Posts Tagged ‘Global Voices’

Why tech companies can no longer ignore their role in shaping politics and society

April 25, 2023
A small portrait of Olga Solovyeva

Olga Solovyeva of Advox, a Global Voices project dedicated to protecting freedom of expression online, posted on 19 April 2023 a piece statign that the impact of technology on politics cannot be ignored anymore. It is a long piece that I copy in its totality as it is worth reading and of great rlevance for human rights defenders:

Amidst the rising influence of technology in global politics, particularly in authoritarian regimes, the imperative to acknowledge the political accountability of tech corporations has become increasingly apparent. In recent years, the ramifications of disregarding ethical practices underscore the urgent need for tech companies to prioritize responsible conduct. The manipulation of information online, traffic rerouting, restricting access to the internet, and operating surveillance are some examples of how states can misuse technology. While technology was once expected to become a symbol of resistance and liberation, illiberal regimes now use it to produce various forms of digital unfreedom that extend into material reality. But how do we ensure that Big Tech contributes to democratic practices rather than political oppression?

Why do tech companies have political responsibility?

In an innovation driven sector like technology, legislation cannot keep pace with new developments. Often, neither users nor makers consider the negative consequences of a new technology until they have experienced them, and the industry is left struggling with the ramifications of harm and, as a consequence, its own expanding responsibilities.

In recent years, Big Tech companies have made headlines more often for political events than industry ones. First, the revelations of Cambridge Analytica’s user data harvesting and consequent interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections brought public attention to the issues of uncontrolled data collection. However, even since the issues have been flagged up, social networking sites fail to remove mis/disinformation or take action against incidents of violence. Further public discussion questioned social media providers for neglecting the impact of algorithmic feeds on teenagers and young adults, contributing to the mental health epidemic marching through the world. Tech companies are directly involved in international politics, as in Myanmar, where Facebook became the synonym for the internet and eventually a key platform to fuel hatred and incite genocide. There is also the case of Pegasus, an elaborate surveillance software developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, which was used to spy on political activists worldwide.

Digital activists from Global Voices Advox report on the growing use of digital technology for advancing authoritarian regimes worldwide, focusing, among others, on issues such as surveillance, mis/disinformation and access to the internet in different contexts. Autocrats use the whole scale of digital technologies available. In Russia, where the interest of the state lies in keeping opposition views from the information environment, there is a strong emphasis on disinformation and censorship. Tanzania and Sudan are known for internet shutdowns, while in Turkey and Morocco, cases of public digital surveillance have become more common.

At the same time, the tech sector does not necessarily play on the dark side only. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Elon Musk’s SpaceX continued to support Starlink and provide internet access in Ukraine after the Russian invasion disrupted services. And yet, his recent purchase of Twitter brought multiple controversies, further empowering the attention economy of social media, which leads to fragmentation, polarisation and the decline of the public sphere. It’s impossible to separate tech companies from politics, and their role tends to cause controversy.

Good apple, bad apple

If you’re reading this text from your MacBook or iPhone, you probably have recognized the difference between living in a new information space with much less targeted advertising. In February 2022, Apple introduced its new privacy features allowing users to enable or block personal data tracing from the apps installed on the company’s devices, an innovation with significant political, social and economic consequences.

It’s crucial to understand the business decision that underpins the ongoing debate on personal data ethics and regulation. Protecting Apple users’ personal data means they will not be targeted with personally crafted advertising, and their data will not be used to predict consumer behaviour, which enables users’ right to privacy — one of the central categories of online service providers’ moral responsibilities and, essentially, a human right. This guarantee of the right attracts consumers to Apple products.

At the same time, this architectural decision caused significant distress to the market, as the stock prices of Meta and other social media companies plunged that day. Introducing an opt-out particularly for personal data collection means shrinking their potential advertising revenues as less data becomes available to develop personalized ads.

Apple made a policy-level decision, a milestone in the discussion on issues of user privacy regulation. Effectively, it is a subject of government concern on the intersection of information and business ethics, law and policy. This case illustrates the power of one company, which can be not just a game changer in the conversation on tech regulation but a shock for the industry, pushing other businesses to shift their business models and challenge the dynamics of Big Tech.

What is this decision for Apple? An enactment of an ethical stand signalling its political responsibility? An act of an excellent corporate citizen innovating to enable its customers’ rights for privacy? Or is it a marketing move to boost the sale of Apple products through engaging in a non-market activity? Regardless of the motivation, we have witnessed a tech company making a political change on an international level, since Apple products are in demand and sold worldwide.

At the same time, the company engages in other activities that may be seen as controversial. Along with other Big Tech companies, Apple increased its lobbying spending in 2022 as businesses face increased pressure from lawmakers raising antitrust concerns to curb the power of tech giants. Meanwhile, stepping outside the liberal democratic political climate, Apple faces decisions that challenge its political stand. In 2021 the company confirmed storing all personal data of Chinese users inside China-based data centres. China is known for using surveillance as a tool for political prosecution. Even though Apple claimed to maintain a high level of security, journalist sources report that the company handed over the keys to the government. The same year, Apple removed a smart voting app, one of the tools developed by the opposition in Russia to outplay electoral fraud. In both cases, the company’s decision-making had severe and direct political consequences, just like the decision to block personal data tracing on its devices. The only difference was the kind of pressure put on a company by the political system it was operating in.

Where does the political responsibility of Big Tech end?

In 2022 the world saw the global expansion of authoritarian rule, affecting developing states and established democracies. According to the 2022 Freedom House report, only 20 percent of the earth’s population live in a free country, while the remaining 80 percent are equally split between a partially free and not free world. The world is getting more authoritarian, and the political regime of a liberal democracy today is the exception rather than the rule.

Different autocracies pose challenging obstacles to tech companies, which remain the key producers of innovative technology. The role of the state defines the potential expectations of business, and their relationship patterns. In autocracies, political participation and public deliberation face repression through state authorities, and business is shaped by a political economy with the elements of state intervention. The state prevails, and it has more direct control over the company when needed, and the interference in economic life is ordinary and unpredictable. Autocrats are famous for censorship, propaganda, and interventions in electoral systems, all of which are delivered by technology provided by business.

One of the most common examples could be the situation in which a business organization has to obey the law of an authoritarian state to maintain political legitimacy, while the law itself may undermine the moral legitimacy of the company. The case of Apple in China is an example of this. However, it can have different consequences for companies in other countries. For instance, Verizon (the subsidiary that bought out Yahoo! in 2017) was sued for handing data to the Chinese government that led to political prosecution and the torture of dissidents. In authoritarian regimes, legislation is often designed to set out the specific requirements and processes for government agencies to obtain access to personal data, including surveillance purposes. Even though data handovers upon the request, e.g., the subpoena, are common for democratic regimes as well, the difference is how such data is further used and whether there are grounds for balancing it out with other institutional procedures.

Elaborating on the political responsibility of Big Tech

As the intersection of technology and politics continues to expand, grappling with the political implications of new creations becomes imperative for tech innovators. They must take proactive steps to develop robust political responsibility strategies while navigating authoritarian and other ethically fraught environments. Transparency is one way to meet these goals.

The practice of environmental social and governance (ESG) reporting and disclosure on ESG issues is an excellent example of how mandated transparency has led to accountability, and one that can be adapted to technological innovation. Openly revealing who has bought a certain technology will limit the ability of authoritarian governments to abuse it, for example. Additionally, integrating political responsibility as a part of responsible investment portfolios could represent a meaningful step forward to starting an open dialogue about tech, politics and society. This could be done by disclosing on direct political engagement of companies and adding additional transparency about contexts in which business operates.

Yet, such openness would be even more problematic — and potentially impossible — for tech companies that have been developed within the borders and hence the jurisdiction of authoritarian regimes. One of the most illustrative examples is the case of Yandex, a multinational company headquartered in Russia. The company has grown into a major tech player, often referred to as the “Russian Google.” Despite making an occasional compromise with the political system, the company kept the reputation of the most liberal company in the country while showing steady business growth.

However, when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Yandex faced significant pressure, legislative restrictions, international sanctions and criticism from the public. From the first weeks of the war, YandexNews, daily visited by 40 million people, has been indexing only stories from state-owned media, amplifying the narratives of the “special operation.” Abiding by the law became equivalent to contributing to univocal media coverage dominated by the Russian state.

The war became the most significant trigger that affected the company, as the share price of this prominent business lost over 75 percent of its value. Many company employees, including top management, resigned or left the country in protest of the war led by Russia. Personal sanctions were applied to the company’s CEO and founder. Under pressure, the company sold their media assets to a holding loyal to the state. In December, the company’s founder left Yandex Russia but remained the key shareholder.

Scenarios like these establish a controversial ground for businesses that must come to terms with an authoritarian state’s rules to keep their business going. Albert Hirshman’s “Exit, Voice, Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States” suggests a framework of three strategies for responding to the perceived decrease in performance of an organization or a state. Using it as a guide to an organizational strategy, a tech company facing authoritarianism could leave, protest or comply.  However, as the suppression of public dissent usually characterizes authoritarianism, realistically, only two strategies are left: to stay or to go.

Nevertheless, both strategies bring further ethical concerns. With a lot said about the downsides of collaborating with autocrats, how ethical is it towards the employees and customers for a business to leave the declining state? Moreover, the business remains a profit-generating enterprise first of all, and very few countries in the world would make a market for a product so the company’s leadership could keep to the standard of political responsibility. We can’t all live in Norway, after all.

As the influence of tech companies continues to grow, it falls to civil society, journalists, tech users, and watchdog organisations to keep these firms accountable. Demanding transparency and collaborating to come up with new fair policies that could support tech companies in tough contexts could be one way forward. Meanwhile, it is important to educate the public and create incentives for consuming tech other than instant gratification. By working together, these stakeholders can start shaping a more ethical tech landscape, where common good carries more weight than corporate interest.

Portraits of disappeared defenders paraded in Bangkok

September 14, 2022

This article – originally published by Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand – was republished by Global Voices on 5 September 2022

To mark International Day of the Disappeared on August 30, a dozen people affiliated with the Mok Luang Rim Nam student activist group gathered at Ratchaprasong Intersection in downtown Bangkok. A small parade was held by activists in Siam Square to raise awareness about forced disappearances. The marchers carried portraits of abducted activists, some of whom were later found dead.

The group carried photos of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, and Siam Theerawut — Thai victims of forced disappearance. Hanging photos of the victims around their necks, some covered their heads with plastic bags in imitation of a suffocation torture technique.

Porlajee Rakchongcharoen is a Karen environmental activist last seen in April 2014 in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials in Phetchaburi province. [see:]

Surachai Danwattananusorn, a veteran activist who fled the country after the 2014 coup, disappeared in December 2018 in a neighboring country, and his dead body was later found at the Thai-Laos border. Siam Theerawut also fled in 2014 and was arrested by Vietnamese authorities in 2019 before his reported extradition to Thailand. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Speaking on the occasion, activist Tanruthai Thaenrut said that the group wanted to raise awareness about forced disappearances, to tell people that the government is ignoring these disappearances and silencing the people to make disappearance seem normal.

A 2020 report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances estimates there are at least 75 victims of enforced disappearance in Thailand .

Uniformed police were seen standing guard at the National Police Headquarters on the way to Siam Square. Plainclothes police were reportedly taking photographs of event participants before the event started. When they reached their destination, the Superintendent of Pathumwan police station arrived with other police officers, to quietly monitor the situation.

During the gathering, activists staged a performance symbolizing an abduction. One of the participants placed a black bag over Tanruthai’s head while she was giving a speech. Two others then carried her away while other activists shouted, “Free our friends.”

Mint, a Thai traditional dancer-turned-activist who participated in the march, said that the performance signified that anyone could become a victim of forced disappearance. She noted that human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit was abducted in the middle of Bangkok, and added that the fates of most people who disappeared remain unknown

The Unfreedom Monitor: Global Voices adds to the monitoring toolbox

April 5, 2022

On 5 April 2022 Nanjala Nyabola, Advox Director at Global Voices introduced The Unfreedom Monitor, a methodology for tracking digital authoritarianism worldwide

The Unfreedom Monitor is an Advox research initiative that examines the growing phenomenon of networked authoritarianism or digital authoritarianism. “Digital authoritarianism” describes the use of technology to advance repressive political interests. It is not purely confined to authoritarian regimes. Democratic states also use and sell advanced technology to track and/or surveil citizens, spread mis-/disinformation, and disempower citizens’ civic and political participation. Nor is it only states that perpetrate digital authoritarianism—corporations located in democratic countries are key suppliers of the technology that is used. 

The Unfreedom Monitor

Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked authoritarianism or digital authoritarianism.

Download a PDF of the briefing document.

..One major aim of this project is to provide richer context that transcends unique national or thematic situations. It would be an omission to focus solely on the internet and ignore, for example, the effects of the mechanisms of growing repression on press freedom and human rights. In the countries we studied, we found a strong correlation between declining press freedom and growing digital authoritarianism. Information, after all, is the raw material of governance, and both online spaces and traditional media serve the important function of making information available to people and communities to enable them to make independent evaluations of their governments. The impetus to control information on the internet is directly connected to the impetus to control information shared by the press. 

The briefing document provides an overview of key developments in digital authoritarianism in 11 countries and explains the theoretical framework and methodology behind The Unfreedom Monitor project. The document also provides a basis for expanding this research to other countries to deepen our understanding of digital authoritarianism globally, as well as its crucial implications for the future. The preliminary sample of 11 countries was chosen to reflect a range of factors: system of government, approach to human rights (including rankings in indexes), and corporate relations. The countries are: Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Morocco, Myanmar, Russia, Sudan, Tanzania, Turkey, and Zimbabwe.  

Desk research supplemented qualitative study of a dataset comprising media items exploring issues, events, actors, narrative frames, and responses, to identify trends and patterns of digital authoritarianism. We also conducted weekly seminars with the research team to gain a sense of any cross-cutting themes and commonalities that emerged. One interesting outcome was finding that while clients and their interests may be varied, only a handful of companies—many based in nominally democratic countries—were selling the technology that makes some digital authoritarian practices possible.

Another four researchers also worked with four cross-cutting themes concerning digital authoritarianism to develop an approach that can be used across contexts. These themes were: data governance, speech, access, and information. The tendency with internet research is to think about ideas or development in thematic isolation, and we encouraged this cohort of researchers to think both broadly and deeply about what unites all these separate ideas. 

The report finds that digital authoritarianism is not confined to authoritarian states. Rather, it is a culture—of increasing executive power, legislation, and global capital flows—that allows the state to interfere in citizens’ lives and to stifle or frustrate civic engagement. There is no single predictive factor, but digital authoritarianism is closely related to the contraction of press freedom, and resistance to political transitions. Moreover, it is a transnational process, and the availability of technology in one part of the world will eventually have political consequences in another.

This adds to existing efforts such as:

International Women’s Day 2022

March 8, 2022

International Women’s Day is today 8 March and celebratory events are being held around the world. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, aimed at imagining “a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.” While this special day offers hope for gender equity, it is also a reminder of the omnipresent phenomenon of violence against women, which exists regardless of the day, and needs to be addressed in a fundamental way.

See also:

There is too much to choose from (as usual); for last year’s see:]

Still, here some concrete samples:

Upasana Rana reports Global Voices of 7 March on Nepal []

On the same site Njeri Wangari tells us about how Feminist music icons from around Africa to celebrate this International Women’s Day. See her Spotify playlist with hits from artists like Fatoumata Diawara, Cesária Évora, Shishani Vranckx, Thandiswa Mazwai, and more.

Amnesty International issued a statement “International Women’s Day: Dramatic deterioration in respect for women’s rights and gender equality must be decisively reversed

  • Alarming assaults on women’s rights around the world in 2021/22. 
  • Legal protections dismantled, and women human rights defenders now at unprecedented risk.
  • Protection and promotion of women’s and girls’ rights and support for women human rights defenders crucial, including for Covid-19 recovery. 
  • Governments must act decisively to reverse regressions and uphold human rights for women and girls. 

Catastrophic attacks on human rights and gender equality over the past twelve months have lowered protection for and upped threats against women and girls across the globe.  On International Women’s Day, the organization called for bold action to reverse erosions of human rights for women and girls.   

 “Events in 2021 and in the early months of 2022 have conspired to crush the rights and dignity of millions of women and girls.  The world’s crises do not impact equally, let alone fairly. The disproportionate impacts on women’s and girls’ rights are well-documented yet still neglected, when not ignored outright.  But the facts are clear. The Covid-19 pandemic, the overwhelming rollback on women’s rights in Afghanistan, the widespread sexual violence characterizing the conflict in Ethiopia, attacks on abortion access in the US and Turkey’s withdrawal from the landmark Istanbul Convention on Gender Based Violence: each is a grave erosion of rights in its own terms but taken together? We must stand up to and stare down this global assault on women’s and girls’ dignity,” said Amnesty’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard. [see]

Human Rights Watch focuses on Afghanistan: On International Women’s Day, we should remember Afghanistan, and consider what the state of women’s rights there means for the struggle for gender equality worldwide. The Taliban were notorious for violating women’s rights when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. So, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan again on August 15 last year, Afghan women’s rights defenders were deeply skeptical that the new rulers would be any different from the Taliban that controlled the country before, despite their pledges to respect women’s rights. They were right.

In less than seven months since taking over, the Taliban have:

  • closed most girls’ secondary schools;
  • created barriers to women and girls pursuing higher education;
  • banned women from most paid employment;
  • abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs;
  • restricted women’s movement including blocking them from leaving the country alone;
  • dismantled Afghanistan’s system that provided protection from gender-based violence;
  • created barriers to women and girls accessing health care;
  • beaten and abducted women’s rights protesters;
  • silenced female journalists;
  • banned women’s sports; and
  • appointed a men-only administration.

Afghanistan is not the only country where women’s rights are under attack this International Women’s Day. But the speed and extent of the obliteration of women’s rights in Afghanistan is a warning to women around the world about the fragility of progress toward equality, how quickly it can vanish, and how few will defend it. We should all be in solidarity with Afghan women; their fight is a fight for women’s rights everywhere. [See:]

Caitlin Fitzsimmons in the Sydney Morning Herald of 6 March argues that “International Women’s Day highlights climate justice as a feminist issue”. Women are on the front lines of the global climate crisis, making up 80 per cent of the 21.5 million people displaced every year by climate-related events. [See:]

On International Women’s Day, UN Human Rights stands with women and girls human rights defenders of all ages, backgrounds & identities leading our collective struggle to protect our climate and environment. See.g.:

Meet Brianna Frueran, a Pacific climate change activist fighting for her native Samoan islands’ survival.

Meet Mya Pol, a content creator from the United States who advocates for disability rights and educates people about environmentalism on her social media platform.

Even simply remembering Kem Ley is forbidden in Cambodia

July 16, 2020

Cambodia continues to block memorial activities honoring murdered political analyst Kem Ley [See:]

Individuals and groups were blocked by police and local authorities in Cambodia from holding activities commemorating the fourth anniversary of the death of political analyst Kem Ley.

Kem Ley was killed at a gas station on July 10, 2016. Many suspect the murder was linked to his work as a commentator and political analyst. He was murdered days after he gave a radio interview about a Global Witness report detailing corruption under the Hun Sen government, which has ruled the country since 1985.

On July 8, a group of monks and young activists were prevented by police from holding a memorial service at the gas station where the late analyst was killed. They were forced instead to hold their prayers on a sidewalk more than 100 meters from the site.

A young man wearing a shirt with Kem Ley’s face printed on it was arrested that day. The next day, a group of youth leaders were blocked by security forces from travelling to Kem Ley’s family home in Takeo.

Another convoy of monks and activists was blocked on July 10. But supporters of the slain commentator continued to honor him by embarking on a march of several kilometers. Chheang Sinath, a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled vehicle) driver and member of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, criticized authorities’ actions in an interview with VOD news:

We just came to participate and show respect. Just participating and remembering [Kem Ley’s] sacrifice for society is seen as a wrongdoing [by authorities]. This is not appropriate unless we hold a demonstration or protest something. This is just a ceremony to pay gratitude to him, but authorities tried to stop us.

Venerable Bo Bet, a monk from a Phnom Penh pagoda, expressed frustration that his group of 10 monks was not allowed to pay respects to Kem Ley:

We want to pay respects at the place he was killed, and we will also hold ceremonies at other places. We come here and want to burn incense. We want to hold funeral rites at the site. We want to remember his good deeds here because we do this only once a year.

Kem Ley’s wife and kids were forced to seek asylum in Australia after his death. Bou Rachana thanked supporters of her late husband for their efforts.

See also;

Ali Gharavi of the “#Istanbul10” speaks about his experience and his hope

May 6, 2020

Ali Gharavi is a consultant working with human rights defenders, their organisations and communities. He is one of ten people who were arrested in Turkey in July 2017 at an information management and well-being workshop on Buyukada island. The hashtag #Istanbul10 was used in the sustained advocacy efforts that called for the dropping of all charges against them and their immediate release. [see:]

In March 2020, ahead of an anticipated – but since postponed – verdict hearing, Ali spoke with IFEX Regional Editor Cathal Sheerin about how his experience being arrested in Turkey and jailed for four months has affected his life and informed his work. “While I breathe, I hope: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10″ (interview published through a partnership between Global Voices and IFEX).

Ali Gharavi. Credit Annie Game
CS: How do you feel about the upcoming hearing? I feel a combination of anticipation and anxiety. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions over the last almost three years and the verdict was supposed to have been reached at the last hearing. In terms of realistic outcomes, we’ve talked about two or three possibilities with our families, lawyers and the authorities in Sweden. I’ve been trying to keep my wits about me and not putting all my eggs in one basket, but we’re pretty optimistic that the outcome could be acquittal.

What makes you optimistic for acquittal? I’m only nominally optimistic really because these things can turn on a dime. At the hearing before the last one, the prosecutor said that – of the ten of us plus Taner Kılıç – he would accept acquittal for five because of lack of evidence, but the rest he wanted to convict. I was in the acquittal group. All of us are quite adamant, however, about not having this ‘split’ decision.

Why do you think you were divided into two groups? It’s really hard to say. Two of us in the acquittal group – Peter Steudtner and I – are not Turkish, so it’s possible that they want to remove the international angle from all of this. However, that’s just my speculation. It’s actually quite arbitrary, and I think this is partly because they have no evidence. It might even be a way to ramp this down: Let’s acquit half of them now and then acquit the rest in a trickle.

How aware were you when you were detained of the advocacy that was taking place on your behalf? What impact did it have on your morale? Maintaining my morale was one of the biggest challenges for me. I was held at four different sites. At one point, they transferred us to the anti-terrorism headquarters for interrogation, which sounds like – and was – quite a harrowing experience. ……

I’ve done letter-writing campaigns in the past, and I never knew for sure if they had any effect on the people who were in jail, but having been on the inside, I can say that those moments were life-saving. Sometimes my lawyer would search for my name on Twitter and print out all the tweets that had been posted that week about me; there was also this Twitter campaign, #haikusforAli, and demonstrations in Brussels, sit-ins in front of embassies. All of those moments reminded me that people on the outside were thinking of me and mobilising. I’m not exaggerating when I say that those were the things that saved me when I was in the depths of an abyss.

How has the experience affected how you work?  The kind of work I’d been doing was intended exactly for this kind of situation, where you need to pay attention to the whole person, not just their devices or the organisation’s activities. Because of my incarceration, I now understand that at a molecular level. For me, the whole experience has placed a higher premium on understanding people – who they are, where they are – as a big part of how we can actually help them regardless of whichever aspect of their work we’re trying to assist them with. One thing the experience revealed was how inadequately resourced and researched care and crisis response is: how do you care for not just the person incarcerated, but also his family, the community around him, his colleagues?

Once the crisis is ‘over’ the assumption is that life goes on as usual, whereas there’s actually recovery that needs to be done. Often there’s also a massive financial burden due to legal costs and the inability to work for a while. After my release I went to Berlin and arrived into a very supportive debriefing environment. It’s a very privileged situation to be in – those ten days were very helpful in making me understand that I’d be going through this trauma and recovery and that it’s not just business as usual. There was a crowd-funder created for me so that I didn’t just have to drop back into work, and there was physical and psychological therapy too. I knew it intellectually, but now I know it viscerally, that just because you get released the trauma doesn’t just go away. It takes years to be functional again. People assume that when you recover you’re going to go back to being who you were, but that’s not true.

Would you ever return to Turkey? It would be very difficult for me to feel safe there, but I would go, if only in order to ‘get back on the horse’. If the verdict doesn’t go the way we expect, then I’d be incarcerated if I turned up there, so I obviously wouldn’t return. I love Turkey – the people and the environment – and I feel like a big part of my life and friends is now off-limits to me. But I dream of when I’ll be able to go back, hug the people who were inside with me and eat baklava with them. As Cicero said: ‘While I breathe, I hope.’

The humanity of what I experienced in detention was humbling. Regardless of why those people were incarcerated with me, they – that young 19-year-old who spoke to me in German, and others – were an amazing source of inspiration and support. During the toughest times I’d be angry with them, but they were amazingly unwavering. I’ve heard via word of mouth that those two supposed ISIS members are now back with their families and all is well. I owe them a big debt of gratitude.

Most of the time I was incarcerated alongside political prisoners who faced trial on specious charges, or who had been (and continue to be) detained for years on end as they wait for an indictment. And now we hear that despite the mortal threat of COVID-19 sweeping through the prison system, those prisoners will stay behind bars.

[see also:]

‘While I breathe, I hope’: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10

While I breathe, I hope: In conversation with Ali Gharavi of the #Istanbul10

UAE finally free Osama al-Najjar after detaining more than five years.

August 9, 2019

Osama Al-Najjar remained in detention, despite completing his jail sentence. Photo Credit: activist’s Twitter account

On 9 August 2019 Global Voices reports that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have freed activist and political prisoner Osama al-Najjar after detaining him for more than five years. [see:]

”Two other detainees, Badr al-Bahri and Othman al-Shehi, whose initial sentences expired in April 2017 and July 2018 respectively, have also been freed”, the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) said in a statement. Al-Bahri and al-Shehi were arrested over their links to al-Islah, which was a legally registered Islamist political movement in the UAE before it was banned by authorities in 2014.

Many political prisoners remain in detention in the UAE, despite repeated calls from human rights groups for their release. Prominent human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence over comments he posted online. Prior to his arrest in March 2017, he campaigned online on behalf of jailed activists in the UAE, including Osama al-Najjar. Academic Nasser Bin Ghaith is also serving a ten-year jail sentence over tweets critical of the UAE authorities. [see:]

UAE frees activist Osama al-Najjar after 5 years in detention

New documentary series highlights the struggle of women human rights in Vietnam

August 7, 2019

A new series of video interviews highlights the perspectives and struggles of human rights women in Vietnam.

The 88 Project, an organisation supporting freedom of expression in Vietnam, released the first video of an ongoing interview series with female activists in Vietnam. In the first interview with Pham Doan Trang, a dissident journalist and political activist, she discusses the challenges women face as bloggers and human rights activists: “In general, Vietnamese women are not respected. Not only in democracy activism but in all fields. In democracy activism, female activists are disadvantaged because they get attacked no less than male activists. They get beaten and assaulted. The work they do is no less than their male counterparts. But what they often get from other people is pity. I think it is not respect.” See also:

Other women including social activist and blogger Tran Thi Nga, who is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence, have also been seriously injured following physical attacks, often conducted by hired men. Tran Thi Nga’s attack was documented and posted on Youtube with recordings of her being wheeled into a hospital accompanied by her two young children. According to family reports, Tran Thi Nga has been subjected to both physical and psychological harassment after her arrest, receiving death threats and beatings from a cellmate.

According to the 88 Project database, there are currently more than 200 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam with over 30 identifying as female. Bloggers and journalists are frequently arrested and charged for “activities attempting to overthrow the state” or “conducting propaganda against the state”. According to Amnesty International, the Vietnamese government has been conducting a growing crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful activism over the past few years.

Nguyen Dang Minh Man, a photojournalist and the woman who has served the longest time in prison so far, is expected to be released at the beginning of August.

World Press Freedom Day celebrated on 3 May 2019

May 6, 2019

Friday 3 May was World Press Freedom Day. Read the rest of this entry »

Fake news targeted Sakharov award nominee Zefzafi in Moroccan media

April 5, 2019

In September 2018, Nasser Zefzafi, imprisoned leader of Morocco’s Hirak protest movement in the Rif region, was nominated for the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize For Freedom of Thought. The annual award was established in 1988 to honor ‘’individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe.’’ [see:]

Zefazfi is currently serving a 20-year prison term for his role as a leader in the Hirak protests. … Zefzafi made it to the list of three finalists for the Sakharov Prize, but did not win. It was instead awarded to Ukrainian film director and writer Oleg Sentsov. Following the announcement of the winner on 25 October, Moroccan news site Cawalisse published a fabricated story alleging that the European Parliament “withdrew Zefzafi’s name from the list of winners’’ because he is a “criminal who has no link to human rights.”

Screenshot of the fabricated Cawalisse story alleging that the European Parliament deemed Zefzafi  a ”criminal’.

The article (which does not list an author!) states that “a group of lobbies from within the European Parliament, including those that support Polisario separatists and those hired by drug gangs, pressured the prize’s committee to award it to Zefzafi and give his crimes the label of protecting rights.” The story is completely false. It is based on fabricated facts and conspiracy theories. The European Parliament never maintained that Zefzafi was a criminal, nor did they withdraw his name “from the list of winners.” He was simply not chosen to win the prize. In fact, there was no “list of winners” in the first place, but only one winner, Oleg Sentsov…