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80,000 Hours Podcast: Join the Voting Method Revolution

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 21:01

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Robert Wiblin of 80,000 Hours to talk about The Center for Election Science and voting methods. 80,000 Hours is an effective altruism focused podcast, which we’ve written about before. We had a lot of fun in the interview, which you can find on the 80,000 Hours website. We want to give a big thank you to their team for providing this opportunity.

Full 80,000 Hours Interview With Transcript

Like many 80,000 Hours interviews—which is a great podcast to listen to in general—this interview was long and detailed. Fortunately, there’s recently been more of a demand for these types of podcasts.

While Robert provided every opportunity to provide nuance, there were some opportunities I missed where further detail may have been beneficial. Also, this interview was recorded at an earlier date, so some of my responses are out of date. Below, you’ll find these miscellaneous issues addressed.

CES Events

There was a section about conferences and events. You can find the events we have on our events page. We also have a number of events in June including socials and charity dinners that you can RSVP for through Eventbrite.

Voter Turnout

An additional reason why better voting methods are higher impact than voter turnout is that you can have 100% voter turnout and wind up with a terrible outcome. This is from the computer science principle “garbage in, garbage out”. When you bring in bad information, you’re going to get bad output. It doesn’t matter that you have everyone voting if the way that they’re voting is fundamentally flawed.

CES Hiring

We’ve made our hires since the interview, including our local campaign coordinator in Fargo, ND. They’re great, and you can learn more about them on our Who We Are page.


If you want to donate, you can donate through our donation page. Have additional donation questions? Contact our Director of Philanthropy, Kirsten. She’s super friendly and can help you out.

Organizations Using Approval Voting and Score Voting

It’s tough to remember them all, but here’s a list (surely incomplete) of organizations that use approval voting and score voting as well as instances of early use.

Other International Organizations In the Voting Method Space

There’s another organization, FairVote Canada (no affiliation to the FairVote in the US), that does a good job promoting proportional representation in Canada. There are also some other similar organizations with various voting method platforms in Europe.

I offered some criticism of other organizations in this space who offer electoral support to governments to conduct and design their elections. My gripe was that they were offering inferior solutions to single-winner elections. Such organizations are International IDEA, International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and National Democracy Institute. This isn’t to say that they don’t provide a number of excellent resources or do many other aspects very well. I personally use them as a resource quite frequently. But I think they have a ways to go in their performance of implementing single-winner voting methods.

The Concept of Majority

We touched on this a bit. It’s a deceptively unintuitive concept—particularly because it seems like it should be easy. On our blog, you can find a thorough analysis of the majority concept as applied to cardinal methods like approval voting as well as runoffs and instant runoff voting.

Approval Voting Critiques

Robert really dug in to make sure that we expanded on approval voting criticism. If I missed anything, you can probably find it in a previous article I wrote on this topic.

Voting Method Research

Asking about voting method research, it would likely be good to see more research on multi-candidate races and see how the election would differ based on the voting method. One way research could, in general, be better would be if raw ballot information on non-plurality methods were easily made available to the public. Because so little information is provided in plurality ballots, all the information is inherently there. But for methods that ask for more information, having access to all the information is essential for research.

There’s also some research on voting methods and outcomes. I’m not personally aware of research that looks into identifying policy support as an outcome measure that has the voting method as a predictor variable. It’s not possible to use random assignment when looking at these outcomes, but statistical models can control for potential confounding variables, and this statistical control is commonplace.

Our Work In Fargo, ND

Awhile back we were contacted by a Fargo, ND election commission member. We’ve been offering advice and intellectual support to help that person, Jed Limke, set up Reform North Dakota, which is operating as Reform Fargo locally. We’re working alongside local support there and have also hired locally for the campaign coordinator. We hope that our support with locals in Fargo empowers their citizens to have the most meaningful vote in the country. Fargo would then serve as a replicable model for other cities.

Recommended Books

We also have a recommended books page if it’s helpful.

Arrow’s Theorem

We broached the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem but didn’t really go into Arrow’s Theorem. If that’s the kind of thing you’d like to learn more about, I wrote an article on it shortly after his death. I also interviewed Kenneth Arrow awhile back.

Proportional Approval Voting

I alluded to a proportional approach to approval voting. One approach in the literature (made publicly available here—it’s the sequential apportionment one) is to have a normal approval voting election and then keep going. But every time a candidate gets elected, every voter who approved of that candidate gets the weight of their ballot deweighted. This would repeat until all seats are filled. This deweighting upon getting someone elected is a common approach within proportional methods.

One deweighting method for ballots upon getting voters’ approved candidates elected is 1/3, 1/5, 1/7, … Of course, there are different deweighting schemes that have subtle pros and cons. There’s also research being done to have proportional approval methods deal with the surplus votes that go over the threshold for getting a candidate elected. Deciding where the election threshold stands is one of the factors to consider.

In any case, the simple approach outlined above provides a proportional outcome. It can work for at-large council elections. It can also be scaled up to have many multi-member districts so that an entire legislature can be filled. Using multi-member districts of at least five while using a proportional voting method creates a kind of bullet-proof vest for gerrymandering attempts. This is also much easier than independent commissions and will surely lead towards better outcomes.

Using an approval-voting-style ballot also provides an easy ballot. That’s essential when you have a multi-winner election which tends to draw many more candidates than single-winner elections. For comparison, Robert referenced the difficulties that STV had with this issue because the method insisted that the voter rank their choices. (Try approving within a list of 30 options versus ranking; it’s a huge difference in effort.)

Reiterating the Target

I stated this at least two times in the interview, but it’s worth honing in on. While we look at all kinds of voting methods as we figure out this problem domain, it’s unambiguous that plurality voting is the worst voting method there is, and it needs to go. I responded candidly when asked about the reform instant runoff voting/ ranked choice voting (IRV/RCV). We’ve critiqued IRV just as others have critiqued approval voting. But the place where we spend our overall energy is replacing plurality voting with approval voting wherever possible. We commend others for doing the same even if we disagree on the best solution. That said, we’re quite comfortable with our case for approval voting.

Florida School Shooting Survivors Announce Voter Registration Push

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 15:48


A group of Florida students who survived a mass shooting at their high school in February said they will spend their summer on a 75-stop bus tour rallying for stricter gun control laws.

About two dozen students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School said Monday the focus of the bus tour will be to register people to vote with the aim of bringing in more voters who support reforms to U.S. gun laws.

“Four million people turn 18 this year. And if every single one of those people votes, encourages their friends to vote, makes sure their family is getting to the polls, we can make real change in this country,” said Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, during a news conference in Parkland, Florida.

‘Road to Change’

The student organizers, who wore matching “Road to Change” T-shirts, said the bus tour will focus on districts where elected officials have received significant money from the National Rifle Association, a gun-rights lobbying group that has long organized get-out-the-vote efforts for gun-rights supporters.

The tour is the latest development in a youth-led campaign against gun violence sparked by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day, which left 17 people dead.

In the months since the shooting, Parkland students have organized rallies in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, as well a march in Washington.

The summer bus tour will begin June 15 in Chicago and will make stops in more than 20 states before concluding in Florida. It will also stop in every congressional district in Florida, according to the organizers.

The students said their tour is being funded through donations.


On Sunday, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School held its graduation, paying tribute to those killed in February’s mass shooting.

Senior class president Julia Cordover urged students to change the world by voting in this November’s congressional elections.

The parents and siblings who came to the stage to pick up the diplomas in place of the murdered children received standing ovations.

Is a Presidential Run For Starbucks’ Howard Schultz on Tap?

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 13:48

Starbucks longtime boss Howard Schultz is retiring, and many are thinking he may run for president. From VOA – ENGLISH:

Starbucks Corp, the world’s biggest coffee chain, said on Monday Executive Chairman Howard Schultz is stepping down, effective June 26. Schultz, who has been with Starbucks for nearly four decades, is credited with turning the company into a popular household name and growing it from 11 stores to more than 28,000 in 77 countries.

Last year, Schultz stepped down as chief executive officer to become executive chairman, handing the top job to Kevin Johnson. Most recently, he was involved in steering the company through an anti-bias training program that was kickstarted after a Philadelphia cafe manager’s call to police resulted in the arrests of two black men who were waiting for a friend.

Starbucks’ board named Myron Ullman, who was previously chairman and CEO of struggling retailer J.C. Penney Co, as its new chair and Mellody Hobson vice chair effective upon Schultz’s retirement. Schultz will also resign from Starbucks’ board and will be named chairman emeritus, the company said in a statement.

Bonus Video:

Zimbabwe’s Opposition Marches in Capital, Seeking Fair Vote

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 13:40


Thousands of opposition supporters marched in Zimbabwe’s capital on Tuesday to demand electoral reforms ahead of the July 30 vote, the first since Robert Mugabe stepped down last year.

The street demonstration was Harare’s largest since the massive one in November leading to Mugabe’s departure. Speakers warned they would march again if President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power with the military’s help, “steals” the election.

Mnangagwa has promised a “free, fair and credible” vote and invited Western observers for the first time in nearly two decades, mindful that the West has indicated a fair vote must take place before international sanctions can be lifted. Previous elections have been marked by allegations of fraud and violence.

Nelson Chamisa, the 40-year-old MDC-T party leader who has energized the opposition since the death of longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February, said they will not allow elections to go ahead if the vote is not free and fair.

“We will stop all processes until they accept our demands. … We are prepared to do whatever is necessary,” Chamisa told cheering supporters.

Chanting slogans, the marchers passed through Mnangagwa’s office, where a Cabinet meeting was under way, and presented a petition. They did the same at the electoral commission.

Police, previously known for suppressing such events under Mugabe, kept watch on the demonstrators after banning the ruling ZANU-PF from holding a counter-march.

The opposition’s demands include an end to alleged military interference in the electoral commission. The commission has denied it, saying only 15 percent of its staff is made up of retired security agents. Other demands include an end to alleged state media bias, an audit of the voters’ roll and transparency in the printing of ballots.

Former ruling party members who are now part of another opposition party backed by Mugabe also addressed the crowd and pledged to support Chamisa’s candidacy.

Court Battle Over Trump’s Blocking Twitter Followers to Continue

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 13:38


The U.S. Justice Department late on Monday said it would appeal a federal judge’s ruling that President Donald Trump may not legally block Twitter users from his account on the social media platform based on their political views, according to a court filing.

A lawyer for seven plaintiffs who sued, Jameel Jaffer, said that the @realdonaldtrump account on Monday had unblocked the seven plaintiffs who filed suit.

The White House and the Justice Department did not immediately comment.

“We’re pleased that the White House unblocked our clients from the President’s Twitter account but disappointed that the government intends to appeal the district court’s thoughtful and well-supported ruling,” Jaffer said in an email.


Jordanian Protests Resume as PM Switch is Finalized

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 13:32


Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday appointed a new prime minister, the royal palace said, naming a leading reformer as head of government in hopes of quelling the largest anti-government protests in recent years.

Cabinet member Omar Razzaz, a Harvard-educated former senior World Bank official, replaced Hani Mulki, who quit Monday amid widening protests against his government’s austerity program, including a planned tax increase. Razzaz served as education minister in the outgoing Mulki government.
It’s not clear how much of a reform mandate Razzaz will receive, since the king retains final say on all policy issues.

In the appointment letter addressed to Razzaz, the monarch called on the new government to conduct a comprehensive review of the tax system and produce a new tax bill, in cooperation with parliament, unions and other groups.

He also expressed empathy for ordinary Jordanians who have long complained that they are being asked to pay taxes for poor services. Critics say the current tax proposal unfairly targets the poor and the middle class.

It’s not clear if the appointment of Razzaz will defuse the growing public anger over a long-standing political and economic system widely perceived as corrupt and exclusionary, with benefits reserved for a small elite.

Protest organizers said they would keep up the pressure, including a one-day strike set for Wednesday, until the proposal has been shelved. Critics say the tax increase unfairly targets the poor and the middle class.

The embattled Mulki, who had led the push for unpopular austerity measures, resigned following several days of mass protests across Jordan against the tax plan, the latest in a series of economic reforms sought by the International Monetary Fund to get the rising public debt under control.

The kingdom has experienced an economic downturn in part because of prolonged conflict in neighboring Syria and Iraq, and a large influx of refugees several years ago. The official unemployment rate has risen above 18 percent, and it’s believed to be double that among young Jordanians.

In a sign of continued unrest, protests continued even after Mulki’s resignation. Several thousand Jordanians marched toward the prime minister’s office in the night from Monday to Tuesday.

Riot police scuffled with some of the marchers, trying to keep them away from the building, but the fifth street protest in as many days was largely peaceful.

Protesters said personnel changes at the top are irrelevant without fundamental reforms.

Razzaz holds post-graduate degrees in planning and law from Harvard. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2002 to 2006. From 2006-2010, he served as the World Bank’s country manager in Lebanon, with emphasis on private sector development and infrastructure finance. Razzaz then returned to Jordan to head the Social Security Corporation, and from 2011-12, led the national team responsible for preparing a national employment strategy.

Trump Officials Get Updated on Russian Election Manipulation

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 13:23

Senior level Trump officials met with 40 to 50 members of the U.S House of Representatives along with the heads of the FBI, Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday May 22, to discuss the ongoing threats from Russia and other countries against the American election system.

“We see them continuing to conduct foreign influence campaigns,” DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said following the meeting. Nielsen was referring to Russian influence in several European nations over the last two years. More recently, Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 United States Presidential election.

The extent of the influence upon the U.S Presidential election has yet to be fully uncovered but it is widely believed that the Russians tried to influence both the Trump and Clinton campaigns. The Russians are accused of spreading disinformation via social media platforms to create discontent and animosity amongst both sides. To that end, special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted a Russian troll farm outside Moscow which has been accused of being a primary factor in creating discontent across the democratic world.

13 members of the troll farm have been accused of spreading discontent on Facebook and Twitter, however none are expected to face jail time as Russia is expected not to extradite the individuals to the US to face charges.

Some of the content that was created by the Russian troll farm was posted on accounts that were stolen on Twitter and Facebook, and then went onto post things like, “Hillary doesn’t deserve your black vote,” a message they spread around social media in May of 2016. The posts were used to divide Americans amongst racial, class and political lines.

Another post on social media said, “Trump is our only hope for the future!” The depth of Russian manipulation went so far as to having the members of the IRA (Russia’s Internet Research Agency) travel to nine U.S states to research vulnerabilities in American culture and society.

The media posts were targeted at both sides of the political aisle aimed at increasing hostilities and were largely successful in their operation. Even after the election, the IRA continued in their campaign of sowing discontent. However, following the election, the group would post such messages as “Trump is not my president,” and going so far as to arrange pro and anti-Trump demonstrations in New York City.

The United States isn’t the only country to blame Russia for meddling. As of today, over 27 countries have said that Russia meddled in their election process. Many of the countries are former Soviet Union bloc members and Western European countries. Some of the examples of Russian meddling include:

  • In April 2004 the Prime Minister of Lithuania, Rolandas Paksas was impeached for granting citizenship to alleged former Russian crime figure, Yuri Borisov. He was impeached after it was learned that he leaked classified information to Borisov
  • In August 2008, cyberattacks which were thought to be conducted by Russians, shut down internet traffic in Georgia.
  • In late July 2016, the website Wikileaks published 20,000 emails from the Democratic National committee which were suspected to be stolen by Russian hackers. The emails were very damaging to the DNC’s image. The most damaging was the fact that it showed that the DNC was trying to undermine the Bernie Sanders campaign in favor for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

These are just a few of the instances in which Russia is accused of being involved in manipulating other countries elections.

“These are the tools they use to undermine democratic institutions in different places,” Laura Rosenberg, who is head of the alliance said regarding the issue. “For a lot of Americans, the question of interference in U.S elections came out of nowhere. It sounds crazy to most people that this has been part of the Russian playbook for more than a decade.”

Concluding, the U.S should not only spend more money on election safety but also update it’s electronic voting machines to make sure they are update to date with the newest protection available. It is up to Trump and the rest of America’s leadership to ensure such manipulation is prevented in the future.

Links to sources:
  1. Reuters Link:
  2. BBC Link:
  3. USA Today Link:

VIDEO: Money, Corruption and Transnational Politics

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 19:36

The Center for Strategic and International Studies recently held an interesting panel on author Evan Ellis’ latest book: “Transnational Organized Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean”. According to the event invite:

In this public event, a panel of experts will discuss Professor Evan Ellis’ most recent book, “Transnational Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Ellis, a Professor of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College, argues that “instead of attacking symptoms, policymakers must focus on the relationships between the interdependent phenomena in the whole system, and how to selectively intervene in affect those relationships.”

In addition to Professor Ellis, this public event will feature Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs Rebecca Bill Chavez, and Douglas Farah. The panelists will discuss Ellis’ book as well as provide analysis of the larger theme of transnational organized crime in the region.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies is a “bipartisan, nonprofit policy research organization dedicated to providing strategic insights and policy solutions to help decisionmakers chart a course toward a better world”.

About the speakers at the event:

  • Rebecca Bill Chavez is a Senior Strategic Fellow for Latin American Studies and a Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs. She is also a Senior Strategic Fellow for Latin American Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
  • Richard Miles is a Senior Fellow, Deputy Director at CSIS’s Americas Program and the Director of CSIS’s U.S.-Mexico Futures Initiative.
  • Evan Ellis is a Non-resident Senior Associate at CSIS’s Americas Program.

The video is about 90 minutes. Take a look:

Unelected Power: Central Banks and the Regulatory State

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 13:28

The London School of Economics and Political Science just published this video about the unelected positions of administration in modern democratic governments. Description from the event invite:

Central bankers pull the levers of our economic well-being. In this lecture Paul Tucker explains how to ensure agents of the administrative state remain stewards of the common good.

Central bankers have emerged from the financial crisis as the third great pillar of unelected power alongside the judiciary and the military. They pull the regulatory and financial levers of our economic well-being, yet unlike democratically elected leaders, their power does not come directly from the people. In his new book, Unelected Power: The Quest for Legitimacy in Central Banking and the Regulatory State, Paul Tucker lays out the principles needed to ensure that central bankers, technocrats, regulators, and other agents of the administrative state remain stewards of the common good and do not become overmighty citizens. He draws on a wealth of personal experience from his many years in domestic and international policymaking to tackle the big issues raised by unelected power, and enriches his discussion with examples from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union.

Speakers in the video include:

Paul Tucker is a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and chair of the Systemic Risk Council. Previously, he was Deputy Governor at the Bank of England, sitting on its monetary policy, financial stability, and prudential policy committees. Internationally, he was a member of the G20 Financial Stability Board, leading its work on too big to fail; a director of the Bank for International Settlements, and chair of its Committee for Payment and Settlement Systems.

Charles Goodhart Emeritus Professor of Banking and Finance, FMG, LSE.

The video is about 90 minutes. Take a look:

Thoughts on End of Life Choices

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 12:58

Tengo una lista de veinte palabras mudas para ti.”[i]
Luis Ortega

We are endlessly rethinking how to deal with the end of life. We break the taboos. We begin the conversation with our loved ones and in our communities, showing it is not just a concern for healthcare professionals, the terminally ill or the elderly, but for everyone. And we question institutionalized approaches to death, fighting to replace them with personalized, humane models:

“On April 16 at the New York State Capitol in Albany, representatives from Death with Dignity National Center, Compassion & Choices New York, Death with Dignity-Albany, and End of Life Choices New York announced the formation of the New York Alliance for Medical Aid in Dying. This new coalition will work to build support among legislators and New York residents for the Medical Aid in Dying Act currently under consideration by the state Assembly.”[ii]

However, the end of life is encircled by myths and half-truths, greatly due to lack of knowledge and misperceptions, for instance:

“Despite the documented benefits of palliative and hospice care on improving patients’ quality of life, these services remain underutilized. Multiple factors limit the utilization of these services, including patients’ and caregivers’ lack of knowledge and misperceptions.”[iii]

One reason is the persistent uneasiness we have when thinking and talking about death. A second reason is the indisposition of some healthcare professionals to give alternative information. At the core of the issue is choosing who is in control:

“Research shows that advance directives can make a difference, and that people who document their preferences in this way are more likely to get the care they prefer at the end of life than people who do not.”[iv]

If cultural impacts are significantly motivated by numbers, when many people confront an issue, it becomes socially relevant, substantial, and noteworthy. All of this is complicated by the fact that America has the most geographically and culturally diverse generation in history, one in which cultures, ethnicities, religions, and geographies mix. As we plan for the end of life, we struggle to expand our options and even to decide to list our choices. A search for freedom and meaning motivates us. We want our own chosen way to say adiós:

“Everyone has the right to a humane and peaceful death.”[v]


[i] “I have a list of twenty silent words for you.”

[ii] Announcing the New York Alliance for Medical Aid in Dying. Death with Dignity.

[iii] Awareness and Misperceptions of Hospice and Palliative Care: A Population-Based Survey Study. The National Center for Biotechnology Information.

[iv] Advance Care Planning: Healthcare Directives. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. NIH.

[v] End of Life Choices NY.

Banned by Mugabe, Play About Zimbabwe Massacres Finally Staged

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 12:41


By MacDonald Dzirutwe

A play that was banned by Robert Mugabe about a 1980s government crackdown in which rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed has been performed in Zimbabwe for the first time.

The play, “1983, The Dark Years”, was stopped by the censors in 2012 but following November’s de facto army coup against Mugabe, its director feels political freedoms are improving.

The now president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was Mugabe’s security minister at the time and many say he played a big role during the Gukurahundi massacres – making the play’s airing, just months after he took power, even more significant.

“We, as a theatre group thought it is the right time to try and trigger this kind of debate whereby we need the nation to actually know what happened because as we speak the nation is divided by this term (Gukurahundi),” director and actor Adrian Musa, told Reuters after the show.

The massacres began after Mugabe said his government had discovered weapons hidden by former liberation fighters belonging to PF-ZAPU led by his rival Joshua Nkomo, whom he accused of plotting an insurgency.

In the local Shona language, Gukurahundi means “the early rain that washes away the chaff”.

“This is a very sensitive issue and where we come from in Matabeleland if you term the word Gukurahundi people will start raising their eyebrows to see who is talking,” Musa said.

During Mugabe’s near 40-year rule, few families and victims, mostly minority Ndebeles, spoke openly about the Gukurahundi offensive carried out by a North Korean-trained brigade. Mugabe has called the period a “moment of madness”.

Mnangagwa has never publicly addressed in Zimbabwe any role he played, but when asked about it at the Davos meeting of world leaders in January, he said: “The most important thing is that what has happened has happened, what can we do about the past?

“We would like to say wherever wrong was committed, the government of the day must apologise. Wherever any community has suffered any injury, if it is that injury that has to be repaired, we do it.”

The play is set in Gwanda, southwest Zimbabwe, which experienced some of the worst atrocities.

In the play, soldiers in red berets chase after an elderly woman and hang her on a tree and in other scene, soldiers high on dagga amputate a man’s leg with a bayonet and chop off a high school boy’s genitals.

When a Reuters reporter in February visited Sawudeni, a village west of Harare where some of the killings took place, villagers said they wanted Mnangagwa and Mugabe to apologise publicly and compensate the families of victims.

“In my opinion we have been parking the issue of Gukurahundi for a very long time,” said Davis Guzha, executive director at the theatre company that brought the show to Harare.

“If anything, because the president keeps talking about ‘Zimbabwe is open for business,’ let’s discuss everything.” (Editing by James Macharia and Alison Williams)

Russian Court Sentences Ukrainian Journalist to 12 Years Jail

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 12:34


A Russian court has sentenced Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko to 12 years in prison after convicting him of spying in a case that Kyiv and rights activists say is politically motivated.

At a June 4 hearing, the Moscow City Court found Sushchenko guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 12 years in a strict-regime prison.

The verdict and sentence are likely to add to international scrutiny on Russia ahead of the 2018 soccer World Cup, which it is hosting from June 14 to July 15. A lawyer for Sushchenko, Mark Feigin, said he would appeal the verdict.

Kyiv, human rights activists, and Western governments say Russia has jailed several Ukrainians on trumped-up, politically motivated charges since Moscow seized the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and threw its support behind armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Sushchenko, a Paris-based correspondent for the Ukrinform news agency, was detained in Moscow in 2016 on suspicion of collecting classified information.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has claimed that Sushchenko works for the Ukrainain Defense Ministry and that he gathered information about the Russian military and National Guard.

Sushchenko pleaded not guilty at the start of his trial in March. Prosecutors had urged the court to sentence him to 14 years in prison.

Ukraine has called repeatedly for the release of Sushchenko and other Ukrainians held in Russia. Last week, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maryana Betsa said the journalist was a “hostage to Russian aggression.”

The verdict in Sushchenko’s trial came amid heightened attention to the plight of such prisoners, particularly filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, as Russia prepares to host the World Cup.

Sentsov is a Crimea native serving a 20-year prison term in Russia after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

He started a hunger strike on May 14, demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners.

Critics accuse Russian authorities of fabricating the charges against Sentsov as a reprisal for his opposition to Moscow’s takeover of the Black Sea peninsula. Russia seized Crimea in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries in the United Nations.

Volodymyr Balukh, a pro-Kyiv activist imprisoned by Russian authorities in Crimea in another politically charged case, has been on a hunger strike for nearly two months.

With reporting by Rapsinews, Dozhd, and TASS

Jordanian People Power Movement Forces PM to Resign

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 12:28


Jordan’s prime minister has resigned, following four days of protests over a new income tax law.

Jordanian Prime Minister Hany al Mulki’s resignation Monday followed four nights of protests in towns and cities across the country, including their focal point outside the prime minister’s office in the capital Amman.

Arab media reports Education Minister Omar Razaz has been asked by King Abdallah to form a new government.

Al Mulki had insisted on presenting his new income tax bill to parliament, despite popular protests.

He said sending the income tax law to parliament [for debate] does not in any way mean that parliament has agreed to it or any part of it.

The government had been trying to push through a variety of tax increases, as part of a loan package agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Jordan currently has a public debt of nearly $40 billion. Tax increases on fuel, electricity and water, along with a new income tax plan have aroused public ire.

Jordanian Police Chief Fadel al Hamoud said Monday several arrests were made during the protests.

He said 60 people were arrested for breaking the law and rioting, including attacking public and private property. He added eight of those arrested were from other Arab countries and that police are trying to determine what they were up to.

Hamoud said 40 members of the country’s security forces were injured during the protests.

He said that firearms have been used against the security forces, along with firecrackers and knives in the area of Amman’s Fourth Circle (where the prime minister’s offices are located).

Jordanian commentator Shehab Makahleh, head of the Geostrategic Media Center and Director of Political Studies at Jordan’s Middle East Institute, told VOA the demonstrations have been “against corruption, not against the regime,” and that protesters “hope to reform the economic system … [by way of] a respectable civil movement.”

Makahleh said he thinks the current crisis may be tied to U.S. efforts to impose a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, referred to in Arab media as the “Deal of the Century.” He claimed such a deal will call on Jordan to give up its custodianship over Jerusalem’s holy sites and could cause political tremors in the Middle East.

Families of Tiananmen Victims Urge China to ‘Re-Evaluate’ Crackdown

Sun, 06/03/2018 - 17:12


Families of Chinese democracy protesters killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown have urged President Xi Jinping to acknowledge their suffering and “re-evaluate the June Fourth massacre” as its 29th anniversary approaches.

Open discussion of the crackdown is forbidden in China, where hundreds — by some estimates more than a thousand — died when the Communist Party sent tanks to crush demonstrations in the square in Beijing on June 4, 1989, after student-led protesters had staged a peaceful seven-week sit-in to demand democratic reforms.

In an open letter to Xi dated “the eve of 2018 June 4th”, the Tiananmen Mothers, an association of parents who lost children in the violence, said: “each year when we would commemorate our loved ones, we are all monitored, put under surveillance, or forced to travel”.

“No one from the successive governments over the past 29 years has ever asked after us, and not one word of apology has been spoken from anyone, as if the massacre that shocked the world never happened,” said the letter, which was released on Thursday by the non-profit Human Rights in China.

“The 1989 June Fourth bloody massacre is a crime the state committed against the people. Therefore, it is necessary to re-evaluate the June Fourth massacre,” the letter said, calling for “truth, compensation, and accountability” from the government.

The protests are branded a “counter-revolutionary rebellion” by Chinese authorities and many on the mainland remain unaware of the crackdown, with discussion banned from books, textbooks, movies and censored on social networks.

The semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong is the only place on Chinese soil where the anniversary is openly marked with a famous vigil in Victoria Park on June 4 each year.

Russia Urged to Let Doctors See Hunger-Striker Oleg Sentsov

Sun, 06/03/2018 - 17:08


Ukraine urged Russia on Sunday to allow foreign doctors to visit film director Oleg Sentsov, who has gone on hunger strike in a Russian prison, as fears mount for his health.

The 41-year-old launched his protest on May 14, demanding that Moscow release all its Ukrainian political prisoners as Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup later this month.

“We have appealed to the Russian Federation with the request to admit Ukrainian and foreign doctors to Ukrainian political prisoners,” Ulana Suprun, Ukraine’s acting minister of health wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag “#FreeSentsov.”

Suprun added a copy of her letter to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova which said the visits should be allowed “to assess their state of health.”

Sentsov, a pro-Ukrainian activist and documentary director, was detained in Crimea in 2014 after Russia annexed the peninsula on accusations of masterminding arson attacks.

Sentsov denied the allegations but was found guilty on terrorism charges, and is serving a 20-year sentence in Russia’s far north.

Russian politician and media star Ksenia Sobchak said on Friday she spoke to Sentsov via a video call.

“He is very pale, very thin,” Sobchak said, adding that he had begun to lose his teeth.

On Monday, Russia’s prison service said Sentsov agreed to “receive supportive therapy,” without providing further details. It described hiscondition as “satisfactory.”

Papua New Guinea Facebook Ban Would be a Mistake

Sun, 06/03/2018 - 17:04
Electoral Commission workers show locals through the mock poll booth setup in Port Moresby – link


The government Papua New Guinea is considering blocking Facebook while it investigates how to best to regulate the social networking site. Critics say the move would be authoritarian.

Authorities in Papua New Guinea, or PNG, say Facebook has become a magnet for illegal and unsavory activity. The government is considering a temporary ban on the site while it works out the best way to regulate the social media platform.

Only about 10 percent of the nearly 7 million people in PNG use Facebook, but some officials have become increasingly agitated by content being posted online.They have asked experts to help in their search for the best way to impose controls on the social media site.

PNG Communications Minister, Sam Basil, says illegal use of Facebook must be curbed.

“Defamatory publications or the fake news, identity theft and, of course, unidentified Facebook users. Most of those users are the ones that are really breaching all the laws in terms of posting pornography materials and, of course, posting fake news,” he said.

But critics believe the government’s attempts to muzzle Facebook are an attack on free speech. They believe that ministers are motivated by a desire to silence those who expose official corruption and wrongdoing online.

Lawrence Stephens, the chairman of Transparency International PNG, says a temporary ban of Facebook would be a draconian move.

“To talk about stopping this for a month whilst someone, somewhere does an analysis of what we should be able to see sounds pretty authoritarian and pretty worrying,” said Stephens.

The move to temporarily ban Facebook comes as PNG prepares to host the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, leaders’ summit later this year.

PNG is a South Pacific nation and is Australia’s closest neighbor.

Prosecutor Says 17 Detained in Case Against Saudi Women Activists

Sun, 06/03/2018 - 16:56


Saudi Arabia’s prosecutor says 17 people have been detained on suspicion of trying to undermine security and stability, a case activists say has targeted prominent women’s rights campaigners just weeks before the country lifts its ban on women driving.

The statement from the Public Prosecutor’s office on Sunday did not name those detained, and said eight have been temporarily released. It says five men and four women are still being held with “sufficient evidence against them, as well as their confession to the charges.”

The statement says the accused admitted to communicating with people and organizations hostile to the kingdom, recruiting people in a sensitive government entity to obtain confidential information, and providing financial support to hostile elements abroad.

Rights groups have condemned the arrests.


Striking Iranian Truckers Win New Domestic, Global Support

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 18:47


Iranian truck drivers who have been on strike for 11 days to protest rising business costs have received new messages of support from prominent domestic and international transport workers’ groups.

In a statement published via social media Friday, an Iranian labor union representing bus company employees in Tehran said it supported the rights of the truck drivers and other transport workers to go on strike and stage protests for better working conditions. The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Companyalso said it condemned any assaults on workers exercising those rights.

The Iranian labor union, which posted the statement on its Telegram channel, said many of the striking truckers have been living below the poverty line because of meager wages. It also accused Iranian police of attacking some of the strikers since the labor protest began in several parts of the country on May 22.

Truckers report threats

Several striking truckers who spoke to VOA Persian in recent days said Iranian authorities had sent text messages threatening to revoke drivers’ licenses unless the strike ended. But there have been no verified reports of strikers being physically assaulted or detained.

Mobilized by social media, striking truck drivers have displayed signs complaining of stagnant wages as they face rising costs for insurance, road tolls, commissions, repairs and spare parts. The participation of gasoline tanker drivers in the strike has caused shortages at gas stations in some parts of the country.

Iranian activist reports dated Friday and verified by VOA Persian showed the truckers’ strike continuing in the port cities Bandar Abbas and Bandar Khomeini and in the provinces of Isfahan and Kermanshah.

International support

The strikers won additional support in a Thursday statement from the London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which represents 19 million workers in 140 countries.

ITF, whose members include the Tehran bus workers’ union, said it stood “in full solidarity” with the Iranian truckers. It said the strike has had a significant impact on Iran because road transport is vital to the nation’s supply chains.

The statement quoted ITF head of inland transport Noel Coard as saying the truckers, together with most Iranians, have been suffering from the impact of ongoing inflation and price hikes in Iran.

“They can’t make a decent living,” Coard said. “At the same time, many trucks are in poor condition, needing spare parts and repairs. Alongside poor weather conditions, border area security problems and a general lack of road safety, Iranian truckers endure unacceptable working conditions.”

Coard also said respect for workers’ rights, including the right of independent trade unions to represent their members, was key to resolving the truckers’ problems.

International rights groups say Iran has curtailed activities of labor unions in recent years, with some strikers being fired and union leaders being sentenced to long prison terms on national security charges.

Reza Salmasi and Behrooz Samadbeygi of VOA’s PersianServicecontributed to this report.

Court Shuts Down Independent Kazakhstani News Site

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 11:30

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights, released a strong statement in response to a Kazakh court ordering the closure of the independent website and prohibiting its editor from using the outlet’s name to publish articles elsewhere.

“By shutting down, Kazakhstan’s government moves closer to establishing a state monopoly on news outlets, and further limiting citizens’ sources of information,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “A government that blocks independent news outlets prevents citizens from making well-informed decisions about their lives, their communities, and their country.”

Kazakhstan is rated Not Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2018, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2017, Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2017, and receives a democracy score of 6.71 on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the worst possible score, in Nations in Transit 2018.

More information on the case can be found in this article from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakh Service:

A Kazakh court has ordered the closing of the news site in a case criticized by media watchdogs as part of a campaign of official harassment against independent outlets.

Almaty’s Medeu district court on May 28 ordered a one-year ban on and decreed that the site’s registration be canceled. Judge Gulmira Beysenova also prohibited the use of the domain name and — an alternative site on which published its content.

Ratel’s editor in chief, Marat Asipov, and other employees at the site were also banned from publishing content in other media under the name

Asipov said he would appeal the court decision.

In a motion filed in late March, prosecutors accused the media outlet of violating reregistration rules by using the domain after the death of its owner, Gennady Benditsky, and transferring’s rights to

They also said illegally based its servers outside of Kazakhstan and published content in Russian, Kazakh, and English, although its registration only indicates Russian as a language of publication.

The Medeu district court later ruled to suspend the publication of

Separately, journalists at and are being prosecuted on charges of “disseminating knowingly false information” following a claim filed by businessman and former Finance Minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov.

Kakimzhanov claimed that the outlets published false information that damaged his reputation and that of his son.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says has reported on alleged corrupt business practices by the Kakimzhanovs between May and December 2016.

Earlier this month, CPJ and 25 other international press-freedom organizations expressed concern that “the growing pattern of disproportionate and, in some cases, illegal actions taken by the prosecutor’s office and the judiciary against and a number of other media suggests misuse of Kazakhstan’s legal system to silence normal criticism crucial to the functioning of a well-ordered democracy.”

In April, Human Rights Watch issued a statement on the cases against and another popular independent media outlet,, urging Kazakh authorities to stop using libel laws “to harass journalists who are doing their jobs.”

Nicaragua Violence Against Civil Society Reaches New Peak

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 11:23

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights, has issued a dramatically harsh statement in response to Nicaraguan authorities increasingly targeting peaceful protestors and human rights activists with intimidation and violent attacks, including the arrest this week of six members of the Comisión Permanente de Derechos Humanos (CPDH, one of the country’s leading human rights groups).

“The growing number of house searches, arrests and killings carried out by Nicaragua’s police and security forces against members of civil society organizations, including CPDH, is part of the accelerating deterioration of human rights and democratic institutions in Nicaragua,” said Carlos Ponce, director of Latin America programs at Freedom House. Freedom House went as far as to recommend three specific actions:

  1. The United States should impose sanctions — including bans on travel to the United States, and asset freezes through the Global Magnitsky Act — against leading figures in the government of President Daniel Ortega.
  2. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights should develop measures to protect CPDH staff from arbitrary arrest.
  3. The Organization of American States and Nicaragua’s neighbors should condemn the abuses and press for an immediate end to the violence.

According to Ponce, “the government, which press outlets hold responsible for the deaths of nearly 100 demonstrators since mid-April, should immediately release the CPDH members and end its targeting of youth and religious leaders and human rights activists.” According to Freedom House’s ranking system, Nicaragua is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2018, and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2017.