Category Archives: Human Rights

Why the Trial of Barrett Brown Should Scare You

Barrett Brown (32) is an American freelance journalist who has written for the Guardian, Vanity Fair and the Huffington Post. He is facing the prospect of a 105 year jail sentence.

In 2009, Brown set up Project PM which was “dedicated to investigating private government contractors working in the secretive fields of cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance”. Then in 2010 the actions of Wiki Leaks and the brutal treatment of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning inspire Brown to dedicate himself to online activist and transparency projects.

It was through this that he came into contact with the ‘hacktivist’ collective Anonymous. Not as a hacker, but as someone who discussed and defended the group to the media, without actually being a member.

brown

Then in 2011 Anonymous hacked the computer systems of private intelligence firm HB Gary Federal and released thousands of incriminating emails such as the firm trying to persuade Bank of America to hire them to discredit Wiki Leaks supporters. This was followed by the 2012 leak of emails from Stratfor, another private security firm.

It was ultimately Brown’s investigations of these two firms that led to his harassment by the FBI. In March 2012 his apartment was broken into and searched for information pertaining to HB Gary and Stratfor, various documents were seized but they did not have a warrant for his arrest at this point. Ultimately the FBI found Brown at his mother’s house where they demanded his laptop, which he denied having. Over the months that followed, agents continued to harass Brown and threatened to arrest and indict his mother for “harbouring” Brown or helping him conceal documents.

Then in September, Brown posted a YouTube video in which he talked about how FBI agents had threatened to ruin his life. In the emotional video he threatened to “destroy” one of his harassers FBI agent Robert Smith, who had threatened his mother. There were no physical threats issued.

This allowed the FBI to arrest Brown on the charge of threatening a Federal agent. Once he was in custody they found other charges to hold him on such as trafficking in stolen goods for sharing a URL to the leaked emails with some of his colleagues, as well as the more ludicrous charge of credit card fraud as some of the emails contained credit card information which it was clear he had never used.

Brown has now spent a year in prison awaiting trial.

These are the facts that are widely known by those who support him but have been mostly ignored by mainstream media. Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, has been consistent in his support of Brown. Greenwald himself as faced harassment due to his work with whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“Both prongs of prosecutorial abuse are clearly present in Brown’s case. There is no evidence that the link he posted to already published documents resulted in any unauthorized use of credit cards, and certainly never redounded in any way to his benefit. More important, this prosecution is driven by the same plainly improper purpose that drove the one directed at Aaron Swartz and so many others: the desire to exploit the power of criminal law to deter and severely punish anyone who meaningfully challenges the government’s power to control the flow of information on the internet and conceal its vital actions…What the US government counts on above all else is that the person it targets is unable to defend themselves against the government’s unlimited resources” – Glenn Greenwald

What should be highlighted here for everyone, not only journalists, is the implication that linking to stolen information could be deemed illegal, by extension making investigations into many kinds of clandestine activities also illegal.

The prospect of the American government giving itself the authority to control what the public should and should not know is not new.

However the idea that you can be charged simply for reading something available to the public online is incredibly worrying.

This particularly should worry any American readers but given recent revelations about the NSA have made it clear that the US government believe it has the right to monitor citizens of other countries as well this is a matter which affects everyone.

Think about your Facebook profiles, your Twitter feeds, your Tumblr dashboard and think of all the links you click on or share every week. This trial has the potential to create legal precedent to have you be legally responsible for information you find online.

Even outside of the bigger picture, the charges still do not make sense. How can the prosecution argue that Brown is legally culpable for the information he possessed and not the dozens of other journalists, from various media outlets such as the New York Times, who reported on the information, most of whom must have read the material as well?

Not only that but the US Department of Justice have now issued a gag order on Brown and his legal team, preventing them from talking to other journalists or “members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine, internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case”.

Brown’s lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, has stated that this gag order is a violation of Brown’s 1st Amendment rights as a writer who has continued to work from behind bars on issues not pertaining to his own case or his prosecution.

Now not only can journalists be punished for critical writing about their government but once arrested cannot speak to other members of the press. The ways in which this threatens the right to freedom of expression are obvious and deeply concerning.

The General Secretary of Reporters Without Borders came out in defense of Brown saying:

Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest…Threatening a journalist with a possible century-long jail sentence is a scary prospect for journalists investigating the intelligence government contractor industry”.

From start to finish this has been a targeted attack on a journalist who did his job. The US attorney’s office have made claims they know do not hold weight in attempts to discredit, bankrupt and silence Brown. I would go so far as to say that Barrett Brown is a political prison of the US state.

To learn more detail about the trial or to donate to Brown’s legal fund go to Free Brown Brown dot org. The persecution of investigative journalists puts all civil liberties at risk and must not be ignored.

Orla-Jo

Freedom of the Press

The internet has allowed greater freedom of the press than ever before in human history but many governments have shown tendencies to try to combat this freedom wherever they can.

Reporters Without Borders is an NGO dedicated to protecting journalists and the rights of the press.

“Every year, some 500 journalists are arrested, 1,000 assaulted or threatened, and over 500 media outlets censored. All of these violations have serious consequences which need to be tracked in order to better counteract them.” – RSF

They also campaign against internet censorship, teach about online security and provide support for online journalists.

“Netizens now play an essential role in the vanguard of news coverage worldwide. However, more and more often, they are becoming victims of threats and censorship by governments who fear this new cyberspace of freedom.”

Organisations like this are becoming increasingly necessary with the climate of censorship and harassment of the press that appears to be growing more prevalent in countries that would have previously supporting a free media.

UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The US have traditionally taken great pride in their press freedoms but in recent years have found ways to undermine any attempts at investigative journalism.

In May this year the US Department of Justice seized the calls records of the Associated Press (AP) without being given warning or told why the records were needed, no warrant was issued. Whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden or Barrett Brown have all mean met with severe punishment or been forced to flee the country.

Not only that but one of the documents that Chelsea Manning is accused of having passed to WikiLeaks is a video proving that a US helicopter was responsible for the killing of two Reuters reporters as well as multiple Iraqi civilians.

Barrett Brown is facing charges that could add up to 105 years in federal prison for simply investigating the actions of a private security company. Jeremy Hammod, pleaded guilty to hacking the email account of Stratfor and released hundreds of emails that contained sensitive information including discussions of possible assassinations. Brown linked colleagues to a public URL that contained the emails. This is the reason he is being charged with “trafficking” in stolen goods.

“Barrett Brown is not a hacker, he is not a criminal…He did not infiltrate any systems, nor did he appear to have the technical expertise to do so. Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest. The sentence of 105 years in prison that he is facing is absurd and dangerous” – Reporters Without Borders General Secretary, Christophe Deloire.

In the last week, a gag order has been placed not only on Brown himself but on all his lawyers forcing them to refrain from: “any statement to members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine,  internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case”.

In response to trends like these, Pieter Omtzigt of the European People’s Party has tabled a motion for a resolution regulating surveillance programmes and protecting whistleblowers on July 31th in the Council of Europe. 

The proposed resolution would call on member states to regulate and control surveillance, protect whistleblowers on a national level and spark an investigation by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. This committee has previously shed light on CIA inference and secret detention centres.

All over the world, journalists continue to be at risk. A month ago journalists were attacked by soldiers in Sri Lanka for covering a protest against the pollution of a local water source. Four atheist bloggers were arrested and one imprisoned in Bangladesh. Authorities in Myanmar have consisted sought to curb the media and have now banned Time magazine for it’s discussion of militantly, radical Buddhist groups.

It is the purpose and responsibility of journalists to critically report on world events but far greater protections for these reporters need to be implemented.

Tanzanian radio broadcaster Phot credit: UNESCO /Jonathas Mello
Tanzanian radio broadcaster Photo credit: UNESCO /Jonathas Mello

Human Rights in the Land of the Free

In the discussion of intervention in Syria, much US political rhetoric on the support of human rights has been used. America publically campaigns for holding governments accountable for human rights violations, in fact that is the first point made on the State Department’s human rights goals. However the human rights landscape in the United States of America is far from static and uncontested. America today faces grave charges of human rights violations both from critics within the country and from the international community.

It has been over 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, yet human rights violations continue to cause controversy on a global scale. It has been over 50 years since The Great March on Washington, which is credited with spurring legislation to end racial discrimination in the United States of America, yet racial discrimination is still a major source of controversy there though views on prevalence vary.

March2013CivilRights

The second Article of the UDHR states that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Regardless,  in 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Armstrong that racial profiling (where race is used as a distinguishing feature in identifying a suspect’s tendency to be involved in crime) is constitutional in the absence of data that “similarly situated” defendants of another race were disparately treated despite opposition based on the Fourth Amendment  of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to be safe from search and seizure without a warrant (which is to be issued “upon probable cause”), and the Fourteenth Amendment which requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law.

Racial profiling is condemned by the Government of USA and allegations of such taking place are usually denied but Amnesty International reports that:

“Approximately eighty-seven million Americans are at a high risk of being subjected to future racial profiling during their lifetime”.

Those affected encompassing  “Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Arab Americans, Persian Americans, American Muslims, many immigrants and visitors, and, under certain circumstances, white Americans.”

Racial profiling also seems to have a large degree of popular support, as indicated by polls from organisations and media outlets like USA Today. Furthermore, the potential for racial discrimination among other human rights violations has exploded with the introduction of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.

The USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act is an Act of Congress that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. Opposition to the Act has focused on provision for indefinite detention of immigrants, the permission given law enforcement officers to search homes or business premises without the owner or occupants’ consent or knowledge, and the expanded use of National Security Letters which allegedly:

allows investigators to demand that businesses turn over sensitive financial records, without specifying the investigation’s target or why the files are needed“.

On May 26, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, extending some of the most controversial provisions for a further four years past the original expiry date: roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of so called “lone wolves” (suspected terrorists not linked to larger groups).

Far more notorious than even the expansion of surveillance under the USA PARTIOT Act is the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention camp in Cuba, established in January 2002used by the USA to hold potential terror suspects. One issue debated is that of whether those imprisoned as part of the War on Terror are prisoners of war and thus deserving of protection under the rules of war.

The Geneva Convention’s rules for dealing with prisoners of war are only violated if the prisoners are deemed to be soldiers involved in a war. Defenders of the prison may echo Jim Phillips of The Heritage Foundation, who has said that “some of these terrorists who are not recognized as soldiers don’t deserve to be treated as soldiers.”

However, the conditions at Guantanamo Bay are held to violate more than the rules of war; international commentators have condemned it as violating universal human rights. Amnesty International has called the detention camp a scandal and it is widely considered to violate international laws, earning the condemnation of figures as diverse as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the United Nations, the Red Cross and former president of the USA Jimmy Carter.

On 22 January 2009, President Barack Obama signed an order with a view to suspending proceedings at the Guantanamo military commission for a period of 120 days and decommissioning the detention facility later that year.  Nevertheless, on 7 January 2011, Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, placing restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the mainland or to foreign countries, impeding the closure of the facility, which is still open today.

These expansions of surveillance and detention have been kept out of public eye to the extent that the American government could keep it. However, individuals and organisations inside and outside the system have leaked thousands of documents to expose the reality of human rights abuses undertaken by the United States of America and elsewhere.

The largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public was largely a result of the actions of Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning), then an intelligence analyst with the US Army (she has since received a dishonourable discharge as a result of the leaks).

Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky/U.S. Army

Manning was ultimately charged with 22 offenses, of which she pleaded guilty to 10. The trial on the remaining charges began on June 3, 2013, and on July 30 she was convicted of 17 of the original charges and amended versions of four others, but was acquitted of aiding the enemy (the most serious charge). She will serve her sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

While her actions have been debated as either heroic exposure of corruption or villainous endangerment of lives, her status as a transgender woman has been a source of further controversy. Journalist Anne Russell has noted that media outlets differ on whether to represent her as Chelsea with feminine pronouns (as she requested) or as Bradley with masculine pronouns. At the time of writing, Manning is held in a male prison, raising questions of whether she has been wrongly-gendered or correctly sexed with regard to her imprisonment.

In June 2013, Edward Snowden was charged under the same Espionage Act, when he released several documents exposing the NSA’s PRISM Surveillance Program along with details of other top-secret United States and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. Like Chelsea Manning, he too has been hailed as both a hero and a traitor.

As the USA has struggled with how human rights apply to human criminals and terrorists on the one hand nonhuman corporations have become recognised as people with legally protected human rights such as the right to own property and the right to free speech, which may absolve human persons from legal liability for actions which have been taken by corporations under their control. A relatively recent phenomenon, it has already attracted much opposition from groups such as Reclaim Democracy and individuals such as Noam Chomsky.

More than sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, the United States of America is still deeply confused and divided on who is a human person and how universal and inalienable that human person’s rights are.

– Ian

BBC Concerned for Tamil Reporter in Sri Lanka

The BBC has reported today that it is concerned by the questioning of Ponnaiah Manikavasagam, a reporter for BBC Tamil by Sri Lankan police forces yesterday.

Sri Lanka ranks 162nd out of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RWB).

RSF and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) made a joint statement:

“The authorities trying to intimidate and behave in a threatening manner should be seen as a serious assault on the already worsened media freedom and freedom of speech in Sri Lanka.”

In April there was an armed attack on the Tamil newspaper Uthayan in the northern city of Kilinochchi, and despite two employees being seriously injured, little was done to investigate.

And this was after the Sri Lankan government censored BBC Tamil language broadcasts in March “a day after the start of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council’s latest session, which has been looking at the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

 

Sri Lanka’s Defense Minister claims UN Visit influenced by propaganda

The Sri Lankan defense minister, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, claimed that the visit of the United Nations human rights chief was influeced by propaganda circulated by the remnants of the Tamil Tigers.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known frequently as the Tamil Tigers were rebels who fought in nearly 30 years of civil war before being defeated by the government in 2009. Ethnic Tamils claimed they faced, and still face, much discrimination from the Sinhalese ethnic majority. The goal of the Tigers was to create an independent Tamil state. A UN report says that up to 40,000 people were killed in the final days of the conflict.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, just concluded a week long visit to Sri Lanka which followed a UN Human Rights Council resolution calling on Sri Lanka to investigate civil era war crimes committed by its government forces that passed in March.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Pillay expressed concerns about the situation to journalists in the capital, Colombo, on Saturday.

“I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction…the fighting is over, the suffering is not”.

Pillay reported that some of the activist, journalist or simply ordinary Sri Lankans who tried to meet with er were “harassed by police or military officers“.

“This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced…the United Nations takes the issues of reprisals against people because they have talked to UN officials as an extremely serious matter.” – Pillay

But Rajapaksa claims that these ideas are created by ex-LTTE propaganda and the Sri Lankan people must choose whether to trust in their government or not rather than being “caricatured by external entities influenced by vested interests.”

Pillay will brief the UN Human Rights Council on her findings next month and a full report is due to be published in March 2014.

Orla-Jo

What We’re Talking About When We’re Talking About Feminism

Feminism is word that simply by existing can cause controversy. It is often implied that feminist issues are frivolous issues, that feminists are petty and mean-spirited or that feminists just care about abortion or sexual harassment. The mainstream media fosters this idea of feminism is narrow, reactionary and unnecessary.

But feminism is more than a narrowly interpreted idea of “women’s issues”.

Education is a feminist issue. Two thirds of the children in the world without access to education are girls.

Trans rights are a feminist issue. When someone is told that their gender identity lessens them as humans or limits their human rights, that is a feminist issue.

Poverty is a feminist issue. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor. Women work two thirds of the world’s working hours but receive only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property. Of the 150 major conflicts fought since War War Two, 130 of them were fought in the developing world.

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UN Photo/Martine Perret

Racism is a feminist issue. Stereotypes and discrimination of women of colour is a feminist issue. Native American women are nearly twice as likely to be sexually assaulted. Indigenous women in Canada are five times more likely to die as a result of violence.

The rights of the disabled are feminist issues. In Europe, Australia and North America, over half of disabled women will experience physical abuse.

War and conflict are feminist issues. Of the 27.4 million people displaced due to conflict in 1996; 80% of them were women and children. Wartime rape affects women of all ages. In the Democratic Republic of Congo 36 women are raped every day. During the Bosnian War between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped.

Clinic Somalia UN
UN Photo/Stuart Price

Rape is held over the heads of women all over the world as a punishment for those who step out of line and is most definitely a feminist issue, even when the victims are men. In the United States someone is sexual assaulted every 2 minutes, 54% of rapes go unreported and 97% of rapists will receive no jail sentence.

Women between the ages of 15 and 44 years of age are globally more at risk from rape and domestic violence than they are from cancer, war, car accidents or malaria according to World Bank data.

There is a sentiment that feminism is unnecessary or that the term is outdated, that there is no need to actively promote the ‘feminine’ but rather support equality as a whole. But the idea that what is traditionally ‘feminine’ is lesser is still so pervasive in today’s culture that while it is socially acceptable for a women to behave and dress in ways considered traditionally masculine, the same cannot be said for men who wish to behave or dress in ways considered to be feminine. These bias are damaging to men as well. But more significantly they demonstrate that many advances that appear to have occurred in gender equality are based on the idea that women should behave or value things that are more traditionally masculine.

That is why feminism remains relevant.

Pibor South Suden UN
UN Photo

Orla-Jo

The Origins of the Maldives’ Election Controversy

Riots erupted in the Maldives in February of 2012 when the then president, Mohammad Nasheed, resigned under the threat of violence. Nasheed was elected in 2008 in the Maldives’ first democratic presidential election following a 30 year dictatorship under Gayoom and the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Nasheed 2011

(Nasheed addresses Human Rights Council September 2011)

There were mass protests by opposition when President Nasheed fired Justice Abdulla Mohamad on January 16. Justice Mohamad was head of the criminal court and President Nasheed ordered that he be arrested for failing to investigate corruption and human rights abuses by the previous PPM administration.

This was not the first time Nasheed clashed with the judiciary during his presidency. He claims that the judiciary are under the thumb of the old regime.

Justice Mohamad is a public supporter of the former authoritarian president Gayoom and stands accused by the Judicial Services Commission (the Maldivian judicial watchdog) of having two children, the alleged victims of sexual assault, act out their assault in the courtroom. Mohamad has protected himself from investigations with court injunctions.

JJ Robinson, editor of the Maldives based Minivan Newsclaims that:

“of the 200 judges and magistrates in the country…50% of them have less than a Grade 7 education and 30% of them have actual criminal records: everything from child abuse to terrorism…these are not independent, impartial, moral-free thinkers.”

Hasheed wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times on February 8 where he alleged that his resignation was nothing short of a “coup” and accused his former deputy Mohamed Waheed of taking part in a conspiracy to oust him. He also claimed that “Islamic Extremists” had abused new free speech laws to throw “anti-Semitic and anti-Christian slurs at my government, branding as apostates anyone who tried to defend the country’s liberal Islamic traditions and claiming that democracy granted them and their allies license to call for violent jihad and indulge in hate speech.”

Nasheed’s resignation prompted his supporters to protest which was met with severe police reactions including tear gas and the alleged beating of member of Nasheed’s party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Following the resignation the new president, former deputy Waheed, issued a statement saying that the rule of law would be upheld “at any cost” and denied that any coup had taken place. Warrants were issued for former president Nasheed’s arrest.

Nasheed’s government had a positive relationship with India and so he took refuge at the Indian Embassy in early 2013 in the Maldivian capital of Male when charges of abuse of power were leveled against him. Nasheed maintained that these charges were a “politically motivated sham.”

After 10 days in the embassy he left and was arrested. If convicted he would be excluded from the elections being held in September. His supporters feared for his life as he was being held in an infamous prison on a remote island. Many of his supports were forced into exile as well.

However international outcry motivated the EU to state that the polls would “not be credible without Nasheed“. The UN and India followed suit, both calling for free and inclusive elections.

The Maldives goes to the polls on September 7 and anti-NGO Transparency Maldives will have over 400 volunteers working throughout the country on election day. It’s a waiting game to determine the Maldives political future.

But most mainstream media has paid very little attention to the Maldives. Most media outlets have not covered the story at all and those who do go out of their way to avoid stating that a coup occurred or whether police abuses of MDP members and supporters are still ongoing.

“Dictatorships don’t always die when the dictator leaves office. The wave of revolutions that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year was certainly cause for hope. But the people of those countries should be aware that, long after the revolutions, powerful networks of regime loyalists can remain behind and can attempt to strangle their nascent democracies.” – Nasheed ‘The Dregs of Dictatorship’ Feb 2012

Orla-Jo