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Local press targeted and harassed in Ivory Coast

24 Aug

The offices of the Cyclone Media Group were attacked on Sunday. (AFP/Sia Kambou)

Lagos, Nigeria, August 24, 2012–Ivorian authorities must immediately halt censorship of news outlets reporting critically on the government and investigate an armed assault on the offices of a publishing group, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

“We call on President Alassane Ouattara to demonstrate tolerance and a commitment to democratic principles,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “As the country weathers a period of great tension, the president can set an important example by allowing the voices of opposition to air their concerns and opinions, as harsh as they may be.”

The state-run National Press Council suspended the daily Le Temps on August 3 for 20 editions in connection with a July 24 article that it said defamed Ouattara, Raphael Lakpé, the council’s chairman, said in an interview on U.N.-sponsored station ONUCI FM. Le Temps, which is loyal to the former leader Laurent Gbagbo, had published an opinion piece on violence between supporters of Ouattara and those of Gbagbo and called the president a “ghoulish vampire,” according to news reports. Opposition groups have accused Ouattara and his allies of targeting supporters of Gbagbo in the past.

Le Temps’ editor-in-chief, Simplice Allard, was also suspended from writing for the paper for one month, news reports said.

On Sunday morning, a group of unidentified armed men attacked the offices of the Cyclone Media Group, in Abidjan, which publishes Le Temps, according to news reports. The men assaulted a security guard, set a room on fire, ransacked the offices, and stole several computers, Agence France-Presse reported. No one was injured in the attack, which caused significant damage to the offices, AFP said. Police have not made any arrests yet, local journalists said, adding that they believe the attack on the media group was in reprisal for Le Temps‘ critical coverage of Ouattara’s government.

In another case of official censorship, the National Press Council suspended Bôl’ Kotch, a private satirical newspaper, on August 8 for eight issues, over articles and cartoons critical of Ouattara that appeared in its July 27 edition, the state news agency AIP reported. The council singled out a caricature of an exchange between Ouattara and an army chief that suggested the president was using ethnic groups of traditional hunters to fight pro-Gbagbo supporters in the ongoing unrest in the country, according to news reports.

At least one journalist who has extensively covered the activities of former leader Gbagbo has told CPJ he fears for his life. Alain Tiéffi, photo editor of the state daily Fraternité Matin, said his neighbors had suggested to him that he leave their house in Yopougon, a suburb considered a Gbagbo stronghold. Security forces, in response to armed attacks against government positions, have in recent weeks conducted raids on houses in Yopougon and arrested people suspected of being linked to armed supporters of the ousted leader, according to news reports.

Tiéffi told CPJ that fighters loyal to Ouattara had ransacked his house in May 2011 and pointed a gun at his head. “I am the only journalist in the area I live. My wife, children, and in-laws are all living with me. Right now, I don’t know what to do. I am scared,” Tiéffi told CPJ.

Gérard Gnawa, a spokesman for the police in Abidjan, would not tell CPJ if they were investigating the case.

A group of six pro-opposition dailies have refused to publish their newspapers on August 24 and 25 to protest the attack on the Cyclone Media Group and the threats and assaults Ivorian journalists have faced in recent months, according to news reports. The group said the refusal to publish was to display “the risk of death that hangs over the lives of journalists.”

  • For more data and analysis on the Ivory Coast, visit CPJ’s Ivory Coast page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Russia – Protest the two-year sentence given to Pussy Riot members

24 Aug

23 August 2012

Take action!

Supporters of Pussy Riot protest 17 August, 2012 verdict.

Supporters of Pussy Riot protest 17 August, 2012 verdict.

On 17 August 2012, three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were found guilty of “hooliganism,” and were each sentenced to two years in jail after performing their “punk prayer” in a Moscow church, criticising the Russian Orthodox Church’s endorsement of President Putin. The three members, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samusevch had been held in pre-trial detention since March 2012.

Take action now to protest the two year sentence given to Pussy Riot members!

Here are two things you can do:

1. Send this Amnesty International letter calling on the Russian authorities to immediately release the three women who were detained and sentenced solely for peacefully expressing their beliefs.

2. Send a personal message to President Putin urging him to respect freedom of expression and to immediately and unconditionally release Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Be sure to copy the Russian ambassador in your own country. The list is on line here.

Pussy Riot is an anonymous Russian feminist performance art group formed in October 2011. Through a series of peaceful performances in highly visible places, the group has given voice to basic rights under threat in Russia today, expressing the values and principles of gender equality, democracy and freedom of expression contained in the Russian constitution and other international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the CEDAW Convention.

Imprisoned members of the group Pussy Riot are:

  • Maria Alekhina, 24. Poet and Student at the Institute of Journalism and Creative writing. Mother of 5-year-old boy.
  • Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23. Visual Artist and 4th year Philosophy Student. Mother of 4-year-old girl.
  • Ekaterina Samutsevich, 29. Visual Artist, degree from The Alexander Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia, Moscow.

    On 21 February, four members of Pussy Riot entered the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, wearing brightly coloured outfits and balaclavas masking their faces. For a few minutes they danced in front of the altar, singing their “punk prayer” before being removed from the building.

    One week after the performance, an edited video of Pussy Riot performing, both in the church and elsewhere, appeared on Youtube, and a week after that the police were instructed to arrest the group’s known members.

    Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich were arrested and charged with “hooliganism” under Article 213 of the Russian Criminal Code, which carries a maximum seven-year jail term, although the prosecutor called for a three year sentence.

    The group says on their website, “The intention of the performance was to draw attention to the special relationship between President Putin and the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church.”

    Since March 4th, the women sat in pre-trial detention, refused bail due to what the authorities termed as “fear for the women’s safety.”

    PEN International published a translation of their “punk prayer” Punk Moleben and its context.

    For recent news, see:
    Prison sentences for Pussy Riot violate freedom of expression (ARTICLE 19)
    Freedom House condemns conviction of Pussy Riot in Russia (Freedom House)
    Pussy Riot and Russia’s surreal ‘justice’ (Human Rights Watch)

via IFEX

Mobile Phone Security: 5 Things Everyone Should Know

24 Aug


by Mary McGuire, Senior Communications Manager, Freedom House
recent studyconducted by Freedom House and the Broadcasting Board of Governors evaluated a comprehensive range of mobile technologies—from smartphone devices including iPhone, Nokia, and Droid, to the applications and security protocols that are installed on them—to determine how secure one can really be on a mobile phone. The purpose of the effort was to assess the dangers of using mobile phones in countries where privacy rights are not respected, and where the rule of law and due process are faulty or non-existent. Mobile phones, rather than internet-enabled computers, are often the communications method of choice in these countries, which makes them a top priority for government surveillance. The findings of the study were quite worrying.

Across the board, the assessed technologies failed to adequately protect user security. In autocratic countries such as Belarus, China, and Iran, this has serious implications for human rights defenders, journalists, and political opposition figures, as well as for ordinary citizens. Individuals who manage to get on the bad side of the government in these countries are harassed, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed, and there is no structure in place to prevent authorities from using mobile phone data to carry out such abuses.

Are citizens in non-democratic countries the only ones who should be concerned? Perhaps not. In the United States and other democracies, there are certainly institutions and procedures designed to protect user privacy, as well as legal remedies if one’s privacy rights are violated. But these safeguards are far from ironclad, and they may be falling behind the pace of technological development. Moreover, even the most benign government is likely to be tempted by the monitoring opportunities associated with devices like smartphones, which a growing number of citizens carry 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Here are five things everyone should know about the safety of their mobile phones:

Big Brother could be watching. The video and audio recording capabilities that have become so vital to capturing important moments in our lives are also perfect surveillance tools for intrusive governments. It is even possible for the cameras and microphones in smartphones to be remotely activated by government agencies and mobile service providers.

There is nowhere to hide. The Global Positioning System (GPS) that allows us to get directions, find local businesses, and keep tabs on our friends and family members can also be used by governments to track our movements. Because most of our phones rarely leave our sight, we are essentially carrying personal tracking devices.

Our mobile carriers can’t protect us. Mobile providers gather personal data to keep up with our constant desire for customized services, and perhaps more importantly, because it is immensely profitable for them. However, once this data has been gathered, it is for the most part out of our control. Relying on these companies to make the right decisions about who is allowed access to personal information—particularly under threat from governments or when the provider itself is a  state enterprise—is not a very safe bet.

The choice is not ours. When we buy a computer, we have the power to install the security tools of our choice, including applications that encrypt communications, circumvent censorship, and detect viruses and malware. When we buy a mobile phone, we are generally forced to use the default settings of the mobile operating systems we purchase. According to the recent Freedom House study, these default settings are grossly inadequate for keeping us secure. Moreover, add-on security and encryption options are often incompatible with the phones and/or limit one’s ability to use other features.

Everyone is to blame. Because mobile security is threatened on various fronts—mobile networks, operating systems, applications, handsets, and users—it is nearly impossible for any single actor to change the situation. The only way to better protect our security is through improved coordination among all players. In the meantime, users in repressive environments should be aware of the risks they are taking, particularly if they are engaging in activities likely to put them on the radar screen of their government.

Photo Credit: Gesa Henselma

The technology that some governments are using to oppress their own citizens is primarily developed in advanced democratic countries. The developers of these tools appear more concerned with potential profits than the potential risks they might pose when misused by repressive regimes. But even those of us who do not have to fear an authoritarian government should care about what we may be giving up in order to live in an interconnected world. Our information is out there, possibly forever, and probably out of our control. It might be time to start demanding new phones and applications that protect our privacy and security as well as entertain us.


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