Category Archives: Africa

Prejudice: A Natural Outcome of Censorship

China Digital Times pulled a great item from an interview with Chinese publisher Bao Pu and writers Guo Xiaolu and Hao Qun (who goes by the pen name Murong Xuecun) from the June 3 issue of Foreign Policy.

The blockage of the Internet by the Chinese government means, said the authors and publisher, that people are not getting enough information to make rational decisions.

[R]elatively few people actually bypass censored information on the Internet. But why? Censorship in the long run breeds prejudice. Once you have this prejudice, you think you know everything, but you don’t. That’s why they’re not actively seeking — because they think there’s nothing out there. It’s a vicious cycle.

I have long argued that censorship means the people of a country will begin to rely more on rumors and prejudices than on cold hard facts. China’s rulers, however, say too much unregulated (censored) information leads to social instability.

What they really mean is that once people start thinking critically, the iron-heel rule of the Communist Party in China will be weakened.

And what goes for China goes for other dictatorships. Think Iran, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe. Even the leaders in proto-dictatorships such as Singapore and Malaysia want to control all forms of media to protect their hold on power.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Middle East, Press Freedom

New campaign to free journalists

Thanks to Roy Greenslade at The Guardian for pointing out the new Reporters Without Borders campaign to help journalists in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and China.

Press freedom body highlights plight of Eritrea’s jailed journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, has launched a fund-raising campaign based around the plight of jailed journalists inEritrea, China and Saudi Arabia.

The Eritrean prisoner is Dawit Isaak, who has been imprisoned without trial for 13 years after being arrested along with other newspaper editors in 2001.

Isaak is reported to be dying slowly in a prison camp where detainees are tortured by being shut inside steel containers during periods of intense heat. And RWB has used that image of a container to publicise its campaign.

Read full article here.

 

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Uganda’s anti-gay law has roots in USA

Sometimes finding a local-global connection is not hard.

Today Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed a law into effect that threatens jail terms up to life for anyone having gay sex. The law also allows authorities to toss into jail anyone failing to report any knowledge of gay activity. (Uganda’s Museveni signs anti-gay bill, defying donors, Washington)

On the bright side, the new law does not threaten death, as the first iteration in 2009 did.

And where did this great idea come from?

Well it seems that the religious right from the United States have moved their fight against “the gay agenda” from the States — where they are losing their bigoted/homophobic battle — to Africa, where already conservative societies are ready to show how tough they are.

Back in 2010, Jeffrey Gettleman reported for the New York Times on the influence of the U.S. religious right in creating  the atmosphere for the original legislation — that provided the death penalty for gays — to the version just signed into law. (Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push)

There is even a documentary of how the religious right pushed their agenda in Uganda: God Loves Uganda.

The BBC has a great piece from December 2013 about the law along with a map showing the dismal state of gay rights in Africa. (Ugandan MPs pass life in jail anti-homosexual law)

Besides activities of individual churches in Uganda, one of the main driving forces in setting the atmosphere for the legislation is a group known simply as The Family. One less kind term is The Christian Mafia(C Street politics: The Family sponsors death for homosexuals in UgandaThe Family is based out of a C Street house in Washington, DC and includes many of the power brokers in the city. 

And there is Jeff Sharlet’s account in his book The Family and in articles. (HarpersStraight Man’s Burden: The American roots of Uganda’s anti-gay persecutions)

Once the scope of the legislation was fully realized — and most likely the political fallout at home — The Family and many of its members came out against “Kill Gays” legislation. But did nothing to stop the legislation that is now law.

A major player in the religious right in the United States used its contacts and influence to promote an agenda that is the antithesis of peace and understanding — items I was taught are the foundations of Christian belief. I have seen hundreds of Christian organizations work in Honduras, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. It is true in some cases the individuals seemed to care more for passing out bibles than providing for the physical well-being of the people served. But by and large these are good people providing housing, medical care and education to people denied the basics by their own societies.

And The Family will say they also provide help to the poor. And they do. But they — and their followers/supporters — also bring hate and fear.

The link between what is happening in Uganda and the United States is direct. And it is a shame that an organization based in the United States with many members of Congress listed as members/associates has helped create an atmosphere of persecution that has now led to a law that could jail hundreds — if not thousands — for just being human.

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Filed under Africa, Connections, International News Coverage

Angola: Asking questions is not slander or treason

Looks like the MPLA government in Angola does not want to answer questions about screams coming from prisoners inside a police station.

Reuters: Angola reporter on trial for asking about screams at police station

(Reuters) – An Angolan radio journalist has been charged with slander and defamation after allegedly asking questions about screams coming from prisoners inside a police station, an opposition party that funds his radio network said on Thursday.

Opposition party UNITA said Queiros Chiluvia, a deputy editor at Radio Despertar, was detained on Sunday after entering the Cacuaco police station in the outskirts of Luanda to obtain a reaction about screams coming from prisoners.

Rest of story.

This case comes on the heels of the trial of human rights advocate Rafael Marques de Morais.

Freedom House: Defamation Charges Against Angolan Activist an Attack on Free Speech

In January 2013, Marques was charged with filing a false complaint against a diamond mining company, private security company, and seven high-ranking generals, after he accused them of systematic human rights abuses in Angola’s diamond mining area, Lundas. According to Marques, the groups were responsible for frequent violent abuses against artisanal miners, including torture and murder. Marques did not receive official details of the case until January 2014, a year after the charges were filed.

Read full report.

Not surprisingly, Freedom house rates Angola’s political structure as Not Freeand its Press Freedom status also as Not Free and near the bottom of the freedom list.

 

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Filed under Africa, Corruption, Press Freedom

March on Washington: The Organizer and The World Connection

August 28, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

From that march, tens of thousands of people returned to their homes motivated to work harder to end racial discrimination. It was at that march that Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

And yet, one of the least know players in that event was Bayard Rustin. In fact, without Bayard the march would not have happened. Likewise, without Bayard the pacifist nature of the King campaign for racial equality might not have happened.

Now, Bayard is getting his due from the U.S. government. President Obama announced this month that Bayard will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously. The Medal of Honor is the highest award the U.S. government gives to civilians for service to the country.

Here is the White House write up on Bayard

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.

Freedom House praised the action: “three resounding cheers for President Barack Obama’s decision to name Bayard Rustin as a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Freedom this year.”

Bayard always saw the connection between democracy and freedom in the United States with the fight for freedom around the world. In his later years, Bayard spent most of his time addressing these issues worldwide:

While much of his attention was focused on developments in Africa, he was among the first to speak out against the horrors Cambodians suffered under the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge, and he championed the causes of the Vietnamese boat people, the Solidarity trade union in Poland, and Soviet Jews. Bayard was increasingly concerned about the domination of African societies by repressive, thuggish dictatorships, and by the silence of black political figures in the United States over the region’s lack of freedom. Strongly influenced by the fate of European Jewry under Adolf Hitler’s persecution and by ongoing threats to Israel from its neighbors, Bayard came to adjust his pacifist views that had been formed in pre-Holocaust times.

“Brother Outsider” is a 2008 documentary about Bayard that fairly and distinctly tells his story. It is well worth a watch.

And lastly, I had the privilege of meeting and talking with Bayard on several occasions. His contributions to advancing a civil society need to better known and appreciated.

To repeat what Arch Puddington said: “Three resounding cheers for President Barack Obama’s decision.”

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Human Rights stories deserving follow ups

Freedom House published its Best and Worst of Human Rights in 2012.

Many of these items got little press coverage — all to the bad in terms of understanding the rest of the world.  And many need regular updates. Here are my suggestions of follow ups:

BEST

LGBTI Victories in the Western Hemisphere

Some of the highlights as noted by Freedom House:

  • President Obama voiced public support for gay marriage for the first time
  • Three states—Washington, Maryland, and Maine—passed laws allowing same-sex marriage.
  • The first openly gay woman was elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • In Argentina the Senate passed legislation that allows gender to be legally changed without medical or judicial approval, and includes sex-change surgery and hormone treatment in government health insurance plans.
  • Chile passed an antidiscrimination law that penalizes all forms of discrimination. Although not specifically written to protect LGTBI rights, the measure was spurred by the brutal killing an openly gay man.
  • Even Cuba has jumped on the bandwagon, electing its first transgender person to municipal office.
  • Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and some parts of Mexico.

And add that the LGBTI community in Honduras has been getting more vocal and demanding more protection from acts of violence. The community is getting support from a number of government with embassies in Honduras, but the leading force is the U.S. embassy.

Follow up is needed to ensure that newly enacted or proposed laws banning discrimination based on sexual identity or preference are followed. (The law is a fungible commodity in too many countries in the Western Hemisphere.)

The reason the protection of the LGBTI community is of importance to American readers is because how a country treats any minority group — such as this one — tells a lot about the morals and standards of that country and its people.  It also tells a lot about how well received tourists from different groups will be received in that country.

Passage of the Magnitsky Act

The U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail after exposing a multimillion-dollar fraud by Russian officials. The law places visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in human rights abuses. President Obama signed the legislation on December 14 despite harsh objections from the Kremlin. This law could set a precedent for how the United States and other free societies address gross human rights violations around the world. The European Parliament has endorsed the adoption of similar legislation.

Reporting on how well this act — and others like it — are enforced is vital to keeping the issue of human rights (including press freedom) in the forefront. How well the law is enforced will also tell a lot about how the U.S. government bureaucracy deals with the thorny issue of human rights.

Survival of the Tunisian Revolution

The country has not yet suffered the fate of many of its neighbors in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring. Varying degrees of instability and repression persist in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and particularly Syria, but Tunisia has made slow if uneven gains in its democratic transition. The constitutional drafting process is creeping forward without the bitter conflicts seen in Egypt. As the country approaches the two-year anniversary of the revolution, however, economic struggles have led to anti-government protests, one of which left nearly 200 people wounded, and support for the ruling coalition has definitively waned. The constitution is two months overdue, and there have been some concerning violations of press freedom. Despite these challenges, Tunisia continues to provide a positive example to the wider region.

The best way to send a message to the anti-democracy people in Tunisia is to make sure reporting continues. Journalists need to show where progress is being made and where it is being hindered — and by whom.

And this is important to the United States — beyond humanitarian and human rights reasons — because of Tunisia’s  location and the natural resources that are vital to us and our European partners.

WORST

Civil War in Syria

Anyone exposed to even the slightest bit of news knows that the civil war in Syria is the worst human rights and humanitarian catastrophe in the world today. The estimated death toll is at 42,000, with no end in sight. The  Committee to Protect Journalists report an alarming 32 reporters have been killed while covering the conflict.

Continued coverage is necessary to keep pressure on the rest of the world to do something to end the tragedy.

For U.S. readers, the issue is not just human rights but also the instability this war causes in an area vital to U.S. and global geo-political interests.

Devastation in Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most resource-rich countries on the African continent. And yet it has been gutted by a combination of colonialism, corrupt and ineffective government, ethnic conflict, and a succession of armed militias and rebel groups that have raped and pillaged their way through the countryside, often using conscripted child soldiers. As many as five million people have died since the late 1990s. The international community has largely turned a blind eye to the country’s seemingly endless crisis, perhaps because there does not appear to be an easy solution.

Coup and Extremism in Mali

As in Congo, the horrific human rights situation in Mali was not caused by any single event. Rather it was a cascade of disasters that included a military coup, a reinvigorated Tuareg separatist movement, an influx of hard-line Islamist militants, and the combined effects of long-term drought, poverty, and corruption. There are widespread reports of rape and forced marriage, as well as the recruitment of child soldiers.

Paying attention to Congo and Mali may seem outside the usual assignment areas for U.S. media. Yet, the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. These are potential trading partners for America, if we can help the individual countries stabilize and develop viable middle classes.

The natural resources from Africa are badly needed by industrialized countries and industrializing countries. That means to keep out industries growing, the United States needs these items. It also means that other  countries less friendly to us — i.e. China — also need these raw materials.

In the end it comes down to a competition of ideals and principles. China is willing to dump billions of dollars into a country with no strings attached other than being given access to its raw materials. The United States, on the other hand demands transparency and civil rights from aid recipients. It is no wonder that the war lords and thugs prefer doing business with China. It is also no wonder that the people of these war-torn countries prefer U.S. aid

It is vital for U.S. citizens to know how and why the U.S. government spends money on development programs. It is also important to put that expenditure in perspective: Less than one-half of 1% of the federal budget is spent on ALL development programs — that includes the salaries of ALL USAID employees in the United States and around the world. Not the 25% most Americans think.

Russia’s Precipitous Decline

Since Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled reelection as president in March, the political situation in Russia has become increasingly dismal, with some experts comparing it to the Soviet era. The government has enacted numerous pieces of legislation that have a harmful impact on human rights and the functioning of civil society. Most disturbingly, one new law requires civil society organizations that receive foreign funds to register as “foreign agents” or face possible criminal charges. In a related development, USAID was forced by the Russian government to withdraw from the country. The government re-criminalized libel, curbed internet freedom, outlawed “homosexual propaganda,” and imposed additional restrictions on public gatherings. Independent voices, some within the government, who have tried to speak out against this wave of legislation have been expelled, arrested, or otherwise muzzled.

Russia is a major power and sits on some of the greatest reserves of precious metals and rare earth in the world. It is a player that needs to be explained to the American people. It is not the Soviet Union and it is not THE major geo-political threat to the United States. But it is a great power that is not using that power to the betterment of its people.

There were expectations after the fall of communism that a strong Russian middle class would grow and the democratic instincts of the people would be fulfilled. After years of failed leadership, Putin has returned as a strongman to take away democratic hopes and aspirations. In the process he is also taking away the incentive for a viable middle class to grow and prosper.

Bottom line: Any country that has thousands of missiles aimed at us is one that news organizations should be looking at more closely.

Repression in Bahrain, Other Gulf States

After an independent report commissioned by Bahrain’s King Hamad uncovered widespread human rights abuses committed during the violent suppression of a protest movement in February 2011, the government promised to implement the recommended reforms. Not only has the regime failed to enact anything other than minor cosmetic changes, seemingly designed to mollify the international community, it has also continued on a path of repression. Impunity for the security forces and censorship persist. Journalists and human rights groups, including Freedom House, have been repeatedly denied entry to the country to report on these abuses. (Most recently Nicholas Kristof was seized and deported from Bahrain.) Sadly, Bahrain is not the only Gulf state in decline. A ban on “unlicensed” peaceful demonstrations was passed in Kuwait. And Oman has jailed dozens of people for making critical comments about the regime.

But why worry about repressive actions that only affect the people of those countries? Violent police action against demonstrators leads to more violence by demonstrators which leads to more repressive actions which leads to more violence and societal disruption and so on. The problem is that too few reports from the region make the connection between the violence in a country or region with Main Street USA.

Anything that takes place in the volatile Arab/Persian Gulf should be of interest to the America people. Besides the meme that we need the oil from the region — actually we don’t get that much, but our trading partners do — there is also the fertilizer that comes out of the area. Without Qatari, Kuwaiti, Saudi or Omani urea and ammonia, most of the American crops would fail. And THAT is something worth worrying about.

I would think the fertilizer angle is just one that could be put to better use by people trying to tell the story of repressive regimes in the Gulf region.

The Menace of Blasphemy Laws

The online dissemination of an offensive film that mocked Islam and sparked violent anti-American riots and protests in more than two dozen countries served as a reminder of the pernicious nature of laws that prohibit blasphemy in many parts of the world. These laws have a chilling effect on free expression and are often used to justify violence, repress religious minorities, and settle personal grudges rather than combat intolerance. A Freedom House special report shows there is no evidence that restricting speech reduces religious intolerance. In fact, the evidence shows that prohibitions on blasphemy actually lead to a wide range of human rights abuses. This does not prevent some Islamic leaders from using global bodies like the United Nations to push for international norms that prohibit blasphemy.

This is not the sharia law so feared by the U.S. Tea Party. This is worse because any government dominated by one religion can use laws against bad mouthing the dominate religion to shut down freedom of speech, press and assembly.

Singapore has several examples of how laws to prevent “callous and reckless remarks on racial or religious subjects” can be used to shut down any discussions the government wants shut down. The Vatican has gone to court to fight images that it considered “offensive.” One case involved a German satirical magazine that published a photo-shopped image of the pope’s vestments stained with urine.

So far the U.S. and its democratic allies have been able to hold off a full-court press by Islamic countries to have the United Nations endorse blasphemy laws. What is critical for the American people to know is that this is not just an Islamic/Third-World thing. There are too many religious fanatics around — including in the United States — that would be quite happy with blasphemy laws but only for the protection of their version of their religion.

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Filed under Africa, Censorship, Connections, Freedom of Information, Harassment, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Rent a read

Many thanks to Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing for pointing out this great CNN story about “newspaper landlords” who rent the want-ads by the minute.

Is this the wave of the future of newspaper readers?

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