Archive for the 'Police' Category

Urban Uprisings in Contemporary Europe

Stellan Vinthagen December 18th, 2011

FSSK, CUS and CSM invite you to a conference day:
Urban Uprisings in Contemporary Europe
Paris 2005, Athens 2008, London 2011 – What’s next?

When: Wednesday 15th of February 2012. 9.50am -16.30 pm
Where: Linnésalen, Mediehuset, Seminariegatan 1B, Campus Linné

A Spectre is stalking Europe – the spectre of suburban youth revolts. Europe is a
continent marked by growing inequality, racism and social tensions. In recent years we
have seen battle like pictures on TV from Paris, Athens, Lyon, Rotterdam, Copenhagen
and most recently in London and other British cities. During the last two years different
areas in the metropolitan districts in Sweden has also become a part of this picture.
How should we understand this development, how do we explain these uprisings? Are
there general patterns that could be seen in all cities?
The unit for Contemporary Cultural Studies (Forum för Studier av Samtidskultur -
FSSK), the Centre for Urban Studies (Centrum för Urbana Studier) and Gothenburg
CSM (Forum for Civil Society and Social Movement Research), all at Gothenburg
University, arrange a one day conference on these issues and we welcome you to this first
conference day in a series on urban movements and urban change.
The conference is free (and includes coffee and bun) but has a limited number of seats.
We therefore require that you send us an email if you like to participate before the 8th of
February to ensure your seat.

Email to:
catharina.thorn [at] kultur.gu.se
ove.sernhede [at] gu.se
hakan.thorn [at] sociology.gu.s

Special Report: Inside the Egyptian revolution

jj April 13th, 2011

(Reuters) - In early 2005, Cairo-based computer engineer Saad Bahaar was trawling the internet when he came across a trio of Egyptian expatriates who advocated the use of non-violent techniques to overthrow strongman Hosni Mubarak. Bahaar, then 32 and interested in politics and how Egypt might change, was intrigued by the idea. He contacted the group, lighting one of the fuses that would end in freedom in Tahrir Square six years later.

A protester stands in front of a burning barricade during a demonstration in Cairo January 28, 2011.

A protester stands in front of a burning barricade during a demonstration in Cairo January 28, 2011.

The three men he approached — Hisham Morsy, a physician, Wael Adel, a civil engineer by training, and Adel’s cousin Ahmed, a chemist — had all left Egypt for jobs in London.

Inspired by the way Serbian group Otpor had brought down Slobodan Milosevic through non-violent protests in 2000, the trio studied previous struggles. One of their favorite thinkers was Gene Sharp, a Boston-based academic who was heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. The group had set up a webpage in 2004 to propagate civil disobedience ideas in Arabic.

At first, the three young Egyptians’ activities were purely theoretical. But in November 2005, Wael Adel came to Cairo to give a three-day training session on civil disobedience. In the audience were about 30 members of Kefaya, an anti-Mubarak protest group whose name means “enough” in Arabic. Kefaya had gained prominence during the September 2005 presidential elections which Mubarak won by a landslide. During these protests, they had been attacked by thugs and some women members had been stripped naked. Bahaar joined Adel on the course and his career as an underground trainer in non-violent activism was born.

Adel taught activists how to function within a decentralized network. Doing so would make it harder for the security services to snuff them out by arresting leaders. They were also instructed on how to maintain a disciplined non-violent approach in the face of police brutality, and how to win over bystanders.

“The third party, the bystander sitting on the fence, will join when he realizes that security forces’ use of violence is unwarranted,” Bahaar said in one of a series of interviews with Reuters. “Security will harass you to provoke an angry violent response to justify a repressive crackdown in the name of law and order. But you must avoid this trap.”

The process took time. As Wael Adel put it during an interview in a rundown Cairo cafe in March, there was a process of “trial and error” before Egypt’s non-violent warriors were strong enough to begin to take on a dictator.

Kefaya, for example, did run some more campaigns – including one for judicial independence in 2006. But it failed to stir mass protests or expand beyond the middle class elite. There was also internal disagreement between its younger activists and older politicians. By 2007, it had lost its momentum and many had quit.

THE ACADEMY OF CHANGE

In the meantime, the trio of thinkers had morphed into an organization called the Academy of Change — based in London and ultimately moving to Qatar. The Academy became a window for Egypt’s activists into civil disobedience movements outside the Arab world. To disseminate the new methods of resistance, it wrote books about nonviolent activism with a focus on the Arab world: “Civil Disobedience,” “Nonviolent War the 3rd Choice” and “AOC MindQuake” that were published in 2007.

A year later the Academy published “Shields to Protect Against Fear”, a manual on techniques to protect one’s body against attacks by security services during a protest. “The idea of non-violent protest is not martyrdom,” Adel said. “We knew to get ordinary Egyptians, and Arabs, to face their governments and security, they have to have tools to protect themselves. This boosts the morale and enthusiasm to go to the street.”

The ideas espoused by the Academy spread through Egypt. The calls for change reached industrial areas where large groups of workers have long suffered low wages and bad work conditions. Mounting economic hardship mobilized workers in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla El Kobra, home to the country’s biggest textile factory. The workers had been in contact with Kefaya activists and other independent labor activists. The groundwork for a sustained mass mobilization was being prepared.

The first real victory sprung from Mahalla in December 2006 when over 20,000 textile workers staged a six-day strike over unpaid bonuses. The protesters — peaceful but stubborn — confused police forces accustomed to clashing with disorganized crowds. The government offered concessions to avoid losses from a halt to production.

Then came a setback. In April 2008, workers in Mahalla went out on strike again, over rising prices. An online call by Kefaya’s former activists to support the Mahalla strike on fizzled out. Meanwhile, in Mahalla, the protest turned violent. Activists claim plain-clothes police destroyed public and police property and then blamed it on the protesters. Bloody clashes between police and Mahalla citizens lasted three days. Police fired live rounds and teargas, while enraged crowds threw rocks. At least three people were killed, hundreds were wounded and scores arrested.

More discipline was needed. Bahaar began to widen his efforts, traveling to disparate locations farther away from the capital to extend grassroots awareness of peaceful civil disobedience.
Meanwhile, ex-Kefaya activists formed the April 6 Facebook group, using the internet to gather supporters. The group adopted the Otpor clenched-fist logo and some members travelled to Serbia for civil disobedience training.

THE FACEBOOK ACTIVISTS

February 2010. Mohamed ElBaradei was back in Cairo. The former head of the International Atomic Energy Association and Nobel peace prize winner had inspired some of Egypt’s younger generation that change was possible. Several of them had created a Facebook page backing ElBaradei as the country’s next president. But how were they to achieve their goal given Mubarak’s repressive regime? They turned to the Academy for help.

The Academy directed them to its online training manuals, which the Facebook activists tried for a while. But despite their internet savvy, many felt that relying entirely on online training was too theoretical. Couldn’t the Academy give them practical training?

Enter Bahaar.

Those who had signed up to the Facebook page were divided into groups of 100. Bahaar trained eight of the groups in different parts of the country using, among other tools, PowerPoint presentations that explained how you maximize the power of a protest movement. Every protester had a family, and around the family was a wider community, Bahaar explained. If a protester was arrested or beaten by the police, his or her family might be radicalized. Similarly, if a policeman engaged in brutality, his family and social network might not be supportive. By maintaining disciplined non-violent activity, the regime’s power could be progressively weakened.

Why wasn’t Bahaar himself arrested? He says this was partly because he was working underground but also, he thinks, because the security services didn’t judge his non-violent approach a threat.

Others were not so lucky. Khaled Said, 28, was beaten to death by police in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, in June 2010. His family said he had posted a video showing police officers sharing the spoils of a drugs bust. Said’s body was barely recognizable and the act of brutality galvanized further protests — in particular, the anti-torture Facebook page “We are Khaled Said,” created by Google executive Wael Ghonim and underground activist AbdelRahman Mansour.

The page played a pivotal role in spreading non-violent strategies such as “flash mob” silent protests, where groups of people suddenly gather in a public place and do something unusual in unison for a short time before dispersing. Instructions for a nationwide “flash mob” were posted on the page. Participants were told to dress in black and arrive at specific locations in small groups to skirt the ban on large public gatherings. They formed single files along main roads with their backs turned to the street. After a certain hour they marched away.

“The Khaled Said page drew countless willing supporters, many apolitical, because its focus was ending human rights violations and that is an issue that affects all citizens. The page set gradual, easy-to-handle tasks. People felt safe and joined,” said Ahmed Saleh, one of the organizers working with the ElBaradei youth campaign and Khaled Said page.

Like Mahalla’s 2006 strike, the flash mob was a new type of protest unfamiliar to security forces. Its cadres were organized, civil, and well diffused across Egypt — and seemingly leaderless. The police didn’t know how to react. Participants were trained in non-violent techniques — both online, by the “Khaled Said” page founders, and on the ground, by Bahaar.

FREEDOM SQUARE

In late 2010, the Khaled Said page decided to call for something more ambitious — a nationwide march to demand the dissolution of parliament, the disbanding of the state security agency, seen by Egyptians as the state’s main arm of torture, and the resignation of the interior minister.

The date chosen for mass action was January 25, Egypt’s national police day. Mansour — who was conscripted into the army on January 17 — posted the call for the nationwide march on December 28. Protesters were urged to march to Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other public spaces across the country. The page was not yet calling for Mubarak to go. It was Tunisia’s popular uprising, which reached its climax on January 14 with the ousting of President Zein El Abedine Ben Ali, which turned Egypt’s protests into an uprising.

The protest drew people of all ages and backgrounds. By 8 p.m. a unified, single chant inspired by Tunisia rang around Tahrir (Arabic for “freedom”) Square: “The people demand the fall of the regime.” By then, many understood at least a few of the tactics of non-violent disobedience. “You don’t need to train every single protester, only a small group of activists well connected with people in their local areas. Ideas spread like a virus,” says Bahaar.

Protesters conversed with riot police sent to cordon off the Square. The aim was simple: win over those in uniform. Women gave out food and biscuits to hungry conscripts and officers.
Young people quickly regrouped after being dispersed. Some climbed security personnel carriers to drag down officers firing teargas and water cannons, raising the crowd’s resolve to push security back and gain more ground. A pattern of whistling and rhythmic banging of stones on metal fences in Tahrir spontaneously developed when they needed to rally reinforcements to hold the fort. Protesters would also whistle to signal their success in forcing security to pull back.

Encouraged by the mass protests, the Khaled Said page posted a second online call for Friday, January 28, naming the event a “revolution” to overthrow the regime.

April 6 activists and youth from the Muslim Brotherhood formed the crucial front lines of protesters who broke security cordons and later faced attacks from pro-Mubarak loyalists. The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized opposition force whose members are accustomed to working within disciplined ranks, played a critical role in organizing activists into security teams to guard Tahrir Square’s multiple entrances. They searched those who came into the square for weapons or fluids that could be turned into Molotov cocktails. They wanted neither infiltrators nor supporters to turn to violence.

To help demonstrators hold true to non-violent resistance, the Academy posted online an eight-minute film covering similar ground to its 2008 manual. This explained how people could protect their chests and backs with makeshift shields made of plastic and thick cardboard, and how to mitigate the effect of teargas by covering their faces with handkerchiefs doused in vinegar, lemons or onions.

For the most part, people were having fun. They also took pride in their ownership of the square. Music was put on. Volunteers and protesters swept it, collected garbage and built outhouses.

“Non-violent action is not just about non-violence, but also about joy and happiness,” Adel said. “The festive atmosphere was a key element to drawing the high numbers that Egypt had rarely seen. People felt safe so they came out. They saw in Tahrir what Egypt could possibly be in the future and they wanted to be part of this new Egypt.”

The protests were not entirely peaceful. In particular, scuffles broke out after a group of thugs thought to have been organized by Mubarak’s henchmen charged through the square on horses and camels on February 2, beating and whipping protestors in what came to be known as the “Battle of the Camel”. Many demonstrators fought back, throwing stones at Mubarak loyalists to keep them from entering the square. But there was no wholesale riot and discipline returned.

“The key to a successful non-violent revolt is its ability to constantly reinvent and correct itself,” Adel says. “If violence or conflict breaks out, quickly resolve it while finding ways to avoid it.” Trained cadres shouted “peaceful, peaceful!” to restrain their hotter-headed colleagues. Soon after, the army, which had not been involved in the clashes, said it would not fire on unarmed civilians.

Nine days later Mubarak was gone.

Music of The Revolution: How Songs of Protest Have Rallied Demonstrators

jj March 9th, 2011

From: Movements.org

Look up the original site and get several of the movies.

Music almost always plays a pivotal role in protest movements, with songs and chants unifying dissidents in their rallying cries. Unlike movements of decades past, however, protest music made popular during the recent revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond spread virally with the help YouTube and Facebook.

TUNISIA

Twenty-one-year-old Hamada Ben Amor, known as El Général—an underground rapper living in the town of Sfax south of Tunis—uploaded a song he had written called “Rais Le Bled” (“President, Your Country”) to Facebook on November 7. The rap called out then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali for the problems faced by average Tunisians trying to make a living, including food scarcity, a lack of freedom of speech, and unemployment with lyrics like: “Mr. President, your people are dying/People are eating rubbish/Look at what is happening/Miseries everywhere Mr. President/I talk with no fear/Although I know I will only get troubles/I see injustice everywhere.”

The Voice of Tunisia

The rap was picked up by local TV station Tunivision and Al-Jazeera and resonated with many Tunisians who quickly began sharing the song. Soon enough, the government blocked the musician’s Facebook page and cut off his mobile phone. Despite the attempt to make his music disappear, El Général’s song quickly became the anthem of the Jasmine Revolution.

El Général then recorded another song of protest call “Tounes Bladna” (“Tunisia Our Country”) on December 22. By that point, Ali’s regime had had enough with the musician. El Général was arrested by state security on January 6, taken to the Ministry of Interior, and interrogated for three days.

He tells The Guardian, “They kept asking me which political party I worked for. ‘Don’t you know it’s forbidden to sing songs like that?’ they said. But I just answered, ‘Why? I’m only telling the truth.’ I was in there for three days, but it felt like three years.” The public was outraged and began demanding his release. The pressure mounted on the government worked and he was soon released from detention.

Since Ben Ali left office on January 14, El Général’s tunes have continued to serve as a rallying cry for other demonstrators in the Middle East, and his work has proven to be popular among demonstrators in Bahrain.

EGYPT

Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm (“Uncle Ahmed”), a popular voice for the poor who has spent 18 of his 81 years in Egyptian prisons, wrote “The Donkey and the Foal,” a commentary about then-president Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal. Musician Ramy Essam, who had taken to playing in Tahrir Square during the protest, set the poem to music and sang the song as Negm stood beside him.

Essam then penned the song “Leave,” inspired by the slogans and chants being shouted around Tahrir Square:

“We are all united as one,

And what we ask for,

Is just one thing: Leave! Leave! (x3)

Down, down Husni Mubarak! (x4)

The people demand: Bring down the regime! (x4)

He is going away. We are not going anywhere! (x4)

We are all united as one,

And what we ask for,

Is just one thing: Leave! Leave! Leave! (x4)”

The Truth Behind the Egyptian Revolution

Amir and Adel Eid from the Egyptian rock band Cairo-Kee gathered up other artists to record “Sout Al Horeya” (“The Voice of Freedom”), which quickly became another anthem for the revolution. The video for the song was shot entirely inside Tahrir Square during the revolution using a basic digital SLR camera.

“I went down to the streets vowing not to return, and wrote with my blood on every street.

Our voices reached those who could not hear them

And we broke through all barriers

Our weapon was our dreams

And tomorrow is looking as bright as it seems….”

Sout Al Horeya

LIBYA

Traditional songs have also played an important role in demonstrations. Libyans in the liberated eastern parts of the country forged bonds by singing the old national anthem while waving the tricolor flag from before Gaddafi came to power in 1969 as “a symbol of the reinvention of the Libyans.”

In this video, the massive crowd in Beghanzi sings the old anthem to share their pride in being liberated.

ARAB RAP DIASPORA

The Narcicyst, an Iraqi-born rapper living in Toronto, joined with other musicians from the Arabic rap diaspora in North America, such as Omar Offendum, Amir Sulaiman, and Canadian R&B singer Ayah, to record a track called “#Jan25 Egypt,” based off the popular hashtag used during the demonstrations in Egypt. In an Al Jazeera English interview, Omar said that it’s a “song of solidarity with the Egyptian people and [a way] to open it up [what’s happening in Egypt] to an audience in the United States.” The song starts:

“I heard ’em say

The revolution won’t be televised

Aljazeera proved ’em wrong

Twitter has him paralyzed

80 million strong

And ain’t no longer gonna be terrorized

Organized – Mobilized – Vocalized

On the side of TRUTH

Um il-Dunya’s living proof

That its a matter of time

before the chicken is home to roost”

Omar Offendum

LOOKING FOR MORE MUSIC?

Check out Mideast Tunes, a hub launched by Mideast Youth for the region’s underground and alternative music scenes. You can browse music by country or genre. The site has highlighted a number of other protest songs coming out of the region for its listeners (1, 2).

Abdulla Darrat, co-founder of the enoughgaddafi.com (Khalas) site run by a Libyan exiles (now found at http://feb17.info), put together a “mixtape” featuring hip-hop artists from the region. The mix, called “Mish B3eed,” or “Not Far,” features songs describing the conditions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. It can be downloaded here.

Durrat says, “[These musicians and emcees] very successfully put into words a lot of the sentiments that young people in the area are carrying with them, and they’re voicing really the struggle of…everyday people.”

Are any popular protest songs missing? Share them in the comments below!

Bolivia: Coca-chewing protest outside US embassy

jj January 29th, 2011

From BBC

Indigenous activists in Bolivia have been holding a mass coca-chewing protest as part of campaign to end an international ban on the practice.

The protest was good-natured

The protest was good-natured

Hundreds of people chewed the leaf outside the US embassy in La Paz and in other cities across the country.

Bolivia wants to amend a UN drugs treaty that bans chewing coca, which is an ancient tradition in the Andes.

But the US has said it will veto the amendment because coca is also the raw material for making cocaine.

The protesters outside the US embassy also displayed products made from coca, including soft drinks, toothpaste, sweets and ointments.

They were supporting a Bolivian government campaign to amend the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to remove language that bans the chewing of coca leaf.

The convention stipulates that coca-chewing be eliminated within 25 years of the convention coming into effect in 1964.

Bolivia says that is discriminatory, given that coca use is so deeply rooted in the indigenous culture of the Andes.

Eradication

The US is opposed to changing the UN convention because it says it would weaken the fight against cocaine production.

In a statement, the US embassy said Washington recognised coca-chewing as a “traditional custom” of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples but could not support the amendment.

“The position of the US government in not supporting the amendment is based on the importance of maintaining the integrity of the UN convention, which is an important tool in the fight against drug-trafficking,” it said.

The US is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine and has been leading efforts to eradicate coca production in the Andes for decades.

Bolivia is the world’s first biggest producer of cocaine after Peru and Colombia, and much of its coca crop is used to make the illegal drug.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has long advocated the recognition of coca as a plant of great medicinal, cultural and religious importance that is distinct from cocaine.

As well as being Bolivia’s first indigenous head of state, Mr Morales is also a former coca-grower and leader of a coca-growers trade union.

The Bolivian amendment would come into effect on 31 January only if there were no objections.

The Fall of the West’s Little Dictator

jj January 20th, 2011

“A Watershed Moment in the History of the Arab World”

By ESAM AL-AMIN CounterPunch

When people choose life (with freedom)
Destiny will respond and take action
Darkness will surely fade away
And the chains will certainly be broken

Tunisian poet Abul Qasim Al-Shabbi (1909-1934)

On New Year’s Eve 1977, former President Jimmy Carter was toasting Shah Reza Pahlavi in Tehran, calling the Western-backed monarchy “an island of stability” in the Middle East. But for the next 13 months, Iran was anything but stable. The Iranian people were daily protesting the brutality of their dictator, holding mass demonstrations from one end of the country to the other.

Protesters want the unity government to exclude members of Mr Ben Ali's RCD party

Protesters want the unity government to exclude members of Mr Ben Ali's RCD party

Initially, the Shah described the popular protests as part of a conspiracy by communists and Islamic extremists, and employed an iron fist policy relying on the brutal use of force by his security apparatus and secret police. When this did not work, the Shah had to concede some of the popular demands, dismissing some of his generals, and promising to crack down on corruption and allow more freedom, before eventually succumbing to the main demand of the revolution by fleeing the country on Jan. 16, 1979.

But days before leaving, he installed a puppet prime minister in the hope that he could quell the protests allowing him to return. As he hopped from country to country, he discovered that he was unwelcome in most parts of the world. Western countries that had hailed his regime for decades were now abandoning him in droves in the face of popular revolution.

Fast forward to Tunisia 32 years later.

What took 54 weeks to accomplish in Iran was achieved in Tunisia in less than four. The regime of President Zein-al-Abidin Ben Ali represented in the eyes of his people not only the features of a suffocating dictatorship, but also the characteristics of a mafia-controlled society riddled with massive corruption and human rights abuses.

On December 17, Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old unemployed graduate in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, set himself on fire in an attempt to commit suicide. Earlier in the day, police officers took away his stand and confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling because he lacked a permit. When he tried to complain to government officials that he was unemployed and that this was his only means of survival, he was mocked, insulted and beaten by the police. He died 19 days later in the midst of the uprising.

Bouazizi’s act of desperation set off the public’s boiling frustration over living standards, corruption and lack of political freedom and human rights. For the next four weeks, his self-immolation sparked demonstrations in which protesters burned tires and chanted slogans demanding jobs and freedom. Protests soon spread all over the country including its capital, Tunis.

The first reaction by the regime was to clamp down and use brutal force including beatings, tear gas, and live ammunition. The more ruthless tactics the security forces employed, the more people got angry and took to the streets. On Dec. 28 the president gave his first speech claiming that the protests were organized by a “minority of extremists and terrorists” and that the law would be applied “in all firmness” to punish protesters.

However, by the start of the New Year tens of thousands of people, joined by labor unions, students, lawyers, professional syndicates, and other opposition groups, were demonstrating in over a dozen cities. By the end of the week, labor unions called for commercial strikes across the country, while 8,000 lawyers went on strike, bringing the entire judiciary system to an immediate halt.

Meanwhile, the regime started cracking down on bloggers, journalists, artists and political activists. It restricted all means of dissent, including social media. But following nearly 80 deaths by the security forces, the regime started to back down.

On Jan. 13, Ben Ali gave his third televised address, dismissing his interior minister and announcing unprecedented concessions while vowing not to seek re-election in 2014. He also pledged to introduce more freedoms into society, and to investigate the killings of protesters during the demonstrations. When this move only emboldened the protestors, he then addressed his people in desperation, promising fresh legislative elections within six months in an attempt to quell mass dissent.

When this ploy also did not work, he imposed a state of emergency, dismissing the entire cabinet and promising to deploy the army on a shoot to kill order. However, as the head of the army Gen. Rachid Ben Ammar refused to order his troops to kill the demonstrators in the streets, Ben Ali found no alternative but to flee the country and the rage of his people.

On Jan. 14 his entourage flew in four choppers to the Mediterranean island of Malta. When Malta refused to accept them, he boarded a plane heading to France. While in mid air he was told by the French that he would be denied entry. The plane then turned back to the gulf region until he was finally admitted and welcomed by Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime has a long history of accepting despots including Idi Amin of Uganda and Parvez Musharraf of Pakistan.

But a few days before the deposed president left Tunis, his wife Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser known for her compulsive shopping, took over a ton and a half of pure gold from the central bank and left for Dubai along with her children. The first lady and the Trabelsi family are despised by the public for their corrupt lifestyle and financial scandals.

As chaos engulfed the political elites, the presidential security apparatus started a campaign of violence and property destruction in a last ditch attempt to saw discord and confusion. But the army, aided by popular committees, moved quickly to arrest them and stop the destruction campaign by imposing a night curfew throughout the country.

A handful of high-profile security officials such as the head of presidential security and the former interior minister, as well as business oligarchs including Ben Ali’s relatives and Trabelsi family members, were either killed by crowds or arrested by the army as they attempted to flee the country.

Meanwhile, after initially declaring himself a temporary president, the prime minister had to back down from that decision within 20 hours in order to assure the public that Ben Ali was gone forever. The following day, the speaker of parliament was sworn in as president, promising a national unity government and elections within 60 days.

Most Western countries, including the U.S. and France, were slow in recognizing the fast-paced events. President Barack Obama did not say a word as the events were unfolding. But once Ben Ali was deposed, he declared: “the U.S. stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold.” He continued: “We will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard. I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people.”

Similarly, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, not only abandoned his Tunisian ally by refusing to admit him in the country while his flight was en route, but he even ordered Ben Ali’s relatives staying in expensive apartments and luxury hotels in Paris to leave the country.

The following day the French government announced that it would freeze all accounts that belonged to the deposed president, his family, or in-laws, in a direct admission that the French government was already aware that such assets were the product of corruption and ill-gotten money.

The nature of Ben Ali’s regime: Corruption, Repression and Western Backing

A recently published report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI), titled: “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2000-2009,” estimates Tunisia was losing billions of dollars to illicit financial activities and official government corruption, in a state budget that is less than $10 billion and GDP less than $40 billion per year.

Economist and co-author of the study, Karly Curcio, notes: “Political unrest is perpetuated, in part, by corrupt and criminal activity in the country. GFI estimates that the amount of illegal money lost from Tunisia due to corruption, bribery, kickbacks, trade mispricing, and criminal activity between 2000 and 2008 was, on average, over one billion dollars per year, specifically $1.16 billion per annum.”

A 2008 Amnesty International study, titled: “In the Name of Security: Routine Abuses in Tunisia,” reported that “serious human rights violations were being committed in connection with the government’s security and counterterrorism policies.” Reporters Without Borders also issued a report that stated Ben Ali’s regime was “obsessive in its control of news and information. Journalists and human rights activists are the target of bureaucratic harassment, police violence and constant surveillance by the intelligence services.”

The former U.S. Ambassador in Tunis, Robert Godec, has admitted as much. In a cable to his bosses in Washington, dated July 17, 2009, recently made public by Wikileaks, he stated with regard to the political elites: “they rely on the police for control and focus on preserving power. And, corruption in the inner circle is growing. Even average Tunisians are now keenly aware of it, and the chorus of complaints is rising.”

Even when the U.S. Congress approved millions of dollars in military aid for Tunisia last year, it noted “restrictions on political freedom, the use of torture, imprisonment of dissidents, and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders.”

Yet, ever since he seized power in 1987, Ben Ali counted on the support of the West to maintain his grip on the country. Indeed, Gen. Ben Ali was the product of the French Military Academy and the U.S. Army School at Ft. Bliss, TX. He also completed his intelligence and military security training at Ft. Holabird, MD.

Since he had spent most of his career as a military intelligence and security officer, he developed, over the years, close relationships with western intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, as well as the French and other NATO intelligence services.

Based on a European intelligence source, Al-Jazeera recently reported that when Ben Ali served as his country’s ambassador to Poland between 1980-1984 (a strange post for a military and intelligence officer), he was actually serving NATO’s interests by acting as the main contact between the CIA and NATO’s intelligence services and the Polish opposition in order to undermine the Soviet-backed regime.

In 1999 Fulvio Martini, former head of Italian military secret service SISMI, declared to a parliamentary committee that “In 1985-1987, we (in NATO) organized a kind of golpe (i.e. coup d’etat) in Tunisia, putting president Ben Ali as head of state, replacing Burghuiba,” in reference to the first president of Tunisia.

During his confirmation hearing in July 2009 as U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, Gordon Gray reiterated the West’s support for the regime as he told the Senate Foreign Relations committee, “We’ve had a long-standing military relationship with the government and with the military. It’s very positive. Tunisian military equipment is of U.S. origin, so we have a long-standing assistance program there.”

Tunisia’s strategic importance to the U.S. is also recognized by the fact that its policy is determined by the National Security Council rather than the State Department. Furthermore, since Ben Ali became president, the U.S. military delivered $350 million in military hardware to his regime.

As recently as last year, the Obama administration asked Congress to approve a $282 million sale of more military equipment to help the security agencies maintain control over the population. In his letter to Congress, the President said: “This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country.”

During the Bush administration the U.S. defined its relationship with other countries not based on its grandiose rhetoric on freedom and democracy, but rather on how each country would embrace its counter-terrorism campaign and pro-Israel policies in the region. On both accounts Tunisia scored highly.

For instance, a Wikileaks cable from Tunis, dated Feb. 28, 2008, reported a meeting between Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and Ben Ali in which the Tunisian president offered his country’s intelligence cooperation “without reservation” including FBI access to “Tunisian detainees” inside Tunisian prisons.

In his first trip to the region in April 2009, President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, stopped first in Tunisia and declared that his talks with its officials “were excellent.” He hailed the “strong ties” between both governments, as well as Tunisia’s support of U.S. efforts in the Middle East. He stressed President Obama’s “high consideration” of Ben Ali.

Throughout his 23 year rule, hundreds of Tunisian human rights activists and critics such as opposition leaders Sihem Ben Sedrine and Moncef Marzouki, were arrested, detained, and sometimes tortured after they spoke out against the human rights abuses and massive corruption sanctioned by his regime. Meanwhile, thousands of members of the Islamic movement were arrested, tortured and tried in sham trials.

In its Aug. 2009 report, titled: “Tunisia, Continuing Abuses in the Name of Security,” Amnesty International said: “The Tunisian authorities continue to carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, allow torture and use unfair trials, all in the name of the fight against terrorism. This is the harsh reality behind the official rhetoric.”

Western governments were quite aware of the nature of this regime. But they decided to overlook the regime’s corruption and repression to secure their short-term interests. The State Department’s own 2008 Human Rights Report detailed many cases of “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” including rapes of female political prisoners by the regime. Without elaboration or condemnation, the report coldly concluded: “Police assaulted human rights and opposition activists throughout the year.”

What next?

“The dictator has fallen but not the dictatorship,” declared Rachid Ghannouchi, the Islamic leader of the opposition party, al-Nahdha or Renaissance, who has been in exile in the U.K. for the past 22 years. During the reign of Ben Ali, his group was banned and thousands of its members were either tortured, imprisoned or exiled. He himself was tried and sentenced to death in absentia. He has announced his return to the country soon.

This statement by al-Nahdha’s leader has reflected the popular sentiment cautioning that both the new president, Fouad Al-Mubazaa’, and prime minister Mohammad Ghannouchi have been members of Ben Ali’s party: The Constitutional Democratic Party. And thus their credibility is suspect. They have helped in implementing the deposed dictator’s policies for over a decade.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister promised, on the day Ben Ali fled the country, a government of national unity. Within days he announced a government that retained most of the former ministers (including the most important posts of defense, foreign , interior and finance), while including three ministers from the opposition and some independents close to the labor and lawyers unions. Many other opposition parties were either ignored or refused to join based on principle protesting the ruling party’s past.

In less than 24 hours, huge demonstrations took place all over the country on Jan. 18 in protest of the inclusion of the ruling party. Immediately four ministers representing the labor union and an opposition party resigned from the new government until a true national unity government is formed. Another opposition party suspended its participation until the ruling party ministers are either dismissed or resign their position.

Within hours the president and the prime minister resigned from the ruling party and declared themselves as independents. Still, most opposition parties are demanding their removal and their replacement with reputable and national leaders who are truly “independent” and have “clean hands.” They question how the same interior minister who organized the fraudulent elections of Ben Ali less than 15 months ago, could supervise free and fair elections now.

It’s not clear if the new government would even survive the rage of the street. But perhaps its most significant announcement was issuing a general amnesty and promising a release of all political prisoners in detentions and in exile. It also established three national commissions.

The first commission is headed by one of the most respected constitutional scholars, Prof. ‘Ayyadh Ben Ashour, to address political and constitutional reforms. The other two are headed by former human rights advocates; one to investigate official corruption, while the other to investigate the killing of the demonstrators during the popular uprising. All three commissions were appointed in response to the main demands by the demonstrators and opposition parties.

January 14, 2011 has indeed become a watershed date in the modern history of the Arab World. Already, about a dozen would-be martyrs have attempted suicide by setting themselves ablaze in public protest of political repression and economic corruption, in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania. Opposition movements have already led protests praising the Tunisian uprising and protesting their governments’ repressive policies and corruption in many Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, and the Sudan.

The verdict on the ultimate success of the Tunisian revolution is still out. Will it be aborted by either infighting or the introduction of illusory changes to absorb the public’s anger? Or will real and lasting change be established, enshrined in a new constitution that is based on democratic principles, political freedom, freedoms of press and assembly, independence of the judiciary, respect of human rights, and end of foreign interference?

As the answers to these questions unfold in the next few months, the larger question of whether there is a domino effect on the rest of the Arab world will become clearer.

But perhaps the ultimate lesson to Western policymakers is this: Real change is the product of popular will and sacrifice, not imposed by foreign interference or invasions.

To topple the Iraqi dictator, it cost the U.S. over 4,500 dead soldiers, 32,000 injured, a trillion dollars, a sinking economy, at least 150,000 dead Iraqis, a half-million injured, and the devastation of their country, as well as the enmity of billions of Muslims and other people around the world.

Meanwhile, the people of Tunisia toppled another brutal dictator with less than 100 dead who will forever be remembered and honored by their countrymen and women as heroes who paid the ultimate price for freedom.

Esam Al-Amin can be reached at alamin1919 (at) gmail.com

Richmond Cops Mistakenly Hand Over Anti-Protest Guides to Anarchist

jj January 12th, 2011

From: The GreenIsTheNewRed.com

After filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the Richmond Police Department for police training documents, Mo Karn received much more than expected in return: homeland security and crowd control guides that show how the police target protests.

The police filed for an emergency court order yesterday to prohibit Karn from publicizing any of the documents, which should never have been released. The cops’ reasoning? “Defendant Mo Karn is a known and admitted anarchist.”

The documents, however, have already been published online. And buried in the training guides are insights into three trends in law enforcement that have been occurring not just in Virginia, but nationally: the demonization of protest, the militarization of police, and turning local cops into “terrorism” officials.

The Demonization of Protest

The Richmond Police Department’s Emergency Operations Plan
includes a section on “civil disturbances.” While this sounds innocuous, “civil disturbances” are defined so broadly as to include what the police call “dissident gatherings.”

“The City of Richmond is a target rich environment” for antiwar protesters, the document says. And it warns that police and homeland security have reason to be increasingly concerned:

“Current training and intelligence reveals that protestors are becoming more proficient in the methods of assembly.”

Militarization of Local Police

Such a depiction of “assembly” (a First Amendment right) as a “disturbance” and a threat is all the more troubling when put in the context of the other police department guides. Richmond’s Crowd Management Operating Manual is for the police unit assigned to large protests (no experience required). Among the tools that the crowd management team are issued include riot shields, chemical agents, cut tools, helmets, body armor, cameras, video cameras, batons, gas masks, and a “mass arrest kit.”

Deputizing Local Cops as Counter-terrorism Officials

This militarization of local police is accompanied by another trend in law enforcement since September 11th: deputizing local cops to becoming “homeland security” and counter-terrorism officials. According to the Homeland Security Criminal Intelligence Unit Operating Manual, “The Richmond Police Department is under contract with the FBI to provide assistance through staffing, intelligence and equipment.” And one member of the homeland security unit is assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The result? Documents like the Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment. The 2009 document was created by the Virginia Fusion Center, of which the Richmond Police Department is part. Fusion centers are ostensibly designed to gather terrorism intelligence from multiple police agencies, and make us safer. In practice, they routinely label activists as “terrorists.” Among the “terrorist threats” identified in Virginia were animal rights activists, environmental activists, and anarchists.

According to the threat assessment, “The Virginia Federation of Anarchists has held two conferences in Richmond in November 2007 and January 2008? and “Anarchist protesters at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. spilled over into Prince William County.”

Karn, meanwhile, wears her scarlet circle ‘A’ with pride, and has no problem being labeled an anarchist. The FOIA was submitted by the Wingnut Collective, a Richmond anarchist group, as part of their police accountability project.

In his court motion warning that Karn is an “anarchist,” Richmond’s Deputy Assistant Attorney Brian Telfair doesn’t allege the possibility of any violence or property destruction. Instead, he cites a blog post by Karn about acquiring government information through legal requests. The title? “FOIA Rocks!”

Tunisian Unrest Stirs Arab World

jj January 6th, 2011

By Emad Mekay IPS

CAIRO, Dec 31, 2010 (IPS) – As Western countries were busy celebrating Christmas and dealing with air traffic holiday delays because of snow blizzards, the tranquil North African country of Tunisia was going through events that would have been thought unthinkable just three weeks ago – public unrest that saw thousands demonstrate against the regime of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia suicide protester Mohammed Bouazizi dies

Tunisia suicide protester Mohammed Bouazizi dies

While the media and policy makers went heads over heals in the United States and Europe during similar protests against the disputed presidential elections in Iran in 2009, the unexpected events went largely ignored in the Western media. Tunisian bloggers and twitter posts are now the main source for minute by minute development of the unrest.

Arabs across the Middle East Watched in awe as online video posts and sporadic coverage on Al-Jazeera TV station showed Tunisians, with a reputation of passivity, rise up in unprecedented street protests and sits-in against the police state of President Ben Ali.

The Ben Ali regime exemplifies the “moderate” pro-Western Arab regimes that boast strict control of their population while toeing the line of Western powers in the Middle East.

The spark of the unrest, now about to end its second week, came when a 26- year-old unemployed university graduate, Mohammed Buazizi, set himself ablaze in the central town Sidi Buzeid to protest the confiscation of his fruits and vegetables cart.

Buaziz’s suicide attempt was copied by at least two other young university graduates in protest against poor economic conditions in the Arab country.

Similar to previous unrests in many Western-backed Arab countries, the police responded with overwhelming force. There were reports of use of live ammunition, house-to-house raids to chase activists, mass arrests and torture of prisoners.

The police initially crushed the demonstrations in Sidi Buzeid after cutting all communication and roads to the town, only to be faced with more demonstrations in several neighboring towns.

Egypt had followed the same tactics against unrest by factory workers in the industrial city Al-Mahal El Kobra on April 16, 2007, and killed the unrest in just four days after the regime managed to control media reports from inside the town, and major Western media outlets either ignored the events or belittled them as ineffectual.

But unlike the unrest in Egypt, there are reports of demonstrations and clashes spreading in Tunisia to the towns Gandouba, Qabes and Genyana among others.

The Ben Ali regime blamed “radical elements”, “chaos mongers” and “a minority of mercenaries” for incitement, all typical accusations by Arab rulers in face of signs of fidgeting among their oppressed publics.

So far, according to press reports and Web posts, at least two protestors have died, with many injured in the protests.

On Thursday, human rights activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni reported a third death and said that police was conducting house-to-house raids to chase activists (http://twitter.com/benmhennilina). The report has not been independently verified.

The Tunisian Journalists’ Syndicate issued a statement last week decrying official attempts “to hinder media coverage and stop reporters from doing their job.”

The communications minister has banned the showing of Al-Jazeera channel in Tunisian coffee shops or any public viewing, according to another web post by an unidentified Tunisian man.

A blogger wrote: “They are clamping down on the Internet too, blocking some sites and Facebook accounts. I might not be able to post any longer. If I disappear suddenly, please pray for me.”

Comments from across the Arab countries followed in support.

“Thank Allah the peoples of the region are finally waking up and are protesting against the tyrants who spread injustice and corruption all over the face of the earth,” a post from Dubai said.

“The end of the Arab regimes looks so near,” another post from Egypt said.

Other Arabs are seeing the demonstration as an inspiration. In chat forums and social media, Arabs were applauding the protestors, often calling them “heroes”.

The Egyptian opposition leader Hamadeen Sabahi called for a demonstration on Sunday in solidarity with the “Tunisian Intifadah”.

The fear of similar spillover into Arab countries pushed at least one Arab ruler to rush to aid Ben Ali. Libya’s maverick leader Muammar Qaddaif said he was immediately dropping all restrictions on the entry of Tunisian labour into Libya. Tunisians were free to travel to his oil-rich country for work, he said.

Opposition says the unrest was prompted by high prices and unemployment but now has turned political with some demonstrators calling on President Ben Ali to step down.

Tunisia, like other non-oil producing Arab countries has implemented a Western-inspired privatization programme and gradual cut to state subsidies to staple goods without offering alternative sources of income.

Yet as the Tunisians waited impatiently, the fruits of the alleged economic reforms never came. Pictures and video on social media showed protestors holding bread loaves, a sign of hunger and poverty.

Tunisia’s protests caught the region by surprise as the Ben Ali regime, like other rulers, had often trumpeted his country as an oasis of stability.

Trying to absorb the shock, Ben Ali announced a small cabinet reshuffle but left the interior ministry intact. He vowed a clampdown on the protestors. (END)

Imran Khan threatens civil disobedience in Pakistan

jj January 5th, 2011

Imran Khan threatens civil disobedience in Pakistan
2011-01-03 19:20:00

Islamabad, Jan 3 (IANS) Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan has threatened to launch a civil disobedience movement ‘if the incumbent rulers of Pakistan do not mend their ways’.

Speaking at a public rally in Rawalpindi, the World Cup-winning cricketer-turned-politician called upon the people to support his party as the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government has failed to steer the country out of crises, the Express Tribune reported Monday.

Khan said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the PPP have a secret agreement to support each other’s government in Punjab and at the centre for a minimum of five years.

The PML-N wasn’t a ‘friendly opposition’, rather it was hand-in-glove with the ruling party, he said.

‘The two parties have a secret agreement. The PML-N will allow the PPP-led government at the centre to complete its five-year tenure. And in return, the PPP will let the PML-N government in Punjab to complete its tenure,’ he said.

Khan termed the recent increase in petroleum prices as ‘economic murder’ of the people.

He came down hard on Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari, saying people would hold accountable the politicians who transferred money to foreign banks.

Sharif, who heads the second largest party in the country, was paying only Rs.5,000 in income tax, Khan said.

Bloody Sunday came to Belarus

jj December 26th, 2010

From Nash Dom Civic Campaign

Nash Dom Civic Campaign members give their accounts
of what happened and is happening in the country now.
Women are among the most affected.

Russia in 1905.
India in 1930.
Hungary in 1956.
South Africa in 1960 and 1986.
Chechslovakia in 1968.
Poland in 1956 and 1970.
American South in 1960.
Northern Ireland in 1972.
Chile in 1973.
Palestine in 1988.
China in 1989.
Romania in 1989.
Lithuania in 1991.
Kosovo in 1998.

This sad list is incomplete, of course. What is sadder, it does not stop. December 19, 2010, added another line here. Bloody Sunday came to Belarus. The ruling regime threw away a mask they were putting on the last year, and had no qualms about a bloodbath. A peaceful manifestation of about 50,000 people was violently dispersed, more than 600 people are jailed. Hundreds of the people were injured, some of them may be dead. Nearly all alternative presidential candidates were beaten, some of them severely, and one of them is rumored to be dead.

Why was the manifestation? The citizens where determined to show their peaceful protest against stealing of another election campaign. All the demonstrators wanted was an explanation why the election process became so non-transparent and at the same time so tightly controlled by the ruling group. Instead of a legitimate and logical explanation, they were beaten by clubs, brass knuckles, and heavy police boots.

Several members of the Nash Dom Civic Campaign were among the 50,000 who headed to the House of Government where the official Central Election Commission must be located. The people had a lot of questions to the chair of the Commission and the Prosecutor General. It was already late evening, but those officials had to be at their places during the final day of the election. Besides, that was probably the only possible way to hold those officials accountable, because any other peaceful ways tried by citizens and their leaders were efficiently blocked by the laws and decrees signed in no time by just one person, or simply by plain ignoring.

The citizens had a lot of grounds to late claims. All the local election commissions are headed by people completely dependent on the ruling group, and nothing can efficiently prevent forging the election results. Since about the year of 1998 the votes are counted almost privately by a limited number of people who know only too well that for the ‘necessary’ result they will get a small award, otherwise they will be severely punished. With the current election legislation in Belarus there is no way to learn the real preferences of the citizens. But even more, during this election campaign there were numerous violations of the current legislation and suspicious actions. Many members of the Nash Dom Civic Campaign know it firsthand because they were observers at some election precincts.

Many Belarusian citizens and democratic activists, including Nash Dom members, joined efforts in a nonviolent action which revealed the true situation in Belarus. Until recently, the ruling regime just snarled and hissed at people, they could not hold a dialogue themselves and they were doing their best to silence people. Now the regime enforcers are still breaking into houses and apartments, take people out in plain night, beat them and jail them.
Most of the presidential candidates are jailed, in spite of the fact that they are inviolable until December 29, the day of final vote count. One of the candidates and many demonstrators are plain missing, just like many political opponents of the current regime got missing in 1997-2001. We all hope that the situation is not the same as it was in Chile and Argentine in the 70s and 80s, but the similarities are too appalling.

Unfortunately, this was also experienced only too well by one of the Nash Dom members, Kristina Shatikova, a mother of two. When she and her friends were rounded up, enforcers beat them skillfully, taking into account that the victims were female. The enforcers were trying to hit abdomens and lower part of the body. When the young women were arrested, they had to stand this whole freezing night in police vans, without a possibility to use toilet. Even more, the enforcers took away hats, caps, scarves, and gloves. Many women were threatened to be drowned in toilet bowls. Because of the torturing conditions, many women lost consciousness. It all looked like a planned action to deprive the women of the right of being mothers again.

When after the freezing night Kristina Shatikova was taken to the Oktiabrski Police Department in Minsk, beatings continued. The enforcer Vitali Pozniak behaved as a real bandit. He was kicking Kristina in the corridor, strangled her in his room. He had no insignia on him, but apparently he was not rank-and-file. The tortures varied, and one of them were night interrogations. Even by the current legislation this is a violation. Besides, when Kristina signed the protocol and put a dash in the witnesses section, the protocol was taken away. It is very likely that the police will forge the protocol and write it again the way they like. In such cases the witnesses are usually the enforcers themselves. The signature of the interrogated is not a problem at all, the standard words ‘the interrogated refused to sign the protocol’ is more than welcome in the judicial system of Belarus.

This illegal legal system hurts not only their opponents. Any citizen can become a victim. When Kristina was released, she told us about a young woman who was apprehended just because she happened to be near. She was desperate because her baby was left alone at home, and begged to let her go. This amused the enforcers even more, and the softest name they gave her was ‘a dirty cow’. They spared her beating, but it would be a miracle if the woman is still able to breast-feed the baby after the physical and emotional stress.

The violations of the most basic human rights and international norm are going on right now, in this very moment. Enforcers break into offices of all noticeable social organizations and into private apartments of their activists throughout the country, and loot them calling this ‘a legal search’. They confiscate belongings and are especially greedy to get hold of computers. They cut telephone and Internet communication, hoping to isolate people and devour them one by one. The alternative candidates, their friends, simply people they know: anyone who might have their own opinion about the last show the authorities call ‘elections’ is an enemy to be oppressed, deprived of property and private life, injured, jailed, and even killed.

The regime targets families. Private apartments are raided violently, sometimes late at night, and children witness the searches. A three-year old boy of one of the alternative candidates was threatened to be put into a facility (both his parents are jailed after December 19), and only active position of the grandmother saved him some of childhood.
Now we see that the current authorities in Belarus do not care for the lives of Belarusians. They do not even consider that Belarusians are humans, depriving them of normal representatives and judicial system.

In many countries listed at the beginning the Bloody Sundays led to revolutions, and revolutions always cost lives. The war against Belarusians and Belarusian women in particular is already going on, and it costs lives of many babies who will not be born, many lives of women who are crippled spiritually and physically.
* * *
Recently Argentina jailed their former dictator Jorge Videla for life, though it took over 30 years to get hold of him. It may take Belarusians longer, but we keep our records, and the Nash Dom Civic Campaign makes their contribution.

Ouattara camp urges civil disobedience

jj December 23rd, 2010

From News24

Abidjan – The shadow government of would-be Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara urged the Ivorian people to rise up on Tuesday in a campaign of civil disobedience against strongman Laurent Gbagbo.

Alassane Ouattara urged the Ivorian people to rise up in a campaign of civil disobedience against strongman Laurent Gbagbo

Alassane Ouattara urged the Ivorian people to rise up in a campaign of civil disobedience against strongman Laurent Gbagbo

“I call on you to show disobedience to Laurent Gbagbo’s fake government, from this moment until it falls,” Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s choice for prime minister, declared in a statement.

Gbagbo and Ouattara both claim to have won last month’s Ivorian election but – while Ouattara has been recognised by the UN and the world community – the incumbent has clung on to power.

The United Nations has accused Gbagbo’s supporters in the security forces of involvement in “massive human rights abuses”, including night-time raids to kill or kidnap Ouattara supporters.

‘Murderous insanity’

Soro, the leader of the “New Forces” former rebel movement, repeated these accusations and demanded: “When will the international community realise that a murderous insanity has begun in Ivory Coast?

“In the face of these atrocities, the government I lead can no longer tolerate impunity. That is why it is our conviction that Mr Gbagbo must immediately leave power,” he said.

“In addition, we ask the brave and proud Ivorian people, in campgrounds, villages and cities to organise, mobilise and protest by all means possible until Mr Laurent Gbagbo’s departure from power,” he said.

Soro addressed his call to: “Ivorians from the city, Ivorians from the country, workers, officials, executives, generals, officers, NCOs, soldiers, everyone, my brothers and sisters.”

Ouattara and Soro are holed up in a luxury resort on the outskirts of Abidjan protected by UN peacekeepers, while Gbagbo has held on to government ministries in the heart of the city and controls the security forces.

An attempt by elements of Soro’s New Forces to break out of the Golf Hotel on Thursday was repulsed by Gbagbo’s security forces after a fierce shootout.

Pro-Ouattara street demonstrations were also suppressed with deadly force.

How safe are activists in India?

jj December 22nd, 2010

From OneWorld South Asia

The murder of environmentalist Amit Jethwa for campaigning against forest encroachment exposes the urgent need for legal redressal to protect the voices of whistle blowers in India, who are risking their lives for the cause of social equity and justice.

On 20 July 2010, forest campaigner Amit Jethva was shot dead at point blank range by two assailants on motorbikes as he was leaving Gujrat High Court following a meeting with his lawyer.

Environmental activist Amit Jethva was murdered after campaigning against illegal mining in a national park

Environmental activist Amit Jethva was murdered after campaigning against illegal mining in a national park

In a country facing an acute environmental crisis as it rapidly industrialises, his assassination was no stray incident but one of a rising number of attacks on activists. The headline-grabbing decision to ban the British mining company Vedanta from opening a bauxite mine on tribal land in eastern India was only achieved after an unprecedented amount of national and international media attention.

Elsewhere decisions have not been so favourable. Recently approved plans for a new airport in Mumbai will destroy 170 hectares of critically important mangroves. Conservation groups say alternative sites were not properly considered and that their objections were given little consideration. But being ignored is perhaps better than the fate many environmental activists face in India today.

In January 2010, Satish Shetty, a whistle blower and anti-corruption campaigner, who brought to light land scams in West Indian state Maharashtra, was murdered, while Shanmughan Manjunath suffered the same fate after exposing petrol pumps that sold adulterated fuel. Activists say that in contrast to the image India portrays – of a nation that prioritises environmental issues – the reality is in fact very bleak.

‘Activists in India are constantly at risk. Stories of activists being killed are a moral setback to all of us. Ruffle the wrong person’s feathers and it could be you next,’ says Stalin D, project director at the environmental NGO Vanashakti. Ravi Rebbapragada, executive director of Samata, a tribal rights and environmental NGO, believes that as India continues its rapid industrialisation, things are likely to get worse, ‘as the stakes go higher the risk to the activist goes higher,’ he says.

Anti-mining activist killed

At the time of his death Amit was campaigning to protect against forest encroachment. He was heavily involved in the Gir National park, the only home of the Asiatic lion and a protected forest area in western India that covers more than 1,400 km sq. His efforts to expose illegal mining in the forest were rewarded last week with a special posthumous award. Before his death he had filed a lawsuit (Public Interest Litigation) against illegal limestone mining in the buffer zone around the National Park. His application had named a local MP Dinu Solanki from India’s Hindu Nationalist Party and the case was said to, ‘openly expose his link with illegal mining operations’.

Amit was well-known for standing up for environmental issues and had even taken on Bollywood actor Salmon Khan for shooting an endangered Blackbuck. As such he had many enemies in the government, according to his friend and environmental lawyer Manish Vaidya. His family and friends say he had been under threat ever since he started investigating illegal mining operations in and around Gir National Park.

‘A couple of years back, Dinu Solanki’s men physically assaulted Amit at a family wedding,’ recalls Alpa Amit Jethva, his widow, who says Amit had complained to the police after one incident but nothing happened. Dinu Solanki was unavailable for comment but a police investigation since Amit’s death found that he had ‘no role to play’. The police confirmed to the Ecologist that his nephew Shiva Solanki has been charged with conspiracy to assassinate Jethva and a second man with his murder.

Lack of support from police

Activists in India say support is often lacking from the police when they try and initiate proceedings against their attackers. In March 2010, while exposing illegal sand mining in the state of Maharastra, Sumaira Abdulali, a trustee of the Awaaz Foundation, an environmental NGO, was followed, threatened and physically attacked by mafia linked to sand dredging in the area. Sumaira and her team went out on a boat to photograph illegal sand mining in an ecologically sensitive creek, where they saw over fifty dredgers within a span of one kilometre. After they took the photographs and left, they were followed by thugs.

Uproar in Egypt over ElBaradei Death Fatwa

jj December 21st, 2010

From asharq alawsat By Waleed Abdul Rahman

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – A fatwa issued in Egypt calling for the death of Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and Egyptian political opposition figure, has stirred religious and political controversy across Egypt. Al-Azhar scholars have described this Fatwa as being “reckless” whilst supporters of ElBaredei – who is considering standing for the Egyptian presidential elections next year – have condemned this fatwa which was issued by Sheikh Mahmoud Amer, head of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association in Damanhur governorate. This fatwa justified the murder of Dr. ElBaradei for “stirring civil disobedience against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, inciting riots and calling for full-scale civil disobedience.”

In a fatwa posted on the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya website, Sheikh Amer began by stating that “we, in Egypt, are a people that for the most part follow the religion of Islam and anybody reading ElBaradei’s statements can see that these call for civil disobedience and incite civil unrest against our Muslim ruler [President Hosni Mubarak].” The fatwa goes on to say that “regardless of the status of Egypt’s ruler in the eyes of some people, he is the ruler and so should be listened to and obeyed…therefore ElBaradei and others are not entitled to make such statements [calling for civil disobedience].” Sheikh Mahmoud Amer’s fatwa uses some of the prophet’s hadith as well as some of the teachings of Salafist clerics as a reference, with the fatwa calling on ElBaradei to “declare his repentance for what he has said…otherwise the ruler is permitted to imprison or kill him in order to prevent sedition.”

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the man responsible for the above fatwa, leader of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association in Damanhur governorate, Sheikh Mahmoud Amer, who said that “what was published on the group’s website represents the Shariaa ruling of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association in Damanhur governorate members on ElBaradei’s position.”

In response to a question as to whether other branches of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya group in Egypt support his fatwa, he confirmed that “no branch of the association is entitled to be the guardian of another, only the Egyptian government is permitted to do so. The Damanhur branch enjoys complete independence, and the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association headquarters in Cairo has no authority over this branch or any other branch of the organization, as stipulated by our rules and regulations.”

For his part, Dr. Abdul Mouti Bayoumi of the Islamic Research Academy of Al-Azhar University told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this fatwa is completely wrong, and fatwas that call for death should not be issued freely as this leads to killings.” Dr. Bayoumi, who is also the former Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Al-Azhar University added that “it is not usual for the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya to issue fatwas, so what has happened to make them change their position? Is it logical that when they do start issuing fatwas, this should be a fatwa calling for killing?

Dr. Bayoumi said that provoking the murder of Dr. ElBaredei would incite violence in Egyptian society, which is something that contradicts the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, something that the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya claim to be upholding. Dr. Bayoumi added that the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya fatwa is based upon a misunderstanding of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings.

Whilst Dr. Mohamed Rafat Othman, Professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at Al Azhar University, said that “this fatwa is reckless and not supported by any evidence as ElBaradei has not called on the Egyptian people to revolt against the ruling regime, but rather has called for a change in Egypt’s policies.”

Othman said that “[calling for] the shedding of blood is not so easy in Islam, anything that a man does in life is permissible unless expressly forbidden by Islamic Shariaa law.” He also said that most Muslim scholars agree that [calling for] bloodshed is forbidden in Islam.

He added “for people to ambush somebody and kill them is a terrible sin…differences in opinion should be settled by means of dialogue and fair-speaking, for as God Almighty said [in the Quran] “speak fair to the people” [Surat al-Baqara; Verse 83].

As for the political controversy stirred by this fatwa, ElBaradei’s National Coalition for Change said that it considered this fatwa to be extremely dangerous. A leading member of this organization, Ahmed Bahaa Shaaban, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this fatwa is an indication that Egyptian, Arab, and Islamic society is on the verge of further deterioration, with the tolerant religion of Islam being used to intimidate figures and threaten their lives, rather than providing security, stability, and respect.”

Shaaban added that “this fatwa only serves the forces of corruption in Egypt, and intimidates any citizen who is calling for change.” Shaaban added that even during the era when governing regime’s clerics would issue fatwas in the interests of the government, such fatwas never went so far as to call for the death of the government’s political opponents.

Shaaban told Asharq Al-Awsat that “it is our duty now to take a strong stance to confront this new trend of darkness which backs the regime of corruption and uses religion to achieve worldly objectives.” He also warned Egyptian citizens of adhering to this fatwa and making an attempt on the life of Dr. ElBaradei, as this is something that happened previously when Egyptian writer and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz was attacked after a fatwa was issued against one of his novels.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights [EOHR] has called on Egypt’s general prosecutor to investigate the fatwa that justifies the killing of Dr. ElBaradei issued by the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiya association.

The EOHR also called on Egypt’s general prosecutor to “strictly apply the law to those who issue religious edicts permitting the killing of people, which spreads fear among the citizens.” Whilst the head of EOHR described this fatwa as being “harmful to Islam.”

Civil Disobedience Has No Name and No Face in the Post-WikiLeaks World

jj December 20th, 2010

By Rebecca Wexler in JakartaGlobe

Thousands of protesters around the world joined a virtual Internet gathering under the banner “Operation Payback,” many volunteering their computers as foot soldiers in distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that flooded the Web sites of MasterCard and Visa, temporarily incapacitating them.

Thousands of protesters around the world joined a virtual Internet gathering under the banner “Operation Payback,” many volunteering their computers as foot soldiers in distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that flooded the Web sites of MasterCard and Visa, temporarily incapacitating them.

The furor over the purloined cables released by WikiLeaks has now produced the first global Internet civil-disobedience movement. The online picketing of business Web sites like MasterCard and Visa has not only shown the power of online volunteers, but also the contradictions in Western democracies that preach press freedom abroad while shrinking it close to their own bones. Online discussions and interviews with hacktivists also reveal their own contradictions as they grope for what to do with their newfound power.

The Dec. 7 arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on allegations of sexual assault unleashed a cascade of attacks surrounding the secret-sharing site.

Computer assailants attacked WikiLeaks servers, while Joseph Lieberman, chair of the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security, pushed corporations to withdraw services from the organization.

When Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard and Visa complied, incensed pro-WikiLeaks hacktivists joined the fray with a call to “Avenge Assange,” suggesting his arrest was politically motivated, and protest Internet censorship.

Thousands of protesters around the world joined a virtual Internet gathering under the banner “Operation Payback,” many volunteering their computers as foot soldiers in distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that flooded the Web sites of MasterCard and Visa, temporarily incapacitating them.

Facebook and Twitter retaliated by closing Operation Payback user accounts, but not before hacktivists spread their cause across the Web.

The Low Orbit Ion Cannon, software that enables people to lend their computers for these attacks, has reportedly been downloaded more than 53,000 times, leaving corporations and governments scrambling to prepare in case their Web sites become targets.

The pro-WikiLeaks protesters gathered under the umbrella name Anonymous, which Tunisian cyber-activist Slim Amamou calls “a new spirituality.” It’s an organized, yet leaderless, disorganization, a flash mob that fits the Web’s decentralized nature. Someon e posts an idea online, people decide if it’s “great,” “bad,” or “horrible” and respond. Amamou calls the system, “reverse control” or “the brush principle — where whoever takes a brush and starts painting picks the color of the paint.”

Operation Payback considered targeting company infrastructure, but instead chose corporate Web sites to attack the public images of companies without jeopardizing services to consumers.

Another distinction is the use of mass volunteerism rather than the criminal seizure of involuntary “zombie” computers, or botnets, without the permission or knowledge of their owners.

A self-identified Operation Payback organizer in Singapore said: “Many people may not see our actions as anything similar to Gandhi. But I believe it is somewhat related. We are both using civil disobedience” to convey a message to the government.

Several activists claimed Operation Payback protests highlight the duplicity of Western corporations that terminated services on political and not legal grounds.

The firms argue that by publishing leaked US diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks violated the companies’ terms of service prohibiting illegal behavior.

However, WikiLeaks has not been charged with a crime.

The only person facing charges related to the cables is US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

But his alleged theft of documents is distinct from the right of a free press to publish.

In the absence of any legal action, the arbitrary targeting of WikiLeaks, activists say, amounts to corporations serving as judge, jury and executioner on behalf of government interests.

But Anonymous is not simply demanding that government enforce existing laws.

Nor is theirs purely an act of civil disobedience designed, like Gandhi’s movement to gain independence for India, to highlight and overturn the immorality of existing laws.

Rather, many Anonymous participants shift the argument about censorship to target all corporate and state regulations, contradicting both law and the principles of civil disobedience, which do not oppose all law.

In doing so, they’ve left t hemselves open to the same criticism they lodge against the corporations they attack — that they do not respect due process. The movement raises a host of questions over speech in cyberspace.

As Anonymous gains influence, it must confront its unrepresentative techno-elite status.

Participants claim a transnational Internet identity, but this ideal is contradicted by its unequal global application.

The mobilization of unprecedented participation in Operation Payback throws into relief unequal treatment meted out to different countries.

One does not hear much about cyber-activism against vast and constant Internet censorship in China, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia or Singapore.

The organizer in Singapore explained, “The people that are participating in this, they want to free their Internet first before the Internets of others.” This commitment to regional allegiance mitigates the ideal of cyber-vigilante Internet action without borders.

Anonymous members acknowledge that they must toe a delicate line in the degree of righteousness they invoke or risk losing support from the segments of their Internet community comprised of pranksters motivated primarily by the “lulz,” Internet slang for laughs or entertainment at the expense of others.

While volunteers in this kind of crowd -sourced activism change constantly, past successes suggest a significant dose of lulz helps participation reach a tipping point.

Operation Leakspin, a recent offshoot from Operation Payback, hopes to lure participants from the DDoS attacks to citizen-journalism analysis of the leaked cables with the call-to-action, “We, Anonymous, the people, will take this work on our shoulders.”

This project, urging activists to expose and summarize cable details in online forums and newspaper comments, is reminiscent of WikiLeaks’s initial unsuccessful attempt to harness the public for document analysis, an effort it later abandoned to partner with traditional news organizations.

Operation Leakspin will be tested on its ability to hold the Internet crowd’s attention.

Hacktivists and the new software tools they use have ushered in an era of increasing awareness of the enormous power of the Web and its risks.

Beyond the immediate issue of computer security, governments and businesses would do wel l to note that it is young, bright, computer-savvy activists ­ — the world’s future leaders — who question the way business is done.

More than embarrassing a few government officials, the WikiLeaks saga raises profound questions about democracy, transparency and popular participation that need to be answered carefully for the sake of a stable and peaceful world.

Rebecca Wexler is a visiting fellow at the Yale University Law School Information Society Project. Copyright YaleGlobal, 2010 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

Danish police ordered to compensate climate protesters

jj December 19th, 2010

In an unprecedented ruling, a Danish judge has told police to pay activists tens of thousands of pounds.

Bibi van der Zee, Guardian.co.UK

Police forces push back activists during a protest in Copenhagen on 16 December 2009 on the 10th day of the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Police forces push back activists during a protest in Copenhagen on 16 December 2009 on the 10th day of the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Danish police have been ordered to pay tens of thousands of pounds compensation to hundreds of climate protesters, after a court ruling today. The unprecedented ruling coincides with the release of an audio recording from the policing of a protest outside the UN climate talks in Copenhagen last December, which allegedly shows Danish police ordering officers to beat activists and journalists.

A year to the day after the Reclaim Power protest outside the Bella Centre, where the talks were being held, a Danish judge called “illegal” the actions of police – who pre-emptively arrested nearly 2,000 people during the summit – and ordered them to pay £500-£1,000 to 200 protesters. They may have to compensate a further 800 , meaingthe final bill for the police could potentially run to £1m.

Reclaim Power

Reclaim Power

The lawyer Christian Dahlager, part of the team who brought 200 of the complaints to court, said: “The other people who formally complained may well have cases for compensation.”

This is the biggest verdict of its kind ever in Denmark, he believes. “In the past we have had cases like this of just a couple of people and the police are only ordered to pay a couple of hundred pounds. But this is a turning point for Denmark. We’ve been travelling down a certain road for a long time and now finally the courts have stepped in and said that the police have gone too far.”

The verdict has coincided with the release of a film through the national Danish broadcaster which contains a police radio transmission that appears to include orders to hit protestors and media. According to a translation posted on activist website Climate Collective, the officer speaking tells his men “I want to see that stick in use,” and adds: “There are media between the cars. They will get the same fucking treatment. Now’s the time to fight.”

The verdict and the film have electrified Denmark. The minister of jjustice, Lars Barfoed has issued a statement promising to look into the issue, and has been questioned about it by the political opposition, with Line Bafod of the Red-Greens saying: “It is completely unacceptable for a senior police officer to urge violence against journalists on the job. This does not belong in a democratic society.”

The president of the Danish Union of Journalists, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, said it is “appalling that an incident commander can give such orders. It becomes very dangerous for journalists to do their job.”

“It feels as if we’re finally beginning to get to the truth of what happened last year,” said Helen Medden, one of the two film-makers of a documentary called Climate Crime. “I started to make the film as a positive one about young Danish people campaigning about the climate, but halfway through it turned into something completely different, and became a film about police behaviour.”

The Guardian has been unable to reach the Danish police for comment on the trial, but the Copenhagen police director, Johan Reimann, said: “When the media chooses to mingle with demonstrators, we are not able to differentiate precisely … But when the media identifies itself with a press card, we of course respect that.” Asked if he thought the language used by his officer was too “bombastic”, he replied: “When you are out there on the edge, the language used is different than when you are just standing there and having a chat.”

The police are appealing against the ruling.

Anti-flogging protesters arrested in Sudan

jj December 15th, 2010

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Dec. 15 (UPI) — Sudanese authorities have charged 46 women and six men with civil disobedience for protesting the flogging of a young woman by police.

The group, organized by the “No to Women’s Oppression Coalition,” said it had permission from authorities to deliver a protest letter to the minister of justice, the Sudan Tribune reported Wednesday.

Instead of allowing them to proceed, police arrested all the demonstrators.

A BBC correspondent covering the protest was kicked to the floor by plain clothes security officers who seized his equipment.

The protest was organized after several Arab channels broadcast excerpts of a YouTube video showing blue-uniformed police officers taking turns whipping a young woman across her head, legs and feet.

Sudanese officials defended the whipping of women saying it is provided for in Islamic law.

However, they added the way this particular flogging was implemented is under investigation.

Easter Island land dispute clashes leave dozens injured

jj December 4th, 2010

From BBC

Local people said the police had fired on people at close range

At least 25 people have been injured during clashes between Chilean police and local people on Easter Island.

Witnesses say police fired pellets as they tried to evict several indigenous inhabitants from buildings they occupied earlier this year.

The Rapa Nui group say the buildings were illegally taken from their ancestors several generations ago.

Easter Island, which was annexed by Chile in 1888, is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Chilean security forces began their operation in the early hours of the morning, says reports.

When the group refused to leave and others gathered at the scene, they opened fire with pellet guns.

Officials said 17 police officers and eight civilians had been injured. But the Rapa Nui put the number of injured locals at 19, and denied that any police had been hurt.

“ The land on this island has always been Rapa Nui. That’s why we’re asking for our land to be returned”

Maka Atan Rapa Nui lawyer

A number of people were also arrested and at least one person was air-lifted to the mainland for medical treatment.

A statement on the Save Rapa Nui website said several people had been shot at close range. It said police had used rubber bullets and tear gas.

“They injured at least 23 of our brothers and sisters, three of them seriously,” Edi Tuki, a relative of one of those injured, told the Efe news agency.

“One was shot in the eye with a buckshot pellet from just a metre away.”
‘Shooting to kill’

Maka Atan, a Rapa Nui lawyer, told the Associated Press police had been “shooting to kill”. He said he was shot in the back by pellets.

“It seems like this is going to end with them killing the Rapa Nui,” he said.

Rapa Nui is the official name for the remote Easter Island, which lies more than 3,200 km (2,000 miles) off the west coast of Chile.

The tiny island has a population of about 4,000 but is best known for its ancient giant carved stone heads, known as Moais.

Map

Map

The indigenous Rapa Nui people have been protesting for the past three months about what say are plans to develop the island, as immigration and tourism increase.

They are demanding the return of ancestral land they say was unlawfully seized from their grandparents.

“The land on this island has always been Rapa Nui. That’s why we’re asking for our land to be returned,” Mr Maka told AP.

“Nobody has said this is a normal situation,” said Raul Celis. “There was an eviction, and buildings had been occupied illegally for several months.”

Mr Celis said the evictions would continue.

Media reports said police reinforcements were travelling to the island from the mainland.

“FUCK FSB”

jj November 27th, 2010

The Russian activist group Voina is famous for provoking the authorities with humorist actions and satire. They are regularly harassed by the secret police FSB (former KGB). In St Petersbourg they did a unique action by “showing the finger” to the FSB headquarter. And this was not just a small sign with their hands. They painted a dick at the bridge just opposite the police headquarter.

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina, activist Koza at action practice

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina, activist Koza at action practice

And when the bridge was elevated to let a ship pass the dick was erected.

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina, it rises

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina, it rises

It continues to rise

It continues to rise

And lovers can’t resist the photo op

And lovers can’t resist the photo op

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina can be seen across St Petersburg

Action “Dick Captured by the FSB!” by Voina can be seen across St Petersburg

Read the full text here.

Met Police take down protest advice blog

jj November 20th, 2010

By Tom Espiner, 16 November, 2010 in ZDNet UK

A website that offered advice to protesters has been shut down at the behest of the Metropolitan Police, prompting criticism from a legal human rights organisation.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Fitwatch website was taken offline on Monday by hosting company JustHost.com, after the firm received a letter from police.

Fitwatch administrator Emily Apple said in a Guardian blog post on Tuesday that the police had requested the website be taken offline as it was “attempting to pervert the course of justice”.

Apple said that a Fitwatch blog post had prompted the police action. The blog post offered advice to students involved in protests against tuition fee rises at Millbank Tower on Wednesday last week, which resulted in smashed windows, and a fire extinguisher being thrown from a roof. Millbank houses the Conservative Party headquarters.

The blog post, which was reprinted on a number of sites, recommended that students who were at the protests and were worried about being identified by police should consider changing their appearance.

“Perhaps now is a good time for a make-over,” said the blog post. “Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It isn’t a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent.”

The website was closed down after a letter was sent to JustHost.com by the Police Central eCrime Unit (PCeU), according to the Guardian. The letter was signed by Will Hodgeson, an acting member of CO11, the Metropolitan Police public order branch.

Detective superintendent Charlie McMurdie of PCeU told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that PCeU had liaised with CO11 about the protests, but declined to comment further.

Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, Head of PceU, Metropolitan Police

Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, Head of PceU, Metropolitan Police

“We were engaging with our public order department [about the protests],” said McMurdie.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said in a statement that the police had requested that JustHost.com take Fitwatch down.

“We were concerned this website was giving information about destroying evidence,” said the spokesman. “We drew this to the attention of the internet infrastructure providers and they suspended the site.”

Legal human rights group Justice told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the police action appeared to be disproportionate.

“I would have thought [the police] would need a court order,” said Justice human rights policy director Eric Metcalfe. “Police would have to show specific criminal activity to remove the website as a whole.”

Metcalfe said that the police have a general power to order the removal of content from the internet that encourages criminality, such as bomb-making instructions. However, advice given to protesters about civil disobedience does not normally fall into this category, said Metcalfe.

“If the website is saying, if you commit a crime, don’t get caught, that’s free speech,” said Metcalfe. “It isn’t unlawful to express an opinion.” Depending on interpretation, specific advice to destroy clothing in relation to a violent offence may be a different matter, Metcalfe said.

The legal expert said that Fitwatch’s aim appeared to be to frustrate police operations, and that this in itself was not unlawful.

“It’s not the business of the police to take down a website just because it frustrates their activities,” said Metcalfe. “The general charge of ‘perverting the course of justice’ is disproportionate. The effect is expedient for police — it gets rid of a website that makes the police’s job difficult.”

JustHost.com had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Hundreds rally in Moscow to protest attacks

jj November 17th, 2010

The Associated Press via Fort Mill Times

MOSCOW —

About 500 people came out on a rainy Sunday afternoon to protest the beatings of journalists and activists linked to a dispute over a forest just outside the Russian capital.

The protesters on the square in central Moscow held photographs of reporter Oleg Kashin and environmental activist Konstantin Fetisov, who were savagely beaten in separate attacks this month.

Fetisov was among those trying to save the Khimki forest from being cleared for highway construction, while Kashin reported on the controversy. Both remain hospitalized with head injuries. Kashin also had his jaw smashed, a leg broken and his fingers mangled.

Yevgeniya Chirikova, who heads up the Khimki campaign, told the crowd on Sunday: “With our action today we want to say: hands off civil activists, hands off journalists, hands off the people who honestly express their views.”

The bludgeoning of Kashin by two unknown men, which was caught on a security camera and shown on national television, has led to public outrage and demands that the attackers be found and punished.

At the same time, the success of the Khimki campaign in grabbing national attention has helped galvanize similar environmental protest movements around the country.

“Civil activism is on the rise,” prominent rights activist Lev Ponomaryov said at the protest rally. “Society is comprised of two groups of the population: 15 percent who are politically active and all the rest who are the morass, to use a figure of speech. These 15 percent are becoming more active, holding separate actions and, increasingly, joint actions.”

Several of Russia’s disparate opposition groups took part in Sunday’s rally, united in common cause by the attacks.

The movement to save the Khimki forest was first driven by Mikhail Beketov, the founder and editor of a local paper, who wrote about suspicions that officials were set to personally profit from the highway construction.

He was assaulted in 2008, beaten so badly that he was left with brain damage and unable to speak. As with most attacks on journalists and rights activists in Russia, the perpetrators have not been found.

The Kremlin has tried to show that this may be changing. President Dmitry Medvedev has demanded that Kashin’s attackers be tracked down, and prosecutors have reopened an investigation into the attack on Beketov.

Make the 24th November DAY X for the Coalition

jj November 16th, 2010

Student activists have called for further mass civil disobedience targeting the coalition Government, following last week’s occupation of the Conservative headquarters.

More than 50 arrests have been made since the recent violence

More than 50 arrests have been made since the recent violence

This statement was passed by the 400-strong “Take Back Education” teach-in at King’s College London on the 27th February 2010:

Education is under attack. Up to a third of university funding – £2.5bn – is to be cut, 30 universities could shut down and over 14,000 lecturers may lose their jobs. Big businesses exert more and more control over the university system. Cuts in student places and higher fees could exclude many people from higher education altogether.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Education workers are winning through strike action. Student protests are taking off across Europe, with universities occupied to stop neoliberal reforms – and to take control of campus for another kind of education. From this conference we resolve build on this resistance, and:

1. To support, build and encourage action against education cuts through demonstrations, student occupations and industrial action. To build solidarity with these struggles through inviting strikers, occupiers and others to speak at our college/union/campaign meetings; organising petitions, collections, and solidarity demonstrations and occupations.
2. To organise regional teach-ins on the Take Back Education model. To launch regional education action networks from these that can help develop local networks of resistance and spread the kind of action that can win.
3. To organise a national coordination from here to help coordinate and spread our resistance nationally. This coordination should produce and distribute without delay a national bulletin carrying reports and announcements from this teach-in and the developing local struggles. It will help to spread the resistance when people move into action.
4. To mobilise for and support the London wide demonstration called by London region UCU to defend education on March 20th and other initiatives such as the no cuts at Westminster demonstration on Monday 1st, the Leeds UCU demo Thursday 4th march, and No Cuts @ Kings protest on Sat 13th March.
5. To recognise the cuts in education as part of a broader attack on the public sector, and the need for solidarity across the sector. To support and mobilise for the national demonstration against public sector cuts on the 10th April.
6. To organise through our respective trade unions, students unions, local anti-cuts groups, campaigns and organisations support for a national demonstration to defend education in the autumn.

November 14, 2010
by educationactivistnetwork

The 10th November protest at Millbank has drawn comparisons with the poll tax riot of 31st March 1990. This was followed by a wave of demonstrations at town halls and councils and a civil disobedience campaign of non-payment. By November 1990 the tax had been abolished and Margaret Thatcher had resigned.

We need to ramp up action against the Con-Dem Coalition in the same way now. Let’s turn Wednesday 24th November into DAY X for the Coaliton!

TARGET LIB DEMS AFTER NEW BETRAYAL

After revelations in the Guardian newspaper showing that the Liberal Democrats planned all along to renege on their promises about tuition fees, we want a day of mass walkouts to converge on a demonstration outside the Lib Dem HQ at 2pm.

STUDENTS AND WORKERS UNITE

This will be followed by an early evening demonstration on Downing Street bringing together students with trade unionists, the unemployed and everyone under attack by the Con-Dems.

Indian completes 10 years on hunger strike, vows to continue

jj November 6th, 2010

GUWAHATI, India — A human rights activist in northeast India who is dubbed the “Iron Lady of Manipur” has completed 10 years on hunger strike and vowed to continue her protest, her supporters said Wednesday.

Irom Chanu Sharmila (C) is escorted by female police officers prior to a court appearance

Irom Chanu Sharmila (C) is escorted by female police officers prior to a court appearance

Irom Chanu Sharmila, from the remote state of Manipur, which borders Myanmar, began her fast on November 2, 2000 after witnessing the killing of 10 people by the army at a bus stop near her home.

Now 38, she was arrested shortly after beginning her protest — on charges of attempted suicide — and was sent to a prison hospital where she began a daily routine of being force-fed vitamins and nutrients via a nasal drip.

Sharmila is frequently set free by local courts, but once outside she resumes her hunger strike and is rearrested.

She is campaigning for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that enables security forces to shoot on sight and arrest anybody without a warrant in impoverished and heavily militarised Manipur.

“She decided to continue with her fast-unto-death mission until the draconian legislation is repealed by the government,” Babloo Loitongbam from local human rights group Human Rights Alert told AFP.

“She made her intentions pretty clear as she completed 10 years of hunger strike,” Babloo said after visiting Sharmila on the 10th anniversary of the start of the fast on Tuesday.

“Militancy is still thriving. In other words, the Special Powers Act has miserably failed.”

AFSPA was passed in 1990 to grant security forces special powers and immunity from prosecution to deal with raging insurgencies in the northeast of India and in Kashmir in the northwest.

The act is a target for local human rights groups and international campaigners such as Amnesty International, which says the law has been an excuse for extrajudicial killings.

Amnesty has campaigned vociferously against the legislation, which it sees as a stain on India’s democratic credentials and a violation of international human rights law.

Several rights groups held sit-in demonstrations in Imphal, the capital of Manipur, to express their solidarity with Sharmila on Tuesday.

“She is Manipur?s crusader for peace and rights violations by security forces,” said Anita Devi, a women’s rights activist.

She is currently being held in an isolated cabin at the Jawarharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal.

Manipur is home to 2.4 million people and about 19 separatist groups which have demands ranging from autonomy to independence. An estimated 10,000 people have been killed during the past two decades of violence.

AFSPA is also deeply unpopular in Kashmir, where senior politicians have campaigned for it to be withdrawn.

It was seen as one of the factors that fuelled mass street protests in the Muslim-majority region over the summer in which more than 100 people died, most of them in shootings by security forces.

Hunger strikes were used effectively by India’s independence movement during the British rule, particularly by Mahatma Gandhi, whose use of the technique was an integral part of his non-violent resistance.

That’s What She Said: Masochistically Pacifist

jj November 4th, 2010

From Valley Star

Civil disobedience. The active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, or demands of a government, has played a vital role in all movements for justice, usually taking the form of nonviolent resistance.

The Valley Star has been following the disciplinary action of Valley College student Samuel Lara since last May when he was removed from an ASU meeting after his refusal to move from behind the ASU president and cease his peaceful protest against Arizona’s controversial SB1070 on immigration.

Lara and the cause he supports, Alto Arizona, are exactly the type of nonviolent resistance that historically have succeeded in encouraging change on a monumental level.

Last week, Lara’s displays of civil disobedience again made front-page news. This time, he was met with violence. Student witnesses remarked that Lara was slammed against the hood of a police car and that his arm was twisted almost to the point of breaking.

In response to the incident Deputy Ricky Baker said that Lara, “addressed them with racial slurs” and failed “to comply with the officers questions.”

Henry David Thoreau said, “[i]t is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.”

In 1849, Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience argued that people should not permit governments to overrule or weaken their consciences and that we have a duty to avoid allowing the government to make us agents of injustice.

Perhaps Lara was disrespectful to campus police, but they had absolutely no reason to inflict violence on a non-violent individual.

Dating back to 1819, in his poem, “The Masque of Anarchy,” Percy Shelley commented on the psychological consequences of violence met with pacifism. Shelley said the guilty will return shamefully to society.

Deputy Baker also suggested that, “Mr. Lara’s intent here was to bait both the Valley Star staff and the security staff into a public display, which he may gain empowerment and recognition for.”

Deputy Baker, I wholeheartedly agree with you there. The difference between us is that you seem hell-bent on silencing and punishing Mr. Lara for standing up and making himself heard on an issue he believes in, and I fully support Lara and his right to demonstrate nonviolent civil disobedience.

Perhaps you should be more supportive, Deputy Baker. If it weren’t for Rosa Parks and her displays of civil disobedience, you might be still be segregated to patrolling the colored section of campus, if at all.

The student body should be thanking Lara for reminding us that the only way to incite change is to stand up for what we believe in. As Edmund Burke said, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Mr. Lara, there is an old biblical verse that says, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”

Police Block March to the Vatican by Abuse Victims

jj November 3rd, 2010

From NYT/AP

ROME — Italian paramilitary police blocked a boulevard Sunday to prevent a march by victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clerics from reaching St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office and the head of Vatican Radio

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office and the head of Vatican Radio

When the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, came to speak with organizers Sunday evening, a protester shouted “Shame, shame” in Italian. Father Lombardi later said by telephone that he had come to greet the organizers but when he saw “it wasn’t going to be easy” he left, escorted by the police.

He said that if organizers wanted to see him he would “gladly” receive them inside his office. Shortly after that, one of the organizers, Gary Bergeron, did meet briefly with him, and the two agreed to have another meeting later.

The Vatican routinely prohibits activities it does not sponsor from using St. Peter’s Square.

The event, which aimed to show victims worldwide that they are not alone, was organized by Mr. Bergeron and Bernie McDaid, who are both from Boston and who as children were both abused by the same priest several years apart. Mr. Bergeron said he told Father Lombardi that the abuse survivors have been “waiting a lifetime to be able to stand up and speak out.”

Participants, who reported having been raped or otherwise molested by Catholic clerics as children, flocked to Rome for the candlelit march. They came from a dozen countries and held signs with slogans including “Hands off children.”

Wearing T-shirts that read “Enough!” in English, Italian and German, the organizers demanded that the United Nations recognize the systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity.

At a briefing before the march, participants stood up one by one to tell how their lives had been destroyed by the abuse they suffered as children. Many recounted years of drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and other psychological and emotional problems.

“For 50 years I thought I was the only person in the entire world that had been abused by a Catholic priest,” said Sue Cox, 63, from Warwickshire, England.

She then clarified. “Raped by a Catholic priest, not abused, because what he did was rape me, and rape is different,” she said. “It’s taken 50 years for me to find my voice. But now I’ve found it, I want to continue to speak on behalf of people who maybe aren’t able to speak or have not yet been able to face the fear and the guilt and shame that survivors feel.”

About 50 former students of a Catholic institute for the deaf in Verona, Italy, also joined the protest.

Two Vatican officials met privately with Mr. Bergeron and Mr. McDaid in Rome in 2003, and five years later Mr. McDaid became the first victim of abuse to meet with Pope Benedict XVI during the pope’s trip to the United States.

Eight years after the U.S. scandal erupted in Boston, however, Mr. McDaid and Mr. Bergeron say the Vatican has not taken sufficient responsibility, has not reached out to victims or put in place universal prevention programs to ensure children are protected.

They formed the group Survivor’s Voice as a way to bring together victims from around the world — a campaign that kicked into gear this year after the abuse scandal exploded anew on a global scale with revelations of thousands of victims in Europe and beyond, of bishops who covered up for pedophile priests and of Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the crimes.

Ms. Cox said she was raped in her bedroom when she was 13 by a priest who had been filling in for her parish priest and had been staying at her parents’ home. Her mother discovered what had happened immediately but did nothing, and told Ms. Cox to pray for the priest.

“I felt sacrificial,” she said. “I wanted to die.”

By 15 she was an alcoholic, by 17 she had entered into a violent marriage. By 30 she was recovering from alcoholism, and now at 63 is in what she calls the final stage of her recovery — “the hardest bit” — speaking out about abuse.

Palestinians Sentenced for Civil Disobedience

jj October 24th, 2010

By ROBERT MACKEY in NYT

This month, as a new documentary about a successful campaign of nonviolent, civil disobedience by Palestinian villagers in the West Bank screens in New York and Los Angeles, Israeli military courts have handed out jail terms to two men who led similar protests against the path of Israel’s security barrier near their village.

The documentary now being shown, “Budrus,” is named for the village that succeeded in forcing a change to the path of the security barrier, which would have cut Palestinian olive farmers off from their trees. In July, my colleague Nicholas D. Kristof, an Opinion columnist, wrote that the film is, “a riveting window into what might be possible if Palestinians adopted civil disobedience on a huge scale.”

In the same column, Mr. Kristof described attending a protest at another West Bank village, Bilin, the home of the organizers recently sentenced in Israeli military courts. He wrote:

Most of the marchers were Palestinians, but some were also Israeli Jews and foreigners who support the Palestinian cause. They chanted slogans and waved placards as photographers snapped photos. At first the mood was festive and peaceful, and you could glimpse the potential of this approach.

But then a group of Palestinian youths began to throw rocks at Israeli troops. That’s the biggest challenge: many Palestinians define “nonviolence” to include stone-throwing.

Soon after, the Israeli forces fired volleys of tear gas at us, and then charged. The protesters fled, some throwing rocks backward as they ran. It’s a far cry from the heroism of Gandhi’s followers, who refused even to raise their arms to ward off blows as they were clubbed.

The arrests and military trials of two of the Bilin organizers drew criticism from human rights groups, Britain, the European Union and Desmond Tutu.

Abdullah Abu Rahma, a teacher in the village, was arrested last December. Last week, he was sentenced to one year in prison by an Israeli military court that found him guilty of “organizing and participating in an illegal demonstration” and “incitement.”

He was cleared of another charge of weapons possession after the prosecution failed to convince the court that collecting Israeli tear-gas shells and bullets fired at the demonstrators to prove that force had been used against them constituted a crime.

On Thursday, a military court extended the sentence of another Bilin organizer, Adeeb Abu Rahma, a taxi driver whose cousin had been killed at a protest by a direct hit from a tear-gas shell, one caught on a graphic video.

As my colleague Ethan Bronner reported last year, the campaign, with its weekly marches against the construction of the Israeli barrier near Bilin, has been going on since 2005, making it “one of the longest-running and best organized protest operations in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it has turned this once anonymous farming village into a symbol of Palestinian civil disobedience, a model that many supporters of the Palestinian cause would like to see spread and prosper.” Mr. Bronner also noted:

Like every element of the conflict here, there is no agreement over the nature of what goes on here every Friday. Palestinians hail the protest as nonviolent. … But the Israelis complain that, along with protests at the nearby village of Nilin, things are more violent here than the Palestinians and their supporters acknowledge.

While the historian and blogger Joseph Dana is among those who support the Palestinian protests known as the “popular struggle” against the construction of Israel’s barrier on Palestinian land — he has compared the jailed Bilin protest organizers to Gandhi — Arutz Sheva, a news organization that represents the view of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, wrote last week:

The riots at Bilin — and nearby Nilin — are billed by the left as non-violent but are, in fact, extremely violent. Since they began in 2005, the weekly riots have caused the death of a Border Guard policeman who lost his step and fell to his death while trying to catch rock-throwers, as well as causing an IDF soldier to lose his eye and another Border Guard policemen to suffer a serious eye injury.

While the situation seems black and white to some settlers, other Israelis have suggested that Israel’s military has taken to imprisoning the protest organizers not because it sees stone-throwing as a grave crime, but because it perceives them as a serious threat. Last year, Amira Hass, a columnist for Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper wrote:

The purpose of the coordinated oppression: To wear down the activists and deter others from joining the popular struggle, which has proven its efficacy in other countries at other times. What is dangerous about a popular struggle is that it is impossible to label it as terror and then use that as an excuse to strengthen the regime of privileges, as Israel has done for the past 20 years.

The popular struggle, even if it is limited, shows that the Palestinian public is learning from its past mistakes and from the use of arms, and is offering alternatives.

After Adeeb Abu Rahma’s jail term was extended, his lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said on Thursday: “Today the court of appeals has shown that it is serving as one more instance of political repression not as an actual court where justice is served. The court admitted what we all knew –- that the entire system is trying to make an example of Adeeb in order to silence the entire Popular Struggle movement against Israel’s occupation.

While the activists remain in jail, their struggle to prevent the barrier from separating Bilin villagers from their farmland — which was supported by a ruling in their favor by Israel’s High Court three years ago that was not implemented — appears to be nearing an end. On Thursday, The Jerusalem Post reported: “The IDF plans to complete the construction of a new security barrier near the West Bank Palestinian town of Bilin in the coming weeks. Bilin has been the scene of weekly anti-fence demonstrations in recent years.”

The new barrier will comprise a tall concrete wall, and security cameras will be placed near the haredi settlement of Kiryat Sefer. About [160 acres] of agricultural land will be given back to Bilin. Nonetheless, according to attorneys representing the village, roughly [320 acres] of private farmland will remain on the Israeli side….

“A concrete wall means better protection, and at the same time, means we do not have to repair the barrier like we’ve had to do almost weekly following the demonstrations at Bilin — because currently, it is just a fence,” said a senior officer on Wednesday.

Revolt of China’s twittering classes

jj October 20th, 2010

BEIJING

Source: Korea Times

Liu Xiaobo was recently awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. That award comes at a crucial moment in Chinese politics, as it may well become a stepping stone on China’s long march toward greater freedom.

Yet few voices in mainland Chinese media are discussing Liu’s Nobel Prize. The government’s propaganda department has ordered major media to keep the news from spreading to the public by imposing strict censorship. In fact, on CCTV’s widely viewed 7 p.m. national newscast, not a word on Liu was mentioned on the day (Oct. 8th) he received the prize.

Despite this news blackout, China’s blogosphere and microblogs exploded after Liu was announced as the winner. For example, on Sina’s microblog site, bloggers used pictures, euphemisms, and English or traditional Chinese characters to avoid censorship.

Twitter-style microblogging is extremely popular in China. Twitter.com was officially blocked last year, following the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown and the riots in Xinjiang that summer.

Soon afterwards, its most famous Chinese clone, Fanfou.com, also was closed down, leaving one million registered users homeless. Nevertheless, although Twitter can be accessed in China only via proxy servers, it still plays a vital role in Chinese Internet life because of its ability to connect different news sources and social activists.

Indeed, Twitter is the only place where people can talk freely about Liu’s Nobel prize. A search of the hash tag “#Liuxiaobo” shows that relevant messages pop up hundreds of times per minute.

More generally, Twitter has become a powerful tool for Chinese citizens as they increasingly play a role in reporting local news in their communities. But the social revolution brought by microblogging might be even more important than the communication revolution.

Indeed, here Chinese Twitter users lead the world, using it for everything from social resistance, civic investigation, and monitoring public opinion, to creating black satire, “organizing without organizations” in the Guangdong anti-incineration movement, and mailing postcards to prisoners of conscience.

Ever since Iranians used Twitter to swap information and inform the outside world about the mushrooming protests against the stolen presidential election of June 2009, there has been much discussion about the role of digital activism in authoritarian countries like China. Does Web 2.0 technology imply an analogous role for “Twivolution” in a Chinese democratic transition one day?

Twitter political activism in China challenges the simplistic yet widespread assumption that social media in the hands of activists can lead swiftly to mass mobilization and social change. Instead, these information-sharing tools and channels promote more subtle social progress.

That subtlety reflects the distinction between macro-politics and micro-politics. Macro-politics is structural, whereas micro-politics is daily. Changes in the micro-political system do not necessarily lead to an adjustment in the macro structure, particularly in hyper-controlled political systems like China’s.

But if small units are well organized, they can greatly improve the well-being of society as a whole, bit by bit, by working at the micro level. “Micro-information” and “micro-exchange” can push forward real change.

Why is micro-power so important? In the past, only a few highly motivated people engaged in political activism; the masses took almost no initiative. Passionate people did not understand why the public seemed unconcerned about their efforts. Today, highly motivated people can lower the threshold for action so that people with less passion join their efforts.

Currently, the Chinese Twittersphere has three prominent features: First, as China’s rulers strengthen their censorship efforts, Twitter has become highly politicized.

Moreover, Twitters brings opinion leaders together around one virtual table, attracting a lot of “new public intellectuals” and “rights advocates,” as well as veterans of civil rights movements and exiled dissidents. Its influence on Chinese cyberspace and traditional media is the result of this grouping.

Finally, Twitter can be used as a mobilizing tool in China. Recent years have seen an explosion of activities indicating that Twitter has become the coordinating platform for many campaigns asserting citizens’ rights. With the proliferation of Twitter clones in China (all the major portals now offer microblog services), social movements in China are getting a long-term boost.

So Twitter has become a major tool to promote contentious politics in China. It can effectively link discourse and action, generate widespread campaigns, and forge common ground among rights activists, public intellectuals, and all kinds of Twitter users.

In fact, a series of protests and events held since the second half of 2009 suggests a close relationship between Twitter and contentious real-life politics, and thus invites new possibilities for reshaping China’s authoritarian regime.

Hu Yong is professor of Internet studies at Peking University. For more stories and information, visit Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).

French resistance grows to the spirit of ‘68

jj October 17th, 2010

From Telegraph.co.uk

As rolling strikes threaten to cripple France, rising numbers question the militant legacy of the Soixante Huitards, reports Kim Willsher in Paris

 French Solidaires labour union workers hold a banner that reads 'General Strike'  Photo: REUTERS

French Solidaires labour union workers hold a banner that reads 'General Strike' Photo: REUTERS

As a million of his fellow countrymen took to the streets yesterday to vent their anger at President Nicolas Sarkozy, Olivier Vial committed an act that was all but revolutionary by French standards. He stayed at home.

Rather than grabbing a banner and lending his voice to the nationwide outrage against plans to curb the right to retire as early as 52, Mr Vial’s attitude was one of calm – if somewhat un-Gallic – acceptance. If he and the rest of France’s younger generation wanted to have any kind of pension at all, he argued, they had to learn to work both harder and longer.

“People must realise strikes hit them in their wallets and they are the victims,” said the 35-year-old university researcher, as protests rocked Paris and dozens of other French cities, and union-led strikes at oil and fuel installations threatened to paralyse its airports. “It’s a sad indictment of our country, but it is not all French people who think this way.”

Until recently, such a stance has been unthinkable in France, where ever since the student-led protests of May 1968, the practice of demonstrating against unpopular government decisions has been regarded as a youthful rite of passage, indeed a duty.

But now, more than 40 years after the “Soixante Huitards” ushered in a dawn of freedom, modernity and Gallic swagger, they are being seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution, accused of bequeathing an unproductive political culture of militancy and industrial unrest. Hence Mr Vials’ decision to found a movement that few might ever expect to find in modern France – Stop La Grève (Stop The Strike).

“Only in France would 15-year-old schoolchildren go on strike,” said Mr Vial, who was appalled at the move last week by trade unions to urge schoolchildren as well as students to join their current series of nationwide stoppages. “We love our country but people have to be responsible, and realise we cannot go on like this.

“The 68-ers, with their nostalgia of the barricades, need to grow up. Everyone in France needs to be more mature and realise the problems the country faces.”

As of last night, Mr Vial again appeared to be in a minority, as crowds of protesters engaged in sporadic clashes with riot police.

Public and private sector employees and students began marching in dozens of cities, with the biggest crowd assembling in Paris. The mood was upbeat, with disco music blaring and horns honking.

The French interior ministry put the attendance at yesterday’s protests at around 1.25 million, although trade unionists said they were hoping for a similar turnout to their last major weekend rally on Oct 2, which they said drew nearly three million people nationwide.

“We have several million people in the street who support us and believe in us,” said Francois Chereque, the CFDT union leader, at the main protest in Paris. “The only one blocking the country is the government.”

The demonstrations, along with a rolling programme of strikes that have been going on since September, are part of a long-running and as yet unresolved stand-off between the government and France’s trade unions, which still wield huge power relative to their counterparts in Britain.

In what is seen as a key test of nerve for Mr Sarkozy’s centre-Right administration, the labour movements are attempting to force the government into backing down on what it says is much-needed pension reform. Just like David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, Mr Sarkozy insists that the retirement age needs to be raised if France is to clamber out of the €32? billion pension deficit brought about by the global economic crisis. However, even his most basic proposal – a raising of the general minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 – has brought widespread howls of protest.

“We’re prepared to demonstrate under the snow if it takes that long,” said Stephane Thibault, 37, an airport worker, in a demonstration in the southern city of Toulouse yesterday. “We’re mobilised, everyone seems motivated. With Right-wing governments, we know you have to resist.”

As he spoke, lack of fuel forced the shutdown of a pipeline to Paris’s two main airports. The main Paris hub, Roissy Charles de Gaulle, has enough aviation fuel to last until Monday evening or Tuesday, transport ministry officials said. But with 230 French service stations out of 13,000 already dry of fuel, there were queues at petrol stations before dawn, with diesel in particularly short supply.

Railway operator SNCF said that only two out of three high-speed TGV trains were running in and out of Paris, and only one TGV in four outside the capital.

Christine Lagarde, the French economy minister, urged people not to panic over fuel. The government has said it has ample stocks that can keep the nation running for at least a month. “We have reserves,” she said in an interview on French radio. “People mustn’t panic.”

Mr Sarkozy has vowed not to back down on pension reform, which is the pivotal measure of his first term of office and which is aimed at reducing France’s onerous public deficit.

Recent polls of 18-24 year olds in France, though, reveal massive support for the strikes; Viavoice claimed its survey showed 71 per cent of the age group was in favour of the protests, while an Ifop survey found 84 per cent support.

Mr Vial, however, believes young protesters are being manipulated. He says the aim of Stop La Grève is to “defend the liberty of everyone to work”, and claims support for his stance – measured by activity on the organisation’s website – has doubled since the strikes began in September.

“I have the impression there is a change of attitude and a growing return to reality,” he said. In a section of the website titled “Fed up with Selfish Public Servants”, visitors also accuse the unions of trying defend extremely cushy working conditions.

One writes that staff working for EDF and GDF – the French electricity and gas suppliers – have an average retirement age of 55.4 years; and those on the SNCF train network 52.5 years. “How shameful! And they are striking.”

Mr Vial added: “Of course the French don’t want to work for longer, but it has to be done. These 68-ers are leaving us debts and deficits and bills to be paid. There is a real difficulty financing pensions and we are the first generation who will not only have to finance our parents’ retirement but also our grandparents’.”

Ever since 1968, when France was brought to a standstill by students protesting at the “conservative nature” of French society, French governments have tended to back down when youngsters have taken to the streets.

As such, the reappearance of school blockades and marching pupils has the capability to strike fear into Mr Sarkozy’s government, which had given the impression the pension reforms were a done deal.

“Since 1968 politicians have taken to watching the mobilisation of youngsters like one watches boiling milk,” said Frédéric Dabi, a political analyst with the opinion pollsters Ifop.

“There have been numerous bouts of industrial action in the past where the involvement of youngsters has made a difference.”

The president has had a rough few months that have seen his popularity plummet to an unprecedented low over three issues: the expulsion of Roma migrants, sleaze allegations and the pension reforms. His public standing first took a hit before the summer when allegations that his 2007 presidential campaign was boosted by illegal donations from France’s richest woman, L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

One of his key ministers, Eric Woerth, the employment minister, who is spearheading the pension reforms was also accused of turning a blind eye to alleged tax evasion by Madame Bettencourt.

Since August, he has also been under pressure at home and abroad after sending gendarmes and police into Roma camps and expelling the inhabitants. Various opinion polls show a majority of the French population – up to 70 per cent – support the strikes, boosting the unions who this week called for open-ended rolling strikes in certain sectors. Another national strike will be held on Tuesday. However, other polls show an equally large majority accept that pension reform is inevitable.

The government hopes the reform will have final parliamentary approval by the end of the month.

As Mr Woerth told French senators: “It’s difficult to tell the French they have to work more, up to 67 years, but it has to be done.”

Additional reporting by Harriet Alexander, Peter Allen and Colin Freeman

Following protest, EPA board upholds finding that mountaintop removal threatens environmental health

jj October 4th, 2010

From: http://www.southernstudies.org/
More than 100 people were arrested at the White House last week during a protest against mountaintop removal. The nonviolent civil disobedience was part of Appalachia Rising, a nationwide gathering of citizens organizing to end to the destructive form of coal mining that’s ravaging mining communities throughout the region.

(Photo of Appalachia Rising's day of action by Rana X. via Flickr.)

(Photo of Appalachia Rising's day of action by Rana X. via Flickr.)

“The science is clear, mountaintop removal destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust,” said NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who was among those arrested. “Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end.”

The day after the protest, which also included a sit-in at leading mountaintop removal financier PNC Bank, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s independent Science Advisory Board issued a draft review of EPA’s research into the water quality impacts of valley fills, where the mining waste blasted off the tops of mountains is dumped into streams below. The board said it agrees with EPA’s conclusion that valley fills are associated with increased levels of electrical conductivity — a measure of water pollution — that threaten life in surface waters. The EPA announced the SAB review last Thursday.

“This independent review affirms that EPA is relying on sound analysis and letting science and only science guide our actions to protect human health and the environment,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Pete Silva. “We will continue to follow the science and solicit input from all stakeholders as we safeguard water quality and protect the American people.”

The SAB reviewed EPA’s draft report titled “A Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams,” which sets standards for conductivity. The benchmark aims to protect 95 percent of aquatic species in streams in the Appalachian region impacted by mountaintop removal and valley fills.

The board called on EPA to strengthen its study by better estimating the area affected by Appalachian surface mining. It also called for a detailed accounting of the habitats affected and the anticipated loss of biodiversity.

Based on its draft report, EPA released guidelines for mining permits back in April designed to minimize irreversible water quality damage caused by mountaintop removal. The guidelines would limit conductivity to between 300 and 500 microSiemens per centimeter — about five times normal levels. Appalachian streams impacted by valley fills typically have conductivity upwards of 900 microSiemens per centimeter.

In other news in the fight against mountaintop removal, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-Tenn.) is petitioning to limit coal mining on more than 500 square miles of the North Cumberland Plateau. Filed with the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining, the petition calls on the agency to initiate a study and public discussion on the suitability of those areas for surface mining.

Bredesen’s request represents the first time a state government has petitioned OSM to set aside ridgelines, thus protecting them from mountaintop removal.

“These lands are managed by the state of Tennessee for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreational activities,” said Bredesen. “This petition asks the federal government to help us prevent mining on these ridgelines to protect their important cultural, recreational and scientific resources.”

Children’s Circus Tear Gassed in Al Ma’asara

jj October 2nd, 2010

From Palestine Solidarity Project

A children’s circus was tear gassed in Al Ma’asara today following the weekly demonstration against the annexation barrier. Like every week, protesters gathered in the center of the village after midday prayer. A crowd of about twenty demonstrators marched to the edge of the village carrying banners, waving flags and chanting against the occupation and the settlements. This week’s demonstration commemorated the anniversary of the second intifada, a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation which began in October of 2000. The demonstration also marked the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian activist famous for leading his people in a nonviolent revolution against the British occupation of India.

Soldiers fired tear gas and sound grenades on the demonstrators, who gave speeches against the occupation and in support of nonviolent resistance. While the demonstrators were barred from reaching the road, a settler from the illegal Efrat settlement was allow to drive past the soldiers into the village. The settler parked at near the demonstrators and began telling the village residents that they were on his land, despite having previously admitted that he was from San Francisco, California. While the settler was talking a demonstrator covertly tied a Palestinian flag to the back of a military jeep. The soldiers eventually drove away with the flag still flying from their jeep.

After the demonstration finished, the crowd gathered around two clowns, who had come to perform for the children of the village. Half way through their act the soldiers returned and barraged the crowd with tear gas and sound grenades. Both clowns and many children suffered tear gas inhalation as they were chased back to the village. Soldiers proceeded to fired tear gas into the residential area of the village, and many village residents suffered tear gas inhalation.

“I know haven’t rehearsed in a while, but that seems like a bit of an overreaction,” one of the clowns commented.

Turkey: Is a Kurdish School Boycott a Sign of the Future?

jj September 29th, 2010

From EurasiaNet.org
September 24, 2010 – 2:07pm, by Nicholas Birch

Have Turkey’s Kurds discovered the power of Gandhi and Rosa Parks?

It certainly looked that way in mid-September as thousands of school children across Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast stayed away from school to protest the lack of Kurdish-language education in Turkish state schools.

Acts of mass civil disobedience have been largely absent from the 26-year war that the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has waged against the Turkish state.

Today, observers believe it could become a key Kurdish nationalist tactic, as the PKK faces off against a Turkish government trying to revive efforts to end the war, and struggles to retain the support of its Kurdish support base whose loyalty risks being worn away by a growing economic prosperity and steady, if slow-paced improvements in civil liberties.

Timed to coincide with the start of the new school year, the five-day long boycott was called by a Kurdish NGO that has no known links to the PKK. But it was the backing of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) — a Kurdish party that shares the PKK’s support base — that ensured that thousands of children stayed away.

The BDP has developed quite a taste for boycotts recently. On September 12, in a face-off against the government, it called on Kurds to boycott a constitutional referendum, and got what it wanted: roughly half of voters in the southeast stayed at home, with absenteeism in some areas higher than 90 percent. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].

Analysts said the referendum results, which provided fresh proof of the BDP’s regional clout, acted as a catalyst for fresh talks between the government and the BDP. The renewed dialogue began September 23 after a long break. During the meeting, BDP representatives called for an end of military operations in Kurdish areas. Turkish leaders, meanwhile, reiterated their opposition to Kurdish-language education. A second meeting could take place before the end of September.

The idea of using civil disobedience as a tactic appears to have crystallized at a Kurdish nationalist congress held last June.

Working under banners proclaiming “autonomy for Kurdistan, democracy for Turkey,” a slogan borrowed from the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, delegates agreed that calling on the Turkish government to improve Kurdish rights was not enough: “We also [need to] take de facto steps to govern ourselves”, a communiqué read.

If pro-PKK Kurds had not had satellite television channels running out of Europe since the mid-1990s, Turkey would never have opened its state-run Kurdish channel in 2009, argued Mahmut Alinak, a prominent Kurdish politician who is a long-time supporter of civil disobedience. “You need to oblige the state to make moves. If you don’t send children to school, then the school loses its value. You paralyze state institutions,” he said.

In some parts of southeastern Turkey, according to some analysts, that is exactly what is happening.

In Yuksekova, a nationalist stronghold, many locals say they turn to the PKK, not the police and courts, to solve problems. The state seems to have turned in on itself too: rather than stepping out onto the high street, local police now use a new supermarket opened inside headquarters. Pro-PKK graffiti covers the old army recruiting office, abandoned for new, safer premises out of town.

“The basic attitude is ‘you ignore us, we ignore you’”, said Hakan Tahmaz, an ethnic Turk who has written widely on the Kurdish issue. “Boycotts do not polarize the country in the same way as PKK attacks on Turkish soldiers do, but the philosophy behind them is in some ways more radical: creating de facto autonomy.”

The schools in Hakkari province, which includes Yuksekova, were almost completely empty this week, less than a fortnight after only 9 percent of locals voted in the constitutional referendum.

But some analysts contend that Hakkari, and the neighboring province of Sirnak, are exceptions rather than the rule. They also portray the boycott as a sign that the PKK’s power over its support base may be fading, rather than growing.

“Here in Diyarbakir, and the surrounding region, the [school] boycott had little effect”, said Serdar Yilmaz, head of an Islamist NGO in the southeast’s largest city. “The PKK is being pushed back into the mountain areas” next to Turkey’s border with Iraq.

For Yilmaz, the PKK’s implicit support for acts of civil disobedience, such as the boycott, are part of its efforts to adapt itself to changing conditions. “Everything points to the PKK, sooner or later, dropping its guns,” Yilmaz said. “America wants it to, Turkey’s neighbors want it to, Turkey – at last – is taking steps to persuade it to, it wants to itself. But disarming creates a dilemma. For years, guns and war, the struggle, martyrdom, have been the PKK’s means of mobilization. Now, if it is to stay alive, it needs to find more ‘civil’ ways of mobilizing support.”

The school boycott was the not the only example of civil disobedience in Kurdish areas this month. On September 21, 20 men charged with links to the PKK refused to speak Turkish in a Diyarbakir court. Pro-Kurdish news agencies, meanwhile, were reporting on plans to organize boycotts of military service, compulsory in Turkey for men over 18.

It is too early to say whether Kurdish nationalists’ new-found taste for civil disobedience will persuade the Turkish government to speed up snail-paced reforms. On 15 September, Education Minister Nimet Cubukcu described the mass truancy as a “misuse of parenting rights tantamount to exploitation” and threatened parents whose children didn’t turn up for school with prosecution.

As to whether boycotts and civil action can provide a foundation for a new, civilianized PKK, most analysts remain skeptical. They point to the growth of a new middle-class in cities like Diyarbakir opposed to the group. The PKK’s authoritarian-like mistrust of anything that smacks of independent thought, they add, makes it ill-adapted to civilian life.

Serdar Yilmaz warned against the assumption that a Kurdish nationalism stripped of its guns might be more amenable to deal-making. “Kurdish national feeling is profoundly anchored in the minds and hearts of people in this region,” he said. “If Ankara thinks that ending the war and a pushing through a couple more cosmetic reforms is going to be enough, it is in for a shock.”

Protect Democracy from FBI Raids on Activist Homes

jj September 28th, 2010

From Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The FBI raided homes and confiscated papers, computers, phones and CDs of peace and rights activists in Minnesota and Chicago in the early morning of Friday, September 24, in what agents said was part of a counterterrorism investigation. The Fellowship of Reconciliation urges our members and other concerned citizens to contact Attorney General Eric Holder at 202-353-1555 to call for an end to actions targeting legitimate dissent, and to participate in protests of these actions in your area.

Students for a Democratic Society protest at FBI office

FOR Executive Director Mark Johnson was in Chicago this weekend, and participated in a Monday protest at the FBI headquarters there. “It has also actively alerted us all that our efforts to seek peace and justice through nonviolent means is being scrutinized by the government with what can only been seen as an effort to intimidate and chill speech and criticism,” said Johnson in a report published today on FOR’s web site.

The raids come in the context of the Supreme Court decision in June on the Humanitarian Law Project, which broadly interprets assistance to terrorism to include nonviolent engagement with armed groups, such as conflict resolution training and legal advice. The federal law upheld by the court decision and cited in the search warrants prohibits, “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” The Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the material support law from humanitarian aid groups. Under the law, individuals can face up to 15 years in prison for providing “material support” to groups designated by the US government as terrorists, even if their work is intended to promote peaceful, lawful objectives. “Material support” is defined to include any “service,” “training,” “expert advice or assistance” or “personnel.”

“Humanitarian and peace organizations say their direct interaction with violent or terrorist groups is vital to intervention efforts,” the Christian Science Monitor reported. “The Supreme Court decision means they do it at their peril.” Last week’s raids are evidence of that. “Training groups to pursue peaceful resolution of their disputes should be encouraged, not made criminal,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel with the Constitution Center.

The raids come on the heels of a Justice Department probe that found the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006. Among the groups investigated were Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Catholic Worker and the Thomas Merton Center, a pacifist group based in Pittsburgh.

What do we know about these raids?

On Friday, September 24, the FBI raided at least six homes in Chicago and Minneapolis, with the explanation that the activists targetted were under investigation for providing “material support to foreign terrorist organizations,” namely the FARC in Colombia, the Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hezbollah. The FBI also raided the office of the Anti-war Committee in Minneapolis, which had organized a demonstration during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Some of the peace activists whose houses were raided are members of the Anti-War Committee. The New York Times quotes an FBI spokesperson who said the raids were part of “an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation.” While no arrests have been made so far, the activists have been served with grand jury subpoenas.

The raids appear to be ‘fishing expeditions’ — attempts to gather as much personal information as possible from the activists’ homes in the hopes of bringing some charges against them. Groups listed in the warrants are Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The warrants also authorized agents to seize items such as electronics, photographs, videos, address books and letters, and seeks information pertaining to the activists’ work in a left group called Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Click here to download a PDF of the search warrant.

Several of the activists whose homes were raided and/or received grand jury summons have been active in the Colombia Action Network (based in Minnesota) and/or the Free Ricardo Palmera Committee. Ricardo Palmera (alias Simon Trinidad) is a leader of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) who was tried for conspiracy in the kidnapping of the three US military contractors because of his membership in FARC, though he was not alleged to have taken part in the kidnapping itself, according to attorney Paul Wolf. Palmera was sentenced to 60 years in prison and is currently in solitary confinement at a SuperMax prison in Colorado.

FOR does not share the rhetoric of the Free Ricardo Palmera Committee in support of the FARC project in Colombia, as it goes against our core commitment to nonviolence. However, democratic process and First Amendment guarantees require that people in this country be able to express these points of view, and those who disagree to engage in debate with them, without fear of seizure of one’s cell phone, computer, and other personal possessions, of being labelled a “terrorist suspect”, or of being targeted by armed federal agencies.
What you can do:

* Call the Attorney General’s office at 202-353-1555 and demand an end to political intimidation of peace activists.
* Call or write the “newspapers of record” such as the New York Times and Washington Post, asking them to give full and prominent coverage to this story.
* Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, explaining why this kind of intimidation is a danger to democracy.
* Call your local members of Congress to demand that the FBI stop harassing peace activists.
* Participate in any local actions to protest these raids. Click here for a list of protest events around the country.

(Parts of this alert were drawn from an article written by Lynn Koh of War Times/Tiempo de Guerras.)

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