Global Voices

Friday, March 29, 2013

VIDEO: Ukrainian Power Plant Ablaze, Town's Future Uncertain

At least one person was killed and five injured on March 29 in a major fire [en] at the Vuhlehirska Thermal Power Plant in the town of Svitlodarsk in Ukraine's Donetsk region.

Some 12 hours later, the fire was still raging, the plant's four power-generating units were destroyed, and the town's 12,000 residents were left without heating, hot water and electricity. Bedridden patients of the local hospital were evacuated to the nearby town of Debaltsevo, according to Donetsk-based LJ user pauluskp (Pavel Kolesnik, ru), who has been re-posting videos and photos and sharing updates on the situation on his blog.

Kolesnik/pauluskp posted this video [ru] of the first minutes of the fire, recorded by the plant's employees at the time “when the flames still did not appear too dangerous”:

A little later, the picture was quite different:

And here is what the fire looked like from a residential area 40 km away from the plant (ru; video by YouTube user Anton Zabolotny, re-posted by Kolesnik/pauluskp):

According to the official information, the fire started around 3 PM. In a comment to pauluskp's post, however, LJ user hannaukr writes [ru] that the fire actually broke out around noon, but the plant's employees spent the next three hours trying to extinguish it on their own, before finally summoning the firefighters.

LJ user kotya1975 adds [ru]:

[...] As a former firefighter, I agree that there would've been a lot more chances had the professionals become involved right away. Alas, now the plant is definitely doomed, and it's important not to allow the fire to spread to nearby buildings. [...]

Kolesnik/pauluskp writes that the future of the town of Svitlodarsk, home of the damaged thermal plant, is one of the main concerns right now:

It doesn't appear likely that the plant would be rebuilt. [Donbas region] might get yet another dying ghost town [...].

Something similar happened with the town of Ukrainsk. Neither the [coal mine that the town's economy had depended upon], nor the town itself managed to recover after [the 2002 catastrophic accident - ru] at the coal mine. [...]

Kolesnik/pauluskp links to his own photo report [ru] from Ukrainsk, which was later re-posted and translated into English by English Russia blog.

via Global Voices » Feature

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Monday, March 25, 2013

PHOTOS: Skis and Military Vehicles Battle Ukraine's Snowpocalypse

An unprecedented snowstorm hit the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, on Friday, March 22, prompting the city authorities to declare a state of emergency on Saturday [video and photos, also here and here]. More than the monthly norm of snow fell in the city in just one day, forcing Kyiv airports to cancel flights or shut down altogether, and bringing military vehicles into the streets to help the communal services rescue the city from the snow.

Rescuers are using military vehicles to tow trolleys from the snowdrifts. Photo by Stas Kozlyuk, copyright © Demotix (23/03/13).

Rescuers are using military vehicles to tow trolleys from the snowdrifts. Photo by Stas Kozlyuk, copyright © Demotix (23/03/13).

Cars stuck in snow in Kyiv. Photo by Roman Pilipey, copyright © Demotix (23/03/13).

Cars stuck in snow in Kyiv. Photo by Roman Pilipey, copyright © Demotix (23/03/13).

While the authorities were trying to figure out how to combat the extreme weather, many Ukrainians united online to offer help [ru] and to share photos, stories and humor [ru] devoted to the snowfall.

The Day After Tomorrow, a Kyiv edition: the 85th of January. An anonymous image circulated online.

The Day After Tomorrow, a Kyiv edition: the 85th of January. An anonymous photoshopped image circulated online.

The caption reads: "New game: Find your car!" Author unknown.

The caption reads: “A new game: Find your car.” An anonymous image circulated online.

Anonymous image circulated online.

“An ordinary day in Kyiv.” An anonymous photoshopped image circulated online.

At the same time, others took to the streets to enjoy winter sports [photos, video].

One of the main routes for snowboarders on this day was Andriyivsky Descent, one of Kyiv's historical streets. On the photo - a snowboarder and the St. Andrew's Church in the background. Photo by Stas Kozlyuk, copyright © Demotix (23/03/13).

One of the main routes for snowboarders on this day was Andriyivsky Descent, one of Kyiv's historical streets. On the photo – a snowboarder and the St. Andrew's Church in the background. Photo by Stas Kozlyuk, copyright © Demotix (23/03/13).

Kyiv residents take to the skis as the city declares a state of emergency due to snowfall. Photo by Roman Pilipey, copyright © Demotix (23/03/13).

Kyiv residents take to the skis as the city declares a state of emergency due to snowfall. Photo by Roman Pilipey, copyright © Demotix (23/03/13).

Kids seemed quite excited, too (a video from Kyiv's Troyeshchyna district):

Ukrainian writer and singer Irena Karpa posted [uk] the following observations on her Facebook wall:

Together with this snow a share of Holy Spirit has descended on Kyiv: people are helping one another, smiling, embracing and altogether seem quite humane. It even [brought back some of the air] of [the 2004 Orange Revolution]. Once again the following paradox has become apparent: at no time do Ukrainians unite as well as they do in the face of a [total disaster].

Her musings were later shared by the Facebook community “It’s Kiev, Baby!”[ru], and in less than 24 hours it gathered over 2,000 likes, hundreds of shares and a few dozen comments.

Facebook user Elena Litnarovich wrote [ru]:

It is true, yesterday people were stopping and helping to drag the cars out of the snowdrifts, complete strangers who were hurrying somewhere would gather to push the cars out with their bare hands. [People] can unite when [push comes to shove].

Facebook user Zhyliuk Aleksei wrote [ru]:

I myself was walking [outside] today, although without the skis, and [I can] confirm – mutual help is not a myth

Facebook user Jerzy Konopie wrote [uk]:

By the way, [police] patrols are driving around the streets. Which is encouraging, because people just left their cars along the road. With their belongings [inside].

However, not all Kyiv residents were so complimentary of the authorities. Journalist and blogger Mustafa Nayyem posted photos and criticized [ru] Kyiv's communal services for prioritizing the area around the Presidential Administration, despite the fact that it was closed for the weekend, and at the same time ignoring all the neighboring streets:

[...] While the city has been paralyzed because of the snow, on Bankova Street snow removal equipment was actively at work.

Apparently, communal service workers were not concerned about the comfort of several hundred [Presidential Administration] employees – yesterday was a day off. Most likely [their activity] was necessitated by some unwritten law that prescribes keeping the territory around the administration in an exemplary condition. Otherwise, it is problematic to find an explanation for such an [idiotic] snow cleaning effort in front of the [Presidential Administration] during the state of emergency in the city.

Considering the dire situation in the capital, Kyiv-based members of the opposition parties have already called for the resignation [ru] of the City Administration Head Oleksandr Popov. As the authorities struggle with mountains of snow and criticism, netizens are facilitating volunteer coordination and continue sharing examples of mutual help – as well as jokes about the snowfall.

A man tries to clean snow off a Kyiv street. Photo by jonatha borzicchi, copyright © Demotix (22/03/13).

A man tries to clean snow off a Kyiv street. Photo by jonatha borzicchi, copyright © Demotix (22/03/13).

Kyiv residents help push a car stuck in the snow. Photo by jonatha borzicchi, copyright © Demotix (22/03/13).

Kyiv residents help push a car stuck in the snow. Photo by jonatha borzicchi, copyright © Demotix (22/03/13).

via Global Voices » Feature

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

INFOGRAPHIC: More Money for Ukraine's Bloated Police Force

Some pictures are worth a thousand words – and so are some infographics.

The visualized data on Ukraine's law enforcement that many Ukrainian Facebook users have been sharing this month tells us that the country's police force is huge and has been receiving more and more state funding over the past few years.

According to the first infographic, which has been shared by 1,160 Facebook users, Ukraine has 644 police officers per 100,000 people. Ahead of Ukraine are Belarus with 1,441 police officers, Russia with 975, and Kazakhstan with 713. Canada ranks the last, with only 193 police officers per 100,000 of its citizens.

The number of police officers per 100,000 of population.

Police officers per 100,000 of population. Source:

Below are some of the most typical responses from Facebook users.

Wladislav Stromecki [ru]:

A typically [sovok ] approach – quantity over quality…

Alexander Goosecow [ru]:

The regime is so scared of its citizens. Very telling.

Nikolay Chupashkin [ru]:

Looks like the first four countries can easily succeed in creating not [the Customs Union], but the Police Union! Everything is ready!!!

Volodymyr Bury [uk]:

One of the possible ways of interpreting the notion of job creation.

The next infographic looks at the funding of Ukraine's Prosecutor General Office, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Security Service. The agency responsible for policing (the figure in the middle) got 15 billion hryvnias for 2013 (approx. $1.8 billion), which is 3.2 billion hryvnias (nearly $400 million) more than it received in 2010.

Victor Yanukovych's Police State: how funding for law enforcement agencies has been growing in 2010-2013, in billions of hryvnias.

Victor Yanukovych's Police State: how funding for law enforcement agencies has been growing in 2010-2013, in billions of hryvnias.

User Anatoliy Kostyukh wrote [uk]:

A police state – they are calming us down and intimidating us with the help of the Interior Ministry, and they are also guarding their loot this way… [...]

The third graph, which was shared 402 times on Facebook, shows that science, with its 3.1 billion hryvnias (approx. $100 million) from the state budget in 2012, isn't a priority in Ukraine – unlike the police, which got nearly five times that amount last year.

Ukraine: state funding of police vs. state funding of science in 2010-2012. Source: RFE/RL.

Ukraine: state funding of police vs. state funding of science in 2010-2012. Source: RFE/RL

User Mamay Kozak wrote [uk]:

The level of funding of science shows the Ukrainian government's colonial nature.

Violeta Magarit wrote [uk]:

We'll get the dinosaurs: strong, aggressive, and with pea-sized brains.

To put things in perspective some more, here is a short video infographic [ru] about the Ukrainian police, produced in January 2012 by “Prostyye Chisla” (“The Simple Numbers”; ru; on Facebook; on VKontakte):

The video starts with the “quantity” part already covered above – but also addresses the “quality” aspect:

  • Since 2006, crime rate in Ukraine has grown by 18 percent;

  • Some 200,000 Ukrainians are serving their sentences in jail; in the prison population per capita ranking, Ukraine is the world's #8;

  • 87 percent of Ukrainians do not trust law enforcement officials;

  • In one study, 43 percent of respondents reported that they did not get any assistance from police when they needed it;

  • In 2010, 780,000 people became victims of police violence, and, according to official records, 50 people died in police custody that year.

via Global Voices » Feature

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Philippines: Forced to Leave School Due to Unpaid Fees, Student Commits Suicide

A 16-year old college freshman studying Behavioral Sciences in the University of the Philippines Manila committed suicide last Friday morning. She was found dead at her family residence in Tondo, Manila two days after she was forced by the school administration to stop attending her classes because of unpaid tuition.

The student was the eldest among five siblings. Her father is a part-time taxi driver while her mother is a housewife. She was assigned by the university administration under Bracket D of the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP).

UP Manila implements a “no late payment” policy wherein students unable to pay their tuition on time are forced to take a leave from the university.

Education is a Right | Photo from Pixel Offensive

Education is a Right | Photo from Pixel Offensive

Grief and sympathy poured all over social networking sites and personal blogs over her untimely passing. Many also expressed outrage over expensive tuition and school fees and the highly commercialized system of Philippine education for driving the student to her death. Here are some reactions on Twitter:

@adrianayalin: Sad, sad, sad news about UP Manila student allegedly committing suicide because of unpaid tuition.

@teddycasino: Those cold hearted bureaucrats in UP Manila should resign in guilt & shame.

@jcmaningat: The suicide of the UP Manila student is big slap on the face of @PresidentNoy who claims that life is easier under his reign #justice #fb

The Facebook status of Cleve Kevin Robert Arguelles, the UP Student Regent representing 50,000 UP students in the university's Board of Regents:

The case of Kristel Tejada was not a suicide. There was no choice – either you pay or you stop pursuing your dreams. She was killed by the system- a system that refuse to recognize that education is a right, that life is measured in your capacity to pay. A sad and outrageous day for us Iskolars ng Bayan (scholars of the people). :(

In her blog, UP Manila alumna Alyanna Morales hopes that the incident will lead to drastic changes in the university’s tuition policies:

I believe that we are an education system that prides itself on honor and excellence. But if we deny someone her rights because of money, are we not worse than the system we claim to fight and abhor? Where is the honor or the excellence in that, my beloved UP?

Candle lighting activity at UP Manila | Photo taken by Carl Marc Ramota

Candle lighting activity at UP Manila | Photo taken by Carl Marc Ramota

Jefrey Tupas compares the recent suicide of the UP Manila student to the death of a 12-year old girl in Davao City five years ago:

Those who come from grassroots families, those who are living below poverty line, are directly hit by the policy of the government on education commercialization. The yellow government–the Aquino government–is pursuing the same formula being forced on us by the previous governments.

Dean Lozarie answers those who seek to de-politicize the issue by insisting that the death was merely personal and not political.

But it certainly was, if by political we mean that it aptly describes the state of things on a wider scale and reflects the narrative of society at large. We can argue about facts, and we can argue about what was really going through her mind in her final moments. But on this we can certainly agree: barely one year into her stay at the nation's premiere university, long-standing university and government policies prevented her from continuing her studies. Repeated and reasonable pleas from her and her family to reassign her to a lower bracket in UP's financial assistance program and to consider her financial situation were rejected. This deeply affected her emotionally. These facets of society, of the contemporary history of our nation, are manifest in the biography of the UP freshman from Tondo who just wanted to go to school.

No Money, No Entry | Image from Pixel Offensive

No Money, No Entry | Image from Pixel Offensive

Former UP Student Regent Krissy Conti explains why the university’s STFAP is a smokescreen for tuition increase and forms a sinister background for the suicide.

The final tuition collection from all enrolees is right there, tallied in the government accounting. No one has dared deny that income from student fees has grown through the years. In fact it has become a reliable and liquid money source that more or less half of maintenance expenses are programmatically taken from the tuition fund

Priscilla Pamintuan comments that the suicide is a clear example of the unjust system of education now prevailing in the country.

Ano mang paghuhugas-kamay ang gawin sa publiko ng Commission on Higher Education – na kesyo may sariling kapasyahan ang bawat state university na magtakda ng mga polisiya kaugnay ng matrikula – hindi maitatanggi na may pananagutan sila sa sinapit ng estudyanteng ito.

Whatever washing of hands the Commission on Higher Education may do in public – because each state university have the autonomy to set its own policies related to tuition – it cannot deny that it is accountable to what happens to their students. Is it not that CHED and the administration of Benigno Aquino III have long pushed for the yearly cuts in the budget of state colleges and universities to make them “self-sufficient”?

In a Facebook Note, Lisa Ito writes a call to action to honor the dead student's memory.

Some have implored: suicide is not the solution, don’t give up, there is hope. I agree. The solution is to fight for one’s rights, and to see the struggle through to the end. I will never say that she failed in valor, because—whatever the reason for arriving at the point she did—her sacrifice and her family’s loss has compelled us all to finally confront the painful truth: that there is no other recourse but to act on the situation now.

via Global Voices » Feature

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Old Woman and a Potato: Ukraine's Poverty Story Goes Viral

On Wednesday, March 13, journalist Olena Danko wrote a short post [uk] on her Facebook page about her supermarket encounter with an old woman who had just enough money to buy a single potato. It was a sad story typical for Ukraine, with nothing in it that could surprise anyone who has lived in the country even for a short period of time. Danko could hardly expect it to have any impact – she just needed to vent out her heartbreak and frustration with the current state of affairs in Ukraine. Yet, many netizens found this story of extreme poverty powerful enough to share it, and, within hours, it went viral.

Two days later, a very incomplete list of reposts looked like this:

Here is Danko's story, which took place [uk] in the city of Brovary, a suburb of Ukraine's capital Kyiv:

Went out to a store. At the supermarket's vegetable department an old woman was weighing one!!! potato! The poor saleswoman was petrified. So was I. The old woman said she'd paid for the apartment, for utilities, medicines, and was now surviving on what was left. Today she could allow herself only one potato and a quarter of black bread. I was shocked. Quickly, I went and filled up a whole bag with potatoes, bought it and gave it to the old woman at the cash desk. She felt embarrassed, then thanked me profusely and cried. And I was sobbing on my way home. That bag of potatoes cost only 6 hryvnias [$0.74]. What kind of country is this, [damn it], when the chandeliers at [the President's residence in Mezhyhirya] cost millions, the MPs’ watches cost hundreds of thousands dollars, billions are being laundered through [nonexistent road repairs], and the old woman stands there weighing one little potato?????? Where [the hell] are your [improvements]???? [You all deserve to be burned down]!!!

A screenshot of Olena Danko's story, taken roughly two days after it was posted.

A screenshot of Olena Danko's story, taken roughly two days after it was posted.

And here are some of the reactions from those who chose either to share Danko's story or to just comment on it.

Nataly Levina wrote [ru]:

It's a catastrophe of a country… On the one hand – hungry old people, neglected children, lucky if they haven't been just thrown away, animals savagely tortured or just thrown out to die, parents going crazy from their inability to help their sick children, even though [the money needed may just be $1,000]. And on the other hand – palaces that cost billions, supercars, yachts, helicopters, expensive accessories, watches, bags and weekends, all worth a life of not just one child…

Oleksandr Zorya wrote [uk]:

The thing is, it's not because the country is like that! The reason are people who lack self-respect. Because if they did respect themselves, already [back in the summer of 2012], at the [UEFA Euro 2012], we would have been playing football with the heads of [members of the ruling Party of Regions], and in the finals, with the head of [President Victor Yanukovych], to say the least!!!

Ira Alymova wrote [ru]:

They are spending more than a million of the President's ass daily, and the old woman buys one potato a day because she doesn't have money for more!!!!!! What Europe [are you talking about]!!!!!??????

Larysa Masykova wrote [uk]:

Here it is, an improvement…. Abroad, I have seen more than once how German pensioners are taking walks, sightseeing, taking pictures of historical monuments. They have money for that, courage, and dignity. And how are our old people living what remains of their lives, especially those who are lonely???…

Lora Prykhodko wrote [ru]:

- We now live better, – said the government.

- We are happy for you, – replied the people.

Natalka Fedechko wrote [uk]:

How much would [PM Mykola Azarov]‘s watch cost [if you convert its price into potatoes?] [...]

Sergei Gorbachevsky wrote [ru]:

My mother [worked as a teacher for 50 years], her pension is 1,100 hryvnias [a month; $135].

Alex Siriy added [uk]:

Right, and the Communist [MP Oksana Kaletnik] has a watch that costs $24,000 [ru].

User Yarema Dukh wasn't too impressed [uk] with the reactions to Danko's story:

[...] People, you're not in Ukraine now or what?

You don't see poor pensioners at the market, store or just begging outside their houses every day?

Tomorrow, go and help your neighbor or some random old woman – or go and indeed “burn all the politicians down.”

And then write about it on Facebook and gather your reposts.

Because right now we have this whole country of reposts, reposts, reposts. [...]

Katya Mykhaylova, too, believes [ru] that people should get together offline and help those in need:

Friends and kind people! Let's do a flashmob of assistance this Saturday! Each one of us will first fill a Bag of Help with food and at 10 AM sharp (or at 11 AM, or at noon) will walk out into the street and give the bag, along with wishes of health, to an elderly person who [needs it].

A Bag of Help may cost about 40 hryvnias [$5] and include a ten-day ratio for one elderly person:

- buckwheat

- [dairy products]

- potatoes

- carrots

1 kilo of each, could be 2 kilos of potatoes – they like it when there's much of it.

Additionally, it would be good to add a pumpkin, butter, apples, a chicken.

Everyone! People in every city! In every family! Let's start offering a little help to those who are in need. [...]

If we manage [...] to find 100 attentive and kind people in 10 cities, then the lives of 1,000 old and lonely people would become easier… for nearly half a month. And then again we'll have to gather bags and friends, to make the number of these people grow.


See you on Saturday… [at the stores], markets, [...] near the old women who are selling things next to subway entrances…

An old woman in the city of Brovary, a suburb of Kyiv. Photo by Veronica Khokhlova, May 29, 2008.

An old woman in the city of Brovary, a suburb of Kyiv. Photo by Veronica Khokhlova, May 29, 2008.

via Global Voices » Feature

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Self-immolations Continue in Tunisia

On March 12, Adel Khadri a 27-year-old cigarette street vendor set himself on fire on Tunis’ main street: Habib Bourguiba Avenue. According to eye witnesses, Khadri shouted: “This is a young man who sells cigarettes because of unemployment,” before setting himself on fire. Khadri passed away early this morning at Ben Arous’ Burns Hospital.

Collective blog Nawaat reports [fr]:

Le jeune vendeur à la sauvette qui, désespéré par ses conditions de vie, s’était immolé, est décédé mercredi à l’aube, dernière illustration en date des tensions sociales en Tunisie auxquelles le nouveau gouvernement devra faire face une fois investi. “Il est mort aujourd’hui à 5 h 30 du matin des suites de ses graves brûlures“, a dit Imed Touibi, le directeur du Centre des grands brûlés de Ben Arous (banlieue de Tunis) où le jeune homme de 27 ans, Adel Khadri, était hospitalisé.

Anguished by his living conditions, the young street vendor, who set himself on fire passed away at dawn on Wednesday. This is the last illustration of the social tensions in Tunisia, which the new government, once in place, should deal with. “He died today at 5.30am from severe burns”, said Imed Touibi director of the Centre of Severe Burns in Ben Arous (a Tunis suburb), where the young 27-year-old man was hospitalized.

Quoting the privately-owned radio Mosaique FM, author of the blog Massir Destin reports [fr] on the number of self-immolations in Tunisia:

Oh mon Dieu!!!

Le nombre d'immolations par le feu en Tunisie:

2 en 2010

91 en 2011

63 en 2012

11 en 2013

Source Mosaïque fm. Mais on n'a pas précisé le nombre de décès.

Oh my God!!! The number of self-immolations in Tunisia:

2 in 2010

91 in 2011

63 in 2012

11 in 2013

Source: Mosaique FM. But they have not reported on the number of deaths.

Emergency services arrive at Habib Bourguiba Avenue to transfer Khadri to hospital. Image via Alqarra TV facebook page

Emergency services arrive at Habib Bourguiba Avenue to transfer Khadri to hospital. Image via Alqarra TV Facebook page

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit street vendor from Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire when police confiscated his wares. His desperate act ignited social justice and pro-democracy protests in Sidi Bouzid and eventually the entire country, forcing autocratic ruler Zeine el Abidin Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia 18 days later. However, 24 months after the ouster of Ben Ali, Tunisia is still going through intense socioeconomic difficulties, further intensified by a political crisis deepened by the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid on February 6. High prices, a 16.7% unemployment rate and disparities between regions are all making the lives of Tunisians, especially underprivileged groups, harder. Khadri, was not only suffering financial destitution, but according to his brother [fr] had stomach health problems but did not have enough money to get treatment.

Benoît Delmas, a Tunis-based journalist writes [fr]:

Adel Khadri est-il mort pour rien ? La question semble indécente mais elle est suscitée par le silence politique qui a entouré l’annonce de cette immolation. Laquelle renvoie inévitablement au point de départ de la révolution tunisienne lorsque Mohamed Bouazizi, un vendeur à la sauvette de fruits et légumes, s’aspergea d’essence et s’immola à Sidi Bouzid, le 17 décembre 2010. Avant et après Bouazizi, d’autres cas similaires furent notés. La mort, au petit matin, d’Adel Khadri devrait interpeller toute la société tunisienne. Un pays qui n’offre aucun espoir à sa jeunesse est un pays qui s’étiole, s’effondre. Il ne s’agit pas d’exiger des remèdes miracles mais de demander à la classe politique, majorité ET opposition, de bien vouloir travailler pour le bien commun, l’intérêt national, le peuple. Les chicaneries politiciennes qui polluent toutes les vieilles démocraties ne sont pas d’une urgence absolue pour un pays qui vit librement depuis seulement deux ans et deux mois.

Did Adel Khadri die for nothing? The question seems indecent, but it is provoked by the silence of the political class, surrounding the announcement of this self-immolation. This is inevitably a return to square zero for the Tunisian revolution, when Mohamed Bouaziz, a fruit and vegetable street vendor sprinkled himself with gas and set himself alight, on December 17, 2010. Prior to and after Bouazizi's [self-immolation], similar cases were registered. The death of Adel Khadri at dawn, should be a call for the entire Tunisian society. A country which offers no hope for its youth, is a fading and collapsing country. It is not a question of asking for miraculous remedies, but rather calling upon the political class, both the majority AND opposition, to work for the common good, the national interest and the people. The political chicaneries which are tainting old democracies are not an urgency for a country which has been living in freedom for only two years and two months.

via Global Voices » Feature

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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Saudi Court Sentences Reformists to 10 and 11 Years in Prison

This post is part of our Special Coverage: Reformists on Trial in Saudi Arabia

Earlier today, March 9 2013, the Riyadh Criminal Court issued its verdict against the two prominent reformists and human rights activists Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, after being prosecuted for “breaking allegiance to the ruler and his successor” and “trying to impede the country’s developments”. al-Qahtani was sentenced to 10 years in prison and al-Hamid was sentenced to 5 years in prison in addition to completing his previous sentence (7 years, released after a year with a royal pardon). The judge stated that their presence outside prison was “dangerous” and ordered their immediate arrest. In addition, the judge ordered dissolving the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Associations (ACPRA), and confiscating all of its propriety immediately. The defendants have a right to appeal the decision within 30 days.

al-Qahtani and al-Hamid's trial started in June 2012, separately and secretly. After the first hearing, the judge merged both cases but he insisted that it shall remain behind closed doors. The two activists refused, saying that it was a political trial, and publicity was their only grantee for justice. By the fifth hearing, the judge finally capitulated, turning it effectively into a public trial.

al-Qahtani (left) and al-Hamid (third on left) right before the session. via @DrRAYQ

al-Qahtani (right) and al-Hamid (third on right) right before the session. via @DrRAYQ

Last night, al-Hamid tweeted [ar]:

إلى الإخوة المتشائمين والمشفقين من #محاكمة_حسم لئن سجنا فهو والله نصر كبير جدا للمشروع ومن السجن تشعل الشموع

@Abubelal_1951: To my brothers who are pessimist and pitiful about the ACPRA trial: if we get imprisoned, it's a huge victory for the project and from prisons candles are lit.

Today's session was attended by over 130 supporters, in addition to correspondents from Al Jazeera, Sky News and some national newspapers. The courtroom was filled with over 30 special force members. Outside, al-Hamid came early to collect attendees’ signatures demanding the dismissal of the Interior Minster Mohammad bin Nayef, and the repeal of all secret trial sentences.

Activist Waleed Abualkhair tweeted:

سحب الأقلام بالإضافة الى الجوالات وعدد الحضور وصل الى ١٠٥ حتى الآن بحسب الكشف وهناك ٣٠ لم يسجلوا

@abualkhair: They took our pens and mobile phones. According to the list, the attendees are now 105, there are 30 who haven't registered yet.

Some activists did not manage to enter. Hood al-Aqeel tweeted:

الان في داخل المحكمه وقد منعت من الدخول للقاعه بحجه عدم وجود أماكن فاضيه !!!

@h_141: I am in the court. They did not allow me in saying that there are no free spaces!

In the verdict, the judge said that al-Qaida and ACPRA are the two sides of the same coin. Moreover, he stated that coercive rule is legitimate. Mohammad al-Abdualkreem reported:

توصل القاضي إلى بطلان نظرية العقد الاجتماعي ومنافاتها لعقيدة المسلم، وجواز التغلب والتوريث والتعيين واعتبارها من أصول السلف

@alabdulkarim0: The judge concluded that the social contract theory is invalid and contradicts with the Muslim faith, and that coercive ruling, hereditary monarchy and appointment are fundamental to Islamic practice.

Back in May 2011, al-Qahtani participated in a Women2Drive campaign, demanding lifting the ban on women driving. Apparently, this led the judge to mention something about it in the verdict. Twitter user Jihad Abdullah tweeted:

القاضي قبل قليل يتهم القحطاني بأنه يركب سيارته وزوجته تقود السيارة ومعهم اجانب يتجولون داخل الرياض، طيب هو حر وزوجته وش دخلك ! #محاكمة_حسم

@CheJihad: The judge just accused al-Qahtani of riding his car with foreigners while his wife is driving. Well, he and his wife are free, you have nothing to do with it!

Twitter users noticed that the trial hashtag was filled by automatically-generated, repeated messages that attack the two activists and accuses them of treason. Mishari AlGhamdi tweeted:

نفس العبارة تكتبها عشرات المعرفات الوهمية .. شغل رديء .. حتى شغل التطبيل و التدليس خربه الفساد

@mishari11: The same statement is being written by tens of fake accounts. Poor job. Even kissing up and fraudulence were doomed by corruption.

This post is part of our Special Coverage: Reformists on Trial in Saudi Arabia

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

China Executes Burmese Drug Lord on Live TV

Naw Kham, the Burmese leader of a major drug trafficking gang in the infamous ‘Golden Triangle’ area in mainland Southeast Asia, was executed through lethal injection in Kunming, China last March 1, 2013. Although he was not well-known before his death, his life instantly became a trending topic in Myanmar after his execution.

A number of Myanmar Facebook users were frustrated to learn that Chinese media networks aired the execution on live TV [viewer discretion advised].

Khin Khin Oo writes[my] her frustration:

Broadcast the execution? What an inhumane thing!

Naw Kham Before Execution

Naw Kham before execution. Screenshot from CCTV News video.

Than Thar Win, a well known local singer, also criticized[my] the live broadcast of the execution:

It's acceptable to punish a criminal. But I think broadcasting the execution process live by some Chinese channels should not have happened.

Khin Zarny Htut added[my]:

Being guilty is being guilty. But as a human being.,I feel a bit sad for such lethal execution.

There are also those who blamed the Myanmar government for not requesting a prisoner swap arrangement with China. La Yeik Cho said[my]:

Our government should ask for criminal transfer. Why did they leave Naw Kham's fate in China's hand?

Another Facebook user, Nay Min Kha, compared[my] the situation of foreign criminals in Myanmar and Myanmar prisoners in other countries:

We have been releasing those (foreigners) who committed crimes in Myanmar easily. I do not hear any similar treatment for Myanmar citizens who are detained abroad. In fact, even if Naw Kham committed crimes, he should be sentenced to death only in Myanmar. [...]

Nay Tar Gay thinks[my] Chinese citizens who are found guilty of committing high crimes in Myanmar would be transferred to China:

Regardless of the type of charges, the criminals should be transferred to mother nation and charged against law in one's own country. It is very sure that Myanmar government would transfer him (to China) if he were a Chinese national.

On the other hand, some netizens pointed out that there is no difference between execution in Myanmar and China. Ei Maung posted a short note explaining why the Myanmar government was correct in its decision not to request a prisoner transfer deal in the case of Naw Kham:

It's true that a nation must protect its citizens. And yes, Vienna convention suggested nations to transfer prisoners as showing respect.

But, it's crazy to say Myanmar government should request the transfer of a drug king. Are those people out of their mind? [...] Not transferring a mass murderer or drug king is nowhere near disrespecting. They have their “national security” to concern over respect in those cases.[...]

“Don't make ridiculous conclusion” just because you don't like the government. Even if Myanmar government makes such request, China is unlikely to agree and, such rejection would “unnecessarily affect the relationship”. Government is doing the right thing…

Winston Compunuts mentioned that there is no extradition agreement between the Chinese and Myanmar governments:

In order for prisoner exchange or extradition to take effect, there needs to have agreements for it between such nations. Geneva convention only guarantees humane treatment and access to fair representation (even that definition widely varies in different countries). Extradition treaties must first exist before the arrest occurred. As far as I know, there is no such agreement between China and Burma. I think the Burmese government was right NOT to pursue it since it's highly unlikely to be successful and why waste tax dollars on something unwarranted. There are cases when even a superpower like the United States couldn't even save their citizens or bring them home to serve their prison sentence.

Hkam Awng's brief clarification[my] about the status of Naw Kham went viral:

He is someone who became a wanted person in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand after he implemented his drug route from Myanmar to Laos, then to Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and China. [...] Finally, it reached over the limit of patience of four countries (Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and China) after he hijacked a Chinese ship, killed the sailors and threw the dead bodies into the river. [...] To be able to cooperate for drug trafficking, such countries signed the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances but Myanmar did it with exception for the article of criminal exchange. That is why Myanmar government never transferred Khun Sa and other ‘Wa‘ leaders who had been charged by US. [...] Anyway, I'm also against the capital punishment and death penalty. [...]

On March 2, 2013, Myanmar netizens flooded the Facebook page of Chinese Embassy in Myanmar by posting R.I.P messages for Naw Kham.

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Friday, March 01, 2013

Religion Warps Politics as Bangladesh War Crimes Protests Continue

See our special coverage of Bangladesh's #Shahbag Protests

The protesting crowd's demand We want capital punishment

The protesting crowd's demand “We want capital punishment”. Photo by Arif Hossain Sayeed, used with permission.

Since the beginning of February, hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis have been occupying a major intersection called Shahbag in the heart of Dhaka, calling for capital punishment for war crimes committed during the country’s liberation from Pakistan in 1971. But what began as a peaceful civic uprising may be taking a turn in the public’s perception as one that contradicts Islam.

While this moment has been in the making for decades, the current explosion of civic activity has a new and youthful character born out of optimism. The vitality and size of the crowd has surprised and delighted. As Shimul Bashar, a reporter for a private TV channel wrote of the #Shahbag protests on Facebook:

আমি আবার বলছি, শাহবাগের এইসব দিন ইতিহাস হবে। জীবনে এর চেয়ে বড় পাওয়া আমার নেই। মা, আমার চোখে ঘুম আসেনা। আমি শাহবাগের কথা ভাবি। আমার তার মুখ মনে পড়ে।

I reiterate that these days of Shahbag will be part of history. I do not have anything greater than this in my life. Mama, i can't sleep. I keep thinking about Shahbag. I remember the faces.

A movement sparked by bloggers

Shahbag protest in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Shahbag protest in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 21st day. Photo by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury © Copyright Demotix (Feb 26, 2013)

It all began when the Bloggers and Online Activists Network (BOAN) initiated the call to occupy the intersection on February 5, and demand capital punishment for the secretary general of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, Abdul Quader Mollah, only hours after he was sentenced to life in prison by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh on 344 counts of murder, rape and torture committed in 1971.

Since then, demands for capital punishment have extended to all war criminals facing trial, and protests have spread across the country in the name of justice for the estimated 3 million people killed and 250,000 women raped during the liberation war. Local political and Islamic militia groups who opposed the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan participated in the killing, particularly targeting Hindus. And like Mollah, a number of indicted war criminals have held public office and lived a life of impunity until 2010, when proceedings were initiated against them by the war crimes court.

The battle for public perception

Islamists protest in Bangladesh over 'Blasphemous Blogs'.

Islamists protest in Bangladesh over ‘blasphemous blogs'. Photo by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury. Copyright © Demotix (Feb 22, 2013)

The main battlefront for detractors of the Shahbag protests is now public perception, and this can have deadly consequences in a society where religious tension is constantly smoldering. In Bangladesh, where 89% of the population is Muslim, many are easily distracted by accusations of atheism.

Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami have distributed leaflets around the country saying that the bloggers who initiated the Shahbag protests are blasphemous, and have even called for the “death penalty for atheist bloggers“. At least three opposition-led newspapers have supported these claims with further incitements against the Shahbag protesters and individual bloggers.

One blogger at the forefront of the Shahbag protests, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was murdered outside his home in Dhaka on February 15. For years, he had been writing about war criminals and Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh under the pseudonym Thaba Baba (Captain Claw).

The blogger Hasib wrote:

খুন করার জন্য থাবাবাবাকে বেছে নেবার কারণ পরিষ্কার। থাবাবাবা ধর্মবিশ্বাসের নাস্তিক ছিলেন এবং সেটা তিনি উচ্চস্বরে জানানও দিতেন। জামাতের উদ্দেশ্য এখানে এই ধর্মবিশ্বাসকে আশ্রয় করে একটা বিভক্তি টানা। তারা এই বিভক্তি তৈরী করতে সফল।

It is clear why Thaba Baba was picked up and killed. He was an open atheist. The main target of the Jamaat (Islamist party) is to create division among bloggers using religion. They were successful.

Blogger Nir Shandhani writes of the frenzy that ensued after Rajib’s murder when a fake blog full of blasphemy was widely circulated and attributed to the blogger even though it was created after his death. The blog texts were downloaded, printed and distributed to incite hatred against Shahbag bloggers. Jamaat-e-Islami and its allies launched protests across country on February 22 against “atheist bloggers” in which 4 people were killed in clashes with police.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s government is quietly in favor of the Shahbag demonstrations since Jamaat-e-Islami is a political opponent who wishes to introduce Islamic law.

As the protests continue from strength to strength, youth are having their resolve tested by contradictory claims and threats. And less internet-savvy citizens in Bangladesh who may not know what a blog is must have concluded by now that it is something quite anti-Islamic.

On February 28, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayed was sentenced to death, leading to cheers in the Shabagh intersection, and deadly clashes between Islamists and police in Dhaka and other parts of the country. Jamaat-e-Islami say they will retaliate with a 48-hour “shutdown” of Bangladesh starting Sunday, March 3.

This post was written with contributions from the Global Voices Bangladesh authors team

ISN logo This post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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