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Singaporean blogger and premier in David-and-Goliath legal battle

Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:28:44 +0000 - (source)

A post criticizing the Singaporean government’s management of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) for retirees got blogger Roy Ngerng into deep trouble with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is not only suing him but also seeking a summary judgement, in which the court would rule without examining the substance of the case.

Posted on 15 May, Ngerng’s blog entry was headlined “Where your CPF Money is going: Learning from the City Harvest Trial.” It made a simple observation, namely, that despite being the world’s eighth largest pension fund, it has one of the lowest yields in Southeast Asia.

Lee’s lawyer wrote to Ngerng on 18 May accusing him of making a “false and baseless allegation” that constituted “a very serious libel against our client, disparages him and impugns his character, credit and integrity.” The letter demanded deletion of the blog post, a public apology and payment of damages by 21 May.

Censorship, apology and support

Ngerng removed the offending post on 20 May but launched an online petition (with 3,356 signatures by 24 July) and a Facebook call for a demonstration on 7 June to press the government to return the CPF’s money to Singapore’s citizens. On 21 May, he decided to run for parliament. The deadline for complying with Lee’s demands was extended to 23 May. Maruah, a Singaporean human rights group, called on Lee to withdraw his suit.

On 23 May, Ngerng issued a public apology in a letter to Lee’s lawyer, which he posted on his blog. “I unreservedly apologise to Mr Lee Hsien Loong for the distress and the embarrassment caused to him.” He also called on the prime minister to withdraw the request for damages, arguing that he earned a “modest living as a health care worker.”

He subsequently told Reporters Without Borders why he and his lawyer decided to apologize. “We thought that this was the easiest way out of the situation, knowing that if we had proceeded to fight, it would result in certain bankruptcy, which has happened.

Lee’s lawyer responded the same day to the online newspaper TODAY that Ngerng had made a “very grave and malicious allegation” in his blog post and that the prime minister therefore was “fully entitled to damages.” The prime minister would sue if Ngerng did make a satisfactory offer within three more days.

Fired for “incompatible” behaviour

On 26 May, Lee’s lawyer sent Ngerng a letter saying his previous week’s apology “was not and never meant to be genuine” and demanding that he take down four more blog posts referring to the CPF and a video he had posted on YouTube on 23 May. Ngerng’s lawyer wrote back saying he agreed to remove the new posts and would make a damages proposal by 28 May.

Ngerng sent an email to local and international media on 27 May with a link to the YouTube video he was supposed to have taken down. He offered $5,000 in damages in a letter to Lee’s lawyer, who rejected the offer as derisory” given the gravity of Ngerng’s behaviour.

On 7 June, Singaporean novelist Catherine Lim wrote an open letter to Lee condemning the lawsuit. According to media reports, more than 3,000 people took part in the demonstration in Hong Lim Park that Ngerng organized via social networks to call for the CPF’s money to be returned to Singaporeans. At the same time, Ngerng raised $110,299 (the amount announced on 22 June) with the appeal for donations to help pay the damages that he launched a week after the first letter from Lee’s lawyer.

The hospital where Ngerng worked as a patient coordinator fired him on 10 June on the grounds of “conduct incompatible with the values and standards expected of employees.” The health ministry quickly issued a statement to TODAY approving of his dismissal while Lee’s press secretary wrote to The Economist the same day condemning his actions. These reactions triggered a debate in Singapore about the involvement of government officials in a private matter.

If a judge approves Lee’s request for a summary judgment, it would mean that Ngerng’s apology, extracted under threat of legal action, would be taken as sufficient evidence that defamation took place. The court would therefore not examine the substance of what he wrote in his blog post and would only be required to decide the size of the damages award.

Reporters Without Borders appealed on 17 July for support for Ngerng and we are now posting a link to the original blog entry expressing doubts about the CPF’s management, which he posted on 15 May and removed a few days later under threat.

The complete blog post is available here: http://therealsingapore.com/content/where-your-cpf-money-going-learning-city-harvest-trial

WHERE YOUR CPF MONEY IS GOING: LEARNING FROM THE CITY HARVEST TRIAL

Last week, Channel NewsAsia reported about how, “The founder of City Harvest Church Kong Hee and his five deputies (are) accused of misusing millions of church building funds.”

According to Channel NewsAsia, “The court accepted that there is evidence to show that the monies were moved from the church to the various firms to generate a false appearance that the church’s investments were redeemed. The judge said the six had been dishonest in the use of the money.”

It was also reported that, “Judge See said the auditors’ opinions were “only as good as the information they were given”.”

Below is the chart that Channel NewsAsia had created to show the relations of Kong Hee and his five deputies, and the funds that they have misappropriated.

Source: Channel NewsAsia

Meanwhile, something bears an uncanny resemblance to how the money is being misappropriated.

Channel NewsAsia had reported that, “The court accepted that there is evidence to show that the monies were moved from the church to the various firms to generate a false appearance that the church’s investments were redeemed. The judge said the six had been dishonest in the use of the money.”

“Judge See said the auditors’ opinions were “only as good as the information they were given”.”

Meanwhile, the GIC claims that the “GIC manages the Government’s reserves, but as to how the funds from CPF monies flow into reserves which could then be managed by either MAS, GIC or Temasek, this is not made explicit to us.” The GIC also claims that, “The Government, which is represented by the Ministry of Finance in its dealings with GIC, neither directs nor interferes in the company’s investment decisions. It holds the board accountable for the overall portfolio performance.” However, the PAP prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers and the ministers for Trade and Industry and Education also sit on the board of directors. Lee Hsien Loong is the Chairman and Lee Kuan Yew is the Senior Advisor.

Here are some things for you consider:

Do you know that apparently the CPF is now the 8th largest pension fund in the world?

Chart: P&I/Towers Watson World 300: The largest retirement funds

And do you know that the GIC and Temasek have used our CPF to become the 8th and 9th largest sovereign wealth funds in the world?

Chart: Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute Fund Rankings

Yet why do Singaporeans have the least adequate retirement funds in the world?

Chart: Pensions at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2011

Chart: Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index

Chart: Developing Asia’s Pension Systems and Old-Age Income Support

And why are nearly 90% of Singaporeans not able to meet the CPF Minimum Sum, are unable to take our money out and are unable to retire?

How did the government make us set aside $253 billion in the CPF to let them earn $1 trillion for the reserves?

And why is it that Singaporeans have saved a massive $253 billion in the CPF but nearly 90% of us are unable to meet the CPF Minimum Sum, are unable to take our money out and are unable to retire?

Do you see something amiss? You are not the only one.

Perhaps Prof Christoper Balding best explained this:

The financial effect is this: SMRT profit is entirely attributable to subsidies given to it by the Singaporean tax payer and not high quality management at Temasek.  Put another way, Temasek and its senior executive are only able to declare a profit for SMRT because the Singapore government gives it money.

SMRT is socializing the risk and privatizing the profits.  When losses are incurred it is the Singapore tax payer that suffers but when profits received, it is the executive of Temasek that enjoys the benefit.  SMRT is placing the risk on the tax payer but capturing the benefit for itself.  While individuals or firms taking individual or corporate risk should be allowed to keep those profits private or socialize risk and profits, it is truly objectionable to socialize the risk but privatize the profits.

Third, the true financial and economic cost of SMRT and related infrastructure is not being recognized.  As one economist noted, if something cannot go on forever it will stop.  Singapore, SMRT, and Temasek cannot maintain a loss making firm dependent on regular bail outs to report profits or eventually it will stop.  By hiding the true cost of ownership, maintenance, and investment, the government is attempting to protect its Temasek owned asset rather than the tax payer.

Mass and public transport is a notoriously difficult and generally loss making industry.  It is however, morally reprehensible to pretend that a company is making money and use tax payer money to create  profits for the investments of family members.  The people of Singapore are being defrauded by bearing the risk of investment but seeing none of the profits.

Professor Balding also said:

If the average Singaporean had earned the average Singaporean wage since 1980 and saved the amount required by law but earned the GIC long term average rather than CPF interest, the average Singaporean would have approximately $850,000 SGD in the bank. This is approximately $300,000 more than they would have earned with the same amount of savings in a CPF account. To put this number in perspective, Singaporeans pay higher fees than what the typical hedge fund would charge. The Singaporean government is directly harming everyday Singaporeans by mandating savings into a seriously underperforming asset for the governments benefit.

Third, Singapore operates a one sided model where the tax payer assumes the risk but the government gets the benefit. If the investments do well, the government keeps everything above the 2.5-4% CPF interest payment; if the investments do poorly, and let’s assume, the CPF collapses, the tax payer will guarantee the payment to CPF holders. In other words, risks are socialized while benefits are privatized.

The assets of Temasek, GIC, and the CPF are the assets of the people of Singapore. Only in certain people’s imagination are Temasek and GIC assets private and separate from the people of Singapore. The earnings in excess of 2.5-4% that the government keeps for itself that it does not return to CPF savers are directly harming Singaporeans who are on average $300,000 poorer. GIC and Temasek assets that the government insists are private despite all evidence to the contrary demonstrate the governments disdain for the blessing of the financial bounty it has received from the Singaporean taxpayer.

In view of the unreasonable increase in the CPF Minimum Sum, we will be organising an event on 7 June at 5pm to call for Singaporeans’ CPF to be returned to us.

The PAP has used government to pursue their own hidden agenda, while forcing Singaporeans to live more difficult lives. The PAP has taken our retirement for themselves to earn high interests on it, while devaluing our CPF and our ability to retire.

This is wrong. We have to stand up and speak up against this scourge. It’s time to stand up and come together to speak up against such wrongdoings.

You can join the Facebook event page here.

We have also started a petition to the Singapore government to honour our contributions to our CPF and return our CPF to Singaporeans. You can sign the petition here.

Video: How The PAP Started Cutting Down On Singaporeans From 1984

Roy Ngerng


How to blog anonymously

Thu, 15 May 2014 15:20:06 +0000 - (source)

There are number of ways you can hide your identity when using the Internet. Any path towards anonymity needs to consider local conditions, your own tech- nical competence and your level of paranoia. If you're worried that what you're posting could put you at risk and you're capable of installing it, posting to a blog through Tor is a very good idea. If you don' really need to be anonymous, don't be. If your name is associated with your words, people are likely to take your words seriously. But some people are going to need to be anonymous. Don't use these techniques unless you really need to.

And remember not to sign your blog posts with your real name ! Do you remember Sarah,who was learning the basics of anonymous blogging in 2005? Here are some reminders.

STEP ONE - PSEUDONYMS

One easy way Sarah can hide her identity is to use a free webmail account and free blog host outside her native country. (Using a paid account for either email or webhosting is a poor idea, as the payment will link the account to a credit card, a checking account or Paypal account that could be easily linked to Sarah.) She can create a new identity “a pseudonym" when she signs up for these accounts, and when the minister finds her blog, he'll discover that it belongs to “A. N. Ymous”, with the email address anonymous.whistleblower@hotmail.com.

Some providers of free webmail accounts:

  • Hotmail
  • Yahoo
  • Hushmail - free webmail with support for strong cryptography

Some providers of free weblog hosting:

  • Blogsome - free WordPress blogs
  • Blogger
  • Seo Blog

Here's the problem with this strategy. When Sarah signs up for an email service or a weblog, the webserver she's accessing logs her IP address. If that IP address can be traced to her - if she's using her computer at home or her computer at work - and if the email or weblog company is forced to release that information, she could be found. It's not a simple matter to get most web service companies to reveal this information “ to get Hotmail, for instance, to reveal the IP Sarah used to sign up for her account, the minister would likely need to issue a subpoena, probably in cooperation with a US law enforcement agency. But Sarah may not want to take the risk of being found if her government can per- suade her email and weblog host to reveal her identity.

STEP TWO - PUBLIC COMPUTERS

One extra step Sarah could take to hide her identity is to begin using computers to make her blogposts that are used by lots of other people. Rather than setting up her webmail and weblog accounts from her home or work computer, Sarah could set them up from a computer in a cybercafé, library or university computer lab. When the minister traces the IP used to post a comment or item, he'll find the post was made from a cybercafé, where any number of people might have been using the computers. There are flaws in this strategy as well. If the cybercafé or computer lab keeps track of who is using what computer at what time, Sarah's identity could be compromised. She shouldn't try to post in the middle of the night when she's the only person in the computer lab the geek on duty is likely to remember who she is. And she should change cybercafés often. If the minister discovers that all the whistleblower's posts are coming from “Joe's Beer and Bits”on Main Street, he might stake someone out to watch the cybercafé and see who's posting to blogs in the hope of catching Sarah.

STEP THREE - ANONYMOUS PROXIES

Sarah's getting sick of walking to Joe's cybercafé every time she wants to post to her blog. With some help from the neighborhood geek, she sets up her computer to access the web through an anonymous proxy. Now, when she uses her webmail and weblog services, she'll leave behind the IP address of the proxy server, not the address of her home machine which will make it very hard for the minister to find her. First, she finds a list of proxy servers online, by searching for proxy server on Google. She picks a proxy server from the publicproxyservers.com list, choosing a site marked high anonymity. She writes down the IP address of the proxy and the port listed on the proxy list.

Some reliable lists of public proxies:

Then she opens the preferences section of her web browser. Under general network or security (usually), she finds an option to set up a proxy to access the Internet. (On the Firefox browser, this option is found under Preferences “ General“ Connection Settings.)

She turns on manual proxy configuration, enters the IP address of the proxy server and port into the fields for HTTP proxy and SSL proxy and saves her settings. She restarts her browser and starts surfing the web.

She notices that her connection to the web seems a bit slower. That's because every page she requests from a webserver takes a detour. Instead of connecting directly to hotmail.com, she connects to the proxy, which then connects to Hotmail. When Hotmail sends a page to her, it goes to the proxy first, then to her. She also notices she has some trouble accessing websites, especially those that want her to log in. But at least her IP isn't being recorded by her weblog provider.

Sarah has another problem if she's one of very few people in the country using a proxy. If the comments on her blog can be traced to a single proxy server, and if the minister can access logs from all the ISPs within a country, he might be able to discover that Sarah's computer was one of the very few that accessed a specific proxy server. He can't demon- strate that Sarah used the proxy to post to a weblog server, but he might conclude that the fact that the proxy was used to make a weblog post and that she was one of the few people in the nation to use that proxy constituted evidence that she made the post. Sarah would do well to use proxies that are popular locally and to switch proxies often. Here is today how Sarah's problems can be resolved through blogging with Tor and Wordpress.

STEP ONE : DISGUISE YOU IP ADDRESS

Every computer on the internet has or shares an IP address. These addresses aren't the same hing as physical address, but they can lead a smart system administrator to your physical address. Sarah feared that her identity would be discovered for the webserver she was accessing logs her IP address. Thus :

1. Install Firefox

Download it at the Mozilla site and install it on the main machine you blog from. Why Firefox rather than Internet Explorer? Explorer has some egregious security holas that can compromise your online security (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/12/internet_explor.html).

2. Install TOR

Download the programm from the Tor site : http://www.torproject.org/ (If access to Tor main website is blocked in your country, there are a few mirrors of it in other places where it can also be downloaded from (http://www.torproject.org/mirrors.html.en): http://tor.cybermirror.org/ http://tor.zdg-gmbh.eu/http://tor.anonymity.cn/

Pick the latest stable release for your platform and download it onto your desktop. Follow the instructions that are linked to the right of the release you downloaded. Tor is a very sophisticated network of proxy servers. Proxy servers request a web page on your behalf, which means that the web server doesn't see the IP address of the computer requesting the webpage. When you access Tor, you're using three different proxy servers to retrieve each webpage. The pages are encrypted in transit between servers, and even if one or two of the servers in the chain were compromised, it would be very diffi- cult to see what webpage you were retrieving or posting to. Tor installs another piece of software, Privoxy, which increases the security settings on your browser, blocking cookies and other pieces of tracking software. Conveniently, it also blocks many ads you encounter on webpages.

3. Install Torbutton

Turning on Tor by hand means remembering to change your browser preferences to use a proxy server. This is a multistep process, which people sometimes forget to do. Torbutton makes the process a single mouse click and reminds you whether you're using Tor or not, which can be very helpful. if you're going to be writing primarily from shared computers (like cybercafe computers) or you're unable to install software on a computer. Download Tor on a Stick (ToaSt).

Download the package onto a computer where you can save files.

We Fight Censorship has a detailed Tor tutorial.

STEP 2 : GENERATE A NEW, HARD TO TRACE EMAIL ACCOUNT

Most web services - including blog hosting services - require an email address so that they communicate with their users. For our purposes, this email address can't connect to any personally identifiable information, including the IP address we used to sign up for the ser- vice. This means we need a new account which we sign up for using Tor, and we need to ensure that none of the data we use - name, address, etc. - can be linked to us. You should NOT use an existing email account - it's very likely that you signed up for the account from an undisguised IP, and most webmail providers store the IP address you signed up under. webmail providers store the IP address you signed up under.

1. Choose a webmail provider

Hushmail, Vaultletsoft and Gmail, but as long as you're using Tor, you could use Yahoo or Hotmail as well. Also, you can easily register a free and quick webmail account with fast- mail.fm. Hotmail and Yahoo mail both have a security feature that makes privacy advocates very unhappy. Both include the IP address of the computer used to send any email. This isn’t relevant when you're accessing those services through Tor, since the IP address will be a Tor IP address, rather than your IP address. Also, Hotmail and Yahoo don't offer secure HTTP (https) interfaces to webmail - again, this doesn't matter so long as you use Tor every time you use these mail services. But many users will want to check their mail in circums- tances where they don't have Tor installed - for your main webmail account, it's worth choosing a provider that has an https interface to mail. Hushmail provides webmail with a very high degree of security. Their interface to webmail uses https and they don't include the sending IP in outgoing emails. But they're a for-pro- fit service and they offer only limited services to non-paying users. If you sign up for a free account, you have to log into it every couple of weeks to make sure the system doesn't delete it. Because they're aggressive about trying to convert free users to paid users, and because their system uses a lot of Java applets, some find that Hushmail isn't the right choice for them. Gmail, while it doesn't advertise itself as a secure mail service, has some nice security fea- turesbuilt in. If you visit this special URL, your entire session with Gmail will be encrypted via https.

2. Register your new account

Don't use any personally identifiable information - consider becoming a boringly named individual in a country with a lot of web users, like the US or the UK. Set a good, strong password (at least eight characters, include at least one number or special character) for the account and set a good, strong password, at least eight characters, include at least one number or special character. Choose a username similar to what you're going to name your blog.

3. Test if it works!

Make sure you're able to log onto the mail service and send mail while Tor is enabled. It is most likely that Tor changes its circuit every 10 minutes and this could disrupt your web- mail operations, so you should consider limiting the process of writing a new email to 10 minutes.

STEP 3 : REGISTER YOUR NEW ANONYMOUS BLOG

You'll have to be very careful by creating that blog. It requires more attention and caution than creating a non anonymous blog. TURN TOR ON IN YOUR BROWSER

Visit Wordpress.com and sign up for a new account by clicking the Get a New WordPress Blog link. Use the email address you just created and create a username that will be part of your blog address : thenameyouchoose.wordpress.com Wordpress will send an activation link to your webmail account. Use your Tor-enabled browser to retrieve the mail and follow that activation link. This lets Wordpress know you've used a live email account and that they can reach you with updates to their service - as a result, they'll make your blog publicly viewable and send you your password. You'll need to check your webmail again to retrieve this password. Still using Tor, log into your new blog using your username and password. Click on My Dashboard, then on Update your profile or change your password. Change your pass- word to a strong password that you can remember. Feel free to add information to your profile as well… just make sure none of that information is linked to you!

STEP 4 : POST TO YOU BLOG

Write your blog post offline. Not only is this a good way to keep from losing a post if your browser crashes or your net connection goes down, it means you can compose your posts somewhere more private than a cybercafe. A simple editor, like Wordpad for Windows, is usually the best to use. Save your posts as text files (After blogging, always remember to remove these files from your machine completely, using a tool like Eraser or

Ccleaner which is is available in many languages and wipes te porary files automatically from all installed browsers and other applications). Turn on Tor, or use XeroBank, and log onto Wordpress.com. Click the write button to write a new post. Cut and paste the post from your text file to the post window. Give the post a title and put it into whatever categories you want to use. Before you hit Publish, there's one key step. Click on the blue bar on the right of the screen that says Post Timestamp. Click the checkbox that says Edit Timestamp. Choose a time a few minutes in the future - ideally, pick a random interval and use a different num- ber each time. This will put a variable delay on the time your post will actually appear on the site Wordpress won't put the post up until it reaches the time you've specified. By changing the timestamp of the posts, we make an attack more difficult for the internet service provider. Now they'd need access to the logs of the Wordpress server as well, which are much harder to get than their own logs. It's a very easy step to take that increases your security.

STEP 5 : COVER YOUR TRACKS

Securely erase the rough drafts of the post you made from your laptop or home machine. If you used a USB key to bring the post to the cybercafe, you'll need to erase that, too. It's not sufficient to move the file to the trash and empty the trash - you need to use a secure erasing tool like Eraser or Ccleaner which overwrites the old file with data that makes it impossible to retrieve. On a Macintosh, this functionality is built it - bring a file to the trash and choose Secure Empty Trash from the Finder Menu. Clear your browser history, cookies and passwords from Firefox. Under the Tools menu, select Clear Private Data. Check all the checkboxes and hit ok. You might want to set up Firefox so that it automatically clears your data when you quit - you can do this under Firefox Preferences " Privacy";Settings. Choose the checkbox that says Clear private data when closing Firefox”. In case you cannot install programs on the computer, use the;IE Privacy Cleaner tool from the USB stick to wipe temp browser data.

ETHAN ZUCKERMAN

Ethan Zuckerman is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School where his research focuses on the relationship between citizen jour- nalism and conventional media, especially in the develo- ping world. 


Corruption off limits on Venezuelan Internet

Thu, 27 Mar 2014 15:26:19 +0000 - (source)

Alek Boyd is a UK-based Venezuelan who blogs about corruption in Venezuela on infodio.com. On 14 January, he posted the details of a lawsuit that a former US ambassador to Venezuela has filed against the partners of Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan firm accused of bribing Venezuelan officials to get contracts in the energy engineering sector. Since then, Boyd’s blog has been blocked in Venezuela.

Updated on 8 April 2014: Derwick Associates, the firm targeted in Alek Boyd’s blog post, sent Reporters Without Borders a formal response five days after we posted our article. We are posting the response here. Derwick Associates says it has nothing to do with the blocking of Boyd’s blog and that none of its shareholders has any links with the ISP Inter. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, Boyd stood by his information, according to which members of Derwick Associates have investment links with Inter. His blog continues to be blocked within Venezuela.

Online censorship is an established fact, which is proved by the approximately 500 web pages and sites that most Venezuelan Internet users currently cannot access,” said Carlos Correa, the head of Espacio Público, an NGO that defends the right to information, on 17 March on Radio Éxitos in response to the question “can the government really censor Internet content?”

In Venezuela, Internet access is provided by a handful of companies: CANTV, Inter, Venezolana de Telecomunicación and Movilnet (a CANTV subsidiary specializing in mobile telephony). Nationalized in 2007, CANTV is the country’s main ISP, with 80% of Internet service subscriptions. Its direct access to the data provided by the Simón Bolívar national satellite, placed in orbit under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation’s supervision in 2008, gives the Venezuelan authorities a unique tool for monitoring and controlling online information.

On 12 March, which ironically was World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) notified all Venezuelan ISPs that they would henceforth have to comply with orders to block web pages with content deemed to be contrary to the government’s interests. This just officialized a practice already in place. The Venezuelan authorities have long had no compunction about censoring unwelcome information. On 13 November, they issued an order to censor around 50 websites that cover parallel exchange rates and the country’s soaring inflation.

On 14 January, Alek Boyd, a London-based Venezuelan blogger specializing in corruption in Venezuela, posted an article about the lawsuit that Otto Reich, a former US ambassador in Venezuela, has filed in New York against the leading partners of Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan company he accuses of bribing Venezuelan government officials in order to secure public contracts in the energy engineering sector.

As a result of this story, which was also covered by the websites of several well-known international media such as the and Huffington Post, Boyd’s blog, infodio.com, disappeared from the Venezuelan Internet. Inter, an ISP whose shareholders include Derwick Associates, was the first to block access to infodio.com shortly after Boyd posted his blog entry. The other telecom companies (Movistar, Digitel, Supercable and the state-owned CANTV) soon followed suit.

Boyd has been posting reports, compromising documents and opinion pieces from Britain since 2002. Although protected by distance from his country of origin, he has often been the target of threats, the frequency and violence of which have increased since a wave of street protests got under way in Venezuela in February. He also posts information sent to him by other Venezuelan bloggers who are scared to post it themselves in Venezuela.

Ever since the allegations about Derwick Associates began, many netizens and journalists have received letters from its lawyers ordering them to remove articles about the company from their websites and accusing them of defaming its owners and shareholders. But Boyd, who continues to cover the story, has not received any official letter from Derwick Associates or its lawyers.

Reporters Without Borders is reproducing Boyd’s blog post in full, and the lawsuit that former US ambassador Reich filed against Derwick Associates.

Otto Reich files amendment in lawsuit against Derwick Associates

Otto Reich files amendment in lawsuit against Derwick Associates

Submitted by Alek Boyd on Tue, 14/01/2014 - 09:58

It doesn't look pretty for Derwick Associates. Not pretty at all. Readers may recall that former U.S. President's Special Envoy for the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, filed a RICO lawsuit against Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, Pedro Trebbau Lopez and Francisco D'Agostino (of Derwick Associates's fame) in New York in July last year. When reading the claim the first time I thought "this is a looong shot..." As perhaps the blogger who's written more about Derwick Associates, I saw there were a number of claims that were very odd, not least of which that Francisco D'Agostino, a Bolichico in his own right connected to Boligarch-in-chief Victor Vargas, was part of Derwick Associates. I have gotten all registry documents related to Derwick Associates, in USA, Venezuela, Panama, Barbados, Spain and nowhere had I seen D'Agostino's name mentioned. Now in an amended claim filed yesterday, Reich argues that D'Agostino has been actively doing Derwick's bidding, and has information that only someone with intimate knowledge of Derwick's operations could have access to. Namely, D'Agostino got in touch with a "Forbes writer", to whom he sent "several text messages" and made "telephone calls", after "at least a decade" of not talking/seeing each other, and "attempted to dissuade the Forbes writer from publishing the piece" about Derwick Associates in which he was meant to be working on. The "Forbes writer" was contacted by D'Agostino, after the former had sent an email to ProEnergy Services (most probably Derwick's main and most important subcontractor) asking about its work in Venezuela and relation with Derwick. Further, D'Agostino, Reich claims, offered the "Forbes writer" Derwick's financials, contracts with the Venezuelan government and with ProEnergy Services. Now, how on earth could D'Agostino have that information, if he is not a part of Derwick Associates?

But things get more interesting. D'Agostino invited the "Forbes writer" to dinner in L.A. and offered to bring Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez (Derwick's main man) along. Interesting, eh? A man who claims to have nothing to do with Derwick, calls a "childhood" friend, who he has not seen or spoken to in "at least a decade", and offers to reveal confidential information about Derwick, and bring Derwick's CEO to a meeting, only after this friend of his started making enquiries, as a "Forbes writer", to Derwick's main U.S. partner ProEnergy Services. Why? Mind you, if what Reich's claim is true, how will D'Agostino explain his interest in preventing publication of an article about Derwick's overprice scandal in Venezuela?

But then, the amended claim fingers FTI Consulting and Sunset Reputation for "conduct[ing] investigative-type... and reputation management" services. Readers of this site are well aware of FTI and its long time relations with the worse scum of Venezuela, but Sunset Reputation, apparently Brandon Hopkins' one-man operation, has been pumping out a lot of benign PR BS on behalf of Derwick.

Derwick Associates has also retained Volkov Group, a lobbying firm headed by Michael Volkov who blogs, wait for it, "corruption, crime and compliance". What a f%$£ joke this is.

And guess who has made an appearance in all this imbroglio? David Osio and his "bank", as well as RaFa the hacker. It's all one big, happy, thuggish, Boliburgeoise family, being helped in its criminal enterprise by none other than JP Morgan.

Hilary Kramer and her stupid white wash attempt also got a mention.

In previous communications related to the lawsuit, Derwick has claimed that New York courts haven't got jurisdiction over its affairs. However, in what can prove to be a lethal counter argument, Reich is showing that the bolichicos filed a lawsuit against Banco Venezolano de Credito (BVC), Oscar Garcia Mendoza et al in New York, and one in Florida, in September 2012. So, New York courts had jurisdiction to entertain the spurious allegations made by Derwick against BVC in 2012, but don't have jurisdiction to hear claims against them in 2013? Again, what a pathetic bunch of imbeciles. Only in Venezuela can such people become multibillionaires. It's going to be truly fascinating to learn what sort of BS they'll come up with. I'd venture a prediction: sooner, rather than later, they'll pay up to avoid further complications and exposure into its dodgy activities.

The amended claim below (I highlighted the interesting bits).


China censors media reports about elite’s offshore accounts

Thu, 23 Jan 2014 12:19:11 +0000 - (source)

More than 22,000 Chinese, including many close relatives of the country’s top leaders, have accounts in offshore tax havens, according to reports this week in various international media based on leaked documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. These reports have been censored in China. The websites of the Guardian, El País and Süddeutsche Zeitung newspapers are now blocked.

The articles that prompted the blocking of these international media are being reposted by Reporters Without Borders on its WeFightCensorship website and 20 linked mirror sites. The article below has been published on LeMonde.fr.

机密文件披露中国精英的海外资产
两万多名中国内地及香港投资者在避税天堂注册公司

美 国一家独立新闻组织取得的机密档案和资料库显示,中国高层领导的近亲在加勒比海避税天堂持有隐秘的离岸公司,有助中共精英在海外隐藏巨额财富。 这些文件包括国家主席习近平的姐夫在海外与他人合伙的地产公司注册资料,以及前国务院总理温家宝的儿子、女婿注册的BVI(英属维尔京群岛)公司。 国际调查记者同盟(缩写ICIJ)获得的密件显示,近22,000名中国内地和香港的投资者在离岸金融中心注册公司,其中起码有15名包括富豪、全国人大 代表、涉嫌贪污的国企高管等知名人士。

文 件还显示,普华永道、瑞银集团(缩写UBS)等会计事务所和欧美银行扮演了关键性的中间人角色,为中国投资者在英属维尔京群岛、萨摩亚群岛等离岸金融中心 开设资产信托(trust)和公司。例如,瑞士金融巨擘瑞士信贷集团(简称瑞信)曾协助温家宝的儿子注册BVI公司,当时温家宝仍是国务院总理。有关的档 案和数据库来自两家专门为投资者开设离岸公司、信托和银行账户的商业机构,也就是总部设在新加坡的保得利信誉通集团(Portcullis TrustNet)和总部设在英属维尔京群岛的Commonwealth Trust Limited.

ICIJ 两年前获得这批内含250万份文件的离岸密档后,与欧美和亚洲等地50多名记者合作,展开为期一年半的跟进调查与采访。ICIJ与合作的媒体自去年4月起 发表一系列有关离岸金融中心的调查报道,在多个国家触发当地政府立案调查、高官下台。有关的政府因而修订有关公职人员和企业的财务披露政策。半年 前,ICIJ 开始分析密件中有关中国大陆和台、港的离岸金融资料,今天首度发布初步的分析报告。

资 料显示,中国大陆作为世界第二大经济体,对遥远的离岸金融小岛依赖日增。由于隐蔽、免税和方便国际贸易的特点,避税天堂大受中国投资者青睐。中国经济转型 为社会主义和资本主义混合体后,已成为海外避税天堂的主要客户。就ICIJ数据库所见,中国投资者所涉及的行业遍及石油、绿色能源、矿产、武器贸易等。

中国法律未规定政府官员公开个人资产。权贵利用平行经济(parallel economy)来避税、隐藏交易。据估计,2000年以来,流失到境外的资金至少有1 亿,甚至可能高达4 亿美元。具体路线难以追踪。美国加州克莱蒙特·麦肯纳学院政治学者裴敏欣认为,中国精英在境内外资产的增长“不一定违法”,但往往与“公众利益冲突”,有“权力寻租”之嫌。”

政府高层的腐败在中国是高度敏感的话题。不少揭露高层领导隐蔽家族财富的记者和要求官员公开财产的公民都受到打击报复。

ICIJ调查团队的合作伙伴包括香港《明报》、台湾《天下杂志》、德国《南德意志报》和一家中国大陆的新闻机构。去年11月,该大陆媒体退出团队,表示受到政府警告,不得发表有关该数据库的报道。为免记者遭到打击报复,ICIJ决定不公开该大陆媒体的名字。

ICIJ 的团队花了几个月的时间查看密件和离岸金融中心的投资者名单。中国投资者在注册离岸公司时,通常用罗马拼音登记姓名,核实身份不易。要靠档案里注册人所提 供的护照和地址来确认身份。但有些注册人没有提供护照和地址。本文没有包括数据库里疑似的“太子党”和官员,因为无法确认身份。ICIJ的机密档案还包括16,000多名台湾投资者的名单。有关报道将在本周陆续与合作媒体同步发布。ICIJ 将会在本月23日公开大中华地区的离岸解密数据库。

太子党的离岸资产

中共领导人的血亲或姻亲俗称“红色贵族”或“太子党”。

ICIJ 密档显示,至少5名中共中央政治局现任或前任常委的亲属曾在库克群岛(Cook Island)和英属维尔京群岛注册公司,包括习近平的姐夫邓家贵、温家宝的独子温云松和女婿刘春航。邓家贵是习近平大姐齐桥桥的丈夫。他是地产开发商, 投资过生产手机和电子设备的稀有金属。文件显示,邓家贵曾与李华和李晓平兄弟合伙在英属维尔京群岛成立卓越通力地产发展有限公司(Excellence Effort Property Development),邓与李氏兄弟各占50%股份。去年7月,李氏兄弟出价20亿美元竞标,拿下深圳两块商业用地,成为新闻焦点。习近平从2012 年升任中共中央总书记以来,高调反腐,曾发表讲话要“苍蝇”、“老虎”一起打。但另方面又打击呼吁政府官员公示个人财产的草根运动。

温 家宝的独子温云松留学美国,曾与他人合伙成立新天域资本私募基金,专门投资中国市场,2012年出任央企中国卫星通信集团有限公司(简称“中卫通”)的董 事长。中卫通属国资委管理,有望成为亚洲最大的卫星运营公司。ICIJ密档显示,温云松2006年经瑞信香港协助,成立名为Trend Gold Consultants的BVI公司,自任唯一的董事和股东。公司于2008年解散。投资者通常设立空壳公司,以便用离岸公司的名义开设银行账户,借此掩 盖公司和真正开户人的关系。Trend Gold Consultants成立的原因不明。

ICIJ 多次联系温云松和其他在文中提到的离岸资产持有者,大多数人包括温都没有回复。瑞信集团的发言人则表示“不予置评”。不久前,有媒体爆出温家宝女儿温如春 (又名常丽丽)的公司与美国金融机构商业往来的一些内情。ICIJ现在独家发现,名叫Fullmark Consultants的这家咨询公司在英属维尔京群岛成立。此前未见媒体报道。《纽约时报》报道摩 根大通(JP Morgan Chase & Co.)曾与Fullmark Consultants签订合同,向其支付180万美元咨询费。美国证券监管机构现正对摩根大通借中国高官子女来发展中国市场展开调查。Fullmark Consultants的注册方式似有意隐藏与温如春的关系。温的丈夫刘春航专长金融,曾在投行摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)工作。2004年,刘在英属维尔京群岛注册成立Fullmark Consultants,自任唯一的董事和股东。2006年,刘退出该BVI,同年加入中国银行业监督管理委员会(简称“银监会”)。

资 料显示,刘退出后,Fullmark Consultants的全部股份转移给与温家宝家族关系密切的女富商张玉宏。张是温家宝弟弟温家宏的同事。据《纽约时报》报道,张曾为温家打点钻石、珠 宝等生意。2005年10月,保得利信誉通向瑞银集团寄送账单,收取为Fullmark Consultants签发存续证明(Certificate of Good Standing)的费用,说明这间BVI公司和瑞银有商业关系。瑞银就ICIJ的查询发声明,表示该集团“了解客户”(“know-your- client”)的规定和处理与政治敏感客户关系的程序是“业内最严格的”,意指不会回应任何的查询。

2011年,维基解密”披露美国国务院在2007年发送的一则密电称温家宝“对家人的活动很反感”。电文说,“只要开价合理,温家宝的妻子和子女可以‘搞定事情’。”“温的亲戚“不一定是收受贿赂,(但)他们很可能会收取高昂的‘咨询费’”。温家宝去年结束十年任期,正式退休。

ICIJ还在离岸密件中发现邓小平、李鹏和胡锦涛等中共前领导人的亲属的离岸公司资料,(密件内容可按链接查看)

有些中国问题专家认为,太子党的财富和生意(包括离岸资产)越来越大,会威胁共产党的执政地位。但掌权者自己深陷其中,难以制止。

常驻中国的美国律师史蒂夫·迪金森(Steve Dickinson)说:“如果没法给家人弄个几十亿,当共产党的领导人有什么意义呢?”史蒂夫曾经调查与BVI公司有关的诈骗案。他说,“这个问题规模庞大,对中国有重大的意义。但事实是每个人对此言不由衷或避而不谈。”

中国走向离岸金融中心

上世纪九十年代初,邓小平深化经济改革,中国投资者开始涌向离岸金融中心。

美国乔治华盛顿大学法学院教授Don Clarke(汉名“郭丹青”) 认为,中国经济制度改革向国企倾斜,民间投资人特别是创业者遂向离岸金融中心寻求发展。在“中国特色”制度下,开展对华贸易的西方银行家、会计师和商人, 也推动了离岸模式的发展。美国凯威莱德律师事务所(Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft)大中华地区业务主管李大诚(Rocky Lee)说:“刚开始采用(离岸模式)时,是我们外国人给这么做的。当时外国投资者普遍不适应中国的法律法规。”

90年代后期亚洲金融危机爆发,中国进一步加紧资本管制,客观上推动了内地人到海外投资。很多人此前已经到当时仍属英国管治的香港成立公司。眼看中国即将收回香港主权,内地投资者担心香港也不安全,便转向更远的离岸金融中心。

于是,英属维尔京群岛成为很多内地人转移业务和资产的最佳选择。

中 国政府用税收优惠来吸引外资,也推动了内地投资者使用离岸金融中心。例如,一些中国厂商用“返程投资”(round-tripping)的方式避税:在境 外成立子公司,由国内的母公司将在内地生产的产品低价卖给离岸的子公司。母公司由于账上利润少、甚至没有盈利,自然免税。然后再由子公司把产品以高价卖给 别的公司,把利润汇回母公司。这部分利润是当作母公司从英属维尔京群岛或香港获得的“外商投资”,也无需向中国政府缴税。

据英属维尔京群岛官方统计,中国和亚洲其他国家地区的离岸业务占当地业务的40%。1998到2002年英国派驻英属维尔京群岛的总督Frank Savage说,BVI政府向中国当局表示,BVI“管理有序、法律制度健全”,与中国政府建立了良好的关系。

但离岸体系的批评者认为,BVI“无疑”是进行隐蔽交易的天堂。总部在英国的倡导组织Tax Justice Network说,BVI公司“丑闻不断”。因为保密制度给予“BVI公司极大的自由,随意掩饰违法活动、滥用权力”。

上 世纪九十年代在海外成立离岸公司的内地人有中国“八大元老之一”彭真的儿子傅亮。ICIJ密档显示,傅亮至少持有5家BVI公司,在1997年到2000 年间注册。其中一家公司South Port Development在2000年收购了一家菲律宾酒店。傅亮在内地投资游艇和高尔夫俱乐部生意。

离 岸服务供应商信誉通公司(Trustnet)曾协助傅亮成立离岸公司。2000年,信誉通已在中国大陆全面发展离岸公司注册业务,与毕马威(KPMG)、 安永(Ernst & Young)、普华永道(Pricewaterhouse)、德勤(Deloitte & Touche)和安信达(Arthur Andersen)全球“五大”会计师事务所在上海开会讨论拓展市场。

ICIJ 资料显示,普华永道通过信誉通,协助中国内地和港、台投资者成立了400多家离岸公司和信托;瑞银集团则通过信誉通,协助内地和港、台投资者成立了 1,000多家离岸实体。2006年,瑞银香港协助当时的中国女首富杨惠妍成立名为Joy House Enterprises的BVI公司。杨惠妍继承父亲杨国强的地产王国碧桂园,当时净资产约83亿美元。ICIJ向杨惠妍就离岸公司事宜提问,未获回应。

2007 年,瑞银通过信誉通,协助地产大亨、SOHO中国创始人张欣成立BVI公司Commune Investment。SOHO中国在北京重建了很多地标建筑,不久前媒体报道,张斥资2,600万美元购入纽约市曼哈顿区一栋五层的楼房。张通过代表, 拒绝回答与BVI公司相关的问题。张欣在北京郊区打造的精品酒店“长城脚下的公社”(The Commune by the Great Wall)亦取名commune (公社)。天狮集团董事长李金元是7家BVI公司的董事。这些离岸公司在2004年到2008年间由普华永道帮助成立。从ICIJ文件来看,这些BVI公 司与李的天狮集团有关联。天狮涉及生物科技、旅游、电子商务和房地产等多个行业。2011年,李金元的净资产约为12亿美元。

2005 年,信誉通的一份“绝密”销售备忘录要求员工加强与瑞信香港的关系,积极示好。鉴于中国限制外资银行进入,信誉通另辟途径。该份备忘录写道:“我们在上海 的目标是国际律师事务所和会计公司。”该公司的的市场攻势收到了成效。2003年到2007年,信誉通在中国大陆、港、台发展的客户数量从1,500上升 到4,800。

信誉通还帮助两位现任全国人大代表成立离岸公司。

全 国人大安徽省代表韦江宏是国企铜陵有色金属集团董事长。2006年,铜冠资源控股有限公司(Tong Guan Resources Holdings)在英属维尔京群岛注册成立,韦任董事。铜冠资源控股是铜陵有色金属集团的子公司。2007年,铜陵集团通过铜冠这间BVI公司向智利一 项价值5,000万美元的铜加工项目投资1,000万美元。

腾讯创始人、全国人大代表马化腾也持有离岸公司。2013年,马以100亿美元的身价名列“福布斯中国富豪榜”第5位。

2007年,他和腾讯另一名创始人张志东成为BVI公司TCH Pi的董事。马的发言人称TCH Pi是腾讯集团旗下公司,“与(马化腾和张志东)个人无关。”但这间BVI并未见于腾讯的公司文件,成立的目的不明。

利润和腐败

中国染指离岸金融中心以来,经济发生巨变,增长可观,离岸金融中心不只方便了用作“返程投资”,也成为海外投资进入金属、矿产等资源市场的渠道。支持中国发展离岸金融市场的人认为,离岸金融可以推动经济发展。

“我认为我们应该面对的现实是,中国资本正在走出去。这对我们来说还是有利的,”中国商务部研究员梅新育说,“我当然支持企业在东道国注册。但如果东道国不能提供这种环境的话,在离岸金融中心注册公司,只不过是一个现实的选择。”

William Vlcek是离岸金融著作《Offshore Finance and Small States: Sovereignty, Size and Money》的作者。他认为在中国,官僚主义和政府的干预妨碍国内市场的发展。在离岸公司注册对商业活动有利。

有证据显示,中国一些公司和个人利用离岸公司进行非法活动。

2013年9月,前铁道部高官张曙光承认转移28亿美元到海外账户。中国银行发布的一份政府内部报告显示,自20世纪80年代中期以来,国家公职人员(包括国企高管)转移到海外的公款累计超过1,200亿美元,其中一部分通过BVI公司转移。

2000 年,“保得利信誉通”帮助中国远洋集团有限公司成立了BVI公司Cosco Information Technology 。这家BVI的董事包括当时的中远洋董事长马泽华和副总经理宋军。宋2011年以贪污、受贿、妨害作证被控三罪受审,被指调往青岛分公司后,在英属维尔京 群岛成立空壳公司以冒充合作公司。之后把建设青岛中远广场的数百万资金转移到该空壳公司。据新华社报道,宋军挪用公款600万美元,收受台湾合作方贿赂 100万美元。他用非法财产在北京、天津、青岛等地合共购入37套房产。宋军的审讯结果没有公开。

中国政府最近严打贪腐成风的石油行业,业内不少高管因为贪污被停职调查。三大国企石油公司中石油、中海油、中石化注册了不少离岸公司。ICIJ数据库里就有几十个与这三大石油巨头相关的BVI公司。

中石油前高管李华林因为“严重违纪”被调查,去年8月落马。ICIJ数据库显示,李是两家BVI公司的董事。

有些离岸公司见于母公司的报表,但有些是国企高管以个人名义成立的。中石油下属天然气公司昆仑能源的总裁张博闻、中海油总经理杨华均曾以个人身份成立离岸公司,目的不明。

ICIJ多次尝试联系中石油和中海油均未获回应。

目前身陷囹圄的中国前首富黄光裕也曾运用离岸公司进行商业操作。黄与妻子杜鹃在2001到2008年间至少成立了31家BVI公司。当时他们持有的国美集团是全国最大的电器商连锁。

2010年,黄因内幕交易、贿赂和操纵股价,被判有期徒刑14年。杜也以相关罪名获刑,但二审获改判,当场释放。

黄大部分资产被冻结,但利用离岸金融网络维系他的商业王国。2011年,黄名下的BVI公司Eagle Vantage Assets Management竞购英国退役航母,欲打造成高端购物商场。(英国政府最终销毁这艘航母)。

黄光裕目前通过Shining Crown Holdings and Shine Group这两间BVI公司控制国美集团30%多的股份。

离岸公司的未来

眼看企业寡头、政府官员和亲属非法敛财,一些中国人不顾安危,奋起质询。

草根组织“新公民运动”运用资讯网络和小规模的示威,向政府争取透明。去年春季,新公民运动创始人、民权律师许志永写道:“党政官员的个人财产都不敢公布,共产党还反什么腐?”

政府随即以“扰乱公众秩序”和“非法集会”罪名逮捕许,除了许,并关押该组织20多名成员。在中国,政府通常用这类罪名让异见分子沉默。

官方甚至惩罚揭露中共高层近亲资产情況的外媒。《纽约时报》和彭博新闻社报道太子党在国内持有的资产后,网站被中国政府屏蔽。驻华记者延续签证遭到延误。

英美和一些国际组织此前对离岸金融中心一直抱放任態度。直至离岸金融中心客户泛滥,方著手改革。相比之下,中国政府对改变离岸体系的呼声越来越小。

今年以前,中国的税法不要求申报境外资产,这漏洞使国人很容易借离岸来营运。北京一位李姓公司法律顾问说:“中国的决策者没想到会有这许多钱流失到海外。”

当局正著手控制流入离岸金融中心的私人财产。今年元旦生效的法规规定国民要申报海外金融资产。

改革离岸体系的力度可能会对中国目前的改革有重大的影响。中国不仅是全球经济发展的重要市场,也是离岸金融中心的重要客户。

去年,200多名银行家和离岸金融专家参与了一个以亚洲地区为主的业界意见调查。调查发现,这些高管认为,“与中国有关的需求”是离岸市场增长的主要动力。一名BVI离岸服务公司的主管在调查中写道:“未来五年,中国是我们最重要的客户市场。”


Iran: writing under a pseudonym to remain independent

Wed, 11 Dec 2013 14:14:57 +0000 - (source)

The Iranian news website Khabarnegaran.info has just published an article by Nikki Azad entitled “Journalists who worship the government,” which criticizes the lack of neutrality of certain Iranian media since Hassan Rouhani became president. Nikki Azad is not the writer’s real name. Khabarnegaran’s journalists use pseudonyms in order to be able to speak their minds.

Created in 2009, Khabarnegaran is an independent news site run by journalists based in Iran. It covers the day-to-day life of Iranian journalists and the constant harassment and abuses to which they are exposed, and is now one of the leading sources of information about journalism in Iran. The site’s staff agreed to use pseudonyms in order to be able to write freely and avoid additional harassment.

“Journalists who worship the government” condemns the tendency of many journalists to idealize the new administration. It quotes journalists such Ali Asgar Rameznapour and Jilatous Banyaghoub, who accuse the Iranian media of being far too accommodating. Rameznapour was forced to flee abroad. After being jailed, Banyaghoub was banned from working as a journalist for 30 years.

Iran is one of the world’s most authoritarian countries towards journalists and freedom of information. The regime uses censorship, surveillance and harassment to maintain its grip on the media and keep itself in power.

The High Council for National Security and other regulatory authorities such as the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the Tehran prosecutor’s office ban naming political dissidents, imprisoned journalists, or journalists who have fled the country. Without the anonymity that Khabarnegaran’s journalists use to protect themselves, they would not be able to publish an article mentioning the names of Rameznapour and Banyaghoub

A total of 20 journalists and 22 netizens are currently imprisoned in Iran.

Journalists who became devotees of power institutions (Extracts)

Translated by : Mehrdad Safa

A cursory glance at Iranian newspapers would simply reveal their policy.

Reformist newspapers are filled with photos of the newly elected President and his cabinet, often accompanied by admiring reports and articles. The number of their critical articles is seen as almost nil. Newspapers affiliated with conservative parties are, on the other hand, filled with hateful, slanderous reports.

What functions do journalists serve in the midst of changes in political power? Are they supposed to admire power institutions or incite hatred? Or to enlighten public opinion and closely monitor the functioning of governments?

How closely do Iranian journalists adhere to journalism ethics and standards, especially in time of political power changes? Do they apply different self-made principles to certain periods? Should they, like other journalists around the world, adhere to certain well-established principles?

We ask a few experienced Iranian journalists, both inside and outside Iran, about these issues.

Journalism must be free of infatuation, violence

Admiration and flattering have become so widespread in some reformist newspapers that has raised the objection of politicians and ordinary people to this trend. Conservative newspapers affiliated with the state, on the other hand, are now speaking in a more aggressive tone. “I am talking more specifically to journalists. A monotonous atmosphere prevails that doesn’t let us criticize Mr. Rouhani. Once again, we will be defeated because of idolization, mostly done by the media,” a Facebook user wrote in his page.

“The main function of a journalist is to transfer information, and it should be faster, more detailed and more comprehensive than others,” says Reza Veysi, a Radio Farda reporter.

“A journalist is not supposed to admire or incite hatred against those in power. It may be a practice of political propagandists, but certainly not of journalists,” he adds.

Professional restraint as a way of countering flattering, hatred “Political changes have always been accompanied by changes in the tone of newspapers in Iran,” says Iranian journalist Ali Asghar Ramezanpour.

“This is a part of journalism destiny in Iran. With President Rouhani coming to power, conservative dailies have adopted a sharper tone. Reformist newspapers have adopted a more outspoken tone. These changes, due to the innate manner of journalism in Iran, will come with two transformations: rhetoric and polemic arguments, and violent language,” Ramezanpour explains.

“And the first evident case of these two features is the journalism of the Constitutional Revolution,” he adds.

Ramezanpour believes that journalism is an inseparable part of the sociopolitical setting, and cannot be seen in exclusion.

“We have to educate and inform Iranian journalists about their behavior, so that we can sway away from partial tone,” he says. “But let’s not forget that it is rather impossible to do this without enabling political parties and freedom of speech,” Ramezanpour stresses.

“The Iranian journalists have learnt from history that an impartial journalism will bring out two undesired effects. One is that they cannot attract thrilled audience looking for openness. The other is that they will be excluded from team-makings of power institutions, which hide their political programs behind the media,” he explains.

Journalist’s monitoring of political power

“It’s been a while that I’ve been looking at the flattering tone of fellow journalists who admire government authorities and those in power. I wonder myself isn’t a journalism supposed to monitor those in power,” says Iranian journalist Jila Baniyaghoob, who has been imprisoned by government authorities and sentenced to a 30-year writing ban. “Some of my fellow journalists think that they have to always exclaim hurray for the president who they have voted for; that they have to always admire his behavior and works. They act like they’re the public relations practitioner of the President or one of his ministers,” she criticizes.

“I wish to tell them it’s over. You voted him the President on the election day, and now you’re a journalist. People expect something different from you in the media,” she explains.

Baniyaghoob criticizes her fellow journalists in Iran for their admiration of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is rarely criticized in the media.

“For example when UN human rights higher commissioner asked Zarif about the situation of human rights in Iran, he somehow questioned the Ahmad Shahid’s report on human rights in Iran,” she explains, “however, almost no one asked Mr. Zarif that is really Iran free of human rights violations.”


Online censorship in 2012

Tue, 10 Dec 2013 10:23:11 +0000 - (source)
Online Censorship

Cyber-censorship in 2012 overview. Key events in Internet censorship and surveillance in 2012 and first two months of 2013.

INTERNET GOVERNANCE AND NET NEUTRALITY

The United Nations Human Rights Council affirmed the right to freedom of expression on the Internet for the first time in a resolution on 5 July 2012, taking the position that "the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online (...) regardless of frontiers and through any media." The resolution called on all countries "to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries."

World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT)

Different visions of Internet governance and, indirectly, the future of online news and information competed and clashed at the World Conference on International Telecommunications, which the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) staged in Dubai in December 2012. At the end of the conference, fewer than half of the ITU’s member countries (89 out of 193) signed a new treaty revising the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR).

A coalition of 55 countries, including the United States and European Union countries, refused to sign it on the grounds that some of its provisions on spam management and Internet security, and a separate text that was adopted in a chaotic manner, Internet Resolution PLEN/3, would be used by countries that traditionally control the Internet to justify their censorship, filtering and blocking. The lack of civil society participation and procedural transparency was strongly criticized by many NGOs, with support from UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion Frank La Rue.

The Dubai summit should have been used to defend the Internet as a place of freedom, as a place for the free exchange of views and information. But instead it highlighted the fight between different countries for influence over the Internet. More information: Centre for Technology and Democracy and an analysis of the new ITR by Access.

EU rejects Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

On 4 July 2012, the European Parliament rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which threatened fundamental online freedoms including access, freedom of information, Net Neutrality, innovation, and the sharing of free technology. Its rejection was a victory for citizen campaigning, which was mobilized by advocacy groups such as La Quadrature du Net and Panoptikon.

Netherlands and Slovenia back Net Neutrality, Brazil drags its feet

In December 2012, Slovenia followed Netherlands and Chile in adopting a law that enshrines Net Neutrality and prohibits Internet Service Providers from discriminating against any kind of online traffic.

But adoption of a proposed Internet “Civil Framework” law continues to be postponed in Brazil because of pressure from the film and music industries. Widely supported by Brazilian civil society, which regards it as a model law, the so-called “Marco Civil” would define the rights and responsibilities of the state, Internet Service Providers (and other technical intermediaries) and Internet users as regards Internet usage, copyright and personal data protection, while safeguarding Net Neutrality, privacy and the free flow of information online.

Filtering violates fundamental rights

In a decision against Turkey on 18 December 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled for the first time that blocking a website violated article 10 (on freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Strasbourg-based court said: “The Internet has now become one of the main means for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of expression and information; it offers essential tools for participating in activities and debates on political matters and issues of public interest.” The Court of Justice of the European Union already ruled on 24 November 2011 that generalized content filtering violates fundamental rights.

Internet companies stress transparency

The latest issue of Google’s “Transparency Report,” released in November 2012, points to a big increase in government surveillance. Google said government requests for user data had risen steadily since the publication of its first Transparency Report. In June 2012, Google voiced concern about an increase in requests for the removal of pages with political content. The country by country evolution of user data requests can be seen here and removal requests can be seen here.

Google’s transparency initiative has been adopted by others. Twitter launched its own transparency report in July 2012. It focuses on user data requests by governments (the United States made the most requests) and on content removal requests by governments or copyright holders. Twitter has also undertaken to leave a “Tweet withheld” message whenever a Tweet is removed in response to a complaint from a copyright holder and to send a copy of each takedown notice to the Chilling Effects website.

LEGISLATIVE OFFENSIVES

Repressive legislative initiatives by authoritarian regimes have been compounded by parallel initiatives in countries that claim to be democratic and to respect individual freedoms. The latter are all the more disturbing as they provide authoritarian regimes with justification for their own initiatives.

Great Britain

The British Communications Data Bill will have to be revised after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced in December 2012 that he would block it. The version of the bill that was published in the spring of 2012 would give the police and intelligence services extensive access to phone records, emails and Internet browsing history on the grounds of the need to combat terrorism and other serious crimes.

United States

Opponents of the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA) say it will allow privacy to be violated in order to protect cyber-security. Although it seemed to have broad support in the US Congress, it caused such an outcry that substantial revisions were made to increase protection for privacy, the White House threatened a veto and a sizeable number of representatives ended up voting against it. A new version of CISPA was resubmitted in January 2013 and could come before Congress as early as April 2013.

Netherlands

Claiming that anonymization tools such as Tor are hampering the work of tracking down cyber-criminals and pedophiles, the Dutch government has been pressuring legislators to pass a law that will reinforce police cyber-surveillance powers regardless of whether the target computer is located in the Netherlands or abroad. The proposed law would allow the police to remotely search computers, install spyware and delete illegal content without having to submit a legal assistance request to the country concerned if the target computer is located abroad. Read the Electronic Frontier Foundation analysis.

Philippines

The supreme court of the Philippines voted unanimously on 9 October 2012 to stay implementation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012 (Republic Act No, 10175) after receiving more than a dozen petitions asking it to rule on the law’s constitutionality. Reporters Without Borders calls for its repeal because its attempt to combat cyber-crime poses a major threat to freedom of information. Online defamation was added to the law’s list of “cyber-crimes” at the last minute, before adoption.

Malawi

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has criticized a government attempt to regulate and control online publications in the form of a so-called E-Bill that would force online publication editors to publish their names, addresses and phone numbers and would create a cyber-police with the job of monitoring the Internet for illegal activity.

Peru

A proposed cyber-crime law is likely to restrict online freedom. On the initiative of the NGO Access, university academics and civil society representatives have written an open letter to parliament criticizing the bill.

Iraq

In January 2012, the Iraqi parliament repealed a cyber-crime law that was criticized for its overly broad definition of the crimes it intended to punish (for example, “violating religious, moral and social principles”) and for draconian penalties that included life imprisonment for using a computer to besmirch the country’s reputation. Read the Access Now analysis.

Protecting minors, the perfect pretext

Russia

In the name of “protecting minors,” a federal government agency began on 1 November 2012 to compile a blacklist of “harmful” websites liable to be blocked without reference to a court and without any right of defence. The vague and broad definition of the targeted content (pornography, extremism, defending suicide, encouraging drug use and so on) and the supervisory body’s lack of independence open the way to overblocking. Age category labelling – “banned for minors under the age of” 6, 12, 16 or 18 – was also imposed on all news websites. A bill banning online censorship circumvention tools has also been submitted to a Duma committee.

Canada

Draft Federal Law C-30, also known as the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, which the public safety ministry submitted to parliament on 14 February 2012, would place Internet users under close surveillance. It would allow the police to request phone records without first seeking a court warrant. Internet Service Providers and mobile phone operators could be forced to install surveillance devices and record subscribers’ communications. The police could also, without a court warrant, install a device that could capture the IP address of any device connected to the Internet.

Copyright v. online freedom of expression

United States

The proposed "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) and "Protect IP Act" (PIPA) elicited a great deal of domestic and international criticism of the danger of unprecedented Internet censorship. Their opponents said they would prejudice countless Internet users who had never violated intellectual property by forcing websites to block access to other sites accused of vaguely defined copyright violations. The bills were finally shelved, but for how long?

Panama

In September 2012, parliament passed Law 510, which restricts freedom of expression and access to online information and creates a General Directorate for Copyright with the task of tracking down violators and imposing heavy fines on them without reference to a court. NGOs and civil society representatives wrote an open letter to President Ricardo Martinelli urging him not to sign what they called the “worst copyright protection law in history.” Read comments by netizens on Global Voices.

Other disturbing legislation

In Malaysia, an amendment to the 1950 Evidence Act makes Internet service operators automatically liable for any posted content or content transiting through their services that is deemed to be defamatory. Owners and managers of Internet cafés and blog platforms are among those affected by this presumption of guilt. The Centre for Independent Journalism organized an online protest against the amendment.

ALL-OUT FILTERING

Censorship of the anti-Islamic video “Innocence of Muslims” inflicted major collateral damage on access to online information. The filtering and blocking measures ordered in many countries often resulted in suspension of access to YouTube and in some cases, all communications. Whether as a result of court or administrative decisions, the video has probably been blocked in more countries than almost any other piece of online content ever. The countries that blocked it include Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India and Bahrain.

China : race against the clock

China’s censors had their hands full in recent months trying to block the online dissemination of sensitive stories, including:

Censorship was intensified in the run-up to the Communist Party Congress that appointed a new generation of rulers and put Xi Jinping in charge.

Online censorship gaining ground in Central Asia

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have long been classified as “Enemies of the Internet” but cyber-censorship is now becoming more widespread in Central Asia.

In 2012, there were several waves of blocking of leading news websites such as Asia Plus, RIA-Novosti, Lenta.ru, Fergananews.com, Centrasia.ru, and the BBC, as well as YouTube and Facebook. The National Telecommunications Agency is now in the habit of issuing orders to Internet Service Providers to block access to any sensitive content such as news analyses questioning the government’s stability, reports of armed clashes or criticism of the president on social networks.

Sham legal proceedings were used in December 2012 to ban Kazakhstan’s leading opposition media on the grounds of alleged “extremism.” This resulted in the blocking of all websites carrying the online versions of the newspaper Vzglyad and the Respublika network of newspapers, as well as their social network accounts. The online TV station K+ and the news portal Stan.tv were also blocked.

In India, censorship to suppress rumours?

In an attempt to halt violent inter-ethnic unrest, the Indian authorities ordered Internet Service Providers to block access to more than 300 pieces of online content in August 2012. Some did encourage violence by relaying baseless rumours, but others, such as content on the websites of AFP, Al-Jazeera and the Australian TV station ABC, just consisted of straightforward news photos or news stories. See the list of blocked content published by the Centre for Internet and Society.

Pakistani electronic Great Wall – fact or fiction?

Plans for a national Internet filtering and blocking system intended to block access to millions of “undesirable” websites using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) were revealed in early 2012. The Daily Times reported that the National ICT Research and Development Fund, an offshoot of the information technology ministry, issued an invitation to submit bids for the creation of the system, expected to cost 10 million dollars, and that several international companies responded. A petition was launched urging companies not to respond. Statements by officials opposing the project were subsequently reported by the media. Pakistan civil society remains vigilant.

RESCTRICTED ACCESS ?

Two billion people worldwide now have Internet access but, for a third of them, access is limited by government censorship, filtering and surveillance. Infrastructural development problems and purely political considerations sometimes limit expansion of access.

National Internet in Iran

In September 2012, the government accelerated the creation of a national Internet with a high connection speed but entirely monitored and censored. The grounds cited for speeding up implementation was a wave of cyber-attacks on Iran’s nuclear installations. All Iranian websites are eventually supposed to be hosted on local servers. Applications and services such as email, search engines and social networks are to be developed under government control. So far only government offices are connected to this national Internet, but it is feared that eventually all Iranian citizens will have no choice but to follow suit. (See the Iran chapter of “State enemies”.)

Frequent Internet cuts in Syria

Internet and telephone are often deliberately cut in targeted locations, in addition to cuts due to power blackouts. Syria was completely disconnected from the Internet for about two days at the end of November 2012, at a time when the regime was accused of planning a nationwide massacre.

High-speed fibre-optic broadband finally in Cuba?

Completed in 2011, the submarine fibre-optic broadband cable from Venezuela to Cuba was finally put into service in August 2012, the network specialist company Renesys reports. ButGlobal Voices quoted the government daily Granma as saying that, although the test phase has been completed, Cubans should not expect a dramatic increase in the availability of Internet access in the short term. Until then, Cuba was using very limited satellite connections to access the international Internet (see the Cuban chapter of the 2012 Enemies of the Internet report).

Regional discrimination

Suspension of Internet access and telecommunications are common in Tibet and Xinjiang during periods of crisis (see the China chapter of the 2012 Enemies of the Internet report).

At the behest of the government of India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, telephone operators suspended service in the Kashmir Valley last August, on the anniversary of India’s independence, which is always a sensitive time.

In Pakistan, mobile phone networks were temporarily disconnected in the southwestern province of Balochistan on the anniversary of the country’s independence in August 2012.

NETIZENS TARGETED

A total of 47 netizens and citizen-journalists were killed in 2012, most of them in Syria. They act as reporters, photographers and video-cameramen, documenting their daily lives and the government’s violent crackdown. Without them, the Syrian government would be able to impose a complete news blackout in some regions and carry out massacres undetected.

In Iran, the blogger Sattar Beheshti died in unknown circumstances following his arrest on 31 October 2012. The available information suggests that he died from blows received during interrogation. No one has been arrested for his death.

In Bangladesh, the blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death near his home in the capital, Dhaka, on 15 February 2013.

In Pakistan, the 14-year-old blogger Malala Yousufzai only narrowly survived being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen on 9 October 2012.

Mass arrests

About 180 netizens are currently detained in connection with their provision of news and information. The world’s five biggest prisons for netizens are China (with 69 detained), Oman (32), Vietnam (31), Iran (20) and Syria (18).

Mass arrests and raids on news outlets have taken place not only in Syria but also in the Sultanate of Oman and in Iran, on “Black Sunday”. In Sri Lanka, nine employees of the online newspaper Sri Lanka Mirror were arrested in a raid in July 2012.

Vietnam continues to arrest netizens and give them long prison sentences. The well-known blogger Dieu Cay got 12 years. In China, Tibetan monks are jailed for trying to inform the outside world about the many cases of self-immolation. Azerbaijan goes after bloggers who stray from the official line.

The conditions in which netizens are imprisoned are often appalling and mistreatment is frequent. Some detainees, especially in Iran, are denied the medical treatment they need and risk dying in detention.

Threats and violence

Nineteen bloggers were openly threatened on Islamist websites and at demonstrations in Bangladesh in February 2013 in connection with the trial of several former leaders of Islamist parties including Jaamat-e-Islami on war crimes charges.

The “Courage for Tamaulipas” Facebook page, which covers organized crime violence in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, angered drug traffickers, who are offering 600,000 pesos ($46,000) to anyone who could identify the page’s editor or the editor’s family.

Ruy Salgado, a Mexican blogger who ran El Santuario, a website famous for its coverage of corruption, gave up his online activities because of the threats he was getting.

The families of netizens, especially those who are detained, are often subject to harassment, pressure and threats. This is the case in Iran, especially for the families of Iranian journalists and bloggers who are based abroad, and in Vietnam.

Imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Ta Phong Tan, the creator of the “Justice and Truth” blog, suffered a additional blow last July when her mother took her own life by setting herself on fire outside the headquarters of the People’s Committee in Bac Lieu, Tan’s home province, in an act of despair about the way Tan was being treated. Tan is now serving a 10-year jail sentence.

Trial of WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning

US Army Private Bradley Manning confessed before a court martial on 28 February 2013 that he passed military and diplomatic files to WikiLeaks, including US embassy cables, the files of Guantanamo detainees and videos of air strikes in which civilians were killed, in particular the “Collateral Murder” video that showed a US helicopter crew killing Reuters journalists.

He said his motive was to enlighten the public about what goes on and to “spark a debate about foreign policy.” He explained that he initially tried to give the files to the New York Times andWashington Post but could not find anyone who seemed interested. He also claimed that he chose the material with care in order to ensure that it would not cause any harm.

Manning is facing up to 20 years in prison. Many NGOs have criticized the conditions in which he was being held as humiliating.

DataCell, a company that collected donations for WikiLeaks, meanwhile complained to the European Commission about Visa Europe, MasterCard Europe and American Express after they stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks in December 2010. In a preliminary decision in November 2012, the commission said a block on processing donations for his organisation by credit card companies was unlikely to have violated EU anti-trust rules.

NETIZENS FIGHT BACK

In the face of offensives by governments and interests groups seeking to control the Internet, netizens and online news providers have sought to organize, campaign and resist with varying degrees of success.

The most noteworthy initiatives of recent months include:

Send us information about the campaigns to defend online freedom of expression and information that have impressed you most.


Online censorship: ban on reporting parallel exchange rates

Fri, 15 Nov 2013 16:51:15 +0000 - (source)

The National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) issued a censorship order on 9 November for websites reporting parallel exchange rates. Administrative proceedings have also been initiated against Internet Service Providers allowing access to these websites. CONATEL chief Pedro Maldonado said 50 websites were concerned by the measure.

In a 9 November televised address, President Nicolas Maduro announced that “through the Ministry of Science and Technology, we are protecting our country’s network and Internet, and we are taking the following websites off line: dolartoday.com, tucavidi.com, lechugaverde.biz, dolarparalelo.org and preciodolar.info…” These websites can no longer be accessed from within Venezuela, however they remain accessible from abroad.

In line with this rhetoric, the government refers to media reports about the parallel dollar rate and the current shortages as a “conspiracy” or a “plot” requiring appropriate reprisals. “The parallel dollar is a fictitious dollar, a fake dollar, created to foster the ongoing economic war,”the President said.

This major act of censorship comes amid a grave economic crisis. The Venezuelan government sets a fixed exchange rate for the US dollar that has differed from the international market rate since 2003. The difference between the official rate and the parallel rate (the real rate) is now enormous.

To justify the measure, the authorities are claiming that publishing parallel dollar exchange rates violates article 27 of the Radio, TV and Electronic Media Social Responsibility Law RESORTEMEC.

This article includes a ban on the dissemination of reports liable to “spread panic within the population or disturb public order.” It also holds Internet Service Providers responsible for the content on the websites they host.

CONATEL added that the law on illicit exchange rates bans currency transfers at rates different from the officially established ones. The NGO Espacio Público has pointed out the law does not prohibit mentioning the unofficial dollar rate, which is furthermore of public interest. While it is true that websites are reporting black-market dollar exchange rates, the publication of such information is not illegal, and the Venezuelan government is clearly applying censorship measures.

Bellow is a screenshot of the exchange rate published by one of the censored websites.

http://www.lechugaverde.biz/

"Since the closure of all brokerage firms in Venezuela by the Bolivarian government in 2010, all foreign currency selling outlets outlets, and even information about foreign currency, have been banned. Persons or businesses using the unoficial exchange rate be punished with seven years in prison or more.

Venezuela is ranked 117th out of 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.


Wave of dismissals after Gezi Park protests

Tue, 13 Aug 2013 16:05:44 +0000 - (source)

The conservative Turkish daily Sabah fired well-known journalist Yavuz Baydar as its ombudsman on 23 July after refusing to print his last two commentaries. So Baydar, who held the position for many years, joined the long list of leading journalists to have been dismissed or forced to resign from prominent Turkish media. The liberal daily Milliyet fired its editor, Derya Sazak, five days later and then its well-known columnist, Can Dündar, two days after that.

WeFightCensorship is posting the first of the two commentaries by Baydar that Sabah censored. Entitled “Dangers of swimming in turbulent waters,” it criticizes the way some Turkish media demonized the international media for their coverage of the “Occupy Gezi” protests. It urges them to halt the attacks and calls for solidarity among journalists.

The commentary was sent to Sabah’s editors on 24 June but, instead of publishing it, Sabah editor-in-chief Erdal Safak ran a scathing editorial about Baydar, who was very upset. He took several days off and wrote an op-ed piece blaming media owners for the self-censorship now widespread in Turkey. The New York Times published it on 19 July. When he went back to work at Sabah, he offered another commentary on relations between the ombudsman and the editor-in-chief. It too was never published.

Gezi Park highlights self-censorship

The demonstrations that began being held in Istanbul’s Gezi Park in late May to defend the park from the threat of demolition quickly grew into a national protest movement against the Erdogan government’s authoritarian tendencies. The protests were unprecedented in their scale and ability to transcend Turkish society’s deep rifts, and the authorities responded by criminalizing them and using force to disperse them.

Sometimes attacked by demonstrators, reporters were also the victims of systematic violence and arrests by the police. Outspoken journalists and social network users were branded as the Trojan horses of an international conspiracy to bring down the government.

The Turkish Union of Journalists (TGS) said that at least 22 journalists were fired during the protests and 37 were driven to resign. Some journalists reported that their editors had censored articles.

The Islamist daily Yeni Safak, for example, refused to publish an article by Isin Eliçin, entitled “External forces and Mehmet Ali Alabora,” in which she criticized the campaign of intimidation and disinformation that her newspaper had been waging since 10 June against Alabora, an actor who had expressed support for the demonstrators on Twitter. He was threatened after Yeni Safak portrayed him as one of the leaders of a “conspiracy designed to bring down the government.”

Six journalists resigned together from +1, a new privately-owned TV station, on 11 July, accusing the owner of interfering in its editorial policies.

Although exacerbated by the polarization resulting from the Gezi Park protests, this tendency is not new. There has been an increase in high-profile dismissals and resignations of leading journalists in recent years. The daily Aksam’s staff were “reined in” after a change of ownership in June 2013. Milliyet columnist Hasan Cemal was forced to resign in March over a controversial article on the Kurdish issue. Ahmet Altan had to resign from Taraf in December 2012. Aysenur Arslan was fired from CNN Türk, Andrew Finkel from Today’s Zaman, Banu Güven from NTV, Ece Temelkuran from Haber Türk and Mehmet Altan from Star. Some little-known journalists have meanwhile enjoyed meteoric promotions.

Although politicized, the Turkish media have the merit of being very diverse. But that may not last much longer. There are no safeguards that prevent media owners from meddling in the editorial independence of their staff. The vulnerability of their staff is increased by the fact that most newspapers are nowadays owned by big holdings that are active in such sectors as construction, finance and telecommunications ­– sectors in which winning state contracts is crucial.

As a result, it has become harder and harder over the years for Turkish business journalists to do in-depth investigative reporting. And to protect their business interests in the most profitable sectors, some media owners exercise all their influence to tone down their media’s criticism of the government.

The scale of the growing self-censorship trend was seen when many leading Turkish media ignored the Gezi Park protests for the first few days. The fact that CNN Türk broadcast a wildlife programme at the height of the clashes in Taksim Square on 31 May drew so much comment that the photo of a penguin quickly came to symbolize media connivance with the government. Another 24-hour news channel, NTV, had to apologize to its viewers for failing in its duty to report the news.

The contrast between the initial silence from leading Turkish media and the live coverage that the protests received from leading international TV broadcasters resulted in a big surge in the latter’s viewer ratings in Turkey. But it also elicited fierce hostility from government officials and pro-government media, which accused the international media of “disproportionate” and “biased” coverage.

Anti-foreign media hysteria

In speech after speech, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan portrayed the demonstrators as “vandals” and “fringe elements” acting at the behest of terrorist organizations and international speculators. He also targeted CNN, the BBC and Reuters. “You have been fabricating false information for days,” he said at a meeting on 16 July. “But you stand alone with your lies. This is not the nation whose image you have projected to the world.”

Some of the Turkish media quickly followed the prime minister’s lead, accusing the international media of deliberately orchestrating a campaign of disinformation against Turkey with the aim of besmirching its image or even bringing the government down. The climate of mistrust was extreme and worse was to follow.

The daily newspaper Takvim ran a fake interview with well-known CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour on its front-page on 18 June. Headlined “Dirty confession,” the bogus interview had Amanpour confess that CNN had slanted its coverage of Turkey’s protests “for money” and “under pressure from international lobbies.”
 
Ten days later, Takvim went so far as to file a complaint against CNN and Amanpour, accusing them of denigrating state institutions and using their coverage of the protests and “false news” to stir up hatred within the population. At the same time, a hostile campaign launched by Ankara’s mayor on Twitter against BBC correspondent Selin Girit set media and social networks ablaze and Girit found herself accused of being a British spy.


Zambia: offensive against independent news websites

Thu, 01 Aug 2013 08:49:26 +0000 - (source)

During the 2011 presidential election campaign, Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata, the opposition challenger, promised to rid the Zambian media of government interference if elected. It was an attractive promise in a country with just three national dailies and little tradition of media pluralism. Nonetheless, the situation has not improved since Sata’s September 2011 election victory. On the contrary, the Zambian authorities are currently waging a witchhunt against journalists and dealing a series of blows to independent news reporting.

Website blocking and arrests

The old saying that “promises only mean something to those who believe them” has been well and truly confirmed in Zambia during the past two months. In June and July, the authorities blocked two news websites and arrested three journalists presumed to have been working for them or providing them with information.

On 24 June, the government blocked access to Zambian Watchdog, an independent news website that is based abroad and is critical of the current government. Its technicians reacted immediately by moving the site to a new domain name (http://zwd.cums.in) and Reporters Without Borders created a mirror of the site. Despite these measures, Zambian Watchdog is still inaccessible from within Zambia.

The authorities also arrested three of Zambian Watchdog’s presumed contributors: Thomas Zyambo, Clayson Hamasaka and Wilson Pondamali.

  • Hamasaka is charged with possessing obscene material.
  • Zyambo was freed provisionally after 48 hours in detention. He is facing up to seven years in prison on charges of sedition and “possession of seditious material with intent to publish.”
  • Pondamali is facing a possible two-year jail term on a charge of “unlawful possession of a restricted military pamphlet.”

It was the turn of another independent news website, Zambia Reports, to disappear from the Zambian Internet on 16 July. Its staff received no explanation for this latest act of censorship. The blocking of the site was all the more surprising because in March 2012 the site agreed to a request from a member of the government to remove an article despite being under no legal obligation to do so.

Rampant surveillance

This recent wave of arrests and website censorship is the culmination of a new policy of intrusive surveillance in Zambia.

In September 2012, the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Agency (ZICTA) announced that it was implementing a requirement under the 2009 Information and Communication Technologies Act for all mobile phone users to register with their operators.

Each client now had to provide their name, the numbers of their national registration card and driver’s license (for Zambian subscribers), or passport and work permit number (for non-Zambian subscribers), their postal address, their email address and their SIM serial number.

The agency said the sole aim was to combat criminality but Zambian Watchdog insisted that “the secret service also known as Office of the President (OP)” was collecting all the data in order to identify government opponents.

The new surveillance measures are not limited to mobile phones. The NGO Global Voices reported in February that the Zambian government was working with Chinese specialists to install a system of Internet surveillance and control. It quoted an anonymous Zambian Watchdog source as saying:

They have already started their work (…) They have been visiting service providers so as to understand the topology of the network. For those who may not know, [this means] appreciating the network architecture, things like where the servers are so that they know [where] to install their interception devices.

The blocking of Zambia Reports and Zambian Watchdog is clear evidence that the new control devices are now in place. One of the security experts in charge of Zambian Watchdog’s website hosting said it was obvious from the way the Zambian authorities responded to the attempts to bypass the blocking that they were using filtering methods based on Deep Packet Inspection:

After twelve hours we could confirm that malicious traffic was not generated by the readers but was actively injected into the network when a reader was requesting content from the website www.zambianwatchdog.com and that this behaviour could only be explained by the presence of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) equipment inside Zambia.

Blurring the lines between government and media

The surveillance measures have been accompanied by pressure on the mainstream media. Shortly after Sata was installed as president, a dozen journalists with The Post Newspaper, one of the national dailies, were offered government jobs and the pay to go with it. One of The Post’s journalists told Zambia Reports:

We are living in fear because we don’t know whether to continue debriefing our bosses who in return report us to our government sources. What we’ve now resorted to is self-censorship; we kill these stories the moment we realize they implicate government officials.

Posts

We are posting two Zambia Reports articles that were published a year apart (available as PDF files). The first is the most recent one. Entitled “Zambia Requested to Stop Blocking Access to Websites” and published on 25 July 2013, it is an open letter to the information ministry from Zambia Reports in response to the blocking of its website.

It asks the ministry to explain the blocking. It calls for a National Assembly enquiry into online censorship. And it calls for the unblocking of Zambia Reports and all the other the other blocked sites. It also mentions Zambia’s use of Chinese help with installing an Internet surveillance system.

We are posting it here so that the Zambian authorities can read it (because Zambia Reports is still blocked within Zambia) and so that they can resolve what is perhaps no more than a misunderstanding.

The second article, entitled “Patriotic Front Heads Toward Confrontation with Online Media” and published on 25 July 2012, describes the decline in freedom of information in Zambia. Correctly foreseeing what lay ahead, the author concluded:

Despite a very low Internet penetration rate of just ten per cent, there are many people who fear that the government is determined to silence these Internet publications, depriving opponents of the ruling party of a voice to communicate their positions.


Courts censor Bettencourt recordings

Mon, 15 Jul 2013 14:46:43 +0000 - (source)

After finding them guilty of invading privacy, a Versailles appeal court ordered Mediapart and Le Point to purge their websites of all the recordings (and transcripts of the recordings) made by billionaire heiress Liliane Bettencourt’s butler in her home without her knowledge in 2009 and 2010. If Mediapart had not complied by midnight on 22 July, the deadline set by the court, it would have had to pay a fine of 10,000 euros a day. Nonetheless, this content, which exposed conflicts of interest and abusive requests for donations from Bettencourt, a major shareholder in the French cosmetics company L’Oreal, was of public interest. The importance of the suppressed content – more than 100 written, audio and video files – sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of information. News websites and human rights organizations including WeFightCensorship have decided to post this content online because they believe that, as the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have established, a legitimate right to privacy should not automatically prevail over a legitimate right to information.

An “affaire d’état”

The “Bettencourt affair” began to make the headlines in 2007, when Liliane Bettencourt’s daughter set about trying to get Bettencourt declared a ward of court on the grounds those around her were exploiting her mental and physical frailty for personal gain. But what started out as a family affair quickly became an “affaire d’état.”

Recordings secretly made in her living room in 2009 and 2010 exposed dubious tax manoeuvres and links with politicians and judicial officials. What with secret funding of a political party, tax evasion, influence peddling, abuse of a person’s frailty, fraud and misuse of assets, the “Bettencourt affair” became a leading news story from the summer of 2010 onwards.

The judicial case was transferred to Bordeaux, where it resulted in more than ten formal investigations, including an investigation into former President Nicolas Sarkozy on suspicion of exploiting Bettencourt’s frailty for personal gain.

Affair within the affair – the recordings

Mediapart and Le Point published extracts from the secret recordings on 16 June 2010. The man responsible for them was the billionaire heiress’ butler, Pascal Bonnefoy, who wanted to provide evidence that advantage was being taken of his employer, then aged 86.

He handed the recordings over to Liliane Bettencourt’s daughter, Françoise, who in turn gave them to the Fraud Squad, which had been investigating suspected abuse of Bettencourt’s frailty since 2007.

Mediapart learned of their existence a few days later and, on the grounds that they contained information of public interest, decided to publish extracts that excluded “all allusions to personal privacy and intimacy.” Of more than 20 hours of recordings, Mediapart and Le Point published only one hour.

Court censorship and disproportionate sanctions

The removal of the recordings from the Mediapart and Le Point websites is the result a court’s opinion on the relative importance of privacy and the right to information of public interest. In its 4 July decision, the Versailles appeal court argued that revealing information of public interest can never justify an invasion of privacy.

The requirement to inform the public in a democratic society, specified in article 10 of the aforementioned convention [European Convention on Human Rights], which could have been satisfied by investigative and analytic reporting carried out under the right to confidentiality of sources, cannot be justified by the dissemination of recordings or even extracts of recordings that were obtained by violating the right to privacy as affirmed by article 8 of the same convention.”

This ruling violates media freedom and does not accord with the judicial precedents established by the European Court of Human rights. The ruling in Fressoz and Roire v. France established that revealing information of public interest can justify a violation of privacy, contrary to the Versailles appeal court’s ruling.

The Versailles appeal court ordered Mediapart and Le Point to remove all the extracts of the recordings, even those that constituted evidence in other cases and allowed the public to learn of scandals involving leading politicians such as then budget minister Eric Woerth and former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Versailles appeal court’s decision also contradicts other European case law such as Vereniging Weekblad Bluf! v. The Netherlands (§43 and §44), on the absence of any requirement to prevent the publication of information that has already been widely disseminated, and Pinto Coelho v. Portugal (§38) on the journalist’s right to produce evidence of his claims.

The ruling in Público - Comunicação Social, S.A. and others v. Portugal made it clear that draconian financial sanctions – such as 10,000 euros a day – tend to push journalists to censor themselves. The court ruled: “Such an award [of damages of 75,000 euros each against four persons] would inevitably be likely to deter journalists from contributing to public discussion of issues affecting the life of the community and was liable to hamper the media in performing their task as a purveyor of information and public watchdog.”

For all these reasons, WeFightCensorship is publishing the content censored by the French judicial system.

Download all the recordings and transcripts.

Listen to a selection of extracts:

  1. This passage from the Bettencourt recordings reveals the links that existed at the time between Nicolas Sarkozy’s legal adviser, the manager of Liliane Bettencourt’s fortune, Patrice de Maistre, and then Nanterre prosecutor Philippe Courroye. It concerns a judicial decision in the dispute between Bettencourt and her daughter. There are grounds for thinking that the Elysée Palace and De Maistre may have learned of this decision more than a month before it became public.

  2. Cheques for three leading politicians are being signed. Liliane Bettencourt is giving 7,500 euros each to Eric Woerth, Nicolas Sarkozy and Valérie Pécresse (who at the time was a candidate for Paris mayor).

  3. In this extract, De Maistre explains to his employer, Liliane Bettencourt, that he must go to Switzerland to close her bank accounts “before Christmas” because, on 1 January, the French government could obtain information from the Swiss authorities about the accounts of French taxpayers who are tax exiles. He is ready to transfer money from Bettencourt’s Swiss accounts to Singapore, another tax haven. As a result of the Mediapart and Le Point revelations, Bettencourt will have to pay the French government 100 million euros in readjusted back taxes.

The Versailles appeal court decision of 4 July 2013:

PDF : http://www.mediapart.fr/files/ArretVersailes-Bettencourt.pdf

Preceding court decisions

First decision: Paris high court

Liliane Bettencourt and her financial adviser, Patrice de Maistre, responded to the publication of the recordings by suing Mediapart and Le Point for violation of privacy on 22 June 2010. A Paris high court judge ruled on 1 July 2010 that the violation of privacy had to be defined by the content of the recordings and not just by the way they were obtained. Finding that the content was of legitimate public interest, the judge referred to article 11 of the Declaration of Human Rights and the Citizen and article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights expressing the need to reconcile freedom of expression and information with respect for privacy. He concluded that removing the recordings would constitute “an act of censorship contrary to the public interest.”

PDF : http://www.mediapart.fr/files/Ordonnance_Tribunal_de_Paris_0.pdf

Second decision: Paris appeal court

A few days later, on 23 July, a Paris appeal court upheld the high court judge’s decision, finding that the violation of privacy was minimal because the content published by Mediapart and Le Point concerned the management of Liliane Bettencourt’s assets and Patrice de Maistre’s professional activities. Mediapart had selected the content posted in order not to violate Bettencourt’s privacy.

PDF : http://www.mediapart.fr/files/Arret_Cour_dAppel_de_Paris_0.pdf

Third decision: Court of Cassation

The Court of Cassation quashed the appeal court’s decision on 6 October 2011 and transferred the case to the Versailles appeal court. The Court of Cassation found that recording private or confidential conversations without consent constituted a violation privacy that was not justified by the public right to information.

PDF : http://www.courdecassation.fr/jurisprudence_2/premiere_chambre_civile_568/898_6_21184.html


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