Archive | August, 2012

In Jordan, proposed amendments to censor Internet

31 Aug

New York, August 31, 2012–Proposed legislation in Jordan would impose significant new restrictions on online news content and reader comments while giving authorities new powers to block domestic and international websites. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the lower house of parliament to reject the bill when it takes up debate on Sunday.

“If passed, these amendments would represent a huge step backward in Jordan’s press freedom record,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Jordan would be joining a list of authoritarian countries that use Internet censorship as a form of media repression.”

The measure would apply the restrictions in Jordan’s existing Press and Publications Law to online media. Those include prohibitions on insulting the royal family, publishing anything counter to “national obligation” and “Arab-Islamic values,” inciting sectarian strife or stirring discord or violence, and slandering any public officials or foreign heads of states.

The proposal, which comes as an amendment to the 1998 Press and Publications Law, would require every online media outlet to register with the government and obtain an official license, similar to print publications, according to news reports. The legislation would also grant the government the right to block any website in violation of the law, including non-Jordanian websites, without a court order, the reports said.

Under the proposed amendments, electronic media owners and their employees would be responsible for ensuring that all comments published by their readers do not violate any laws, according to news reports. They would further be required to maintain a record of all comments posted on their site for at least six months, the reports said. The amendments also prohibit the posting of any comments not related to the published article.

If a website is found in violation of posting a comment not in accordance with the proposed regulations, it could face fines of up to 10,000 Jordanian dinars (US$14,000), news reports said.

The Jordanian government approved a draft of the bill on August 22, according to news reports. If the lower house passes the legislation, it will go to the upper house for review.

Journalists and media activists protested in front of parliament against the proposed amendments on Wednesday, news reports said. On the same day, the reports said, at least 500 websites featured a black home page with the following message: “You may be denied access to the content of this website under amendments to the Press and Publications Law as a result of government control over the Internet.”

Many analysts say that Jordan has maintained free and open access to the Internet, a policy that stands in contrast to other countries in the region.

  • For more data and analysis on Jordan, visit CPJ’s Jordan page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: As Wang is freed, Chinese journalist Shi Tao still held

31 Aug

A protester holds a poster depicting jailed journalist Shi Tao. (AP/Miguel Villagran)

Chinese dissident Wang Xiaoning was released today after serving a 10-year prison term on charges of “incitement to subvert state power,” a case built in good part on client information supplied by Yahoo. Wang had used his Yahoo email account and the discussion forum Yahoo Groups to spread ideas the government deemed dangerous. His case closely parallels that of journalist Shi Tao, another Yahoo user who fell afoul of the Chinese government. In 2005, Shi was convicted of “illegally leaking state secrets abroad” and given a 10-year sentence. Yahoo had helped authorities identify Shi through his account information.

Shi, an editor for the newspaper Dangdai Shang Bao in Hunan province, had used his Yahoo account to send notes about the local propaganda department’s instructions on how to cover the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The notes were sent to the editor of a U.S.-based news website. The propaganda department’s predictably restrictive directive was declared a state secret only after that fact. But Shi had been on the government’s surveillance radar for a while. He had written essays calling for political reform, which were posted on overseas news websites that were banned in China. (Click here for an example of his essays translated in English, and here to see a transcript of the email containing the content of the government propaganda directive.)

Just as Wang served out his full sentence, it seems likely Shi may spend his entire term in jail, despite legal appeals by his family. In February 2005, authorities in Shanghai suspended the law license of Guo Guoting, a defense attorney who represented Shi journalists Zhang Lin and Huang Jinqiu.

In 2005, CPJ honored Shi with an International Press Freedom Award.

One positive result has come from Shi’s ordeal. After Yahoo came under heavy international criticism for handing over client information to Chinese authorities, the Internet and telecommunications industries began to address their legal and ethical responsibilities in such cases. In 2008, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google helped launch the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a group of industry leaders, academics, and defenders of human rights and press freedom that seeks to protect privacy and freedom of expression worldwide. GNI has made progress in ensuring that the companies that increasingly make up the backbone of news distribution protect their clients’ rights to free expression and privacy.

China continues to jail journalists. Although cases like that of Shi, a critical mainstream journalist, have not been common in recent years, ethnic minority journalists have become a particularly vulnerable group. Of the 27 journalists jailed in China when CPJ conducted its most recent worldwide census, in December 2011, more than half were ethnic Uighur or Tibetan journalists.

Most of them worked online.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

CPJ Impact

31 Aug

After outcry, Brazil supports UN plan for safety

After an uproar from CPJ and local Brazilian press freedom groups and journalists, the Brazilian government has thrown its weight behind a U.N. plan to improve journalist security.

Brazil had initially opposed the plan, called the U.N. Draft Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, but then reversed its course and called in Brazilian group Associacao Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI) for a consultation this month.

CPJ documented Brazil’s failure to support the U.N. plan and wrote a letter to President Dilma Vana Rousseff, asking that Brazil assert its global leadership to ensure that the fundamental right of freedom of expression is afforded to all.

Ethiopian editor freed after global calls for his release

Under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia has been one of Africa’s most repressive countries for journalists. CPJ has campaigned extensively on behalf of the Ethiopian press, calling on authorities to halt their practice of prosecuting journalists for expressing dissent. After the prime minister’s death this month, the government decided to drop charges against Temesghen Desalegn, editor of the leading independent weekly Feteh, who was accused of defamation.

CPJ had called on the government repeatedly to drop the charges against Temesghen as well as Mastewal Publishing and Advertising PLC, the company that publishes Feteh. CPJ will continue to call on authorities to release the eight journalists who still languish in Ethiopian prisons.

CPJ’s coverage of the government’s efforts to suppress reports of Meles’ declining health received record traffic on the website, including a total of almost 500 comments.

In Colombia, Supreme Court drops defamation suit against journalist

Colombia’s record of press freedom has markedly improved in the past few years, so it came as a surprise to local journalists when, in an unprecedented move, the Colombian Supreme Court filed a criminal defamation complaint against a prominent columnist this month. But after an outcry from CPJ and other local press freedom groups, the Supreme Court reversed its course and dropped the charges.

The entire criminal chamber of the court filed a complaint against Cecilia Orozco Tascón, a columnist for the daily El Espectador, in connection with her column criticizing the court’s recent actions.

In May, CPJ launched the campaign “Critics are not Criminals” to help fight the criminalization of speech in the Americas.

Keeping journalists safe at U.S. political conventions

CPJ’s Journalist Security blog, curated by Frank Smyth, the organization’s senior adviser for journalist security, has published articles on journalist safety by a range of experts including Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.

In advance of the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, Osterreicher wrote two articles, published on the Journalist Security blog, that provided an overview of freedom of expression laws as well as tips for journalists who were either detained or arrested at the events. CPJ’s Americas Research Associate Sara Rafsky also provided a list of resources for journalists to consult before heading to the conventions.

CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide serves as a year-round guide for local and international journalists who are attacked, threatened, harassed, or killed in astonishing numbers around the world.

CPJ remembers board member Burl Osborne

CPJ mourns the death this month of Burl Osborne, who has served on CPJ’s board since 1997.

Osborne chaired CPJ’s investment committee and was part of a 2008 CPJ delegation that met Mexico President Felipe Calderón and urged him to pledge to address anti-press violence in the country. In June of this year, Mexico passed milestone legislation federalizing anti-press crimes.

“Burl Osborne has been a stalwart supporter of CPJ since he joined the board 15 years ago,” said CPJ Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe. “His incisive analysis, sharp wit, and generous spirit were a rare and treasured combination. We will miss him a great deal.”

Osborne had served as an editor and publisher of the Dallas Morning News and formerly worked as chairman of The Associated Press. The longtime journalist had also served as director of Gatehouse Media, director of the Newspaper Association of America, and the chairman of the Belo Foundation.

Upcoming Events

Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator, will be participating in a panel discussion after the screening of the film Reportero at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York on September 15. He will be joined by the filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz. 

CPJ is launching special reports on Argentina, Vietnam, and Turkey this fall.

CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards, an annual recognition of courageous journalism, is scheduled for Tuesday, November 20, 2012, in New York City. For tickets, please call CPJ’s Development Office: (212) 465-1004 x113. 

Blog highlights

In Meles’ death, as in life, penchant for secrecy, control

As it backs Assange, Ecuador stifles expression at home

Criminalization of free speech a serious setback for Russia

Yamamoto’s death reflects Japan’s media reach, duty

Weak cyber protections lead to personal, institutional risk

India’s clumsy Internet crackdown

The long shadow of Spanish politics over public media

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Syria must release U.S. journalist believed in state custody

30 Aug

New York, August 30, 2012–Syrian authorities must immediately release U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice believed to be in government custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

“There is a strong indication that the Syrian government is holding Austin Tice,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Damascus should acknowledge his captivity and release Tice immediately.  All sides fighting in Syria must ensure the safety of media personnel and respect their internationally recognized status as civilians.”

In an interview with Czech television on Tuesday, the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Syria who also represents U.S. interests there, said that according to embassy sources, Tice “is alive and that he was detained by government forces in the outskirts of Damascus, where the rebels were fighting government troops.” The freelance photojournalist who contributed to The Washington Post, McClatchy, Al-Jazeera English and several other news outlets was unaccounted for in mid-August. Two other journalists working for the U.S. government-funded Al-Hurra television broadcaster went missing on August 20. At least 19 journalists have been killed covering the Syrian conflict since November, including one killed just over the border in Lebanon, making Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research

from Committee to Protect Journalists

CPJ Internet Channel: Dear CPJ: Some malware from your ‘friend’

30 Aug

We talk a lot about hacking attacks against individual journalists here, but what typifies an attempt to access a reporter’s computer? Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, received an email last week that reflects some characteristics of a malware attack against a journalist or activist. There was nothing particularly notable about the targeting. (Like many reporters, CPJ receives such attempts occasionally). The attack failed at the first fence, and my casual investigation into the source was inconclusive. There are no shocking answers or big headlines to draw from this attack. But it does illustrate a contemporary reality: Opportunistic assailants regularly shower journalists with software attacks.

The email was marked as being from “Rony Kevin,” a misspelling of Rony Koven, who works with the World Press Freedom Committee, a partner press freedom organization. The originating Yahoo account wasn’t his, of course; the attackers had no connection with Koven at all.

The subject of the mail was “Fw: Journalists arrested in Gambia,” and the content of the mail was boilerplate text about reporters who had been recently imprisoned, followed by “Please review the attachments for more information.” The text was actually copied and pasted from this Article 19 alert. The text promised more information in an attached ZIP file, called “Details,” which it said was password encoded with the letters “CPJ.”

CPJ staffers are, as you might imagine, extremely cautious about opening strange attachments, but, after the mail had been quarantined, and in a suitably safe computing environment, I took a closer look at the attachments’ contents. Out of the five documents in the file, one was a text copy of the Article 19 article, three were accompanying pictures of the Gambian journalists–and one file was a Windows program, disguised as an image, which would have starting running if anyone clicked on it. (It would probably have also triggered several dozen anti-virus Klaxxon warnings, but some people don’t use anti-virus software or ignore it.)

Taking a closer look at that executable with some simple analysis tools, it was clear that the real job of the program was to unpack a piece of malware, stick it somewhere innocuous on the computer, and set it up to run automatically in the future. The unpacking code was a standard utility, with some comments in Chinese. At this point, I handed the file over to security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire to see what he could make of it. Morgan let me know that the file was indeed malware and, when started, began communicating with a machine in Indonesia. I’ve mailed the administrators of that machine, but as usual, they did not reply. For now, the trail has run cold.

What can we learn from this attack? The fake identity of the email’s source and the content about Gambian journalists suggest that somebody had dedicated some time to understanding CPJ, its interests, and its network of partners. This is all evidence of “spear-phishing”–a person or group targeting a particular individual or organization, rather than the usual fraudsters and spammers attempting to exploit hundreds or thousands of generic Internet users. Whoever sent this wanted access to CPJ’s computers in particular, and was willing to spend at least some resources obtaining information that would make their emails convincing to us, and perhaps other international press freedom groups like the World Press Freedom Committee and Article 19.

The encryption of the Zip file was a smart way to get past the simplest anti-virus software. Anti-virus software that runs automatically wouldn’t know the password so it would not be able to automatically unzip the attachment and look inside for trouble. The personalized password also helps make the email seem more genuine.

The Chinese language in the executable means that this malware has come from a toolkit that used Chinese elements. There are plenty of Russian and Chinese tools floating around the international computer underground, however. You might not need to speak Chinese to use a piece of software with Chinese comments embedded within it, so I don’t think you can draw many conclusions from that.

Neither can you draw much from the use of an Indonesian command-and-control center. Just because the first stop for information sent from the infected computer is Jakarta, that doesn’t mean that it’s the final destination. That machine is undoubtedly an innocent system, taken over remotely by the attackers, and used as a convenient middleman for their activities.

So we don’t have much information about the specific identity of the hackers. We do know, however, that they exist: This isn’t an attacker who particularly cares to cover his tracks and doesn’t mind too much if the attack fails.

The software is generic, and could have been obtained by anyone interested in conducting an attack. There’s nothing that shouts state actors here, except perhaps for the target. There aren’t many other reasons to spend time specifically targeting press freedom groups, unless you are able to sell control of their computers to a third party who cares to disrupt or monitor their activities.

Who are those third parties? Whoever they are, their tactics are illegal in most countries. And their long-term targets are surely not NGOs like ours, but the journalists the countries that we seek to defend.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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