politics of cyberspace
In Episode 64 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the maddening and telling irony that while we're all supposed to be ga-ga with triumphalism over NASA's latest Mars probe, it has received practicailly no attention that Afro-Brazilian peasant communities are being forcibly removed from their traditional lands to make way for a US-backed expansion of the Alcântara Satellite Launch Center in impoverished Maranhão state. This juxtaposition of news stories is paradigmatic of the whole global struggle—sustainable, Earth-rooted cultures against a hypertrophing technosphere that is now colonizing the very heavens. Meanwhile, there are already so many satellites in orbit that near-Earth space is experiencing a fast-growing "space junk" problem. And economic austerity down here on terra firma is compounding the agonizing impacts of the pandemic. Whatever useful knowledge may be gleaned from the Mars probe, accounts don't note that Halliburton is drawing up plans for mining operations on Mars. We recall Gil Scott Heron's wry reaction to the 1969 Moon landing ("Whitey on the Moon"), and say with Marvin Gaye: "Spend it on the have-nots!"
Turkey's Court of Cassation on Feb. 19 upheld the two-and-a-half-year prison sentence given to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights activist and MP belonging to the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), on charges of "making propaganda for a terrorist organization." In 2016, Gergerlioğlu raised alarm in parliament and on social media platforms about detained women being subjected to unlawful strip searches by police in the city of Uşak for "security reasons." He was later accused by the Uşak Police and several members of the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) of being involved in terrorist activities. Gergerlioğlu was initially sentenced by the Kocaeli 2nd High Criminal Court in February 2018, and the decision was affirmed on appeal by the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice. Following this, an appeal was made to the Court of Cassation.
The arrest of Catalan rapper Pablo Hasél on charges of glorifying terrorism and insulting the monarchy has sparked angry protests in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and other Spanish cities. Facing charges in relation to his tweets and song lyrics, Hasél barricaded himself alongside supporters inside Catalonia's University of Lleida on Feb. 16. His supporters sprayed fire-extinguishers at troops when the building was raided later that day by the Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra. As he was led away, supporters shouted, "They will never silence us; death to the fascist state!" Hasél was turned over to Spanish authorities to begin serving a nine-month term. Angry protests immediately broke out, with several demonstrators arrested that night. Protests have continued throughout the week.
Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released Feb. 10 after spending a total of 1,001 days—almost three years—in prison. Al-Hathloul had been championing women's rights since 2013. She lobbied especially for the right to drive, as well as for an end to male guardianship laws in the Saudi kingdom. While women were granted the right to drive in 2017, advocates for the change were detained by authorities weeks before it took effect.
Burma's military announced Feb. 1 that it has taken control of the country and imposed a state of emergency. The country's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in an early morning raid along with President U Win Myint and other figures associated with the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD). Although the internet was cut off by the military, Suu Kyi managed to get out a statement to social media calling on Burma's people to "protest against the coup." The military, officially known as the Tatmadaw, said the state of emergency will last for a year, during which time armed forces chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing will rule and oversee new elections. The Tatmadaw is justifying the move by asserting that there was voter fraud in the November parliamentary elections, in which the military-linked Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) suffered a crushing defeat to the NLD. No official election observers had made any claims of fraud. (The Irrawady, The Irrawady, The Irrawady, BBC News, BBC News, Burma Campaign)
Ugandan authorities on Jan. 18 allowed restoration of some internet services in the country, five days after a shutdown that hit as last week's election approached. Connectivity was restored to 90% of ordinary levels following the announcement of the election result—a landslide victory for President Yoweri Museveni, who has held office since 1986. Biut Ugandans can only access social media via virtual private networks (VPNs). Through VPNs, users can bypass internet censorship by having their IP address appear as if based overseas. However, VPNs are not a panacea, given that governments could take the measure of blocking all overseas IP addresses. "As internet connectivity partly returns to #Uganda, metrics show a similar pattern of extensive social media and messaging restrictions as prior to election day with some new additions. Hence, where service is back it remains less than usable," NetBlocks, an internet freedom monitoring group, stated on Twitter, where it has implored Ugandan authorities to restore full inet access.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has issued notices to Google and Wikipedia censuring them for "disseminating sacrilegious content" through their platforms. The notices, issued Dec, 24, accused these sites of hosting "misleading" content referencing the present khalifa (spiritual head) of Islam. The PTA specifically cited articles and search results allegedly portraying Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the current leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, as the "present khalifa of Islam." Additionally, the PTA demanded the platforms remove an "unauthentic" version of the Quran published by the Ahmadiyya community from the Google Play Store. The PTA warned the platforms "to remove the sacrilegious content to avoid any legal action" under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.
Top Chinese technology firms have registered patents for tools apparently designed to detect, track and monitor Uighurs, according to research by the Pennsylvania-based video surveillance watchdog group IPVM. A 2018 patent filed by Shenzhen-based tech giant Huawei with the State Intellectual Property Office (since reorganized as the China National Intellectual Property Administration, CNIPA) lists attributes by which an individual may be targeted, including "race (Han, Uighur)." This comes a month after IPVM released details of a document issued by Huawei and its Beijing-based corporate partner Megvii, "Huawei Video Cloud Solution and Megvii Dynamic Face Recognition Interoperability Test Report," which boasted of a "Uighur alarm" among the "basic functions of Megvii's facial recognition system."