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Facebook Post Leads to 7 Years in Jail for Burmese Government Critic

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 18:05

From the The International Federation of Journalists, the “world’s largest organisation of journalists”:

A former newspaper columnist has been jailed for seven years in Myanmar over Facebook post criticizing the country’s leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has criticized the sentence handed down to Ngar Min Swe and called for the charges to be dropped and he be immediately released.

On September 18, Ngar Min Swe, who is also known as Sar Min Swe was found guilty of inciting hatred against the government violating Section 124A of the penal code. The charges relate to a Facebook post on January 24, 2018 which criticized Aung San Suu Kyi. He was arrested on July 12 in the Hline Township in Yangon West. He was sentenced to seven years in jail and fined 100,000 kyat (USD64), but will face an addition year in jail if he fails to pay the fine.

Ngar’s sentencing comes after two Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28 were jailed for seven years on September 3.

Radio Free Asia noted that Myanmar officials are increasingly suing critics and media for defamation and sedition, suggesting a change in the government’s approach to freedom of expression and press freedom.

The IFJ said: “The targeting of critics and journalists by the Myanmar authorities raises concerns about the increasingly oppressive authorities in Myanmar silencing critical expression. Myanmar’s democracy is under threat, with each arrest, detention and sentencing of critical voices weaken the fourth estate.”

Are Private Voting Tech Companies the Gatekeepers Of Democracy?

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 17:50

 

Companies producing various election-related products play a major role in the election process of America but are largely unknown. The role of private companies extends from printing ballot papers, manufacturing voting machines, assist campaigns, and even the websites where election results are published. It’s a diverse universe of companies and the potential for foul play in some areas is significant.

To some however, they can be considered also as potential gatekeepers between the citizens and the government. Can they play a role as the keepers of American democracy?

National Public Radio had an interview by host Steve Inskeep with NPR reporter Miles Parks, who covers voting interference and infrastructure. Are private voting tech companies a key to fair elections? Take a look at the interview transcript or listen to the NPR recording below. Also, be sure to checkout our Election Technology section for full coverage and updates on voting in the modern world.

District To Have a Georgia Primary Redo After Lawsuit Victory

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 17:27

In May, results of the state Republican legislative primary held in Georgia 28th district were challenged by Rep. Dan Gasaway. He lost to Chris Erwin, a businessman, by 67 votes. This led to Gasaway filing a lawsuit based on the fact that his name wasn’t on some ballot. He attested that local election administrators are to be blamed for his defeat. Things soon dissolved into total confusion. The election was in May but even today there is no clear idea who the Republican State House candidate for the 28th district will be. The whole series of incidents are a brutal reminded that Georgia state elections are mismanaged.

There was a hearing on this case Tuesday in Northeast Georgia. With great power to decide the path forward in this unusual case, the presiding Judge David Sweat made a point to stress the fact that a new election was needed. A Georgia Primary redo is now being planned!

The imbroglio has been unfortunately slow in making its way to the state court and was only initiated after, in a stunning twist of events, the wife of losing incumbent Gasaway discovered a major mistake by election administrators. Thus Gasaway and his wife’s efforts have yielded fruit. The primary election for state legislature between the two Republicans will be redone on 4 December. The opponents, Dan Gasaway and businessman Chris Erwin will have to put in all they have in a head-to-head battle as no other candidates will be contesting for this seat.

The mismanaged Georgia election system appeared to have raised its head again. For more information on this controversy, checkout this story from CNN:

“Election security observers and activists in Georgia say the situation in Gasaway’s district adds to growing concerns about the integrity of the state’s voting system and spotlights the way discrepancies in voter data can potentially affect election results. The secretary of state’s office says Georgia’s voting system remains secure ahead of November’s midterm elections.”

Here is an accompanying four minute video report by CNN’s Drew Griffin on the subject:

Be sure to check out DC’s American Democracy page for all over coverage of US elections.

New Report Details Deteriorating Egyptian Human Rights Conditions

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 17:06

From Human Rights First:

Human Rights First and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) today released a new report detailing the severe crackdown on peaceful dissent and nongovernmental organizations in Egypt under the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The new report, Aiding Repression in Egypt: Why the U.S. Needs to Keep Human Rights Conditions on Military Aid is based on a Human Rights First research trip undertaken in recent weeks, and follows decisions by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release holds on conditional Foreign Military Funding (FMF) to Egypt despite a deteriorating human rights conditions in the country.

“The Trump Administration’s record on Egypt has been one step forward, ten steps back,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Last year, in a positive development, it suspended military aid to Cairo on human rights grounds, but has now lifted that hold and released even more aid with no strings attached. Its failure to focus on an increasingly erratic government in an increasingly volatile region is recklessly negligent. Congress must step in and put real conditions on further aid in the FY 2019 Appropriations Act.”

Today’s report details the human rights situation in Egypt, offers analysis of the impact of the lifting of aid holds by Secretary Pompeo, and provides specific recommendations for the Trump Administration and Congress on how they can protect civil society and religious freedom in Egypt, and fight extremism.

In July, Secretary Pompeo lifted holds on $195 million in Fiscal Year 2016 FMF to Egypt that had been suspended by his predecessor, former secretary Rex Tillerson, partly on human rights grounds. Earlier this month, Pompeo approved the release of an additional $195 million.

“The decision to release this money to Egypt’s repressive government, despite no progress on human rights, will encourage that government to jail and torture its political opposition and non-violent critics. It will do nothing to prompt the Sisi government to put an end to increasing violent attacks on the minority Christian community or to address institutionalized discrimination in Egyptian society,” added Neil Hicks of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Since President Sisi seized power five years ago, his government has targeted peaceful critics, including human rights defenders and nongovernmental organizations. Sisi recently ratified a draconian law restricting the work of NGOs, essentially making it a crime to promote human rights and development free from government control. The country’s police and security service officials routinely torture political detainees with techniques including electric shocks, beatings, and sexual assault. Human Rights First released its last report on Egypt, “How to Protect Civil Society and Promote Stability in Egypt,” in August 2017.

Venezuela’s Maduro Accused Of Executing Thousands

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 17:04

 

Nicolás Maduro – link

VOA – ENGLISH

An international human rights watchdog group has accused Nicolas Maduro’s government of committing some of the worst human rights violations in Venezuela’s history.

In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International said the number of killings in the South American country in recent years was “greater than those in many countries at war.”

The report highlighted the violence perpetrated by security officials during anti-crime operations in poor neighborhoods.

“State officials, adopting military methods, use force in an abusive and excessive manner, in some cases intentionally killing during security operations,” Amnesty said in a statement.

The report said there were 8,292 extrajudicial executions carried out between 2015 and 2017.

“In cases documented by Amnesty, victims were unarmed. Autopsies revealed bullet wounds in the neck, throat, head. They were killed while on their knees or lying down,” said Esteban Beltran, director of Amnesty International Spain.

It found 22 percent of all homicides in 2016, or 4,667, were committed by security officials.

Last year, it found 95 percent of the homicide victims in the country were men, with 60 percent of those ranging in age from 12 to 29.

‘Language of war’

“It is alarming that, instead of applying efficient public policies to protect people and reduce levels of insecurity, the Venezuelan authorities are using the language of war to try to legitimize the use of excessive force by police and military officials,” Amnesty International Americas Director Erika Guevara-Rosas said.

“The government of President Maduro should guarantee the right to life, instead of taking the lives of the country’s young people,” she said.

The Venezuelan government did not immediately respond to the report.

The once-wealthy oil-producing nation has been in an economic crisis for five years. The turmoil has left many Venezuelans struggling to find food and medicine and has forced masses of people to flee to other South American countries.

According to the United Nations, more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014.

A Meganalisis poll published in The Miami Herald last month found more than 30 percent of Venezuelans said they ate only one meal a day. Nearly the same number reported eating “nothing or close to nothing” at least one day a week. Seventy-eight percent said they had trouble finding enough food.

Facebook To Drop On-site Support For Political Campaigns

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 16:54
Facebook Beachfront

VOA – ENGLISH

Facebook Inc. said Thursday that it would no longer dispatch employees to the offices of political campaigns to offer support ahead of elections, as it did with U.S. President Donald Trump in the 2016 race.

The company and other major online ad sellers, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc., have long offered free dedicated assistance to strengthen relationships with top advertisers such as presidential campaigns.

Brad Parscale, who was Trump’s online ads chief in 2016, last year called on-site “embeds” from Facebook crucial to the candidate’s victory. Facebook has said that Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton was offered identical help, but she accepted a different level than Trump.

Google and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests to comment on whether they also would pull back support.

Facebook said it could offer assistance to more candidates globally by focusing on offering support through an online portal instead of in person. It said that political organizations still would be able to contact employees to
receive basic training on using Facebook or for assistance on getting ads approved.

Bloomberg first reported the new approach.

Shaping communications

Facebook, Twitter, and Google served as “quasi-digital consultants” to U.S. election campaigns in 2016, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Utah found in a paper published a year ago.

The companies helped campaigns navigate their services’ ad systems and “actively” shaped campaign communication by suggesting what types of messages to direct to whom, there searchers stated.

Facebook’s involvement with Trump’s campaign drew scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers after the company found its user data had separately been misused by political data firm Cambridge Analytica, which consulted for the Trump campaign.

In written testimony to U.S. lawmakers in June, Facebook said its employees had not spotted any misuse “in the course of their interactions with Cambridge Analytica” during the election.

Vietnam Shocked as Government Announces Death of President Tran Dai

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 16:50
President Tran Dai Quang – Image link

VOA – ENGLISH

Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang, one of the country’s top three leaders but with mostly ceremonial duties, died Friday after an illness, state television and radio announced.

Quang, 61, died in a military hospital in Hanoi from a “serious illness despite efforts by domestic and international doctors and professors,” Vietnam Television reported.

Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is officially led by the president, prime minister and Communist Party chief. Experts say the presidency is largely ceremonial.

Appointed in 2016

Quang was appointed to the role in April 2016. Before that, he had served as Minister of Public Security, an organization with broad powers, including intelligence gathering and thwarting domestic and foreign threats to the party.

Originally from a small farming community 115 km (70 miles) south of Hanoi, Quang rose through party ranks to become a police general and member of Vietnam’s powerful decision-making Politburo.

“We are saddened to hear the news that the president has died,” said Bui Duc Phi, chairman of the village in which Quang was born.

Rumors of illness

Rumors of Quang’s illness had been swirling on social media for months.

At one of his last appearances, during a visit by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to Hanoi, Sept. 11, Quang appeared visibly unwell and stumbled as he stepped onto a platform to inspect a guard of honor.

State-owned newspaper Vietnam News said Quang hosted a reception for China’s Supreme Court chief in Hanoi on Wednesday.

Xi Jinping Will Ban All Foreign Online News Across China

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 16:47

VOA – ENGLISH

The Chinese government will potentially block foreign current affairs content from being shown in the country, according to draft regulations from its National Radio and Television Administration.

The regulations, obtained Thursday by Reuters, will clamp down on what kinds of shows may be aired on domestic television stations or online video platforms. Current affairs shows were singled out as being barred from the country.

Also forbidden by the draft regulations were foreign content that contains violence, terrorism, incitement to crime, endangerment of social stability or material deemed harmful to national sentiment.

The regulations also target film and animation.

The Chinese government is in the midst of a push to restrict online content. Earlier this month, it banned the website of the Australian Broadcasting Company, telling the public news organization that China’s internet was “fully open.”

“They’re very sensitive, particularly to foreign content and of course independent-minded domestic Chinese content that’s going to reach a mass audience, whether it’s online or on television,”said Sarah Cook, a research analyst with censorship watchdog Freedom House.

China is known for the depth and reach of its censorship operations. Thousands of websites have been blocked in the country, inspiring the phrase “the Great Firewall of China.” Foreign journalists are routinely detained for their reporting, and virtually all domestic media capable of reaching a mass audience is tightly regulated.

In recent years, censorship has expanded past shaping political narratives into trying to mesh merge socialist values with national culture.

“All of this gotten a stronger push by President Xi Jinping in terms of socialist core values, socialism in China’s characteristics in the new era. There’s generally been an effort to really bring the party back in and to clamp down on various forms of content,” Cook said.

Research Report Outlines Voter Registration Database Security

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 16:43

The Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR) released a research report titled “Voter Registration Database Security” dated September 2018. The authors/researchers of the report are David Becker, Jacob Kipp, Jack R. Williams, and Jenny Lovell who are respectively Executive Director, Program Manager, Research Associate and Research Associate at the Center. David Becker is actually the Co-Founder and Executive Director for CEIR and well known election reform advocate.

The new research report used a survey to look at “three major areas of VRDB security: (1) prevention, (2) detection, and (3) mitigation”. The report discusses the findings of that survey in detail. Here is a taste:

Experts agree that attempts to interfere so far have been aimed at undermining Americans’ confidence in elections, not changing actual vote totals. That means attackers seem particularly interested in seeking to infiltrate systems like elections websites or voter registration databases, which are more readily accessible than the machines that actually tabulate votes. If those systems were compromised, it could create chaos and confusion that could further damage Americans’ faith in our electoral system.

Based on the survey responses, it’s clear that states are taking securing their VRDBs seriously, though there’s still room for improvement. Significant majorities have implemented best practices for VRDB backups, cybersecurity training, and monitoring of VRDB access. However, states could still improve in certain areas. Many states, for example, need to review their password requirements and still need to implement multi-factor authentication.

The Center for Election Innovation and Research is a “nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to improve election administration through research, data, and technology”. You can see CEIR Co-Founder and Executive Director David Becker discuss other ways to boost voter confidence in elections during this panel discussion from February 17, 2017 on C-SPAN. The video is about 80 minutes long. Click here to watch the video. Also, be sure to checkout our Election Technology section for full coverage and updates on voting in the modern world.

Amnesty: Crackdown Turns Egypt into ‘Open-Air Prison’ for Critics

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 19:44

VOA – ENGLISH

Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Egypt’s government of mounting a crackdown on freedom of expression that had turned the country into an “open-air prison” for critics.

The international human rights group said authorities had arrested at least 111 people since December for criticizing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Egypt’s human rights situation in a campaign that surpassed any under ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

“It is currently more dangerous to criticize the government in Egypt than at any time in the country’s recent history,” Amnesty’s North Africa Campaigns Director Najia Bounaim said in a statement.

“Egyptians living under President al-Sisi are treated as criminals simply for peacefully expressing their opinions.”

A government spokesman had no immediate comment on the Amnesty report when contacted by Reuters.

The security services had ruthlessly clamped down on independent political, social and cultural spaces, Amnesty said.

“These measures, more extreme than anything seen in former President Hosni Mubarak’s repressive 30-year rule, have turned Egypt into an open-air prison for critics,” it said.

Sisi’s supporters maintain the president, who was re-elected in March, has been trying to combat an Islamist insurgency and restore order to the country following years of chaos after Arab Spring demonstrations forced Mubarak to step down in 2011.

They say that Sisi has improved security since 2013, when as army chief he ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi following mass protests against his rule.

Among those arrested were at least 35 people held on charges of “unauthorized protest” and “joining a terrorist group” after a peaceful protest against metro fare increases, and comics and satirists who posted commentary online, Amnesty said.

They also include prominent figures and possible presidential contenders, such as former military chief of staff Sami Anan and former presidential contender Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, as well as former state auditor Hesham Genena.

Amnesty said at least 28 journalists were among those detained since December 2017.

“President al-Sisi’s administration is punishing peaceful opposition and political activists with spurious counterterrorism legislation and other vague laws that define any dissent as a criminal act,” Bounaim said.

Dark Money Groups to Spend Millions in State Supreme Court Races

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 18:37

From the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law:

In the last two months, outside groups like Judicial Crisis Network and the NRA have spent more than $8 million to support or oppose Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. With 29 states holding supreme court elections this November, the same groups may now turn their attention to state judicial races.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law will track, analyze, and publish data on television spending in these campaigns, leading up to the November 6 elections. Detailed ad data for individual candidates and groups, including spending estimates and storyboards provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, will be available on the Center’s Buying Time page.

“Million-dollar outside spending, misleading attack ads, and partisanship are fast becoming hallmarks of state judicial elections,” said Douglas Keith, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “And these are just some of today’s threats to judicial independence. State legislatures are working to increase their control over, or their partisan advantage in state courts. The president has attacked judges. Now, national groups that conceal their donors will likely again pump millions into state supreme court races.”

These races will determine who sits on courts that often provide the final word on cases covering crucial areas including election and environmental law, reproductive rights, and public education funding. State courts hear 95 percent of all cases.

States with judicial races to watch in 2018 include:

  • Arkansas, which is holding a runoff to a May election in which national groups have already spent $1.2 million. The Judicial Crisis Network, which does not disclose its donors, has spent more than any other group in that race so far. Its ads have led to lawsuits alleging some are so misleading that TV stations should be prohibited from running them.
  • Michigan, which saw $4.3 million of spending in its 2016 state supreme court election, including more than $2.5 million in unreported dark money. One candidate this year, a Republican-appointed justice, was threatened with losing her party’s support when she voted to allow a redistricting reform ballot measure to move forward. Another justice who voted to stop the ballot measure is also running to keep his seat on the court.
  • North Carolina, which saw $5.4 million in spending in a 2016 race that shifted the court’s ideological balance to the left. $4.7 million of that spending was from outside groups that partially or completely conceal their donors. One Democrat and one Republican are challenging a Republican incumbent for a seat previously filled through a nonpartisan election. Voters will also decide this November on a controversial proposed constitutional amendment to give the legislature greater authority to select judges to fill judicial vacancies.
  • Ohio, where judicial candidates themselves raised $3 million in two contested races in 2016. There will be two contested seats on the ballot this November, including one open seat.
  • West Virginia, where 20 candidates are running for two seats. Those seats are up for election following the resignation of two justices after an ethics scandal which also led the West Virginia House to impeach the remaining justices. The circumstances of the impeachments suggest an attempt by legislators to use the scandal to increase the court’s conservative majority. The 2016 supreme court race for a single seat in West Virginia saw $5 million in spending.

Information about all states holding judicial elections and the candidates running is available here.

For national trends, read Who Pays for Judicial Races?, the latest in the Brennan Center and National Institute on Money in State Politics’ Politics of Judicial Elections series.

Senators To File Campaign Finance Reports Electronically

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 18:33

On Thursday 13 September 2018, US Congress passed a bill requiring that senators file their campaign finance reports electronically through the Federal Election Commission. According to Chris Mills Rodrigo:

“The language was included in a broader appropriations bill sent to the White House for President Trump’s signature. If the bill is signed, the Senate would finally be subject to the same electronic filing (e-filing) requirements that the House has had since 1995.”

Therefore, the bill targets the promotion of more financial accountability from elected officials, specifically, Senators. Although this doesn’t solve the money politics problem in the country, it should have an impact. Read more about this story here.

Celebrity Chef In Hot Water For Hosting Venezuela’s Maduro

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 18:27
Video: Venezuelan president feasts at ‘Salt Bae’ restaurant while country goes hungry

VOA – ENGLISH

A Turkish celebrity chef with restaurants all over the world is coming under attack after he posted videos on social media of Venezuelan President Nicola Maduro feasting at his Istanbul restaurant amid claims that people in Venezuela are going hungry because of an ongoing economic crisis.

Dozens of Venezuelans protested outside chef Nusret Gokce’s Miami restaurant on Wednesday, even after the videos were deleted Tuesday from Instagram. Protesters, some draped in the Venezuelan flag, chanted and sang the Venezuelan national anthem, trying to deter diners from entering the upscale steakhouse in Miami’s Brickell financial district.

Others so overwhelmed the restaurant’s Yelp online review site with negative comments that the comments section was taken offline for an undetermined amount of time.

One video showed Gokce, also known as “Salt Bae,” carving meat for the president and his wife, Cilia Flores, at the Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul, where each cut of meat can cost hundreds of dollars.

Another showed Maduro puffing on a cigar from a box bearing his name.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio slammed the chef Tuesday.

“I don’t know who this weirdo #Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the President of #Venezuela. He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the people eat only once a day & infants are suffering from malnutrition,” Rubio tweeted Tuesday.

Opposition leader Julio Borges, who lives in exile in Colombia, tweeted: “While Venezuelans suffer and die of hunger, Nicolas Maduro and Cilia Flores have a good time in one of the most expensive restaurants in the world, all with money stolen from the Venezuelan people.”

But Maduro remained unrepentant for the extravagant outing. After returning home to Caracas, he said, “I send greetings from here to our friend Nusret. Comrade, soon I’ll return to Istanbul so we can see one another again. Thanks for the gifts.”

The once-wealthy oil-producing nation has been in an economic crisis for the past five years. The turmoil has left many Venezuelans struggling to find food and medicine and forced masses of people to flee to other South American countries.

According to the United Nations, more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014.

A Meganalisis poll published in the Miami Herald last month found more than 30 percent of Venezuelans say they only ate one meal a day. Nearly the same number report eating “nothing or close to nothing” at least one day a week. A staggering 78 percent said they had trouble finding enough food.

How is the Pussy Riot Poisoning Linked to an African Murder Probe?

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 18:15
Pussy Riot at Lobnoye Mesto on Red Square in Moscow – Denis Bochkarev

VOA – ENGLISH

Russian punk group Pussy Riot on Wednesday linked the suspected poisoning of member Pyotr Verzilov with his attempt to investigate the deaths of three Russian journalists in Africa.

The journalists were shot dead on July 30 in the Central African Republic (CAR) while probing a shadowy Russian mercenary group for a project founded by Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Verzilov’s estranged wife, told the independent channel TV Dozhd that he received a report on the killings a day before falling ill last week.

“We think that (Verzilov’s involvement in the inquiry) is one of the possible scenarios because Petya could be of interest to Russian secret services or state structures including in the Central African Republic,” she said, using a shorter version of his name.

Verzilov, who has both Canadian and Russian citizenship, was admitted to a Moscow clinic on Sept. 11 following a court hearing, with symptoms including vision loss and disorientation.

He was flown to Germany on Saturday by the Cinema for Peace Foundation NGO. Doctors say he is now out of danger.

Tolokonnikova has already commented that Verzilov’s illness was probably the result of an “assassination attempt.”

Verzilov, who works for the Mediazona news site that focuses on courts and prisons, was making a film with one of those killed in Africa, acclaimed documentary director Alexander Rastorguyev.

Tolokonnikova told Dozhd that Verzilov’s cell phone showed he had received a report on Sept. 10 from a CAR contact who was investigating the journalists’ deaths.

Tolokonnikova said Verzilov had told her he expected “sensational information.”

Only Verzilov knew the password to access the report, and he was still “in a quite unstable condition,” she said.

A doctor treating Verzilov at Berlin’s Charite hospital said Tuesday it was “highly plausible that it was a case of poisoning.”

Tolokonnikova told Dozhd that she and other people close to Verzilov thought he might also have been poisoned for taking part in a pitch invasion at the World Cup final in Moscow to protest against police abuses.

That action “possibly upset many” people, she said.

Kabila’s Prefered Successor Has Serious Challengers In DRC Election

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 17:54
President Joseph Kabila at the 69th UNGA

VOA – ENGLISH

Joseph Kabila’s preferred successor as president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will face a credible election challenge in December from two opposition leaders, the final list of candidates published Wednesday
showed.

Kabila has ruled since his father’s assassination in 2001. He agreed last month not to defy term limits and stand for re-election, opening the door to the Central African nation’s first democratic transfer of power.

His announcement calmed tensions that have seen dozens of anti-Kabila demonstrators killed by security forces since he refused to step down when his constitutional mandate expired in December 2016.

Kabila is backing Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary in the long-delayed Dec. 23 election. His biggest challengers are likely to be Felix Tshisekedi, the president of Congo’s largest opposition party, and Vital Kamerhe, who placed third in the last election in 2011.

But in all, 21 candidates have been approved for the single-round contest, including several other prominent Kabila critics, which risks diluting the opposition vote and boosting Ramazani’s chances.

Fairness questions

The authorities’ exclusion from the race of other leading opposition figures, including former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba and ex-provincial Governor Moise Katumbi, has also raised questions about the election’s fairness.

The opposition accuses Kabila’s camp of plotting to rig the elections with untested electronic voting machines, a charge the ruling coalition rejects.

In a rare opinion poll in July, Katumbi and Tshisekedi each received 19 percent support. Bemba received 17percent and Kamerhe got 9 percent.

Ramazani did not receive enough votes to figure in the results but is expected to now benefit from the ruling coalition’s financial and institutional muscle.

Opposition leaders have repeatedly said they intend to coalesce behind a single candidate but have traditionally struggled to present a united front. In 2011, Kabila won with 49 percent of ballots cast as the opposition vote split.

The final candidate list also includes former Prime Minister Samy Badibanga and longtime Kabila ally Tryphon Kin-Kiey.

Bemba was disqualified by the constitutional court earlier this month over a witness-tampering conviction, while Katumbi was prevented from re-entering the country last month to register his candidacy after two years in exile.

The electoral commission also validated more than 15,000 candidacies for parliamentary elections due to take place the same day.

Lawmaker: US Senate, Staff Targeted By State-Backed Hackers

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 17:46

VOA – ENGLISH

Foreign government hackers continue to target the personal email accounts of U.S. senators and their aides – and the Senate’s security office has refused to defend them, a lawmaker says.

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a Wednesday letter to Senate leaders that his office discovered that “at least one major technology company” has warned an unspecified number of senators and aides that their personal email accounts were “targeted by foreign government hackers.” Similar methods were employed by Russian military agents who leaked the contents of private email inboxes to influence the 2016 elections.

Wyden did not specify the timing of the notifications, but a Senate staffer said they occurred “in the last few weeks or months.” The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

But the senator said the Office of the Sergeant at Arms , which oversees Senate security, informed legislators and staffers that it has no authority to help secure personal, rather than official, accounts.

“This must change,” Wyden wrote in the letter. “The November election grows ever closer, Russia continues its attacks on our democracy, and the Senate simply does not have the luxury of further delays.” A spokeswoman for the security office said it would have no comment.

Wyden has proposed legislation that would allow the security office to offer digital protection for personal accounts and devices, the same way it does with official ones. His letter did not provide additional details of the attempts to pry into the lawmakers’ digital lives, including whether lawmakers of both parties are still being targeted.

Google and Microsoft, which offer popular private email accounts, declined to comment.

The Wyden letter cites previous Associated Press reporting on the Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear and how it targeted the personal accounts of congressional aides between 2015 and 2016. The group’s prolific cyberspying targeted the Gmail accounts of current and former Senate staffers, including Robert Zarate, now national security adviser to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Jason Thielman, chief of staff to Montana Sen. Steve Daines, the AP found.

The same group also spent the second half of 2017 laying digital traps intended to look like portals where Senate officials enter their work email credentials, the Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm TrendMicro has reported.

Microsoft seized some of those traps, and in September 2017 apparently thwarted an attempt to steal login credentials of a policy aide to Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill , the Daily Beast discovered in July. Last month, Microsoft made news again when it seized several internet domains linked to Fancy Bear , including two apparently aimed at conservative think tanks in Washington.

Such incidents “only scratch the surface” of advanced cyberthreats faced by U.S. officials in the administration and Congress, according to Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University. Rid made the statement in a letter to Wyden last week .

“The personal accounts of senators and their staff are high-value, low-hanging targets,” Rid wrote. “No rules, no regulations, no funding streams, no mandatory training, no systematic security support is available to secure these resources.”

Attempts to breach such accounts were a major feature of the yearlong AP investigation into Fancy Bear that identified hundreds of senior officials and politicians – including former secretaries of state, top generals and intelligence chiefs – whose Gmail accounts were targeted.

The Kremlin is by no means the only source of worry, said Matt Tait, a University of Texas cybersecurity fellow and former British intelligence official.

“There are lots of countries that are interested in what legislators are thinking, what they’re doing, how to influence them, and it’s not just for purposes of dumping their information online,” Tait said.

In an April 12 letter released by Wyden’s office, Adm. Michael Rogers – then director of the National Security Agency – acknowledged that personal accounts of senior government officials “remain prime targets for exploitation” and said that officials at the NSA and Department for Homeland Security were discussing ways to better protect them. The NSA and DHS declined to offer further details.

Guarding personal accounts is a complex, many-layered challenge.

Rid believes tech companies have a sudden responsibility to nudge high-profile political targets into better digital hygiene. He said he did not believe much as been done, although Facebook announced a pilot program Monday to help political campaigns protect their accounts, including monitoring for potential hacking threats for those that sign up.

Boosting protection in the Senate could begin with the distribution of small chip-based security devices such as the YubiKey, which are already used in many secure corporate and government environments, Tait said. Such keys supplement passwords to authenticate legitimate users, potentially frustrating distant hackers.

Cybersecurity experts also recommend them for high-value cyber-espionage targets including human rights workers and journalists.

“In an ideal world, the Sergeant at Arms could just have a pile of YubiKeys,” said Tait. “When legislators or staff come in they can (get) a quick cybersecurity briefing and pick up a couple of these for their personal accounts and their official accounts.”

Kazakhstan Man Jailed For Anti-Presidential Online Comment

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 17:40

VOA – ENGLISH

Kazakhstan on Thursday sentenced a man to three years in prison for inciting hatred on social media after he took a swipe at the country’s septuagenarian leader and his kinsmen.

A court in the western city of Aktau found Ablovas Jumayev guilty of inciting social hatred on the messaging app Telegram and calling for the forcible overthrow of the government by distributing leaflets.

The 44-year-old father of four maintained that he was innocent of both crimes and intends to appeal the sentence, his lawyer said.

“There is a lot of evidence of his innocence that the court did not admit,” lawyer Zhanargul Sundetkaliyeva told AFP. “We consider the verdict very unjust.”

The case gathered much attention in Kazakhstan because of the central role played by a post written on Telegram, a messaging service founded by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov that has become popular in Kazakhstan.

Jumayev claimed on an opposition Telegram channel that the police chief in his region was a member of the same clan as 78-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, who became ex-Soviet Kazakhstan’s president before the country’s independence in 1991.

The recent appointment of the police chief was probably designed to stop members of Jumayev’s clan rising up, he claimed, according to court documents cited by Sundetkaliyeva.

Clan and regional affiliations play an important role in Central Asia, a Muslim-majority region, although many analysts argue their influence has faded in the years since independence from Moscow.

Jumayev has admitted to writing the post but denied distributing leaflets which he said were planted in his car prior to his arrest in May.

Kazakhstan has never had a strong opposition and has no tradition of competitive elections.

A visiting delegation from the European Parliament criticized the country’s rights record on Wednesday.

The delegation from the body’s foreign affairs committee urged “the authorities of Kazakhstan to stick to their commitments made under the international conventions.”

Kazakhstan, a vast, oil-rich country, has sought to curry favor with the West without alienating traditional ally Russia as Moscow’s geopolitical tensions with Brussels and Washington deepen.

Rights Group Accuses Mexican Military, Police Of Unlawful Killings

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 17:30
File:Mexican army and Aguascalientes state police

VOA – ENGLISH

Mexican troops and police committed two extrajudicial killings while confronting presumed fuel thieves in the central state of Puebla in May 2017, a Mexican human rights group said Wednesday, adding to allegations of abuse against the military.

A report by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said police and troops manipulated the scene by placing high-caliber firearms beside the two bodies. Eight other people died and 13 people, including four minors, were detained with excessive force, the report said.

Neither the defense ministry nor the Puebla police force responded to requests for comment. The state government declined to comment.

Police duties

The military has assumed some police duties in Mexico for more than a decade, working to combat rising drug violence that contributed to a record 31,000 homicides in 2017. Their increased responsibilities have coincided with accusations of human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture.

“As a result of its investigation, the CNDH has the evidence to show grave violations to human rights and personal freedom,” the group said of the reported deaths in Puebla.

The CNDH urged state oil firm Pemex to cooperate in investigations and not let its property be used to hold detainees.

Pemex did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The CNDH previously found that armed forces were involved in the murder of four people in the state of Tamaulipas in 2014, and that soldiers arbitrarily executed two people after an illegal raid in 2016.

“This case is one more example of how the Mexican military violates human rights,” Amnesty International said in a statement in response to the CNDH report. “It’s time for the armed forces to return to their barracks.”

Calls for investigation

The CNDH called on the Mexican attorney general’s office to investigate, and said national and state officials should provide reparations for the victims.

Mexico’s congress passed a controversial security law last year that would lay out the rules under which the armed forces can operate in the battle with organized crime. The law was strongly criticized by opponents who fear it could open the door to more abuses.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has said the law will not be implemented until it is reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The U.S. is Now the World’s Top Oil Producer. Citizens Should Benefit

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 16:56

Why don’t we as Americans ask for more when we buy a car, a house, negotiate for a salary, or even pay for college? What about our fair share of the pie when it comes from the commons, public lands, natural resources, or technology? We’ve invested in these assets through our taxes and only a very few reap the profits.

The one area right now that I want to address in this regard is oil and natural gas. Americans don’t share in the spoils even though this year we became the world’s top crude oil producer. We as Americans have fought wars over its access and for the benefit of so very few!

I understand the true cost of gas is 10 dollars per gallon if you include all the financial subsidiaries we give the oil companies. Of course if you include the Iraq Wars, global warming, and the cost of our relationship to Saudi Arabia that number would be incalculable in measure.

So I ask you again why aren’t we demanding more from our extorted investment?

Oil-rich Norwegians get a cut. Their country has set aside a purse for every single person in Norway valued at $195,000 as of May of 2018. They have taken the profits from the oil in their country, invested it in the global market and their fellow citizens share in the profits even after the oil dries up.

Americans are so in love with capitalism that the average person is being screwed. We think only the Robber Barons in this kleptocracy should share in our vast oil and natural gas wealth because we’ve been brainwashed. Sure they started businesses, borrowed money, and sold shares but at some point something as valuable as oil should be considered as part of the commons that we all as Americans should own title to. Instead, the way it’s going, the privatization of everything is continuing. It will continue until our country becomes one huge warmongering monopoly, with the thieves and cowards at the top reaping all the rewards.

New Center Documents History of Global Women’s Movement

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 00:18

This month, the Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) debuted its new Learning Center—a collection of more than 500 resources for human rights activists and researchers that includes WLP training manuals, documentary films, event archives, legal reform research, and more in over 20 languages. The Learning Center documents the history of the global women’s movement and aims to make previously inaccessible resources, such as interviews with women leaders and oral histories, readily available to all.

The resources include WLP’s foundational training manual, “Leading to Choices,” which aids the capacity development of women leaders and provides a methodology for successfully adapting women’s leadership training to different environments. “’Leading to Choices’ is easily adapted to suit diverse cultural, political, and socio-economic needs of different audiences.”

The manual features twelve interactive sessions, along with tips on how to create workshops on dialogue, collaboration, and mutual respect for those who are new to facilitating workshops. Check out the manual here and surf through the vast resources available in the Learning Center.

The post New Learning Center Documents History of Global Women’s Movement appeared first on World Movement for Democracy.