranean partners, principally France and Italy, who believed that the best way forward was to get close to the regime and further one's economic interests."
In fact, the primary contribution that the United States made to Tunisia's recent unrest was neglect. As U.S. relations with the other North African states improved over the past two decades, the relative importance of Tunisia as a U.S. ally in the region declined. U.S. diplomats may not have had much success promoting liberalization in the country, but the national security implications of the fall of Ben Ali's regime raised steadily fewer concerns in Washington.
David Mack, currently a scholar at the Middle East Institute, served as the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Tunisia from 1979 to 1982. "If you go back to the time when I was there, our relations were disappearing with Libya, we had poor relations with Algeria, and strained relationships in many parts of the Muslim world," he noted. "But the reality is that today Tunisia plays a smaller role overall in U.S. strategic political calculation."
However, diplomats insisted that Tunisia's apparent stability under Ben Ali did not cause them to underestimate the population's grievances with his regime. A prescient June 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks criticizes the "sclerotic" regime, which it says has "lost touch with the Tunisian people." The same memo complains that "make it exceptionally difficult for the US Mission to conduct business" and meet with regime opponents.
Those who spent time in the country seconded that assessment. "The place was so sterile -- you just feel people's fear, and the complete lack of dynamism in the society," said Carpenter. "Within the State Department we used to refer to it as ‘Syria with a smile.'"
PHILIPPE MERLE/AFP/Getty Images
There's conflict brewing between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs in Iran -- and this time, the battleground is fashion.
It's hardly the first time the leaders of the Islamic Republic have embarked on a fatwa tirade against the perceived glitz and glamour of Western styles; but now a visible division of opinion regarding the legitimacy of the fatwas has appeared among Iran's leadership -- one that may leave a lasting fissure in its wake.
In this classic debate, the typically ultraconservative Ahmadinejad plays the part of the hip, chest hair-bearing nonconformist campaigning for more leniency and modernity in Iran's outlook on permissible appearance; opposite him, we have the old school, uptight enforcers played by Team Ayatollahs -- who relentlessly demand that every button be button and every hemline be lengthened. The two have disputed the propriety of rowdy hairstyles, unshaven countenances, and "badly veiled women" in the past. The former -- our surprisingly panache president Ahmadinejad -- has repeatedly declined to endorse the ayatollahs' prohibitions, and even went so far as to altogether denounce the police crackdowns used to enforce them.
So what's the latest incendiary style to drive the fashion-conscious chasm? Neckties.
In the latest such controversy, Mr Ahmadinejad, who never wears a tie in public, has gone on record as saying that no religious leader has banned the tie, which since the 1979 Islamic revolution has been regarded as a symbol of Western culture.
He was criticized by Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, normally close ally of the Iranian president, who said: "I say to him that many religious dignitaries believe ties should not be worn.
"The supreme guide (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) himself has said in a fatwa (religious edict) that the wearing of ties or bow ties is not permitted."
The tie has in past years been making a comeback in Iran, especially at events such as weddings and funerals.
The age-old adage stipulates that if you pull the string, the whole thing will unravel. If Mahmoud continues to pull the necktie, will the whole head of the Iranian government come toppling off, too? Or will the ayatollahs simply come to appreciate the magic that ensues when a world leader meets with the right piece of neckwear?
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
BBC Urdu reports — according to a Google Translation — that Pakistan's Deputy Attorney General has launched a criminal investigation against Zuckerberg and others in response to Facebook hosting a "Draw Muhammad" contest on its site late last month. On May 19, Pakistani authorities blocked access to Facebook over the contest, and this ban was lifted on May 31 after Facebook removed the page in Pakistan and other countries.
It's a bit strange that all this rage has been transferred onto Zuckerberg, who as far as anyone knows, has never drawn Mohammed. The "Draw Mohammed" idea only came about on the social networking site after censorship of a "South Park" episode got the TV-watching public riled up. Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably aren't happy that the Internet wonderboy has stolen their thunder.
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Iran's drug squad commander pointed out in January, that narcotics forces had seized 340 tons of drugs and arrested 170,000 ‘drug dealers' in the previous nine months -- what amounted to a new record for the Islamic Republic. What Iranian officials are less likely to point out is the other record they've hit in the past few months: Iran now has the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. By the end of February, (a month in which 12 journalists were arrested), the number rested at 52 -- a third of the global tally and more than double China's total of 24.
The information is detailed in a new report compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ adds that its count "does not include more than 50 other journalists in Iran who have been imprisoned and released on bail over the last several months." By arresting any who challenges the regime's authority, it seems as though Iranian officials are working overtime to usurp the 1996 record of 78 jailed journalists set by Turkey.
Although it seems to have fallen out of the news cycle ever since the disappointing Feb. 11 protests, Iran's still-alive opposition movement has yet to leave the attention of the Obama administration; an LA. Times article today reports that the administration is preparing to change the focus of its Iran policy from negotiations to greater support for the opposition as well as enforcing sanctions.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
I hadn't seen this earlier: John Pomfret relays word that Google's declaration that it would no longer comply with Chinese Internet censorship rules was a verboten subject in Davos this year.
"At China's request, that topic was left off the table at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Josef Ackermann, chief executive of Deutsche Bank and co-chairman of the event, told Bloomberg News," he writes.
So now China is capable of silencing debate in what's supposed to be an open forum?
Here's more from Bloomberg, which quotes Ackermann saying "China didn't want to discuss Google":
At Davos, participants such as financier George Soros, economist Joseph Stiglitz and French President Nicolas Sarkozy debated technology topics such as social networking and 3-D features used in the motion picture "Avatar." The discussion didn't include the conflict between China and Google, even in panels such as "The Rise of Asia" or "Redesigning the Global Dimensions of China's Growth."
Way to tackle the tough issues, guys.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt did briefly raise the subject on his own, however, according to the Wall Street Journal:
"We like what China is doing in terms of growth...we just don't like censorship," Mr. Schmidt said, speaking at the World Economic Forum's annual summit here. "We hope that will change and we can apply some pressure to make things better for the Chinese people." [...]
Mr. Schmidt maintained Friday that Google wants to continue operating in China. But he said the company didn't want to do so if it had to operate under China's censorship laws. To operate its Web site, Googe.cn in China, Google had to agree to censor its results.
"We would very much like to stay in China. We would very much like the censorship we oppose to improve in China," Mr. Schmidt replied.
Li Keqiang, China's vice premier, didn't address the issue in his speech, but apparently insisted in private that foreign companies must follow Chinese laws.
My colleagues here have been weighing in on Google's "bombshell" revelation that China has been spying on dissidents and human rights activists, trying to crack open their Gmail accounts, presumably with the aim of monitoring and disrupting their activities. A lot of commentary is so far focused on the immediate issue at hand -- China's crushing censorship and Google's controversial policy of accomodating it in the hopes of gaining market share (see Jordan Calinoff's excellent dispatch on how this policy has largely failed). Of course, we already knew China did this sort of thing, but having the details so dramatically thrust into the public sphere is shocking. This is going to be a huge, ongoing story, not only because Google and China are two of the biggest and most widely debated news topics in the world, but also because nearly everyone's going to sympathize with the people whose privacy and peace of mind has been violated.
There's a larger story developing though, of a very tense year in relations between China and the West. Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer made that prediction earlier this year, and it's probably happening even faster than he imagined. In addition to this Google story, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already jumped on, there's also a brewing U.S.-China fight over arms sales to Taiwan, China's recent missile test in retaliation, and a guerrilla trade war that now seems more likely to develop into a full-blown trade conflict.
By overplaying its hand with the activists, and messing with a huge global company with a massive ability to get its message out, China has foolishly just thrown away whatever goodwill it has built up over the years through its "charm offensive" -- at least in the West. Now, those arguing across a range of issues that China is a bad actor have been handed an enormous rhetorical club to beat Beijing over the head with. It's going to get ugly.
Freedom House released its 2010 Freedom in the World survey, which sadly, shows overall freedom declining around the world for the fourth straight year. The report designates a total of 89 countries as free, 58 as partly free, and 47 as not free. Last week, I asked Freedom House Director of Research Arch Puddington about some of the more surprising developments from this year in freedom:
We’re concerned about the self-assurance, even arrogance of some of the big authoritarian countries. China, most notably, but also Russia, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. They have their own systems they’re going to go their own way. With China what we’ve seen is that there’s a new effort to influence how the rest of the world talks about China and sees China. The Chinese bullied a book fair in Germany and a film festival in Australia, as well as events in Taiwan, Korea and Bangladesh, because the Uighur question or other controversial events might come up at these events. This sort of thing is a concern.
I was surprised to see a slight improvement in Zimbabwe's score, though it's still designated as one of the world's least free countries:
It was principally because of the agreement that was reached that brought the [Movement for Democratic Change into the government. This gave Morgan Tsvangirai the prime minstership and led to the swearing in of a parliament dominated by the MDC. These are modest improvements but we felt they merited a small increase.
Honduras lost its status as an electoral democracy because of this year's coup. I asked Puddington how Freedom House dealth with the controversy surrounding the coup, which some felt was a legitimate response to President Manuel Zelaya's own abuses of power:
We are very sensitive to the nuances of Honduras. We recognize that this was not the equivalent of what happened in Argentina under the generals or Chile under Pinochet and we don’t call it a military coup. It was a coup of the courts and the military elites. Removing [Zelaya] from office and was done willy-nilly consitutionally. Exiling Zelaya crossed the line in our view, especially in a region like Latin America with its history of coups.
I asked Puddington if he thought the Obama adminstration's democracy promotion efforts were adequate.
This is the fourth consecutive year we’ve seen decline, so we’re not going to blame Obama for what’s happened. I would say that we’re not satisfied with his policies. He still seems to be unclear about what those policies will be, but he's now coming around to something a little more concrete and coherent. There was a period in the last year where the adminstiation wanted to do the opposite of everything the Bush administration did and that attitude infected the Obama administration's development of a pro-democracy policy. I think that they’re now getting over that mindset but we’ll still have to see.
A little more than a year ago, Chinese intellectual Liu Xiaobo helped author and organize a petition known as Charter '08, which called for greater openness, rule of law, and free speech within the Chinese political system. The petition, which was unveiled on Dec. 10, 2008, eventually attracted some 2,000 signatures in China and the attention of global China watchers.
On Dec. 25, 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison for "subversion." The sentence was handed down two days after Liu's 3-hour trial in Beijing. Liu had spent the previous year in detention. Although there is little hope of reprieve, his lawyers plan to appeal the decision on procedural grounds.
The Chinese government's wariness about public discussion of political reforms (i.e., apart from factional disputes within the CCP) is nothing new. But Beijing has in the past preferred to handle such matters as quietly as possible, muting voices it perceives as troublesome without bringing more attention from critics and western observers than necessary.
In general, among critics of the Chinese political system, such as rights lawyers and environmentalists, those with extensive contacts in the west have tended, in the past, to receive less extreme or less visible punishments. (For example, while obscure provincial anti-pollution protestors have been jailed or beaten, the well-known environmentalists Yu Xiaogang, who received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008, quietly had his passport taken away to limit his activities.)
Now some China watchers believe Beijing is becoming more brazen and confident in flouting international pressure. Hu John Kamm, founder of the Dui Hua Foundation, which advocates for human rights and the release of Chinese political prisoners, told the New York Times: “Many people see this trial as a tipping point ... The government seems to be getting tougher and more unyielding.”
Liu's case has certainly attracted extensive international attention in the past year. Last January, 300 prominent international writers, including Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, Margaret Atwood, and Ha Jin, penned a letter calling for his release. In March, Václav Havel awarded the Homo Homini prize to Liu in Praque (in his absence, fellow signatories of Charter ‘08 accepted the award).
In the end, Liu's sentence is the longest ever issued for the charge of "inciting subversion."
Meanwhile another case is attracting foreigners' attention -- and heated speculation as to whether this indicates another turning point of some kind in China. The Times of London and BBC are reporting that a British citizen held for allegedly smuggling heroin in China might face execution -- tomorrow. If he is executed, it will mark the first time a European national has been put to death in China in 50 years.
Mike Clarke/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Chinese President and vocal free speech advocate Hu Jintao vowed to continue safeguarding the rights of foreign media working in China, reports the state-run paper China Daily.
"It is more important than ever before that the media should establish and uphold social responsibilities," Hu said at the World Media Summit. Apparently Hu cares so much about the media doing the right thing that he employs about 30,000 "Internet Police" to discourage everything from negative news to pornography. China's Internet filtering (AKA "The Great Firewall") was especially frustrating for overseas reporters covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing; the control of the Internet probably has something to do with why Freedom House ranks Chinese media the 181st least-free out of 195 countries surveyed, tied with Iran and Rwanda.
On the other hand, Hu did say, "The media should uphold the ideas of equality, mutual trust, mutual benefit and common development, and better facilitate exchanges and cooperation." And if you can't trust friends like these...
Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
Muammar Qaddafi's son Saif, has just completed his doctoral thesis at the London School of Economics, titled, "The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions: From Soft Power to Collective Decision Making?". This is an interesting topic given what his father does for a living. The BBC reports:
He hit out at undemocratic states whose governments were "authoritarian, abusive and unrepresentative". [...] Mr Gaddafi wrote: "I shall be primarily concerned with what I argue is the central failing of the current system of global governance in the new global environment: that it is highly undemocratic."
He continued that his dissertation would "analyse the problem of how to create more just and democratic global governing institutions", focusing on the importance of the role of "civil society".
Mr Gaddafi wrote that elected representatives should be introduced into non-governmental organisations, and that would result in more democratic global governance.
Libya might get a chance to put Saif's ideas into practice, having just taken over the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly.
Update: It must be pretty nice to be able to hire Monitor Group to do research for your thesis.
MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images
It's cartoon Wednesday here at Passport. Three editors at the Uganda weekly The Independent, including editor-in-chief and FP contributor Andrew Mwenda, were summoned by police over a political cartoon in last week's magazine. The cartoon, seen above, implies that President Yoweri Museveni is beginning a strategy to rig the elections scheduled for early 2011. Uganda is one of the few self-proclaimed democracies to retain criminal libel laws which can be used to prosecute journalists. However, the sedition law is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court and no prosecutions are allowed to move forward. (Freedom House rates Uganda "partly free.")
For four hours, 10 officers of the Media Crimes Department of Uganda's Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned the editorial decisions of Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, according to defense lawyer Bob Kasango. Were was told to return for further questioning on Saturday, while Mwenda and Bichachi were ordered to return on Monday, according to local journalists...
Officers pressed the trio over the motive and production of an August 21 cartoon spoofing Museveni's controversial decision to reappoint members of the embattled electoral commission to supervise the 2011 general election. The Supreme Court ruled that in the 2005 election the electoral commission did not adhere to its own rules and allowed irregularities including bribery, ballot-stuffing, and voter disenfranchisement.
The second spot on the list alludes to the treason charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who was brought to trial in late 2005 at the same time he was the main candidate opposing Museveni's reelection. Olara Otunnu, a former U.N. official is thought to be another possible challenger in 2011.
The third item, Kiboko squads, refers to violent groups of men that attacked anti-government protesters in 2007 and were since linked to Museveni's government by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, among others.
Museveni is expected to face a serious challenge in the 2011 elections if the opposition can unite behind a single candidate. My sources in Uganda say he personally was very angry about the cartoon, leading to the questioning.
But still, a cartoon?
Press intimidation is fairly frequent in Uganda, but most international donors tend to look the other way as Uganda is relatively stable overall.
But seditious cartoons? Really? That can't be good for aid dollars.
Full disclosure: I know all three editors well and worked at The Independent in 2008. Shortly before I arrived, a more dramatic incident occurred with government forces actually arresting several journalists at the magazine, raiding the office and seizing files and disks alleged to contain "seditious materials." No charges were filed.
The Independent, Uganda
The Moscow Times reports that Russia has issued new guidlelines to law enforcement officials about how to define extremism:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Winnie the Pooh share a dubious honor: Anyone who depicts either of them with a swastika can be punished under the law.
The Justice Ministry published the latest — and biggest — update to its list of extremist materials on its web site this week, and many of the 414 new entries are so vague or controversial that analysts say they threaten to discredit the list all together.
The list is important because police officers and other law enforcement officials use it in street checks, apartment searches and criminal cases.
Among the new entries, extremist material is identified as “a picture of Winnie the Pooh wearing a swastika,” “a self-made template for a future newspaper, comic or other print materials,” and “a flag with a cross.”
And just when you thought that was all:
A closer look at the list brings other surprises. For example, item No. 402 is the LiveJournal blog Reinform.livejournal.com.
The blog has not been suspended by LiveJournal’s abuse team and is being updated almost daily. Its owner wrote on its front page that he had opened the blog after seeing prosecutors mistakenly name the then-nonexistent blog as extremist.
MJ Kim/Getty Images
Two weeks ago, Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president and husband of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visited North Korea. He met with dictator Kim Jong-il and secured the release of two American journalists who had been held there for months.
This past weekend, Sen. Jim Webb traveled to Myanmar on a trip through Southeast Asia. Webb -- who likely knows more about the region than anyone else on the Hill -- has long criticized U.S. sanctions on Myanmar. He met with the head of the country's military junta and leading dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. And he secured the release of an American who had been jailed for breaking into Suu Kyi's compound, where she is on house arrest.
The Obama administration and U.S. news outlets have described these two missions as "private diplomacy." Webb and Clinton are both foreign-policy heavyweights outside the administration. Their stature and connections provided them with the latitude to make entreaties to these rogue, adversarial governments. They offered nothing in terms of aid or support or promises of policy-change -- they did not represent the Washington, of course. But they offered good press and a thread back to the capital -- which proved enough for the strongmen, Kim and Shwe.
Clearly, though, the word "private" is not totally accurate here. Both did it with the administration's nod and help.
The Washington Post wrote of Clinton's visit: "The trip came about only after weeks of back-channel conversations involving academics, congressional figures, and senior White House and State Department officials, said sources involved in the planning. North Korea rejected the administration's first choice for the trip -- former vice president Al Gore." The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House approved Webb's mission -- and he used a military plane for the trips.
All of which leaves me a bit queasy, though ultimately hopeful, about this rash of private diplomatic missions.
Part of me thinks the White House shouldn't be in the lame business of disavowing trips it clearly had a hand in making. Further, I worry the United States gave up an opportunity to publicly demand something out of Yangon. Clinton herself has said the United States would consider trading an easing of sanctions for the release of Suu Kyi. Webb may have made some headway towards that goal. But to hear Clinton or Obama comment on it would have doubtless brought a sense of urgency to the issue and shined a brighter spotlight on what the junta needs to change.
On the other hand, both the United States and the rogue governments got what they wanted. The U.S. gave up virtually nothing, got its citizens back, and won some good press for its diplomatic successes. Myanmar and North Korea got, for a moment, to look magnanimous and reasonable -- tempered by the stories about their human-rights abuses, and the fact that Washington did not send interlocutors with actual foreign policy power (Clinton herself, or a committee chair, say) to confer with them.
I suppose these carefully charted and subtle missions proved to work fine. To consider them isolated incidences or unqualified successes (or failures) would be the worst misjudgment -- foreign policy is always about carrots and sticks, and back and forth. This White House gets that really well.
Gallup has just released a survey of government approval ratings in 12 post-Soviet countries. (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are left out._ Ukraine now has the unenviable distinction of having the world's least popular government, with only 4 percent of citizens approving of their leadership. But RFE/RL's Robert Coalson provides some useful context:
You notice a big gap between the sixth least-approved governments (Latvia, at 27 percent) and the seventh (Kyrgyzstan, at 43 percent). On one side of that divide, you have, in order, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia. On the other side (the dark side), you find Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. (It is a safe bet which side Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan would find themselves on if polling were possible there.)
The Gallup chart is actually an index of fear. What it reflects is not so much attitudes toward the government as a willingness to openly express one's attitudes toward the government. As one member of RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service told me, "If someone walked up to me in Baku and asked me what I thought about the government, I'd say it was great too."
For all the talk of Ukraine's political dysfunction, getting to the point where 96 percent of the people are eager to tell an interview they hate their government is actually fairly impressive. That's cold comfort for Ukrainians but I agree with Coalson that Gallup could have provided some more context for these results.
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