politics of cyberspace
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch announced July 28. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh on April 8, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained "sexual references" and "violated public order and morals." This was apparently a reference to the line: "Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people." Sources told HRW that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek "proof" of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with "violating public morality" and "imitating women."
Iran's Supreme Court on July 19 suspended the execution of three men who faced charges following the November 2019 anti-government protests. The Revolutionary Court in Tehran had in February convicted the three men of moharebeh (waging war against God), and "destroying and setting fire to public property with the aim of confronting the political system of the Islamic republic," in addition to other charges. The high court confirmed their death sentences last week, citing supposed evidence on the phones of the accused that they set fire to banks, buses and public buildings during the protests. Following a request from the lawyers representing the accused, the Supreme Court has decided to review their case.
The military has been deployed in the Ethiopian capital amid a general uprising by the Oromo people that broke out after the assassination of a popular singer. Hachalu Hundessa, shot dead while driving on the outskirts of Addis Ababa on June 29, was an icon of the Oromo protest movement that has been mounting since 2015. His songs, such as "Maalan Jira?" (What Existence is Mine?) and "Jirraa" (We are Here), have been hailed as the "soundtrack of the Oromo revolution," and he was named "Oromo Person of the Year" by cultural advocates in 2017. Police say two have been arrested in connection with the killing, but rebellion continues to spread across Central Ethiopia. At least 80 have been killed and many detained. The prominent Oromo leader Jawar Mohammed is among those arrested.
In Episode 54 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the twin threats of a totalitarian order that the United States faces at this history-making moment: Trump-fascism, perhaps to be lubricated by a "Reichstag Fire" scenario ahead of the November election, and a post-pandemic "new normality" of complete surveillance and social control. Eerily predictive of these twin dystopias are two works of "future fiction" from the 20th century—It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis and The Machine Stops by EM Forster. With the Black Lives Matter uprising deepening the ugly backlash from the Trump camp and a COVID-19 "second wave" looming, the US is poised on a razor's edge between long-overdue leaps of social progress and descent into some kind of updated American variant of fascism. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Chinese authorities to immediately release journalist Zhang Zhan, drop any charges against her, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus pandemic without fear of arrest. Zhang, an independent video journalist who had been posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube since early February, went missing in the city on May 14, one day after she published a video critical of the government's countermeasures to contain the virus, according to news reports. On May 15, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," and was being held at the Pudong Xinqu Detention Center. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison, according to the Chinese criminal code.
As strongmen around the world exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to "normality." In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new "Alert Level 2" rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of "enforcement officers" to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (NZH)
In Episode 51 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants against the dangerous, irresponsible and politically weaponized claims being avidly propagated about COVID-19. In addition to paving the way for Facebook and other platforms being given greater power to censor content, these claims serve to delegitimize any critique of actual abuses of power by the medical establishment, government and corporations. Worse, claims originating from social-media trolls and the yellow press are being weaponized by the US State Department and Chinese Foreign Ministry as propaganda in their New Cold War. Whether the virus originated in a Chinese government lab in Wuhan or the US government lab at Fort Detrick is probably unknowable, and of limited relevance to the dilemma of how to resist the fast-consolidating biological police state. Listen on SoundCloud.
Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court announced on April 25 that it has abolished flogging as a form of punishment, part of a series of reforms to advance human rights in the kingdom. These reforms follow "unprecedented international criticism" that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes. Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder. In the future, the courts will have to choose between fines, imprisonment, or non-custodial alternatives, such as community service.