Mark Zuckerberg accused of abusing power after Facebook deletes Vietnam War ‘napalm girl’ post

The Guardian reports: Norway’s largest newspaper has published a front-page open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, lambasting the company’s decision to censor a historic photograph of the Vietnam war and calling on Zuckerberg to recognize and live up to his role as “the world’s most powerful editor”.

Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten, accused Zuckerberg of thoughtlessly “abusing your power” over the social media site that has become a lynchpin of the distribution of news and information around the world, writing, “I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.”

“I am worried that the world’s most important medium is limiting freedom instead of trying to extend it, and that this occasionally happens in an authoritarian way,” he added.

The controversy stems from Facebook’s decision to delete a post by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland that featured The Terror of War, a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut that showed children – including the naked 9-year-old Kim Phúc – running away from a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Egeland’s post discussed “seven photographs that changed the history of warfare” – a group to which the “napalm girl” image certainly belongs.

Egeland was subsequently suspended from Facebook. When Aftenposten reported on the suspension – using the same photograph in its article, which was then shared on the publication’s Facebook page – the newspaper received a message from Facebook asking it to “either remove or pixelize” the photograph. [Continue reading…]

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Chorus of concern over Britain’s counter extremism strategy grows louder

By Steve Hewitt, University of Birmingham

If worries about extremism in 2016 show no signs of abating, then neither does the debate over how to counter it in the UK. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by the Labour MP Harriet Harman, is the latest in a long line to raise concerns over government policy to tackle extremism. Although the government has promised to introduce a counter-extremism bill, none has yet been forthcoming.

In a report released on July 22, the committee flagged up a number of concerns about the government’s extremism strategy. These include the lack of a precise definition of extremism, the potential impact on universities, and the potential for religious discrimination. It also criticised the false premise of an “escalator” model in which there is a progression from holding conservative religious ideals to violent extremism.

The committee, made up of MPs and Lords from across the political spectrum, called on the government to “reconsider” its counter-extremism strategy.

But the government may be reluctant to backtrack on an issue it has kept raising over the last few years. Since a 2011 speech in Munich warning against extremism by then-prime minister, David Cameron, the government has repeatedly pledged to target it. This year’s Queen’s speech continued the trend with promises to “tackle extremism in all its forms”, “provide stronger powers to disrupt extremists”, and “enable the government and law enforcement to protect the public against the most dangerous extremists.”

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Erdoğan’s crackdown: ‘Free speech is being rebranded as terrorism’

 

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Mocking Putin got me sent to Twitter gulag

@DarthPutinKGB writes: I run the @DarthPutinKGB “parody” account. The inverted commas are over the word parody for a reason. An account parodying any part of the Kremlin will, by definition, sound almost identical to a verified Kremlin account. From passing homophobic laws while posing for homoerotic photo shoots, to putting dead people on trial for crimes they got murdered for exposing, to denying and then later admitting the presence of their armed forces in numerous conflicts, when it comes to the Kremlin, it can be hard to tell reality from parody.

The account portrays Putin as a maniacal, sinister villain bent on world domination who thinks nothing of murdering those who irritate him while he drops vodka (and real) bombs. He also thinks he is God’s gift to women but is in fact that drunk you can find in any bar on a Friday night who makes women’s skin crawl as he desperately tries to get laid.

Darth Putin is also a pathological liar who would deny it snows in Russia with a straight face if he needed to. Beneath it all, deep down he knows he’s just an emperor currently in the late stages of a massive wardrobe malfunction that he prays no one will eventually notice. Maybe this is why some struggle to tell if it’s parody or not. [Continue reading…]

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Angela Merkel, accused of betraying core values, faces a balancing act with Turkey

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The New York Times reports: Last September, Chancellor Angela Merkel was widely seen as an idealist, charitably welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees to Germany in the face of stiff opposition at home and from European allies. But the influx swiftly became too much to handle.

Fast forward, and this year it is a rather different Angela Merkel at the helm, with an approach toughened by experience. This is the pragmatic Angela Merkel, who entered a calculated deal with an increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to try to stanch the migrant flow.

Ms. Merkel now stands accused by a new chorus of critics of not only betraying her ideals on immigration but also of jeopardizing core European values, as the costs of doing business with Mr. Erdogan become painfully clearer by the week.

Mr. Erdogan, who has stifled the news media at home and shown little tolerance for criticism, has used his new leverage in Europe to extend his brand of censorship to Germany, employing diplomatic threats, and now a private lawsuit, to try to silence a German comedian who skewered him.

The satirist, Jan Böhmermann, had earned plaudits but also criticism when, on his TV show two weeks ago, he read a crude poem, which he himself labeled “abusive criticism,” and accused Mr. Erdogan of lewd behavior and fierce political repression.

That case has now become Exhibit A in the unpalatable bargains Ms. Merkel has made in pursuit of security and political survival, or what might be known as realpolitik version 2016. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Chancellor Angela Merkel, caught in a bind by Turkey’s bid to silence a German satirist who lampooned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Friday that her government would allow the case to go forward, but that the outdated law that permits it would be repealed with effect from 2018.

Announcing the decision to allow the court case against Jan Böhmermann, the comic, to proceed, Ms. Merkel repeatedly insisted that Germany backs the freedom of press, opinion and culture and believes in the rule of law. “Not the government, but the courts and the legal system will have the last word,” she said.

Pointedly referring to Turkey as a partner and a NATO ally, Ms. Merkel said that Germany expects the government in Ankara to heed democratic norms and that Berlin has observed attempts to restrict freedom of media and the justice system in Turkey “with great concern.” [Continue reading…]

Anna Sauerbrey writes: Though it’s a fact often overlooked by the rest of the world, Germany is a funny place — seriously. Long before Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee redefined topical American humor, comedians here perfected the art of sharp political satire.

For the most part, German politicians get the joke. But now politics and comedy are colliding in a new way — a collision that exposes the tragicomedy of modern European politics in a way that no late-night monologue ever could. [Continue reading…]

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Mass surveillance silences minority opinions, according to study

Karen Turner reports: A new study shows that knowledge of government surveillance causes people to self-censor their dissenting opinions online. The research offers a sobering look at the oft-touted “democratizing” effect of social media and Internet access that bolsters minority opinion.

The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, studied the effects of subtle reminders of mass surveillance on its subjects. The majority of participants reacted by suppressing opinions that they perceived to be in the minority. This research illustrates the silencing effect of participants’ dissenting opinions in the wake of widespread knowledge of government surveillance, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.

The “spiral of silence” is a well-researched phenomenon in which people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social isolation. It has been looked at in the context of social media and the echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the online activity of our Facebook and Twitter friends. But this study adds a new layer by explicitly examining how government surveillance affects self-censorship. [Continue reading…]

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Israel: State terror has seeped inside the Green Line

David Shulman writes: Israeli human rights activists and what is left of the Israeli peace groups, including joint Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations, are under attack. In a sense, this is nothing very new; organizations such as B’Tselem, the most prominent and effective in the area of human rights, and Breaking the Silence, which specializes in soldiers’ firsthand testimony about what they have seen and done in the occupied territories and in Gaza, have always been anathema to the Israeli right, which regards them as treasonous. But open attacks on the Israeli left have now assumed a far more sinister and ruthless character; some of them are being played out in the interrogation rooms of Israeli prisons. Clearly, there is an ongoing coordinated campaign involving the government, members of the Knesset, the police, various semiautonomous right-wing groups, and the public media. Politically driven harassment, including violent and illegal arrest, interrogation, denial of legal support, virulent incitement, smear campaigns, even death threats issued by proxy — all this has become part of the repertoire of the far right, which dominates the present government and sets the tone for its policies.

There is now a palpable sense of danger, and also an accelerating decline into a situation of incipient everyday state terror. Palestinians have lived with the reality of state terror for decades — it is the very stuff of the occupation — but it has now seeped into the texture of life inside the Green Line, as many on the left have warned that it would. Israelis with a memory going back to the 1960s sometimes liken the current campaign to the violent actions of the extreme right in Greece before the colonels took power, as famously depicted in the still-canonical film Z.

The witch-hunt began this time with a targeting of the ex-soldiers’ organization Breaking the Silence by a strident chorus on the right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and other members of the cabinet, but also including prominent politicians and journalists from the wishy-washy center, including the highly popular Haaretz correspondent Ari Shavit. There have been calls to outlaw the organization entirely. [Continue reading…]

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Takeover of opposition newspaper is a death warrant for free speech in Turkey

By Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, University of Ljubljana

On Friday March 4, a Turkish court ruled that the country’s biggest daily newspaper, Zaman, would be run by appointed trustees – ostensibly because of its so called “terrorist” activities, but more likely because the publication was linked to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, an opponent of the government.

Shortly after the court’s decision, police stormed the paper’s Istanbul headquarters in a dramatic midnight raid, firing tear gas and water cannon at the hundreds-strong crowd that formed outside.

The new administrative members dismissed the editor, executive editor and other senior staff, transforming the newspaper’s editorial line, in less than 48 hours, from a rigorous opposition voice into a propaganda mouthpiece for the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Full disclosure: I have written oped pieces for Zaman for the past two years or so – at a rate of about two or three per month. Never at any time was there any attempt to dictate my angle or censor my work, even when – as I did several times – I wrote articles that were critical of Gulen or his movement. Now I feel that the doors of this newspaper are closed – not only for me but also for most of the other academic writers who had used the paper as a vehicle for their opinions.

This episode has not come as a huge surprise to anyone who has been following Turkey’s political scene. While Erdoğan and his AKP party enjoyed close relations with Gulen and his Hizmet educational and religious movement when the party first emerged – and observers believe that Hizmet used his enormous popularity to help Erdogan secure his first term as prime minister in 2002 – things have gone bad between them since 2013.

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Russian atheist faces year in jail for denying existence of God during webchat

AFP reports: A man in southern Russia faces a potential jail sentence after he was charged with insulting the feelings of religious believers over an internet exchange in which he wrote that “there is no God”.

Viktor Krasnov, 38, who appeared in court Wednesday, is being prosecuted under a controversial 2013 law that was introduced after punk art group Pussy Riots was jailed for a performance in Moscow’s main cathedral, his lawyer Andrei Sabinin told AFP.

The charges – which carry a maximum one-year jail sentence – centre on an internet exchange that Krasnov was involved in in 2014 on a humorous local website in his hometown of Stavropol.

“If I say that the collection of Jewish fairytales entitled the Bible is complete bullshit, that is that. At least for me,” Krasnov wrote, adding later “there is no God!”

One of the young people involved in the dispute with Krasnov then lodged a complaint against him accusing him of “offending the sentiments of Orthodox believers”. [Continue reading…]

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Crackdowns on free speech rise across a Europe wary of terror

The New York Times reports: A puppet show at an open square in Madrid during Carnival festivities this month featured a policeman who tried to entrap a witch. The puppet officer held up a little sign to falsely accuse her, using a play on words that combined Al Qaeda and ETA, the Basque separatist group.

Angry parents complained, and the real police stepped in. They arrested two puppeteers, who could now face as much as seven years in prison on charges of glorifying terrorism and promoting hatred.

Paradoxically, the puppeteers say in their defense, the police proved their point: that Spain’s antiterrorism laws are being misapplied, used for witch hunts.

Far from an isolated episode, the arrests on Feb. 5 are part of a lengthening string of prosecutions, including two against a rap musician and a poet, that have fueled a debate over whether freedom of protest and speech are under threat in Spain and elsewhere in Europe because of fears of terrorism. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s academics pay heavy price for resisting Erdoğan’s militarised politics

By Celal Cahit Agar, University of Exeter and Steffen Böhm, University of Exeter

While the EU and the US have turned a blind eye to the Turkish government’s brutal clampdown in Kurdish regions, Turkish academics who have spoken out about the regime’s increasingly dictatorial policies have faced punishment and even imprisonment.

A petition published in early January by the Academicians for Peace initiative, criticising the Turkish state’s political and military attacks against the Kurdish people, raised a red flag with its signatories stating: “We will not be a party to this crime.” They wrote:

The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

In response, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately demanded that all institutions in Turkey take action: “Everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay.”

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Pankaj Mishra on Arundhati Roy: Hindu nationalists ​have many ways to silence writers

Pankaj Mishra writes: he governments of Egypt and Turkey are brazenly leading a multi-pronged assault on writers, artists and intellectuals. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month denounced his critics among Turkish academics as treasonous fifth columnists of foreign powers; many of them have been subsequently dismissed and suspended. Both Turkey and Egypt have imprisoned journalists, provoking international protests. But the suppression of intellectual and creative freedoms is assuming much cannier forms in India, a country with formal and apparently free democratic institutions.

Controlled by upper-caste Hindu nationalists, Indian universities have been purging “anti-nationals” from both syllabuses and campuses for some months now. In a shocking turn of events last month, Rohith Vemula, a PhD student in Hyderabad, killed himself. Accused of “anti-national” political opinions, the impoverished research scholar, who belonged to one of India’s traditionally and cruelly disadvantaged castes, was suspended, and, after his fellowship was cancelled, expelled from student housing. Letters from Modi’s government in Delhi to university authorities revealed that the latter were under relentless pressure to move against “extremist and anti-national politics” on campus. Vemula’s heartbreaking suicide note attests to the near-total isolation and despair of a gifted writer and thinker.

The extended family of upper-caste nationalists plainly aim at total domination of the public sphere. But they don’t only use the bullying power of the leviathan state – one quickly identified by local and foreign critics – to grind down their apparent enemies. They pursue them through police cases and legal petitions by private individuals – a number of criminal complaints have been filed against writers and artists in India. They create a climate of impunity, in which emboldened mobs ransack newspapers offices, art galleries and cinemas. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia: Palestinian poet sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes for apostasy

The Guardian reports: A Saudi court has overturned the death sentence on a Palestinian poet accused of renouncing Islam, instead imposing an eight year prison term and 800 lashes.

The decision by a panel of judges came after Ashraf Fayadh’s lawyer argued that his conviction of apostasy was seriously flawed as he was denied a fair trial. In a briefing on the verdict, Fayadh’s lawyer said the new judgement revoked the death sentence but upheld that the poet was guilty of apostasy.

A memo written by the lawyer, posted by Abdulrahman al-Lahem on Twitter, describes the details of Fayadh’s new punishment. He is sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes, with 50 lashes carried out on 16 occasions, and must also publicly renounce his poetry on Saudi state media.

Al-Lahem welcomed the overturning of the death sentence but reaffirmed Fayadh’s innocence and announced they would launch an appeal and ask for bail.

Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Instead of beheading Ashraf Fayadh, a Saudi court has ordered a lengthy imprisonment and flogging. No one should face arrest for peacefully expressing opinions, much less corporal punishment and prison. Saudi justice officials must urgently intervene to vacate this unjust sentence.” [Continue reading…]

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In Sisi’s Egypt there is close to zero tolerance for dissent

The New York Times reports: A popular Egyptian cartoonist was arrested Sunday on charges of running a website without a license, the Interior Ministry said, in the latest escalation of a campaign to silence the government’s online critics.

The cartoonist, Islam Gawish, 26, who has 1.6 million Facebook followers, was arrested during a police raid on the offices of a news website based in Cairo. Although his satirical cartoons have been published online, Mr. Gawish was not seen as an especially vehement critic of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

It was the most prominent arrest since the Jan. 25 anniversary of the 2011 uprising that ultimately toppled President Hosni Mubarak, which had been preceded by a wave of arrests and closures that focused on democracy activists and well-known cultural spaces in downtown Cairo.

Although Mr. Sisi’s government has silenced many critical voices in Egypt’s major news media, either by arresting journalists or forcing them into exile, it has struggled to contain free speech on the Internet, which is one of the few forums for open dissent at a time when public protest has been all but outlawed.

Facebook and other social media sites, which played a role in organizing the 2011 uprising, are popular with millions of Egyptians, but a few high-profile prosecutions have sent a warning to users about the limits of tolerance for political discussion.

In October a military court handed down a three-year jail sentence to Amr Nohan, a 22-year-old law graduate who had posted to his Facebook page an image that depicted Mr. Sisi with Mickey Mouse-style cartoon ears.

In recent weeks, the authorities arrested five people who are accused of administering hundreds of Facebook pages that were sympathetic to the banned Muslim Brotherhood and that had sought to encourage public protest on Jan. 25.

The circumstances of Mr. Gawish’s arrest, which follows the recent closing of the Townhouse Gallery arts space in central Cairo and a raid on the offices of a book publisher, seemed to signal that the government is seeking new ways to silence even moderate forms of dissent. [Continue reading…]

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Pursuing critics, China reaches across borders. And nobody is stopping it.

The Washington Post reports: China’s campaign against dissent is going global.

Amid extraordinary moves to rein in criticism at home, Chinese security personnel are reaching confidently across borders, targeting Chinese and foreign citizens who dare to challenge the Communist Party line, in what one Western diplomat has called the “worst crackdown since Tiananmen Square.”

A string of incidents, including abductions from Thailand and Hong Kong, forced repatriations and the televised “confessions” of two Swedish citizens, has crossed a new red line, according to diplomats in Beijing. Yet many foreign governments seem unwilling or unable to intervene, their public response limited to mild protests.

The European Union is divided and appears uncertain about what to do. Hong Kong is in an uproar, with free speech under attack, activists looking over their shoulders and many people saying they feel betrayed by a lack of support from Britain. [Continue reading…]

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Remember photos of Erdogan’s aide kicking a protester? Now they’re blocked in Turkey

Mashable reports: Famous images showing an aide to Turkey’s prime minister kicking a protester in the wake of a national tragedy are slowly vanishing from the internet in Turkey.

The photographs were taken after a fire killed 301 miners in the spring of 2014 and they quickly became symbols of the government’s callous reaction to the worst industrial accident in Turkey’s history.

Yet anyone in Turkey today who tries to find the famous photos of Yusuf Yerkel winding up for a kick aimed a protester who was already on the ground — and restrained by security — will find that many webpages showing the image are blocked. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish prosecutors to investigate academics over Erdoğan petition

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The Guardian reports: Turkey has launched an investigation into academics who signed a petition criticising the military’s crackdown on Kurdish rebels in the south-east that angered President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

More than 1,200 academics from 90 Turkish universities calling themselves “Academicians for Peace”, as well as foreign scholars, signed the petition last week calling for an end to the months-long violence.

Entitled “We won’t be a party to this crime”, the petition urged Ankara to “abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region”.

It was signed by dozens of foreign luminaries and intellectuals, among them the US academic Noam Chomsky and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. [Continue reading…]

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