Students recreate the civil rights movement in Second Life

jj January 20th, 2011

by Justin Olivetti

Americans celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past week to honor both the man and the civil rights movement that he supported. As part of that celebration, a team of doctoral students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania used Second Life to recreate key moments in the civil rights movement as a teaching tool.

Players who went through the simulation encountered critical junctures of the movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King Jr.’s beginnings at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Mississippi Freedom School Movement. By experiencing it first-hand in a virtual world, players hopefully gained a perspective on the issues surrounding segregation, integration, equality, voting rights and civil disobedience of the era that are in danger of slipping into distant history.

As they moved through the simulation, players were able to take quizzes, look at photos and videos, and make personal choices relating to the movement, such as whether to protest or sit in the back of the bus.

While it looks as though the simulation is no longer available in the game, you can watch the two-minute overview of the project after the jump.

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

Portrait of Hitler Discovered in French Church Window

jj January 18th, 2011

From Der Spiegel On Line

A stained glass window in a small church has caused a sensation in France. Unveiled in 1941, it depicts Adolf Hitler executing a saint who symbolizes the Jewish people. Local priests have praised the work as a brave act of resistance against the Nazi occupiers.

In the popular imagination, the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation of France is associated with heroic acts of guerrilla warfare, such as blowing up bridges or derailing trains. But in one small town near Paris, two artist brothers also resisted the occupation in their own quiet way — with a politically charged stained-glass window.

Local historians in the town of Montgeron have rediscovered a stained-glass church window that criticizes the Nazi occupation by depicting Adolf Hitler as an executioner. The dictator is shown in the act of killing St. James, who was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles.

Although Hitler’s distinctive hairstyle can easily be recognized in the portrait, his trademark moustache has been left out. “The glassmakers hid it behind his arm, to avoid any trouble,” local priest Dominique Guérin told the French newspaper Le Parisien.

Political Message

The church’s stained-glass windows were unveiled in July 1941, during the Nazi occupation. Locals believe that the two artists, the Mauméjean brothers, deliberately depicted Hitler as the executioner of St. James, whom the church is named for, as an act of artistic and religious resistance.

Guérin’s predecessor Gabriel Ferone told Le Parisien that the saint represents the Jewish people, as his name in Hebrew has the same etymology as Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Stained-glass windows created by the brothers in other churches also mix political and religious messages, according to historian Renaud Arpin.

Authorities in the town are now hoping that the media attention will turn the church into a tourist attraction. Montgeron is only 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Paris and is easily reachable by train.

dgs/SPIEGEL

The Clicktivists – a new breed of protesters

jj January 17th, 2011

By Ben Bryant London ES

As protests go, a lunchtime dance outside the Bank of England wouldn’t even register as an act of civil disobedience. And yet, for the dozens of people who attended last Friday’s Dance Against The Deficit to bump and grind to the bewilderment of City workers, it makes perfect sense.

Faces of protest: clockwise from top left, False Economy’s Clifford Singer, Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy, Milena Popova of Yes to Fairer Votes, Ellie Mae O’Hagan of UK Uncut, blogger Laurie Penny, Sean O’Halloran and Jessica Riches of UCL Occupation and David Babbs of 38 Degrees

Faces of protest: clockwise from top left, False Economy’s Clifford Singer, Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy, Milena Popova of Yes to Fairer Votes, Ellie Mae O’Hagan of UK Uncut, blogger Laurie Penny, Sean O’Halloran and Jessica Riches of UCL Occupation and David Babbs of 38 Degrees

It would be glib to describe this kind of playful protest as the new face of activism but the dance, which was organised by a group of bloggers and activists, posted on Facebook and publicised by interested people on Twitter, shows how campaigning has evolved. The way in which activists are exchanging ideas and mobilising has changed, thanks to social media, and it’s this, along with a surge in public dismay over Coalition cuts and broken promises, that is fuelling a resurgence in popular protest.

Activists haven’t always embraced the internet so readily. Critics of acts like signing up to an online petition or “liking” a cause on Facebook argue that they dissuade users from getting off their computers and on to the streets to protest.

This kind of flirtation with a cause even has a name — “clicktivism”, the sort of activism that’s perfectly suited to the process of skittering across the web from the Save Darfur Facebook page to a video of sneezing pandas on YouTube.

Organisations such as UK Uncut, however, are bucking this trend, successfully translating online campaigns into offline action. The latest clicktivists are smart, media-savvy, highly engaged with social media, accessible, usually only loosely organised, and well aware of the pitfalls of clicktivism. They use social media to enable a public sceptical of traditional party political routes to engage with the issues on their own terms.

UK Uncut
Who?
A loosely organised national network of anti-cuts activists who have risen to prominence for campaigns targeting Vodafone and Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins. The group has no official leader or hierarchy. Instead, says co-founder Chris Tobin, a 25-year-old drama teacher from Brent, its collaborative blog “allows people to co-ordinate their own actions”. Its 12 founders are students and professionals from their twenties to early forties, including teachers, a nurse and media professionals.

What do we want?
The group has focused all of its energies on corporate tax avoiders so far but is actually an anti-cuts movement, explains 23-year-old spokesperson Alex Wright, a charity worker from Tower Hamlets: “Our aim as a movement is to highlight that, actually, these are ideological cuts. It has nothing to do with necessity. Tax avoidance is just an issue of many, highlighting some of the ways where the Government could be reclaiming this money and not making the cuts.”
greatest success?

Pay Day, on December 18, saw nationwide protests that disrupted Arcadia Group and Vodafone businesses all over the UK. Demonstrators occupied Topshop, Bhs and other Arcadia businesses from Truro to Edinburgh, in some cases gluing themselves to the windows to prevent ejection. This action forced the closure of at least 13 stores.

Where’s the money from?
It requires very little funding, since UK Uncut uses tools that are freely available on the internet to unite its network of activists. “Twitter isn’t a gimmick in this,” says Tobin. “Twitter and Facebook allow for a realistic campaign that has a completely different structure to the sort of organisations that have defined protests.”

How many followers?
It has no formal membership and its supporters range in their degree of advocacy from sympathisers to demonstrators. This means its founders have no idea how many people are involved, although they have accumulated more than 13,000 followers on Twitter.

What’s the next move?
A nationwide day of mass action is planned for January 30, with smaller nationwide occupations and demonstrations taking place throughout this month.

38 Degrees
Who?
A Left-of-centre campaigning organisation with a team of three staff and a network of volunteers. It launched in May 2009 and is unique because its direction is driven almost entirely by its membership, who use social media and the internet to help decide on every aspect of running a campaign. “We have a staff team who are very focused on listening to what our members want, and exercising some judgment as well,” explains
29-year-old executive director David Babbs, who lives in Bethnal Green.

What do we want?
It has co-ordinated campaigns on a range of issues, from saving BBC 6 Music to protecting the NHS. At the moment their energies are focused on a newspaper campaign that portrays George Osborne as a pouting “Artful Dodger”, stating that he is not only skirting the issue of tax avoidance but dodging £1.6 million of tax himself.

Greatest success?
38 Degrees delivered a petition signed by 11,000 people to party leaders to call on them to urgently pass a Recall Law for MPs that would let voters oust them between elections. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has since indicated that this will become a reality.

Where’s the money from?
Half of 38 Degrees’ funding is raised from membership donations. The other half is provided by benefactors and trusts.

How many followers?
38 Degrees claims to have a membership of about 300,000, whose levels of advocacy vary. Its campaigns tend to be based around online activism that requires supporters to sign petitions or email their MP rather than take direct action.

“We make change happen through people power,” says Babbs. “So in terms of what the staff can do without members our options are genuinely limited.”

What’s the next move?
£20,000 has been raised by members to display a round of Artful Dodger adverts on bus stops and billboards around the UK. The organisation is also currently engaged in several other campaigns.

False Economy
Who?
Conceived by a group of activists, campaigners and trade unionists, False Economy isn’t a campaigning organisation in itself but rather a platform for people to find out about how Coalition cuts are affecting the populace and what they can do about it.

“We’re very interested in what people do offline,” says campaign director Clifford Singer, 42, who lives in Hackney, “but False Economy itself is an online hub. It’s a way for people to get information about what’s going on, about local cuts in their area and the arguments against the Government’s economics, and to spread that using social media.”

Its success at uniting online activists has been assisted by the involvement of Liberal Conspiracy blogger and prolific tweeter Sunny Hundal, who has proven adept at connecting activists online and offline through events such as this month’s grassroots conference Netroots.

What do we want?
The site has three aims: to map the cuts and their effect on people, to provide a resource for campaigns and protesters from different organisations and to make a case against the Government’s view of how it would reduce the deficit.

Greatest success?
It is not due to launch until the first week of February and is still in the process of establishing the site.

Where’s the money from?
False Economy was set up with financial support from the TUC, Unison, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Fire Brigades Union, and has a staff of two working part-time. “We have very limited funds at the moment,” says Singer, who is a part-time web developer, and hopes to maintain the site through donations.

How many followers?
It’s currently reported to attract about 2,000 unique users a day.

What’s the next move?
The group’s energies are focused on their launch in the first week of February. It has also used Freedom of Information requests to conduct research into the impact of public sector cuts, which it plans to release at the same time.

National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts
Who?
A network of student and education worker activists not affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS), the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) was founded at a conference of more than 150 campaigners at University College London in February last year. It was originally conceived in response to the NUS’s failure to represent students who wanted to campaign for free education, and organises protests and occupations opposing tuition fees and cuts in education funding.

Founder Michael Chessum, a 21-year-old student officer at University College London, explains: “We thought there were lots of little local campaigns which weren’t being catered for or supported by their students’ union or the NUS. We wanted to give them a national face and a national direction.”

What do we want?
The NCAFC ultimately wants to secure free education for students, and this is where its views differ from the NUS. Considered more radical than the NUS, the group has a record of supporting forms of (non-violent) direct action, such as university occupations, that the NUS is less willing to undertake.

Greatest success?
A march the NCAFC organised on December 9 last year saw tens of thousands of students descend on London to protest, causing disruption that included the painting of a giant “NO” on the grass in Parliament Square.

Where’s the money from?
By donation through its website.

How many followers?

The campaign against a rise in tuition fees was believed to have the support of hundreds of thousands across the UK, most of them students. Marches have seen tens of thousands of students take to the streets. “What’s important about the campaign is it’s still overwhelmingly a physical thing,” says Chessum, who lives in Haringey.

What’s the next move?
A mass demonstration is planned for January 29, where protesters will take to the streets of London and Manchester.

Egypt’s Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as “human shields”

jj January 13th, 2011

From: Ahramonline

Muslims turned up in droves for the Coptic Christmas mass Thursday night, offering their bodies, and lives, as “shields” to Egypt’s threatened Christian community

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside.

From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular Muslim televangelist and preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly Street. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

In the days following the brutal attack on Saints Church in Alexandria, which left 21 dead on New Year’ eve, solidarity between Muslims and Copts has seen an unprecedented peak. Millions of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent – the symbol of an “Egypt for All”. Around the city, banners went up calling for unity, and depicting mosques and churches, crosses and crescents, together as one.

The attack has rocked a nation that is no stranger to acts of terror, against all of Muslims, Copts and Jews. In January of last year, on the eve of Coptic Christmas, a drive-by shooting in the southern town of Nag Hammadi killed eight Copts as they were leaving Church following mass. In 2004 and 2005, bombings in the Red Sea resorts of Taba and Sharm El-Sheikh claimed over 100 lives, and in the late 90’s, Islamic militants executed a series of bombings and massacres that left dozens dead.

This attack though comes after a series of more recent incidents that have left Egyptians feeling left out in the cold by a government meant to protect them.

Last summer, 28-year-old businessman Khaled Said was beaten to death by police, also in Alexandria, causing a local and international uproar. Around his death, there have been numerous other reports of police brutality, random arrests and torture.

Last year was also witness to a ruthless parliamentary election process in which the government’s security apparatus and thugs seemed to spiral out of control. The result, aside from injuries and deaths, was a sweeping win by the ruling party thanks to its own carefully-orchestrated campaign that included vote-rigging, corruption and widespread violence. The opposition was essentially annihilated. And just days before the elections, Copts – who make up 10 percent of the population – were once again the subject of persecution, when a government moratorium on construction of a Christian community centre resulted in clashes between police and protestors. Two people were left dead and over 100 were detained, facing sentences of up to life in jail.

The economic woes of a country that favours the rich have only exacerbated the frustration of a population of 80 million whose majority struggle each day to survive. Accounts of thefts, drugs, and violence have surged in recent years, and the chorus of voices of discontent has continued to grow.

The terror attack that struck the country on New Year’s eve is in many ways a final straw – a breaking point, not just for the Coptic community, but for Muslims as well, who too feel marginalized, oppressed, and overlooked by a government that fails to address their needs. On this Coptic Christmas eve, the solidarity was not just one of religion, but of a desperate and collective plea for a better life and a government with accountability.

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.

Study: DDoS Often Used as Tool for Protests, Civil Disobedience

jj December 24th, 2010

From The New New Internet

Security evangelist Sean-Paul Correll called the phenomenon “the future of cyber protests,” and a new report seems to substantiate his prediction of distributed denial of service attacks becoming a method frequently used by protesters and civil disobedients.

Image: Operation Payback

Image: Operation Payback

Historically associated with extortion, DDoS has morphed into an instrument used for various nonfinancial reasons, including political ones, researchers at Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard noted in their report.

Attacks that recruit participants in so-called volunteer DDoS have become increasingly popular, with the most recent example involving Anonymous, a self-described Internet gathering, who used the method to attack websites of WikiLeaks opponents.

However, although Operation Payback succeeded in calling attention to activists’ political goals, it was “largely ineffective in disturbing the business operations of targeted firms,” the researchers said.

“It is worth noting that the Operation Payback attacks disabled promotional websites associated with the financial firms targeted, not their mission-critical payment processing systems, because those promotional sites are much less well-protected than the firms’ core operational systems,” the researchers wrote.

The report also highlighted a trend in cyber attacks against human-rights groups whose opponents take to the web to disrupt and disturb campaigners’ operations. Between August 2009 and September 2010, the researchers found evidence of 140 attacks against more than 280 different sites belonging to human-rights groups.

“These attacks do seem to be increasingly common,” Ethan Zuckerman, one of the authors of the report, told BBC News.

While some attacks were triggered by specific incidents such as elections, others had no obvious cause, he said.

The report found repeated attacks between countries beyond the most commonly cited examples of
Israel/Palestine, Russia/Georgia, and Russia/Estonia. Such examples include China/USA, Armenia/Azerbaijan, Malaysia/Indonesia, and Algeria/Egypt. There were also many reports of attacks between Muslim and European or U.S. actors, the researchers noted.

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.

How Hackers Are Rewriting the Rules of Civil Disobedience

jj December 18th, 2010

On the same day Yahoo laid off 600 of its employees, Yahoo’s image search function leaned a bit toward the risqué. And by that I mean an onslaught of X-rated imagery.

For a few brief hours, any and all Yahoo image searches—no matter the apple-cheeked innocence motivating said search—turned up a snapshot of a man and a woman, um, “knowing” each other.

Fuzzy kittens? Fornication.

Justin Bieber? The ol’ in-out-in-out.

Images of the $100 bill to print out at work and attempt to pass off to Juan at the lobby cigarette counter because you already demolished your paycheck on what you said was holiday shopping but was really just you, take-out Chinese, rotgut wine, and the sadness of a solitary life? Sweaty intercourse.

Over the span of time this money-shot image was live, it was viewed by nearly 200,000 individuals, according to TechCrunch’s estimate. That’s a whole lot of aftershock repentance.

Is There a Point in Rewriting Civil Disobedience?

Clearly, this wasn’t a glitch. This was an act of what we’re now calling “cyber terrorism,” the same breed of civil disobedience that spurned Operation Payback hackers to dismantle the websites of the Swiss bank Switzerland Post Finance, MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal to avenge Julian Assange and the shutdown of Wikileaks. Operation Payback has told the press that more attacks will be coming as long as companies continue to censor Wikileaks.

Unless you’re gung-ho about blindly “sticking it to the man” by tearing massive corporate websites to shreds, or, in the case of Yahoo, inundating innocent Web crawlers with porno, you’re probably questioning the point of these attacks.

The Yahoo Porno Hiccup is barely defensible, if at all. We’re talking about porno, plain and simple, and Lord knows how many 6-year-olds seeking pictures of their favorite cartoons were introduced—rudely and without parental context—to the birds and the bees.

However, a backlash such as the one wrought on Yahoo’s servers is an expression of disappointment and loathing, and also an illustration of the power individual employees in major tech firms have over the systems they were once paid to control.

I do not condone the Yahoo Porno Hiccup. I do, however, recognize it as a modern—and human—reaction to betrayal, one that’s superior to the immaturity of trashing a boss’s office or, worse yet, bringing an AK-47 into work on your last day on payroll.

Point or Not, Here’s How the Rewrite Starts

In terms of Operation Payback—so what if MasterCard was shut down? The site was rebooted within hours, impervious to the hackers’ digital protest. Without a lasting impact—or even a coherent doctrine explaining and justifying the attacks—it comes across as a bunch of whiny computer geeks behaving like jerks.

Historically speaking, social movements that begin with protests, violent or otherwise, have been propagated by the ripple effect: it starts in the streets, slinks into the living room via TV news, and sometimes knocks on the government’s door to rewrite the law. The architecture of these hack attacks have yet to suggest that such an enduring goal or strategy exists.

That decree is fair enough, but what I see here are the rumblings of a groundswell that could impact the Internet’s overall safety construction. Yes, these credit card websites only 404-ed for a spell, and MasterCard has evidently hired programmers savvy enough to bounce back with strengthened site security, but hand in hand with the raising of higher walls comes a clever-by-necessity boost in hackers’ intelligence, speed, and subtlety.

As much as I’m cautious of condoning what is, in essence, a tentacle of terrorism, I’m curious as to what Operation Payback’s next steps will be. Perhaps the next server failure will occur in the bowels of the Pentagon, or maybe a hacker’s sniper bullet will paint an entire business’s brains on the wall, irreparably.

One thing is for certain: our generation should no longer be labeled as upper-middle-class do-nothings too obsessed by consuming mass media to function as members of traditional society. Even in this disconnected world of tweets, TXT, and LOL-speak, there still exists a disobedient bent that will not be ignored.

War opponents arrested at White House

jj December 17th, 2010

From AlterNet

Dozens of activists, including the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War, were arrested Thursday at the White House as they protested the Afghanistan conflict and defended WikiLeaks.
Activists rally during an anti-war protest in front of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday. Dozens of the activists, including the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War, were arrested as they protested the Afghanistan conflict and defended WikiLeaks.

As President Barack Obama unveiled a war review strategy inside, more than 100 war opponents — many of them veterans — marched through snow to the White House, chanting “Peace now!” and refusing to step down from the fence’s ledge.

Police waited before gradually sealing off the area and escorting remaining protesters — who had vowed to stay until their arrest — into two waiting buses.

Daniel Ellsberg, who as a government consultant leaked the Pentagon Papers that revealed war planning in Vietnam, saluted Bradley Manning, the young army officer suspected of leaking secret US documents to website WikiLeaks.

Ellsberg predicted that Obama would intensify the Afghanistan war as “presidents don’t like to say they were wrong.”

“I’m afraid that will happen indefinitely unless more people follow the example of Bradley Manning, whose courageous act of civil disobedience probably confronts him with life in prison,” Ellsberg said to cheers.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the Code Pink women’s peace movement, noted that Afghanistan ranks near the worst in rankings on development and corruption despite billions of dollars a month in the US war effort.

“It is high time that President Obama get a clue and understand that we need, as our signs says here, a real peace president,” she said.

“We need men that understand that the best thing we can do for our security and the security of the people of Afghanistan is to take the money that we are spending on war and invest it in people, invest it in health care, invest it in education at home and in Afghanistan,” she said.

Obama, an early opponent of the Iraq war, has tripled troop numbers in Afghanistan but pledged to start a withdrawal next year. The United States sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda, which had found sanctuary in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

In the review, Obama said there was “significant progress” in curbing the Taliban and stifling Al-Qaeda, but warned more time was needed.

A Video from the action.

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.

Christian activists force Smithsonian to pull Aids video from show

jj December 3rd, 2010

From Guardian

Catholic League denounced Washington gallery because of sequence showing Jesus on cross being eaten by ants

A still from the four-minute video, created by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, that the National Portrait Gallery in Washington has removed from the show Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Photograph: Guardian

A still from the four-minute video, created by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, that the National Portrait Gallery in Washington has removed from the show Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Photograph: Guardian

Christian activists have notched up an important victory in their attempt to cleanse the art world of what they see as offensive use of religious images by forcing the National Portrait Gallery in Washington to remove a video about Aids from an exhibition on sexuality in portraiture.

The Catholic League, one of the most aggressive interventionist groups within the religious right, expressed its relief after the decision was announced last night to pull A Fire in My Belly, a four-minute video that forms part of the gallery’s newly opened show, Hide/Seek. The league had objected to a sequence of 11 seconds within the video that depicts Jesus on the cross being eaten by large black ants.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, had denounced the work as “hate speech” and called on members of the US Congress to pull federal funding from the gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institute, in protest at its “offensive” curatorial stance. In fact, the exhibition, which has been hailed as the first attempt by a major museum in America to tackle the topic of same-sex love in art, was largely funded by private donors and foundations.

The National Portrait Gallery initially stood up against the Catholic League’s complaints, insisting that it had no desire to cause offence and pointing out that the 1987 artwork in question had been created as a commentary on society’s response to the Aids crisis. The artist behind the work, David Wojnarowicz, was part of the Lower East Side art scene in the 1980s and made the video to mark the death from Aids of his lover Peter Hujar. Wojnarowicz himself died of Aids complications five years later, aged 37.

But within hours of the league launching its attack through emails and media interviews, the gallery had bowed to the pressure and withdrawn the video. In a statement, the gallery’s director, Martin Sullivan, gave an apparently contradictory explanation for the decision, repeating his defence of the video in the face of misleading media coverage but announcing its removal.

“I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious. In fact, the artist’s intention was to depict the suffering of an Aids victim. It was not the museum’s intention to offend. We are removing the video today,” he said.

The nature of the attack on the Smithsonian was particularly worrying for those concerned about censorship in the arts because at its heart was the threat of funding cuts against the institution. The Catholic League prompted John Boehner, the new leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, to threaten retribution through the national purse.

“Smithsonian officials should … be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington,” Boehner’s spokesman told the Catholic news website CNSNews.

The threat of funding cuts is not an idle one. In the 1990s the National Endowment for the Arts lost almost half its government funding after it upset Congress members by showing the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, a picture of a crucifix dipped into his own urine.

Hide/Seek carries a warning to the public at its entrance that “This exhibition contains mature themes”. It contains 105 artworks from such prominent names as Thomas Eakins, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and his lover Robert Rauschenberg and the photographer Annie Leibovitz.

The art critic of the Washington Post, Blake Gopnik, lauded the show as “one of the best thematic exhibitions in years“. Following the decision to pull the video, Gopnik changed his tone, warning the gallery and the Smithsonian that it now looked “set to come off as cowards“.

“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.

Destroying Palestinian Olive Trees

jj November 25th, 2010

By César Chelala in The Globalist

Olive trees have been mentioned in the Bible, the Qur’an and the Torah. Olive oil is a key product of the Palestinian national economy, making up 25% of the total agricultural production in the West Bank. César Chelala explores why the Israel Defense Forces have been accused of uprooting olive trees to facilitate the building of settlements.

Why do Israel Defense Forces and settlers destroy olive trees?

Why do Israel Defense Forces and settlers destroy olive trees?

During the last few years, Palestinian olive trees — a universal symbol of life and peace — have been systematically destroyed by Israeli settlers.

“It has reached a crescendo. What might look like ad hoc violence is actually a tool the settlers are using to push back Palestinian farmers from their own land,” stated a spokeswoman for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization monitoring incidents in the West Bank.

The tree and its oil have a special significance throughout the Middle East. It is an essential aspect of Palestinian culture, heritage and identity, and has been mentioned in the Bible, the Qur’an and the Torah. Many families depend on the olive trees for their livelihood.

Olive oil is a key product of the Palestinian national economy, and olives are the main crop in terms of total agricultural production, making up 25% of the total agricultural production in the West Bank.

Palestinians plant around 10,000 new olive trees in the West Bank every year. Most of the new plants are of the oil-producing variety. Olive oil is the second major export item in Palestine.

For the last 40 years, over a million olive trees and hundreds of thousands of fruit trees have been destroyed in Palestinian lands. The Israel Defense Forces have been accused of uprooting olive trees to facilitate the building of settlements, expand roads and build infrastructure.

The uprooting of centuries-old olive trees has caused tremendous losses to farmers and their families. At the same time, restrictions to harvesting have come through curfews, security closures and attacks by settlers.

The uprooting of olive trees by the Israel Defense Forces and by settlers are done to protect the settlers, since they are supposedly used to hide gunmen or stone throwers. “The tree removals are for the safety of settlers…No one should tell me that an olive tree is more important than a human life,” declared IDF army commander, Colonel Eitan Abrahams.

As a result of the attacks on farmers by the IDF and by settlers, the farmers “can’t get to their lands and work them. The settlers chase the farmers, shoot in the air, threaten their lives, confiscate their ID cards and damage the crops,” declared B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.

Yesh Din has declared that not even one of 69 complaints filed during the past four years on damage to Palestinians trees in the West Bank has resulted in an indictment. The toll includes thousands of trees from several areas, from Susya in the southern Hebron Hills to Salem in northern Samaria.

Rabbis for Human Rights has declared that, in recent weeks, the olives from about 600 trees near the settlement of Havat Gilad were stolen before their Palestinian owners could harvest them.

In a review he wrote on this issue, Atyaf Alwazir, a young Muslim American, stated that the uprooting of trees from Palestinian lands violates the Paris Protocols, The Hague and Geneva Conventions and the Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights.

According to Sonja Karkar, founder of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia, uprooting olive trees is contrary to the Halakha (the collective body of Jewish religious law) principle whose origin is found in the Torah: “Even if you are at war with a city….you must not destroy its trees.”

What do settlers actually want? To destroy Palestinians’ livelihood with impunity? To create a barren land, unfit for trees and people? Perhaps they should be reminded of the A.E. Housman verses:

Give me a land of boughs in leaf,

A land of trees that stand;

Where trees are fallen there is grief;

I love no leafless land.

Is the Tea Party a Non-Violent Movement?

jj November 24th, 2010

Opinion by Dustin Howes

The just past elections showed that the most important instances of nonviolent activism in the last year here in the United States have been the organizing efforts of the various groups that together call themselves the Tea Party. Through rallies, speeches, voter turnout efforts, and the mobilization of various media outlets, the organizers of the movement changed the majority party in the House of Representatives in dramatic fashion, dealing a serious blow to President Obama’s remaining agenda and likely stifling any hope of passing immigration reform or a green energy bill in the next two years. Like all nonviolent movements, the Tea Partiers exercised power by organizing people, gathering in public spaces, talking and debating about how we ought to live together and then took action that changed the character of the world.

On the left and among most of those who study or advocate for nonviolence, the Tea Party is not understood to be a “real” nonviolent movement. First, the Tea Party is in part a creation of Fox News and the so-called grassroots organizations that have done much of the organizing are in fact Astroturf organizations funded by corporations, wealthy individuals or Republican Party operatives. Second, much of what seems to be motivating Tea Party activists, both from a policy standpoint and as indicated by the character of their rhetoric, seems inconsistent with social justice and, in some cases, promotes violence. Some Tea Party activists are pro-gun, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-union, anti-Muslim and/or racist. Indeed, more broadly, we might say that the likely effects of the Tea Party movement is a further acceleration of a decades long trend toward redistributing wealth away from poor and working class people and toward the wealthy. First up on the agenda in this regard is their desire to extend the Bush tax cuts in their entirety. If we understand economic oppression as a form of violence, then clearly the goals of the Tea Party movement are not so non-violent after all.

However, discounting the Tea Party out of hand amounts to a missed opportunity and short-sighted understanding of how power and nonviolence works. If you listen closely to the rhetoric of Tea Party activists, elements – and I stress elements – of what they say resonates in important ways with core principles of nonviolence. They emphasize self-sufficiency, local control over resources, and skepticism about centralized government. They rail against bailouts for Wall Street, large corporations and corruption. Some Tea Party activists have a libertarian streak that leads them to be skeptical of the United States’s interventionist foreign policy and the our current wars in particular, for both moral and financial reasons. Some have been critical of the Patriot Act and warrantless searches. But as important as whether or not the goals of the Tea Party and progressives line up, nonviolent methods, in and of themselves, have meaning.

Principled advocates of nonviolence argue that it is not just a means for achieving a goal, but that it’s concerned with the character of our methods – what processes, what kinds of speeches, what kinds of actions – we use to achieve goals together. The question of whether or not Tea Party activists are “real” nonviolent activists or not is a version of a question that is as old as theories of democracies: What is the difference between democracy and mob rule? The will of the people can be irrational, violent and xenophobic and can mean the exploitation of the few. Yet the rule of the people is the only way to ensure that the few do not exploit the many and discussing and reasoning with others is preferable to relying on the decisions of a few individuals. How can we have the benefits of democracy without the dangers of it?

Some have asked where the Tea Party was when President Bush was running up historic national debt, shredding personal liberties and expanding the scope of the Federal government. However, I think if we look at the last few years through the lens of nonviolence, the appearance of people power that brought President Obama and the Democrats into power in 2008 must be related to the appearance of people power that just won such large gains for the Republicans. The notoriously lethargic and apathetic American people are stirring, and it is having all kinds of effects, both in terms of public policy and the character of our discourse.

If there is one thing that the left and right agree on it is that we are dissatisfied – so dissatisfied that people are taking to the streets, making phone calls, donating money and talking and arguing about politics in ways reminiscent of the tumultuous years of the late-1960’s and early-1970’s. We often hear that the country is polarized and to the extent that means we are no longer listening to each other or brought to a point of desiring to exclude or destroy one another, such polarization is damaging. But in another sense, American democracy has always depended upon the revitalizing power of citizens being brought into the public sphere by severe disagreements about fundamental issues.

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.

IDF soldier faces silent protest at ASU

jj November 19th, 2010

From Waging Nonviolence

When Nadav Weinberg, a soldier who had served with the Israeli Defense Forces, spoke at Arizona State University last week, the room was filled with protesters. Rather than disrupt his speech, which is often the tactic taken at such events, the demonstrators found a much more powerful way to voice their dissent: silence.

Here you can see a seven minutes video from the action

After taking their seats, the demonstrators took off their jackets to reveal red t-shirts with signs bearing the names, ages and dates that civilians were killed by Israeli troops. They then took red tape and covered their mouths with it.

Folks in the back of the room held a sign that read: “Giving Voice to Civilians Silenced by IDF Policy.” (I like the emphasis on policy rather than on the individuals within the military, which I think is always an important distinction for nonviolent activists to make.)

Part way through Weinberg’s speech, the group proceeded to stand up and slowly walk out of the room, leaving it close to empty.

A similar action took place at the University of Michigan recently, which is a hopeful sign that IDF soldiers will not be able to share their viewpoints on American campuses uncontested.

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.

Britain And The Increasing Nonviolent Resistance

jj November 15th, 2010

Fadi Abu Sa’da – PNN Editor in Chief – It was vey strange that the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, came to visit Israeli and the Palestinian Territories in the same day that marks the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

Foreign Secretary, William Hague

Foreign Secretary, William Hague

It is known that most of British diplomatic work are meetings known in diplomatic terms as “ Black & White.” The other strange thing is the addition of a new “color” to the visit of the British Minister; which is very important to the British and their diplomacy, but as important to us as well and holds many meanings.

It came to my knowledge that British diplomats were in contact with a group of Palestinian leaders of the nonviolence resistance, they were informed of a secret meeting that will be held between them and a VIP person. They were not told who or any other details for security reasons. But for the misfortune of the British, Israel has to be informed of all the details of the diplomats’ visits; and Israel started its pressure on Britain to get the details of this secret meeting.

In some mysterious way Israel knew that Hague was in fact going to meet Palestinian nonviolence resistance leaders. The army started to try to know their names, something Britain refused to give up, as the case all the time Israel tried to say those leaders are terrorists and are convicted by the occupation, but in fact they are nonviolence resistance organizers; something that is legitimate in all international laws.

The activists were Ahmad Al Azeh from The Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian NGO that work in promoting nonviolence in Palestine, Mohamed Zawahrah, a leader of nonviolent resistance against the wall in Bethlehem area , and Hindi Musleh, an activist from the village of Ni’lin, where weekly nonviolent actions are organized against the Israeli wall.

Al Azeh being arrest by troops at protest in Bethlehem (Archive)

Al Azeh being arrest by troops at protest in Bethlehem (Archive)

I knew that Al Azeh and Zawahrah were transported from Bethlehem to Ramallah on the day of the meeting in a “special way” fearing that Israeli troops will stop them from attending the meeting.

The meeting was held at a neutral area, most importantly that it does not fall under the Israeli security control, the place was a hilltop overlooking the Israeli detention center of Offer near Ramallah city, in central West Bank. The car that was driving British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, arrived at the location and he met the activists for 25 minutes. The place and the setting of the meeting, was not classical according to diplomacy but it was of great importance.

The meeting with the British Minister tackled three issues; the increase in the nonviolence resistance and the importance of the international support to it, second the effects of the Israeli wall on the Palestinian farmers, and third the Israeli violence to counter such resistance and activities.

Hague told the activists “it’s very important to continue in this form of nonviolence resistance, and you have unlimited support to such work from our side.”

Israel did not allow any media to cover the meeting; fearing that the headlines will change from Hague visiting Israeli to him meeting Palestinian Nonviolence resistance leaders.

Indeed I want to thank those activists and their efforts for delivering our voice to the world and I have small gratitude for the British Diplomat for this nice gesture, but it should happen more often from them and other diplomats working in the Palestinian areas. We only ask for our right that is guaranteed by international law and we will get it one way or the other.

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.”

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