Movements Monday: Emin Milli Free, Burmese Journalists Hacked, Vietnamese Blogger in Mental Hospital
As part of Movements.org’s ongoing work to amplify the voices of digital activists fighting for basic human rights in closed societies, each Monday we’ll highlight critical events from the past week, trending cyber activism tactics, or growing movements that you should know about. Occasionally, we’ll also provide an opportunity for you to directly engage with the activists on the front lines of the struggle for their rights. We hope you share and discuss these updates widely and we look forward to hearing your feedback!
A quick rundown of trending stories at the nexus of human rights and digital activism... (Stay tuned in the coming days for details of next week’s live chat with a North Korean defector, which Movements.org will co-host with Liberty in North Korea via Reddit.)
1. Emin Milli is Released from Jail
Photo of Emin Milli, posted via Facebook by Elton Guliyev
After spending 15 days in jail (known compassionately as ‘administrative detention’ in Azerbaijani dictatorship-speak) for attending a peaceful public demonstration in Baku on January 26, the regime today released Emin Milli and four other other human rights activists. For the Azeri speakers, check out this interview Radio Free Europe did with Emin just after his release. Milli and the other activists are still facing harsh monetary penalties for their role in the demonstrations, and numerous other activists who were arrested by the regime in the days prior to and after January 26 are still in jail.
The videos and images of riot-gear clad security forces hauling away peaceful activists from public squares has become a far-too-familiar scene in Azerbaijan recently.
The January 26 demonstration was the latest in a series of protests organized by youth activists in Azerbaijan to protest ongoing human rights violations in the country. The Jan 26th protest was covered further in a previous Movements Monday post.
2. Journalists in Burma (Myanmar) Fall Victim to State-Sponsored Email Hacking
Burma (also known as Myanmar) is in the middle of a political and media reform process that activists and the international community have been working towards for decades. For many activists inside the country, however, progress has been slow and considerable challenges have calcified over the past few months. Warm feelings about recent progress were interrupted again this week, as reports came out that local and foreign journalists may have been the victims of cyberattacks originating within the Burmese government.
How stark was the news contrast from one day to the next? Check out this Wall Street Journal piece about the wonderful new freedoms for writers both online and offline—it was published on Thursday. Then on Saturday, Eleven Myanmar reported the cyberattacks, and groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists have begun voicing their concern about the impact of the media reforms in light of this news. Eleven Myanmar and other media and nonprofit groups have experienced hacking and DDoS attempts in recents months, but the Google warning that this attack was state-sponsored is especially worrisome.
DDoS attacks against digital activists and journalists have received increasing attention lately as several high-profile attacks have surfaced, including one launched by China's "Red Army" of hackers that infiltrated the servers of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and the Washington Post. We highly recommend checking out some of Movements.org's numerous resources on how to stay safe online so you are not the next victim of a cyber attack. Many attacks start out the same way-- with "Phishing" Emails from strange people (or senders that are made to mimic your real contacts) that entice users to open them, click on links, or download files that install malicious spy software on your computer. The only way to prevent an attack is to never let an intruder in, so always be vigilant and if an Email looks in any way suscpicious, DON'T OPEN!
3. Vietnamese Blogger Captive in Mental Hospital
In a draconian move reminiscent of Soviet-style methods for dealing with dissidents, Vietnam has captured and imprisoned a prominent blogger in the ward of a Hanoi hospital reserved for the mentally ill. Le Anh Hung has been a vocal critic of the Communist Vietnamese government and has been subjected to harassment by Vietnamese authorities for years. As reported by the Vietname Committee on Human Rights and Radio Free Asia, Hung has been held since January 26 without being allowed visitation from his family:
"Six secret security agents held Le Anh Hung at his workplace in [northern] Hung Yen [city] on Thursday morning and told his boss they needed to see him about 'matters concerning temporary residence papers,'” a statement by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights said.
"They then forced him into their car and took him away without any explanation. He was later found to be interned in the 'Social Support Center No. 2' in Ung Hoa, Hanoi, a center for mentally ill.
Last month, Vietnam also sentenced 14 digital activists to prison sentences of up to 13 years for their writing, which was deemed to undermine the authority of the state. In light of the recent arrests and convictions, as well as new legislation under consideration that would further tighten the noose on free expression, many observers have noted that human rights conditions in Vietnam are deteriorating.
4. Egypt Throws the Book at YouTube
You've probably seen by now that courts in Egypt gave Youtube a timeout for one month. It's a bad ruling at a bad time—two years after the uprisings that changed the country, Egyptians are still in the streets, and Youtube is a major avenue for getting first-hand accounts out to the world. It will also be interesting to see how Egypt manages this from both a logistical and technical stanpoint: the ruling came from a judge in Cairo, and would have to be implemented by the Ministry of Communication at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the ruling will block all of YouTube's services, or rather just the pages associated with the video that started the trial in the first place-- the "Innocence of Muslims" video that caused international uproar in September 2012.
One question worth asking: what role, if any, did Youtube's own decision to block the offending video in Eygpt and Libya play in the ruling? Did it set a precedent? Did it amount to Youtube taking on responsibility for policing all of the content on its site for blasphemy?
5. Marc Lynch on Social Media Stalling Progress in the Middle East
Last week Foreign Policy columnist Marc Lynch rekindled an ongoing academic debate with his piece “Twitter Devolutions: How social media is hurting the Arab Spring.” Adding a new layer to an oft-cited debate about the role of social media in the recent MENA uprisings, Lynch argues that the same “liberation technologies” that played a key role in bringing down more than one dictator over the past few years may actually be responsible for stalling progress during the post-uprising state-building phase. Particularly interesting are a series of comments and rebuttals on the subject from both academics and activists that Lynch published today. As Syrian writer Amal Hanano (@AmalHanano) responded:
I'm sorry that Syrian social media activity is seen as "divisive" and "unpleasant." I also apologize that our Twitter feeds were flooded with videos of slaughtered children and tortured men instead of the inspiring chants of Yemenis and Egyptians. And of course, there's the question of credibility. Who are these unknown people who suddenly appeared on Twitter and Facebook with pseudonyms and access to up-to-the-moment news from Syria? What are these thousands videos that they post daily, that tell the same narrative over and over for two years straight? And why didn't we meet these people the last time we hung out in Damascus?
The reason why people like you didn't meet people like us before is the same reason why Egypt isn't Syria: we didn't know we existed. The Syrian uprising is about much more than toppling the Assad regime. After almost two years, we can now look back and see who we have become: a society that has found its collective voice for the first time. And after 40 years of silence, we have much to say (and thus tweet).
While Lynch raises a fair-- if a bit oft-repeated-- point in questioning the true usefulness of new media technology for building new societies (as opposed to tearing them down), we question whether social media is a root cause of the challenges countries like Egypt, Libya, or Tunisia now face, rather than a magnifying lens that is highlighting in meticulous micro-blogging detail the difficulties of negotiating a revolutionary process. It's a process that almost any activist would agree is far from over, and we firmly believe that we've only begun to tap into the power of new media as a tool for building as we have seen its capacity for helping to tear down.